"If Kassav was our own The Beatles, then Patrick St. Eloi was our John Lennon"
Just before his comeback after leaving Kassav, Saint-Eloi has released Zoukolexion vol. 1, a double-CD compilation of past chart-toppers, many of which will sound very familiar to Kassav' fans. One of the most interesting features of the zouk supergroup was that individual members of the collective were always free to release albums under their own name during their time with the group, even if they had only just joined. "Over the years we came to realise that some of our biggest hits came from our solo albums rather than our group albums,” says Saint-Eloi, “We were prolific songwriters and sometimes we ended up having so many ideas they inevitably spilt over into other things." Notably in the case of Kassav’s frontwoman Jocelyne Béroard who scored her most famous hits (Siwo, Kaye Manman, Milans) with tracks from her own solo albums.
Patrick Saint-Eloi was the first singer from Kassav', and indeed on the zouk scene as a whole, to specialise in romantic zouk (even though everyone in the French West Indies knows that the first real “zouk love” song was actually by fellow Kassav' member Jean-Philippe Marthély). Influenced by Cuban bolero, Beny Moré, Portabales and other salsa legends, fascinated by soul music and also a great admirer of French ‘chanson’ star Charles Aznavour, Saint-Eloi went on to build a repertoire based on infinitely smoochy rhythms and his high-pitched, at times almost falsetto-like, vocals. Needless to say, his songs became big hits at the end of ‘soirées’ in clubs all the way from Africa to the Antilles. Ballade kréyol, West Indies, Ki jan ké fè, H2O, Zié d’amour, Manman kréyol, Hello dous and Si sé oui - to name but a few of Saint-Eloi’s velvet-voiced chart-toppers! - struck a chord in the public’s heart (and not just amongst his hordes of female fans).
St. Eloi - The Final Journey (c) PSE Facebook Page
Besides being a master crooner, Saint-Eloi is also renowned for injecting shows with a festive, upbeat ambience live on stage. Working the crowd with fellow showman Jean-Philippe "Pipo" Marthély, Saint-Eloi regularly set the crowd alight at Kassav' concerts, orchestrating the delirious bursts of arm-waving, the carnival-style (and at times risqué) antics of the backing vocalists and the frenetic grand finale when showers of balloons and confetti would pour down from the roof. This was the crescendo moment for which Saint-Eloi had penned his showstoppers Chabon, Flash, Chiré, Son tambou la, Zouké, Palé palé and Direksion, the ultimate Saint-Eloi composition with its string of different rhythms, different melodies and pepped-up lyrics.
In the course of his long career as a songwriter and composer, Saint-Eloi has established his own distinctive musical style, drawing on a diverse range of rhythms and melodies to pack the ultimate emotional punch. And he has not just restricted himself to working soul and salsa elements over zouk beats. The Guadeloupean star is deeply rooted in the sounds of his homeland and frequently works traditional "Gwo Ka" drums into his musical mix.
A memorable improptu rendition of Eva by Kassav (with St. Eloi as the lead) during their first visit to Cameroon in 1986. This was at the Hotel des Deputés in Yaounde.
"Volé" - an elergy to Patrick St. Eloi composed by Ali Angel and performed by Pierre Huberson