Those of us too young to have anything beyond a cursory textbook understanding of WWII can’t possibly imagine the joy that must’ve swept the world once the fighting stopped in Europe and the Pacific. Our unbridled celebrations today are generally reserved for the comparatively trite triumphs of our sports heroes, political reps and American Idols. Back in the early-1950s, though, there was real joy, real relief, optimism and an irrepressible joie-de-vivre vibe we can only dream about today.
Or so I thought until I spent an afternoon at the Coco Bar in Martinique last November.
This iconic bar sits on stilts above the sea at the Hotel Bakoua in the sultry resort area of Trois-Ilets, just across the Bay of Fort-de-France from the island’s capital city. People don’t come here for the drinks (stronger and better can easily be had elsewhere). They don’t come for the snackfood, or to ogle the topless beauties on the shore either (okay, perhaps a few are attracted by the latter).
No, instead they come for the vibrant sunshine, the calm and soothingly persistent sea current that massages all who so much as wade into the waters surrounding the bar, and for views like this across the Bay…
If they love history and classic Caribbean music like me, then they also come to live the dream of those heady 1950’s days when Beguine provided the soundtrack for the good times in the French West Indies.
A dance and music form similar to a slow rumba that originated in Martinique, the Beguine exploded in popularity around the world following Cole Porter’s recording of Begin the Beguine in 1935. The song itself later became a big band staple regularly covered by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Artie Shaw. Beguine music, however, was hardly ever better than when performed by Ernest Léardée.
Born in Fort-de-France in 1896, Léardée was an orphan who eventually rose from poverty to become one of the world’s leading composers/band leaders. His genius in capturing the ebullient mood of the early-50’s is evident in the multiple styles he employed along with the Beguine. Samba, guarracha, mambo, rumba, and bolero are but a few of the tropical rhythms Léardée worked into his repertoire, giving voice and song to the limitless possibilities of the time.
I first got a taste for Léardée’s amazing amalgam of West Indian music while sitting at the Coco Bar on that brilliant day back in November. Hearing Léardée work his magic while perched atop the waves watching beachgoers revel in the Bakoua’s idyllic seaside playground provided a delectable hint at the joy and optimism of the post-war age. See for yourself in the video below, which features one of my favorite Léardée songs, La Belle Amélie…
You can’t help but sigh, smile and soak it all in, which, with all the trouble in the world today, is an experience I HIGHLY recommend.
For more music by Ernest Léardée, search for him on iTunes, or click here for his catalog on Amazon.com.