Jeff Joseph: the man, the music, the legend

At the end of the 1960s and into the early 1970s there was a sudden emergence of new young bands in Dominica. They were experimenting with novel forms of vibrant music based on the French Antillean beat rather than the more Anglo Caribbean oriented calypso and early reggae that was coming out of Trinidad and Jamaica respectively.

The beat that emerged was Cadance (or as it was written later, Kadans) and the market for this new form of Dominican music was greatest in the French Antilles. Bands such as Grammacks led by Jeff Joseph and Midnight Groovers led by Phillip ‘Chubby’ Mark responded to the demand with one creative hit after the other.

Jefferson Osbert Sylvester Joseph was born in the west coast village of St. Joseph on 30 September 1953. He grew up in a community known for its carnival traditions and the pulsating folk life of its narrow, crowded streets and communal yards. This was his early inspiration. Grammacks was founded in 1972 bringing together talented youth who attended the Dominica Grammar School and St. Mary’s Academy, the two leading boys high schools of the time. The name of the band came from a combination of the names of the two schools. By November 1974 the local newspapers of were reporting the band’s success in Guadeloupe and its first visits to France.

In that month alone, Exile One, Naked Feet and Midnight Groovers were all in Guadeloupe thrilling crowds with their Cadance and Cadence-lypso and moving into Zouk. That was where the action was. That was where the talent scouts and record companies such as DEBS Label hung out, and each band hoped that the next step would be Paris.

Jeff Jo at his final appearance at World Creole Music Festival

These were exciting times. The Caribbean was in the midst of change. Old colonial patterns of life, artistic expression and politics were being radically transformed. Bands like Grammacks were reflecting the mood in their music and lyrics.

As the Martinique newspaper, France-Antilles, put it, “Grammacks was everywhere: at popular fetes, balls, carnival. Ils sont devenus incontournables!” Jeff Jo was surrounded by talented musicians, young and passionate like him. The international stage began for Grammacks with Guadeloupe and his friendship with Henri Debs. The Guadeloupian producer was full of admiration for Jeff and his energy and creativity, with early songs such as “Soucouyan”. The refrain of “Pa dansé en bas coco sek” was the “lavway’ across the French influenced Caribbean. Then there were the grand classics: Misik dou it dou, Mi déba, Ou pas bon, Cochima, Pawol en bouch.etc.

It was Jeff who merged many traditional Caribbean musical styles to create a variety of rhythms that others adopted and to which they added their own beats. His music backed up French Creole lyrics that reflected the life and realities of Caribbean the ghetto experience .

It was in the same way and at the same time that Bob Marley was capturing the mood of the times but in Jamaican Creole for a much wider English speaking audience. But Jeff did not limit his repertoire. He experimented with reggae, meringue and soca to develop a later style he called “Karibean Rock”. The creativity of the musicians in Martinique enticed him to that other French department. But there was another, much more personal attraction.

On 25 November 1980 he married Sonia Marc known popularly as La Sosso. But the marriage did not last. It was the classic problem of two performers always on the move, often in different directions to perform in different countries. As Sosso reflected, “We saw less and less of each other, often crossing each other in airports”. But as she always remembered him, “He was my first love”.

In 1985 Grammacks broke up and Jeff went solo and moved to New York. In the following year he got together with the group Kool and The Gang and in 1988 new hits emerged such as: World music, Banana Sweet, One Two Three.

During the 1990s he returned to Martinique and collaborated with George Decimus (Kassav) and Dominique Panol. There was the birth of the group “Volte Face” and for five years he led the band on tour around the world introducing new audiences to Caribbean music: zouk, bouyon, cadence-lypso, funk, and gwo-ka. There were a total of five studio albums and one album done live.

During this time he fell in love with a top model of the fashion house of Yves Saint-Laurent, Mounia Monique Oresmane, better known simply as Mounia.

In 1997 there was the emergence of “Grammacks New Generation”, once again made up of young musicians who responded creatively to Jeff’s direction. In 2000 they were on world tour. In 2005 Jeff and Mounia together released their love song “Woopsee Mama” which was made into an album by Laurent Leduc in 2007.

This was the last of many discs. After the early Grammacks LP records and “45s” the main years of release and hits were 1988: Sove Yo, 1988 Hommage á Bobby on the Hibiscus label, 1988: Banana Sweet, 1989: One Two Three, 1995: Rock My Soul, 2004: Bonm ka Pété on Debs music label and in 2007: Woopsee Mama.

Jeff’s support for his country and the World Creole Music Festival was celebrated along with Dominica’s 30th Anniversary of Independence in 2008 when he gave a rousing performance. On the 2nd and 3rd July 2010 he had his last grand concert performed at L’Atrium in Fort de France, Martinique. Just a month before he died he was on the stage of the World Creole Festival in Roseau for the last time.

His music lives on in the many albums produced and the videos of his performances and these will provide a younger generation with an idea of his dynamic personality and the creative contribution that he has made to Caribbean music.

As France-Antilles declared on the day after his death in Martinique on Wednesday, 23 November 20011, he was “the King of Kadans-lypso who made us dance for 40 years!”

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33 Comments

  1. November 5, 2013

    so so so sad

  2. April 1, 2012

    Jeff & I were first cousins, and we never met. RIP, God bless.

    • maggie
      November 27, 2012

      whoo cares

  3. Doc.Love
    December 5, 2011

    DNO ADMIN. IS DOING EVERYTHING TO CRUSH MY RIGHTS TO PARTICIPATE AS REGARDS WRITTING COMMENTS ON THIS E-PAPER.A PASTOR CALLED SKERRIT AN ICON AND I DISAGREED,I GAVE MY REASONS,SO WHY IS MY CONTRIBUTION REMOVED.

  4. Not Memoire Poule
    December 4, 2011

    IT MUST BE REMEMBERED that Gramax launched it,s presemce in Guadelopue when in early 1970 through a complimentary trip of then DOMINCA AIRAWYS owned by O.J seraphin that when they arrived in Guadeloupe THEY NEVER RETURNED HAVING BEEN ADOPTED BY THE HENRI DEBS STUDIO which recived the new EXCEPTIONAL TALENTS of the Dominca music revolution OF the 70.s —EXILE ONE and GORDON HENDERSON …TONY VALMOND …BOTH OF WHOM ALSO MADE GUADELOUPE THEIR NEW RESIDENCE AND HAVE REMAINED THIER SINCE THEN /

    THE HIGHLIGHT OF GRAMAX OF COURSE WAS THE 1979 MIAMI –ROSE BOWL –SUPER BOWL in MIAMI WHICH WAS ARRANGED THEN BY P M- O.J SERAPHIN where GAMAX PLAYED BEFORE THE LARGEST AUDIENCE IN THEIR HISTORY.. A performance remembered by all of that generation
    MAKING DOMINCA PROUD .

  5. Anonymous
    December 4, 2011

    What is mising as can be veified by original members of GRAMAX AND JEFF,S FAVOUITE BROTHER SCRARCHY was the GRAMAX journey began in early 197o.s when Jeff A FREIND of O,J SERAPHIN was given a complimentatry free RIDE TO GUADELOUPE on the man.s AIRLINE- DOMINCA AIRWAYS Tha this was the initial journey to Guadelopupe where Jeff like Gordon HENDERSON OF EXILE was adopted in the A DEBS STUDIO .
    GRAMAX NEVER RETURNED TO DOMINCA AS THEIR BASE AFTER THAT TRIP . Guadeloupe becane the home of GRAMAX.
    IN 1979 GRAMAX AGAIN BENEFITED WHEN THEN PM O.J SERAPHIN arranged for him to perform at the SUPER BOWL IN THE ROSE BOWL …Playing to millions thoough TV exposure… THE GREATEST AUDIENCE of GRAMAX EVER —GIVING DA international exposure
    JEFF AS USUAL MADE SURE THAT HIS YOUNGER BROTHER SCARTCHY was with him at that momentoues aaoccasion .. The highlight of his world tours !!

  6. Drea Vidal
    December 4, 2011

    It’s Soucouyan(t)! :-x :roll:

  7. December 4, 2011

    Sad thing none of the other band members never came back to help or at least put on a live show back in dominica, they all seem to fade away. Big up jeff JO i love the way you maintain the music vibes.Jah bless

  8. st martin people
    December 4, 2011

    We will mist him, his music festive spirit
    RIP Jef.

  9. DNO Music
    December 3, 2011

    Thanks PEDRO for your info on the US Miami Superbowl. That will be added.

  10. Breadnut
    December 3, 2011

    WHAT IF, every time we walk into the Windsor park stadium and those lights are turned on, WE FEEL the spirit and memories of our dear brother and musical icon JRFF JO. beam from the new horizon,
    Dominicans and the world, let’s make an effort to keep him alive, by naming the Windsor PARK JEFF JO stadium!!!!! It would be the GREATEST honor that we could bestow upon our country man, statesman singer entertainer, for a job well done .The brother represented.He gave it all, JEFF JO. Thank You!!!,MAY YOUR SOUL R.I.P !!! Respect!!!

  11. LaCajah
    December 3, 2011

    First off I would like too say Daddy Rest in Peace!! I love and miss you with all thine heart. Thanks to every friend and fan of my father. He did hsi best to represent Dominica. He is gone but will always be remembered!! One Love!!

  12. fletcher marshall
    December 3, 2011

    i am also from st joe but have not lived in dominica for the past 20 years . i think itsa good idear if that is done in his memory

  13. Fairplay
    December 3, 2011

    Please don’t forget that it was Gordon Henderson who started the Cadence-Lypso Music.

    • Ya
      December 4, 2011

      What does that have to do with anything? Did Jeff not help develop it?

      Stupes! Nobody is trying to take away Gordon’s shine.

  14. No Name 2
    December 3, 2011

    I am learning so much about Jeff Joe. It’s sad that it took his death to make that happen. I mean he performed at the Superbowl!!!!! and Tour de France and I had no clue! Thank God at least I knew he made great music.

  15. Pedro
    December 3, 2011

    Great article and follow up comments. But there is something missing! Jeff performed even to a larger world audience! In the US, Jeff performed at the Football Superbowl! This is no small feat! It has been one of the major events in the US, with audiences in the hundreds of millions these days.This was in Super Bowl XIII with the game between Pittsburg Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys. have made it that far on the US stage. How about the 1977 Tour de France performance too! The band did perform there. These are no small feats.

  16. Rol
    December 3, 2011

    When can make and influence a genre of music like he did, you know that he’s great. Bob Marley moved ska into reggae, Jeff moved us into kadans now we have zouk. In time we going to remember the bands that gave us bouyon. Rihanna has made millions on existing styles, she is not even close. When she can write and make her own genre then we could talk!

  17. Jeanclaude Baron
    December 3, 2011

    Farewell my friend,fellow musician.We will miss u dearly as a humanitarian and musical icon in D/a and the eastern caribean.Today i heard music from jeff i’d never even heard before,he broke boundries in playing and singing in all genres. His music lives on his job is done here and he did well.REST IN PEACE BRO…..

  18. December 3, 2011

    RIP JEFF;THANKS for the MEMORIER;
    may Jah be with you
    Amen!!!

  19. DNO Music
    December 3, 2011

    Thanks for that additional information NEWTOWN. It all helps to tell the fuller story. We excersised a word limit and could not write a book on here, but anyone who can add information about Jeff and Grammacks in their comments please do so.

    In that way we all get together in cyberspace using the internet and DNO to record memories. Its as if we were sitting around at his “nine night”. That kind of modern and traditional mix was just what Joe was all about in his life and music!

  20. Possible
    December 3, 2011

    I admire Jeff’s musical exploit however I admire much more his conquest of drug addiction. I remember walking the streets in Guadeloupe and a friend said yo me hesitantly ” look Jeff Jo wee “. As a young musician I was both star struck and distrut. Yes ladies and gents jeffdid was once a parole and we should not be afraid to talk about it. In fact we can also use this aspect of his life to motivate those PAROZ and to dissuade other.
    Life has episodes of good and bad but it is all about perseverance and determination and Jeff epitomize those vertues. Even while paroying Jeff was full exuberance and exitment. He always gave you the feeling that good of gonna come. R.I.P Jeff you wete the energizer bunny.

  21. Nahtty
    December 3, 2011

    Newtown, I second the motion of naming the west coast highway after him. Based on what I know of this guy who grew up with and was a dear friend of my mom, he embodied the attributes of a good will ambassador. He gave selflessly, for the love of country and the Caribbean. Something we should all work towards emulating. R.I.P Jeff Jo. I say with faith you lived by St. Luke’s words “to whom much is given much is expected” which was evidenced in the way you used your talent with your band members to touch souls and be a voice for many. Now, you return to our maker who am sure is beaming with arms open saying “well done, good and faithful servant.”. Now it’s your turn to truly shine with the orchestra in heaven. To the family, band members, fans and friends my condolence. Hang in there. He ran a good race and he fought a good fight all in the name of lyrical love. Jeff got it right, he did it right and he left it right-unerasable footprints in our heart. We love you Jeff, we will miss you but we will always hold you dear and treasure you. Now rest in the Lord Dominican/diasporan son.

  22. forreal
    December 3, 2011

    well it seem fitting,that his last stage performance was at windsor park stadium,because i remember seeing them performing at windsor park years ago,when he had on a large paix hat like soucoyoun,that was a great performance,and then at st joseph jam festival.

  23. Conscious
    December 3, 2011

    I thank the author of this article which provides useful information on the music and life of Jeff Joe. I do not know much about Jeff Joe and this article helped to fill the gap. Persons younger than me will also benefit from the article. I will include it in my archive.

  24. Ftezy
    December 3, 2011

    It would be fitting at this time to recognize those who see alive;chubby,his brother Marcel,Gordon Henderson,Ophelia. Let us not wait till death.

  25. Anonymous
    December 3, 2011

    Jeff was also very well known,and well liked in La Reunion. RIP my brother. Wish I could hear the ORIGINAL version of NEW HORIZON.

  26. bb
    December 3, 2011

    Dominicans don’t need Jeff Joe to be like Rihanna, he is better than her, Rihanna is a devil worshiper she sell her soul.

  27. Donald Tusk
    December 3, 2011

    Stupes Jeff Joe is no Rihanna, stop politicizing the man death.

    • Anonymous
      December 3, 2011

      my brother ease of the man… wtf… u must stop make white man… if affectin your thinkin

    • Anonymous
      December 3, 2011

      You are right jeff is no Rihanna, Jeff was on a more positive livity than her.

    • WHY
      December 3, 2011

      dude, wtf are you talking about? Rihanna? For Pete’s sake. Pardna,whoeever you are you know nothing about music! You must have been born in 1990 or something to make such an asinine comment and even that is no excuse.

  28. NEWTOWN
    December 3, 2011

    JEFF AND HIS GRAMMACKS also played at the famous HARLEM ROCK FESTIVAL in 1972 held at the Newtown Savannah. It was there first big Local exposition; this was organised by the Youths of Newtown/Harlem commonly called the HARLEM LIMERS led by his great friend LOFTUS EMMANUEL. Since then there has been very close linkages between these two vibrant west coastal communities of newtown/st joseph where later on the st joseph football team was invited to play in the newtown off season football league. It must also be reported that GRAMMACKS had the opportunity to play at LOTFUS’ HARLEM JAM CITY whenever they visited Dominica.

    jeff Joseph is a legend and as one DOMINICA DIASPORA BLOGGER said one of the best ways to pay lasting tribute to jefferson jeff jo joseph is by doing this :

    Naming the WEST COAST HIGHWAY after him hence

    THE JEFFERSON JEFF JO JOESPH HIGHWAY

    so while his music cannot die we need something more tangible in his name for generations to see and respect.

    MAY HIS SOUL REST IN PEACE

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