The Bouladjel, (or according to the spellings: bouladjèl, boulagèl) is a specifically Guadeloupean musical expression that is part of the Gwoka culture. This practice is listed as intangible cultural heritage by France.

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African heritage

Inherited from enslaved African ancestors in Guadeloupe, the bouladjel is a singing technique that replaces percussion. This practice would have emerged to overcome the ban on slaves playing the drum.

Strongly relayed by the Catholic Church, this ban has meant that over time, the bouladjel has become the preferred music for funeral wakes, in a society where the place of the deceased is important.

Only in Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre

Bouladjel is specific to so-called "mainland" Guadeloupe, namely Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre.
The profound changes that have affected Guadeloupean society since the middle of the 20th century have contributed to the decline of this tradition on Basse-Terre and to a decline in the practice on Grande-Terre, even if it is in Grande-Terre that its practice has remained most alive, in the region known as the Grands-Fonds (Abymes, Sainte-Anne, Gosier, Moule).


From wakes to musical stages

If originally the bouladjel was created in wakes, with the evolution of society, today we can also hear bouladjel outside this framework, on stage or during an impromptu musical exchange, day and night, in various contexts.

Use in work chants, games, wrestling

On Grande-Terre the music of the bouladjel already accompanied songs, games (zizipan, pounded kako) and struggles (bènadèn, sové vayan) which was traditionally practiced at funeral wakes.

• Children sometimes had fun creating them together.
• Adults used this vocal technique to accompany traditional singing in various contexts, ranging from work to small moments of relaxation with friends.
• Finally, the practice could be done individually with humming while going about your daily business.

Of course the use of the bouladjel excluded the use of other musical instruments.

Percussive vocal polyrhythms

The bouladjel consists of a polyrhythmic superimposition of percussive vocalizations (throat noises on onomatopoeia and gasping) and hand clapping performed by men to accompany certain traditional songs, in particular those of funeral wakes.

Exclusively male practice

If the traditional practice is exclusively male, today some women are trying this practice.

The number of participants in a bouladjel varies from three to a dozen or more, depending on the circumstances.

Among the boularians, the practitioners of the bouladjel, there is often a commander", who signals the beginning of the bouladjel. Once the responsorial song accompanied by clapping has stabilized, the commander calls the Boularians to start their game using a traditional spoken formula, which he personalizes.

Repetitive and trance rhythms

Each boularian invariably repeats a rhythmic cell or a short melo-rhythmic fragment.

Rhythmic repetitions (ostinati) are created by the enunciation of percussive onomatopoeias that promote prolonged sound exhalations, aspirated sounds and hiccups.

A successful bouladjel results from the superposition of at least two or three different rhythmic ostinati.

During the song, it happens that a Boularian declaims from time to time small mockeries and satires on a rhythmic mode of speech close to rap.
These interventions, highly appreciated by the audience, provoke laughter and thus allow the wake song to fulfill its main function, which is to help the bereaved to forget their grief .

Variations in techniques

The singing techniques of the boularians may differ.
Some people hold their hands clasped at mouth level and slide their palms against each other in a vertical back-and-forth motion.
Others prefer to close them around the mouth and nose. The cavity formed by the face-to-face palms then serves as a resonator.

Bouladjel or Banjogita

Formerly called indistinctly "banjogita", we can however distinguish two types:
the bouladjel itself which allows to replace the percussions (drum "boula"),
The banjogita, which allows as its name suggests to play the sounds of banjo and guitar.

A transmission from families to neighbors

The practice of bouladjel was once relegated to agricultural workers. It has been transmitted within families, between close neighbors and/or members of close-knit communities.

Today the bouladjel continues to be practiced and transmitted by people from these families and communities. They mostly belong to the working and middle classes of Guadeloupean society, who live either in town or in the countryside.

Musical evolution of bouladjel

Although the use of the bouladjel excluded the use of other musical instruments, some Guadeloupean musicians and artists are more and more likely to try new experiences around the bouladjel by combining it with other musical instruments. , such as the electric bass or even the ka drum.

D’autres explorations musicales ont amené certains à remplacer les séquences rythmiques binaires du bouladjel traditionnel par des rythmes ternaires.

In the 2000s, the recorded bouladjel was often stylized and served as a polyrhythmic base for melodies where the influence of jazz and contemporary music is strongly felt.

Valuation and research on the bouladjel

For several years, the bouladjel has been the subject of research and promotion by socio-cultural actors.

At the beginning of the 2000s, the musician Lukuber Séjor began a work of inventorying the most common onomatopoeias in the bouladjel, which enabled him to include some in his show entitled "Katéchis a ka“.

The Sainte-Anne Gwoka Festival continues to work to promote and safeguard the bouladjel, by opening up a space for expression on stage in its programming and by setting up occasional workshops, intended to children.

The Kan’nida Nou ka travay group, created around the Geoffroy family of Sainte-Anne does preservation and popularization work around funeral wakes and the bouladjel.
Every year, they put on a show representing funeral wakes before 1960, entitled _La Véyé O swè la_in which the bouladjel plays a major role.
This vigil is also a memorial in memory of the pillars of the family, members of Kan'nida, deceased, Sergius and Hilaire Geoffroy.





Martinican, passionate about culture and music of all kinds. Greater Caribbean specialist.

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