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Shatta Music, from Madinina to The World: New Identity Dynamics in Martinique

La musique Shatta, de Madinina au monde : de nouvelles dynamiques identitaires
La música Shatta, de Madinina para el mundo: nuevas dinámicas de identidad
Coraline Kandassamy


Cet article étudie l'essor de la musique Shatta depuis 2013. Le genre musical issu des riddims jamaïcains du dancehall a gagné en popularité grâce au soutien des communautés antillaises lors du carnaval et des fêtes. Aujourd'hui, le genre est devenu un moyen d'expression pour la jeunesse noire franco-caribéenne. Cette étude explore les éléments culturels qui ont contribué au développement de la musique Shatta martiniquaise et analyse sa croissance. Globalement, la recherche vise à examiner comment la musique Shatta est devenue une représentation d'une nouvelle identité en Martinique, entre processus locaux et globaux.

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1Among the plethora of songs that have recently been trending on the social media platform Tik Tok, Shatta songs “Tic” by Maureen, and “Ek c tou,” by Shaydee’s garnered attention, as they have been used as background music for videos of different choreographies and challenges which exceeded millions of views. In 2020 and 2021, Bella Hadid was seen walking the runway of Thierry Mugler’s fashion show, to the sound of Shatta songs “Mal a Dit” by Shannon and “Tic” by Maureen. Recently, the most selling French artist around the world, Aya Nakamura, released her fourth album. DNK, which also contained a Shatta song, “Belek.” Recently, Chris Brown was seen in a Parisian club dancing to Kalash and Maureen’s Shatta anthem, “Laptop”. So the question is, what is Shatta music? Shatta music, a genre that originated from the appropriation of Jamaican Dancehall riddims, has recently gained popularity in metropolitan France. However, it has been present since 2013 and could be heard in Martinican airways since 2018. This music genre has slowly evolved musically and culturally to become a means of expression for Black French Caribbean youth. Shatta music was initially driven by the West Indian populations who gathered during carnival and at evening parties. The advent of social media platforms, such as SoundCloud and Tiktok, further promoted the genre and allowed it to gain traction globally.

2The Caribbean has a rich history of diverse musical currents, which have evolved over time and been influenced by various cultural and social factors. During colonization, music has always been a tool for the colonists (who landed in 1492 in Guadeloupe and 1502 in Martinique) to establish their social power and to challenge and prohibit the codes, attitudes, practice of slaves. Religious music and military music were symbols of the power of the dominant class, symbolized by court music and dance music and forecasted ideas of power and superiority. Besides, music was for the slaves a factor of social peace, used as motivation to for agricultural work in the plantations. At the same time, music was a possibility for slaves to survive, affirm their identity and have a voice within subversive modes of expression. In this regard, settlers like slaves, participated in the perpetuation and common creation of different music genres within the FWI, which redefined contours of class, social, and race dynamics. Musical historian Édouard Benoit emphasized the way Biguine, a music and dance style from Martinique, merges different musical styles, from within and outside the Caribbean. Indeed, one of the first music genres to circulate in the islands, Biguine had developed as a reinterpretation of European dance and music styles, imported by white Europeans into the colonies. African slaves were quick to re-appropriate their masters music, by imitating the melodies and incorporating their African-derived rhythm. In the same way, the drum Biguine, or Bidgin Bèlè in creole, comes from a series of Bèlè dances performed since early colonial times by the slaves who inhabited the great sugar plantations, using the same methods of re-appropriation and creolization. As explained by Glissant in Le discours Antillais (1989)/Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays (1999), : “the creole song in Martinique and the Biguine in Guadeloupe are primarily manifestations of the world of the plantations.” (1999, 110) but it was used to justify the civilizing cause of the colonial enterprise, after its popularization in Paris at the time of the 1931 international exhibition celebrating colonial work. Biguine was identified as a cultural product of the West Indian population, emphasizing the entertaining and exotic factor of the dance, thus denying the traumatic history of these French colonies. Consequently not working in adequacy with the ideas of Négritude of the 1930s and the independence movements of the 1960s/1970s, Biguine was thus rejected by Guadeloupean independence activists precisely because it served as a support for the assimilationist project because it promoted ideas of ethnic classification. Instead, they adopted Gwoka in Guadeloupe and Bèlè in Martinique, local folk music genres of the two islands. Both music genres have derived from African drum music brought to the islands since the seventeenth century during the transatlantic slave trade, when slaves used the drum as an instrument of communication, and later re-adapted it to their musical traditions within the plantations, for entertainment purposes during gatherings. At times allowed, drum music has also been forbidden. The 1685 Code Noir, implemented by white planters wishing to regularize the conditions of slaves under common laws, forbid through its article 16 all gatherings of slaves, by fear of plots and slave rebellions. Consequently, the perpetuation and transmission of drum music through the generations have become the symbol of Africanity, resistance and identity. The French departmentalization of both islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique in 1946 and the rejection of assimilation that followed in the 1960s, resulted in the project of rehabilitation, which consisted in revalorizing African-derived cultural traditions such as Gwoka, Bèlè, or cultural products such as creole language. Laumuno (1957-), a music scholar from Guadeloupe, studied Gwoka (drum music) as a product of folklore which carries notions of memory, transmission, tradition, resistance, and survival in Et le Gwoka s’est enraciné en Guadeloupe (2012). Artists and musicians of Gwoka and Bèlè incorporated notions of memory, resistance and survival within their performances. Often, Gwoka and Bèlè songs provided a platform to address, challenge or denounce socio-political and economic issues. In the same perspective, Zouk music, created in the late 1970s has been described by Jocelyne Guilbault in Zouk: World Music in the West Indies as: “a synthesis of several popular Caribbean musical styles including Biguine, Cadence-lypso, Haitian Konpa direk and Kadans ranpa, and others American influenced-styles” (1993). Guilbault analyzed the role of Zouk within the creolized socio-political and economic structures of these islands and followed the discourse of intellectuals such as Bernabé, Chamoiseau, Confiant, and Édouard Glissant (1928-2011) who claimed the creoleness of French West Indians communities as part of their identities Le Discours antillais (1981) and in Éloge de la créolité It is true that Zouk has also been considered the embodiment of créolité, as it personified the creolization processes ubiquitous in the cultural identity formations of the FWI. Zouk, the most popular musical genre of the lesser Antilles, is doubly representative of creolization as it was shaped by Kassav, a group created by members of both Martinique and Guadeloupe in Paris, France. As they added creole language to their resistant lyrics, Kassav managed to re-affirm the mosaic frame of French West Indian identity, between creole rhythms, and African, European, and Caribbean sounds and influences, which today are the main elements of French West Indian identity. Today, the musical landscape of the French West Indies is particularly rich and diverse, with genres such as Zouk, Konpa, Gwo ka and French West Indian Rap being popular. In this musical landscape, the emergence of Martinican Shatta music represents a new and distinct musical current in the French Caribbean. This genre has become a vector of representation particularly for the island of Martinique, presenting a new French West identity to the world. The evolution of Martinican Shatta is closely linked to the emergence of a youthful community eager to creatively express themselves on their own unique terms. This article explores the lyrical, musical, and aesthetic features of Martinican Shatta, and analyzes the key events that contributed to its development. Overall, the emergence of Shatta music in Martinique and its subsequent growth throughout the world highlights the diversity of Caribbean musical currents and the cultural and social factors that shape them. Through this article’s exploration of Martinican Shatta, readers can gain a deeper understanding of the music’s significance to the youth in the French Caribbean and its potential as a means of cultural expression and representation.

1. Shatta, a music genre to party

3Shatta music has recently been discovered in metropolitan France, however it has been present since 2013 and could be heard in Martinican airways since 2018. Driven by the West Indian populations who gathered during the carnival and at evening parties, Shatta music was further promoted by the help of the social media platforms, such as SoundCloud and Tiktok. This music genre originated from the appropriation of Jamaican Dancehall riddims, and has slowly evolved musically and culturally to become a means of expression for Black French Caribbean youth. This article explores the emergence of Martinican Shatta music, its growth throughout the world, and analyzes the key events that constructed this music genre, with the cultural elements that led to its development. Through these approaches, this study aims to examine how Shatta music has become a vector of representation for the island of Martinique, presenting a new French West identity to the world. The article delves into an overview of the lyrical, musical, and aesthetic features of Martinican Shatta, exploring how its evolution aligned with the emergence of a youthful community eager to creatively express themselves on their own unique terms.

1.1. Shatta, an etymology

4Shatta is music that originated from the French Caribbean scene in Martinique. It was largely influenced by Jamaican Dancehall, and North American Rap. The term "Shatta" comes from the Jamaican slang for ‘gangster’. Reappropriated in Martinican Creole, its broader meaning also referred to a woman that is considered to be maintaining bad morals and uninhibitedness. Later, the expression ‘too shatta’ was seen on Twitter in 2012, in conversations that address an evening, an atmosphere, a person (especially a woman) or sound that is ‘badass’, fierce, edgy, fun, and transcendent. At the same time, Shatta music appeared as a party music characterized by its electronic Dancehall beats, with lyrics that often revolve around such themes as partying, sexuality, and Caribbean culture. Notably, Shatta beats are distinguished by their deep, low-end basslines, and their minimal percussion, and syncopated rhythms.

1.2 Shatta music and history

5Shatta’s history is the result of years of experimentation by young DJs of Martinique. Around 2013, the tradition was for artists to sing on Jamaican dubs. Artists would take instrumental versions of Dancehall hits to provide a basis for new songs. Covers of Vybz Kartel, Bounty Killer, or Busy Signal among others flourished on the internet. At the same time, young French West Indian DJs were getting familiarized with technology, touching music software and production tools. Many of these DJs were self-taught, lacked any formal music education and gained interest in music in high-school. They would usually learn from Youtube tutorials, as well as the advice of friends or family members who were more advanced in the discipline. Among them, artists such as DJ Blue, DJ Dav, DJ Digital, DJ Ken, Sorro, and Tiblika recognized that the public was beginning to lose interest in conscious sound, and was demanding lighter music content. During this period, remixes of Jamaican hits became ubiquitous. Consequently, 2013 to 2017 constituted what can be called the, ‘Golden age of remixes,’ providing such hits as the “Monopoly,” “Nefertiti,” “WAS,” and “Politics,” riddims garnering millions of views.

6Soundcloud, an online audio streaming and distribution platform that allows users to upload, stream, promote, and share music, was in its prime time. This platform allowed artists to upload their music content including songs or mixes online, where users would listen to it. In 2016, Soundcloud became a springboard for these young artists, who gained popularity, connecting the French West Indian diaspora. Indeed, it allowed the French West Indians in the island and spread throughout the rest of France and around the world to link to their unique sound. Usually, the remixes consisted in using a music base, and continuing or altering the production with new elements. Lijay, a prominent Martinican DJ and producer of Maureen, stated that 80% of the songs he used in his mixes were West Indian music, making a clear-cut difference from the plethora of available music at that time. Though these remixes were gaining space in the French Caribbean in the community, parties and clubs, they were not well-received. At that time, Zouk and local hip-hop were the most popular music genres in the French West Indian soundscape and received more support from the local music industry, whether on the radio or television.

2. Deconstructing Shatta

2.1. Deconstructing Shatta musically

7Meanwhile radios refused Shatta music, Soundcloud provided for the growth of a community gathered around the music genre. Indeed, the radio was laden with Zouk, a French West Indian popular music genre, local Rap music, and national/international hits. Shatta, on the other side, was not considered as a legitimate music genre, seen as controversial for its crude lyrics and resultantly did not obtain much media attention. Radios explained that this type of music was vulgar and not of quality. However, the orientation towards a simplistic production is what created and established the basis for the actual Shatta music genre. Indeed, short of acapellas to recreate remixes, artists like APK or Nacho decided to create their own music. They followed the pattern used for the remixes. However, they introduced the composition of the ‘two-notes, ’ a minimalist instrumentation characterized by electronic Dancehall beats, made out of one heavy bass, one piano, and one guitar bass playing the two-note beat, which allowed the artists more freedom on the track. “Tic” by Maureen, produced by JD contains elements of techno, and sharp synthesizers. Shannon’s “Mal à dit,”, whose production is signed Hazou, follows a hybridization between Dancehall and techno, with an instrumentation composed of a digital accordion. Ever since, the ‘two-notes’ has become a signature mark of Shatta music, and settled a basis for the standardization of Shatta sound over the French Caribbean. In 2017, “El tolo remix” or “Adamis remix”, created after Lisy’s 2017 “Under Mi Sensi” were among the most popular tracks played in nightclubs, however the era of remixes came to an end. In studios, producers and artists worked hand in hand to prepare the construction of a unique Shatta sound. Producers invited artists to feature on their distinctive riddims, and artists contacted producers to provide them with beats following the musical codes of Shatta, always using the ‘two-notes’ recipe. Artists like Shannon, Kryssy, DJ GLad, Nacho, and Niko started to grow in popularity at the same time as the genre was gaining fame. In January 2018, former dancer Shannon, reconverted to music, and came out with ‘Mal a Dit’, which garnered more than 4 millions views on video sharing website YouTube. A bit later, in February 2018, Kryssy, another Martinican female artist, came out with “Bad Cendrillon”, with now more than 9 million views on Youtube. The release of these music videos served as a catalyst for the spread of Martinican Shatta, leading to its increased popularity and discovery by the mainstream audience in Martinique, who were previously unfamiliar with this style of music. At the same time, compilations of remixes appeared. In this sense, several artists would appear on the same compilation, delivering different projects on the same riddim, gathered by a same producer. These compilation projects allowed the discovery of new artists such as Whyneed, Natoxie, or DJ Chinwax. In the meantime, in January and February 2018, Shatta music became the sonic background during the carnival, providing young Martinicans. Shatta music emerged as the preferred auditory accompaniment for Martinican carnival celebrations, offering young Martinicans a novel genre of music to unwind, revel in the festivities, let loose, and cast aside their inhibitions. The carefree spirit of carnival was embodied in the upbeat and lively rhythms of Shatta music. In 2018, in front of popular demand, local radios finally recognized the importance of the music genre and started to play Shatta music. This was the beginning of the emergence of Shatta music in French Caribbean mainstream popular music culture. Radios such as Trace and NRJ, which targeted young audiences started to play Shatta songs, such as Maureen’s “Flex”, each time paying attention to only broadcast songs as less controversial as possible. Shatta artists found themselves being invited to perform at clubs and showcases, drawing in crowds and gradually fostering a local Shatta community of party-goers. Artists of bigger influence, such as Kalash, regarded as one of the most influential artists in the French Caribbean for his work in local Hip hop and Dancehall, and his significant success on French national platforms, has expanded his repertoire to include Shatta beats. His songs “Lambis” and “Manigance,” which were produced by DJ Digital, showcased his versatility and ability to adapt to different styles, and contributed to transport Shatta to bigger audiences. Simultaneously, the emergence of digital music distribution platforms, including music video-focused sites such as YouTube, and the introduction of music-sharing platform Spotify in the French West Indies, has transformed the music industry in the region. This has offered Shatta artists a fresh channel for accessing worldwide listeners and earning income, while also fostering a global Shatta community united by the music.

2.2. Deconstructing Shatta vocally

  • 1 Creole orality, even thwarted in its aesthetic expression, conceals a system of counter-values, a c (...)

8Shatta music is characterized by the distinctive vocal style known as toasting, which draws influence from Jamaican sound systems and Dancehall music. The vocal delivery of Shatta artists occupies a space that lies between the parameters of traditional Dancehall and Rap styles. The term ‘flow’ refers to a distinctive style of vocal delivery that is often closely associated with an individual artist’s personality and identity. As Thomas (2009) notes, the flow provides a means of expressing ideas and emotions that may be difficult to articulate through more conventional forms of language. In many cases, an artist’s flow also reflects the broader cultural context in which they operate, and serves as a powerful tool for communication and artistic expression. The various elements that contribute to an artist’s flow, such as cadence, pitch, and accent serve as important markers of the individual’s identity and creative vision. Usually, the vocalizations in Shatta music exhibit a low-pitched and mechanized timbre, which enhance the digital vibrations, and characterize the music genre. Taken together, these vocal specificities represent a powerful means of self-expression and affirmation. Typically, the ‘aggressive’ tone commonly found in Shatta music is interpreted differently by male and female artists. Male artists often use this tone as a means of reinforcing their dominant masculinity, whereas female artists use it to subvert traditional gender roles by portraying themselves as non-compliant, assertive, and dominant. This allows for a re-appropriation of gender roles and provides a platform for women to express themselves in a manner that is unapologetic and independent. Because written literacy has always been seen as legitimate instead of orality, the importance of the oral traditions re-utilized in Shatta music emphasizes higher the importance of voice, through which power is distorted and taken back. In Éloge de la créolité, Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Raphaël Confiant explained that “L’oralité créole, même contrariée dans son expression esthétique, recèle un système de contre-valeurs, une contre-culture.”1(Bernabé, Chamoiseau, Confiant, 1993). Indeed, oral cultural elements delivered in Shatta allows, through the blending of oral and vocal interpretations, power of speech and power of flow and embody the resistance to these relationships of power.

2.3. Deconstructing Shatta lyrically

9Shatta lyrics are prominently fun, sassy, sexual and provocative. Whether the artists are males or females, they appear more daring and not afraid to address controversial themes such as sexuality. The language is explicit and crude and the tones are unapologetic. The discourse of Shatta artists is characterized by an assertive, determined and ambitious tone, often accompanied by attention-grabbing and provocative lyrics. Men sing:

  • 2 Girl you’re going to take it all/ Don’t run even if it’s not short

“Girl ou kay pran tout, pa kouri meme siy pa kout”, 2
(Kalash, Lambis, 2019)

  • 3 Wine and go down on the bass/ With your fat a**

“Wine and go down sur la basse, ton gros bonda”, 3
(Chinwax, Shatta, 2020)

  • 4 You’re hot, you’re hmm, you’re sexual

“T’es bonne, t’es hmm, t’es sexuelle”4
(XMan, Pineco, 2021)

  • 5 The girl does not want you/ Hide your underwear

While women sing:
“La chou veut pas de toi, range ton slip”5
(Maureen, Tic, 2020)

  • 6 D*ck on the week-end, or on a weekday/ D*ck I heard that women like d*ck

“Coco ki le week end ki la simain
Coco an ten di se femn la emme coco”6
(Shannon, Coco, 2021)

10It is noteworthy that these artists frequently incorporate vocabulary associated with party, dancing, violence, alcohol, drugs, and guns into their music. Because of this, it is possible to say that these men and women are using a similar assertive discourse. Usually, Shatta artists toast in a mix of Martinican Creole, English, and Patois. According to Kryssy, artists are able to liberate themselves through English, as they can express things they might not otherwise say if everyone could understand. They can address controversial subjects, or use humor or satire as a means of addressing risky topics. From a cultural perspective, the utilization of the English language constitutes a component of a larger initiative that involves various identities, which are synonymous yet distinct from French West Indies, including Jamaican, Afro-Caribbean and African-American cultures. Through the adoption of their language, particularly their slang and Patois, as well as their attire and demeanor, young Martinicans are able to identify with cultures that they perceive as a reflection of themselves and feel a sense of closeness to them. Césaire's Discours sur la Négritude illustrates the connection among Black populations that have experienced the impact of the transatlantic slave trade and recognize the proximity among themselves. As a result of colonialism, the majority of Black populations have been subjected to discrimination, inequality, marginalization, and oppression.

11Currently, Shatta, with its rhythmic resemblance to Dancehall and its lyrical similarity to urban Afro-American and Jamaican musical texts, acknowledges this strong link among Black cultures as a potent weapon to combat neo-colonial oppression. Martinique, akin to many other Caribbean islands, underwent a process of colonization that was initiated with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1502. This event had a profound and enduring impact on the island's socio-political landscape, placing Martinicans in a perpetual state of marginalization by imposing social and cultural settings that do not align with their own traditions and identity. This process called assimilation was facilitated by the French government, which believed that the adoption of French culture and customs was necessary for the inhabitants of its colonies to be recognized as French. The resulting confrontation of cultures led to the pervasive influence of patriarchal values across various systems, including religious, economic, and social structures. In response to this predicament, the West-Indian populations either struggled to assimilate by subjugating their culture or resorted to reinforcing their own cultural identity. The people of Guadeloupe and Martinique saw in the departementalisation of 1946 new chances and did everything possible to be accepted and allowed these new opportunities to improve their living ways. Those who practiced French were more respected meanwhile those who spoke Creole became associated with the lower classes.

12Primarily spoken in the Lesser Antilles, Creole was born during colonization (around 1635-1700) in order for plantation owners and slaves of different origins to understand one another. It combined elements of Carib, English, Spanish, Portuguese and African languages. Today, after being standardized, it is spoken by approximately 1 million speakers and is an efficient tool of communication for travelers between neighboring English and French-speaking territories. However, each Creole has its specificity and is therefore a witness of cultural, and social settings proper to the area and an excellent tool to stand up against patriarchal ideals. Since Creole has often been marginalized, put aside, especially after the effect of assimilation pushed the French West Indians, today’s generation of Shatta artists use Creole as a primary language in order to protest the failures of assimilation and the loss of culture that resulted from it. Through Creole, Martinicans are aware of their power, their relevance and their legitimacy away from the French metropole. Consequently, the blend of Creole, Patois, and English languages and the scarcity and quasi absence of French in Shatta music allows the local population to assert its distinct identity that is separate from the French metropole and fight back discourses of oppression. Due to the considerable geographic distance (approximately 3700 miles) between the French West Indian colonies and the metropole, as well as the cultural differences and conflicts that exist between them, the French culture does not necessarily align with the realities of life for the French West Indian population. As a result, many young French West Indians view the United States as an alternative cultural influence to the French culture that has been imposed upon them. According to Helen Tiffin, “post-colonial cultures are inevitably hybridized, involving a dialectical relationship between European ontology and epistemology and the impulse to create or recreate independent local identity” (Tiffen, 1987).

13The blending of local and European languages in Shatta music serves as a deconstruction of colonial codes, challenging the traditional opposition between Creole and French. This hybridization allows for the creation of a new mode of expression and a pluralistic conception of Caribbean identity. Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley's ‘doubly signifying Creole vocabulary’ is a central concept in contemporary artistic practices, exploring the boundaries of culture and language in the Caribbean self. This pluralism aligns with Glissant’s articulation of the Tout-Monde, expressing notions of globality. The emergence of Shatta music between 2013 and 2015 is an inquiry into the impact of external influences on Caribbean culture, exploring how local cultural productions interact with global ones. Shatta music provides a platform for examining the complexities of Caribbean culture, addressing contemporary issues related to race, class, gender, and politics through a blend of various languages and rhythmic poetry. In the context of cultural homogenization facilitated by the internet and the erosion of cultural boundaries, Shatta music serves as a means of resistance and a tool for cultural exchange.

2.4. Deconstructing Shatta visually

14Music videos have become an essential part of Shatta culture, as they provide another way for Shatta artists to showcase their music, style, and dance moves to a wider audience, both locally and internationally. These platforms offer opportunities for Shatta artists to promote their music and interact with the Shatta community across multiple platforms, all while playing a crucial role in the preservation, representation, and legacy of Shatta culture. Music videos showcase the latest dance moves and fashion trends, while also providing a platform for female Shatta artists to engage in social commentary and political messaging. Through these visual representations, they address issues that are relevant to their communities and embody the essence of Shatta culture.

15Shatta artists’ music videos and performances are usually characterized by extravagance, provocation, and suggestive female dance performances, usually by the pool, at the beach or the nightclub. Videos by female Shatta artists usually add a bold use of color, tight and revealing clothing, and flamboyant accessories, which are the essence of Shatta visuals. Usually, the female artists’ attire is highly feminine, often featuring short dresses, shorts, long nails, and high heels, allowing for maximum expression of individuality. For example, Maureen's music video for “Tic” features a cosmic outfit and neon orange combi-shorts that accentuate her curves, paired with shiny sunglasses. Similarly, in “Wine and go down,” Kryssy and her dancers are seen explicitly whining (hip dance movement) in a pool, while Shannon's dancers in “Mi an shatta” also display provocative dance moves. In other videos like “Diss,” Maureen is seen standing near a pool in a shiny monokini, just like Jahlys in “Cho Deh” and Shaydee's in “Kimpembe,” in which she appears in a bikini top each time. This importance and ubiquity of the Black female body is synonymous with the hypersexual essence of Shatta music and lyrics. As Cooper points out, the Dancehall is a space where Black women can assert their power through extravagant displays of wealth, including flashy jewelry, expensive clothing, and elaborate hairstyles, all of which are similarly present in Shatta culture. The neon colors, tight outfits, and shiny leotards seen in Shatta videos and performances are a manifestation of this assertion of feminine power and self-expression. Dance’s ubiquity in Shatta music videos and within Shatta culture offers Black women a means of agency. The dance moves in Dancehall music videos are often sexually suggestive, and dancers wear revealing clothing, which coincide with the overall essence of Shatta. Besides, the Shatta Queens’ physical performances involve athleticism and gymnastics, challenging the notion of Black women as fragile and powerless. Through their movements, Shatta performers showcase their bodies, clothing, and accessories as a form of self-expression and empowerment. Dancing in Dancehall music videos is a way to express oneself and demonstrate skill and creativity. It is also a way to attract attention and gain recognition within the Dancehall community.

16Kryssy stands out as a pioneering figure within the Shatta music genre, given her particular focus on the aesthetics of the movement. The artist devoted a considerable portion of her budget towards financing her music videos, with the belief that such investments could help enhance the quality and visual impact of her work, while also contributing to the overall uniformity of the Shatta music industry. As such, Kryssy’s efforts towards prioritizing the visual aspect of her music production can be seen as a significant contribution to the development and standardization of Shatta music as a whole. Kryssy's music videos adhered to the conventions of Dancehall culture, characterized by the inclusion of dynamic dance moves, flamboyant hues, and risqué attire. Alongside Kryssy, other artists such as Maureen and Shannon established a visual aesthetic that laid the groundwork for female representation within the Shatta music genre, infused with elements of feminism. In Kryssy and Shannon's music video for “Best,” viewers are treated to scenes of them confidently riding jetskis during the day and motorcycles at night, while simultaneously delivering lyrics that promote female empowerment and independence. In ‘Tic,’ which video was released in October 2020, dance is an essential part of the visuals, whether it is the singer dancing suggestively, or her backup dancing providing for the athletic dance moves which appear on-screen. Through the incorporation of these visual and lyrical elements, Kryssy, Maureen, Shannon and others helped to define a distinct female visual culture within the Shatta music genre, shaping its evolution and setting the stage for future innovation.

3. Shatta music and feminism

17Today, young women have appropriated the movement to voice their female experience. Female Shatta artists sing about empowerment, confidence, ambition and respect as they attempt to deconstruct the gender codes of the patriarchal system. It is true that French West Indian (F.W.I.) women are particularly impacted as they are at the heart of an intersectional position where they are battling stereotypes in which they are seen as too sexually deviant or too matriarchal. Because of all these elements, Shatta music has become a field of feminist expression in the French Caribbean. In Martinique and Guadeloupe, female artists mostly performed Zouk, a popular music genre that arose in the 1980s, inspired by two other musical genres, Konpa and Biguine, from Haiti and Martinique respectively. However, since the musical scene is small in these two Caribbean islands, opportunities for women to express themselves are rare. Other genres such as Rap, Dancehall, Reggae, Biguine, or Gwoka have attempted a negotiation of female identity. However, Shatta music, which gained a lot of popularity among young Martinicans and Guadeloupeans, provided a vocal platform of expression for these female artists. Shatta music allowed female artists to disrupt social norms and to create a new discourse. They deconstruct sexual norms through a hypersexual discourse, that allow to reconsider the imagery of the Black sexuality, the Black body and Black erotics. Besides, they use Shatta music to address gender issues and claim their rights, their power and independence.

3.1. Shatta and sexuality

18Dancehall expert Carolyn Cooper has discussed the relations between Dancehall culture, hypersexuality and feminist ideas in this perspective: the “affirmation of the pleasures of the body, which is often misunderstood as a devaluation of female sexuality, also can be theorized as an act of self-conscious female assertion of control over the representation of her person.” (Cooper, 2004: 125). It is true that Black women have always appeared highly sexualized in popular culture through stereotypical images. Patricia Hill Collins presented different images of Black womanhood that justify women’s oppression and legitimate their subordination in societies of male domination. Among the most relevant images presented by Collins, the jezebel, whore or ‘hoochie’ has been present from the colonization area and has attempted to represent what Collins calls a “deviant Black female sexuality” (Collins, 2000: 80).

19Today, taken from from Rap band 2 Live Crew’s song “Hoochie Mama”, the ‘hoochie” is a woman that is overly sexual, has a high sexual appetite and used by the man for sexual purposes. Collins affirms that “within intersecting oppressions, Black women’s allegedly deviant sexuality becomes constructed around jezebel’s sexual desires.” (Collins, 2000: 80) The issue of the ‘jezebel’ and the ‘coochie’ stereotypes examined by Collins is that this concept does not allow any possibility of sexual desire for the Black woman. She is either seen as a sexual object for temporary male sexual pleasure (at best) or as a shameful nasty freak because she desires sex as much as men do (at worst). The other problem of these images is that they remain in collective consciousness and are later on used based norms defining different ethnicities, races, genders and cultures. Collins adds that “these controlling images are designed to make racism, sexism, poverty, and other forms of social injustice appear to be natural, normal, and inevitable parts of everyday life.” (Collins, 2000). For these women, distancing themselves from stereotypical images has always been tenuous. Today, as they enter male dominated spaces like Shatta movement and Shatta music, they face these stereotypical images again. Therefore, Shatta’s hypersexual discourse prevents Black women from objectification as they impose their sexuality on their own terms and gain power and agency through sexuality.

20From the times when South African Sarah Baartman (Hottentot Venus) was a spectacle for Europeans in 1810 because of her large genitals and buttocks, until Nicki Minaj was unveiling her curvy behind in a pink thong in Anaconda’s music video, the Black body has always been seen as a mocked, gazed, othered and classified as vulgar. Because of its impossibility to fit the standard of the thin white body, the Black body was another tool used against Black women in order to alienate and oppress them further. Since the colonization era, Gentles-Peart affirms that “the depiction of colonized black women (in colonial writings) represented them as having monstrous, “unwomanly” bodies that were not beautiful and admired as were the delicate bodies of their white counterparts. The voluptuous Black female body is still perceived as unattractive, ugly, and grotesque—the opposite of beautiful—when seen through the prism of white supremacy” (Gentles-Peart, 2018: 199). On the other part, the Black female body was assumed to be fit for arduous tasks. “This construction of the Black female body as voluptuous and unwomanly—and thus built for functionality and labor—was employed to affirm the use of Black women as slave labor in Europe”. In Shatta music, female artists allude proudly to their bodies and show them abundantly in Shatta music videos.

3.2. Shatta music addressing gender issues

21Because of the hypersexual discourse and performance, the public is allowed to wonder what the boundaries of hypersexual feminism and hypersexual marketing are. The question of empowering hypersexuality resides in the will of the woman to present, show and impose it. The will only functions through her agency, independently of the man. As long as the female artists engage in hypersexualized performances in their own will, without the obligation of anyone, they keep their agency, and transform their expressive sexuality into power.

22Black women have been put in this deadend where if they focus on motherhood, they are deemed as mammies or matriarchs (Collins, 2000). At the same time, if they focus on their career, they are seen as heartless and abnormal women who choose work over family. In Shatta music, female artists are proud to see themselves as independent women who prioritize their money, their career over their sentimental life, and they don’t mind being seen as women. Shatta deconstructs gender roles as it allows female artists to shift the narratives assigned to each gender and develop a ferocious ‘bad gyal attitude’ that resembles in many aspects the one of the male figure. These systems of disruption are developed in order to build a French West Indian Black feminist discourse that revolves around ideas of independence, control and power. Shannon, in “Back” calls herself a business-woman, while she explains in “Queens,” featuring Kryssy to be working hard to get what she wants.

  • 7 I need money to flex/ Money to look fresh/ Money all the time others it’s God bless/

“Men bizoin money pou mwen flex
Money pou mwen fresh
Money all the time le restan c god bless
Ou ni ti lespri an se femn a bizness”7
(Shannon, Back, 2021)

  • 8 Our life is G / Our life is pretty, our life is pink/ Of course we work hard/To be able to be bosse

“La vi nou G la vi nou bel la i nou rose
Bien sur nou ka travay red
Pou nou pe sa roule en boss”
(Shannon, Kryssy, ‘Queens’, 2021)

23Several critics of Shatta music have argued that the hypersexualized nature of its content makes it challenging to validate its feminist ideologies since the lyrics are often perceived as frivolous. Nonetheless, it is crucial to recognize the potency of Shatta music, which derives from its capacity to utilize uncomplicated and relatable themes to express messages of empowerment.

4. Local/Global/International Expansion of Shatta

24Shatta music is a genre that exudes a distinctive local character, serving as a reflection of Martinique’s cultural identity. Its signature dance movements, linguistic expressions, and language usage are deeply ingrained in Martinique's cultural fabric. Today, the genre is enthusiastically embraced by younger generations as a means of celebrating their cultural heritage and aligning with the cultural norms and values of the West Indian community. In doing so, Shatta music has emerged as a powerful unifying force across generations. Moreover, the genre’s widespread availability on digital platforms, including social media platforms such as TikTok and SoundCloud, has facilitated the creation of a communal space for French West Indians, providing a space for individuals to connect and recognize themselves in the music, regardless of their geographic location. As such, Shatta music has transcended its local roots to become a symbol of cultural pride and identity for the French West Indian community, both within the French West Indies and beyond.

25In contemporary times, local producers such as DJ Chinwax, JD, DJ Digital, DJ Glad, Lijay, Natoxie, and So Wood continue to redefine the music genre, Shatta is gaining greater cultural exposure through a variety of channels, including but not limited to local events such as carnivals, as well as global influences such as social media and fashion shows. To date, carnivals remain a significant platform through which Shatta music is being introduced and expanded. During the period between January and March, which coincides with carnival season, producers and artists make concerted efforts to release new records, compilations, and remixes in order to align with the festivities. As Shatta music serves as a prominent feature during the carnival celebrations in Fort-de-France, each carnival season becomes an ideal opportunity for newly released Shatta songs to be tested and evaluated. These songs are typically debuted at parties and parades, and their popularity during carnival can lead to them going viral in the local community.

26At a national level, TikTok played a significant role in providing a platform for the growth of Shatta music at a national level. Indeed, TikTok is a social media platform that allows users to create, share, and discover short-form videos. It was launched in September 2016 and has since grown to become one of the most popular social media platforms in the world, with over one billion active users. TikTok is known for proposing its users videos to users based on their interests and behavior, enabling videos to go viral quickly, as popular content is shared within the platform. The platform’s content is primarily focused on music, dance, comedy, and lip-syncing, and its users range from individuals to businesses and organization. Often been praised for its inclusivity and its ability to give a voice to marginalized communities, Tiktok is also a marketing tool for businesses looking to reach younger audiences. It was no different in the case of Shatta music. Indeed, today, the hashtag #shatta cumulates more than 330 million views. Many artists such as DJ Chinwax use the platform to make tutorials on how to make a Shatta hit, or promote their music. Shatta songs “Tic” by Maureen, and “E c tou,” by Shaydee’s were trending on the social media platform, as they were used for videos of different choreographies and challenges which garnered millions of views.

27Besides, the availability of Spotify in the French West Indian areas in September 2021, also helped Shatta music in terms. Indeed, Spotify is one of the most important music streaming platforms in the world, with millions of users. While the music industry may not be well-developed in Martinique, local artists could now upload their music to Spotify and potentially reach a wider audience. This can help them gain exposure and potentially connect with new fans. The utilization of social media platforms in the evolution of Shatta music has facilitated its widespread accessibility and familiarity among global audiences. Notably, Total Freedom, a multifaceted artist from New York renowned for his DJ and production work, incorporated Shatta songs in Thierry Mugler’s Fall/Winter 2020/2021 and Spring/Summer 2021 playlists, leading to the exposure of the genre to new and wider audiences on a global scale. This expansion highlights the movement’s growth from its origin in the convergence of local and global structures. Although the movement seeks to maintain its growth and organizational structure, it is essential to recognize its roots in Martinican culture. In Reunion, another French overseas department, several artists have employed Shatta sonorities, creating competition, but it is crucial to identify the boundary between global sharing and cultural appropriation. For instance, Aya Nakamura integrated Shatta into her song “Beleck” from the DNK album. It is imperative to acknowledge that Aya Nakaumura’s utilization of Shatta sonorities in her song “Beleck” lacked any collaboration with local artists or intervention from Martinican producers. This raises concerns about cultural appropriation and highlights the importance of recognizing the role of local communities in the preservation and evolution of their cultural expressions. However, the growing popularity of Shatta is overall positive. Despite the emergence of various genres such as Bouyon and local Trap, Shatta has made significant strides in the last 25 years, exceeding the reach of Zouk and local Hip hop.


28While Shatta music is often criticized for being too superficial, it actually represents a unique intersection of local, national, and global music that embodies the essence of world music 2.0 in the 2020s. Furthermore, the cultural significance of Shatta cannot be ignored, as it has become a powerful tool for social progress, reflecting the aspirations of the younger generation. Rather than being dismissed as shallow, Shatta’s strength lies in its ability to use simple, relatable themes to convey messages of empowerment. This has allowed Shatta music to become a reflection of young people’s social attitudes both on and off the dancefloor. With time, Shatta is gaining credibility and finding its audience, due in part to the media presence created by artists and their communities. As evidenced by Shatta artists’ international tours (Maureen in Ghana, Kryssy’s success in Colombia) and collaborations with well-known musicians, Shatta music is making its mark on the global music scene.

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Aya Nakamura. (2023) Beleck. Spotify,

Benoît, É. (1990). Musique populaire de la Guadeloupe: De la biguine au zouk 1940-1980. Pointe-à-Pitre , Office Régional du Patrimoine Guadeloupéen

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1 Creole orality, even thwarted in its aesthetic expression, conceals a system of counter-values, a counter-culture. (my translation, all translations are mine unless otherwise stated)

2 Girl you’re going to take it all/ Don’t run even if it’s not short

3 Wine and go down on the bass/ With your fat a**

4 You’re hot, you’re hmm, you’re sexual

5 The girl does not want you/ Hide your underwear

6 D*ck on the week-end, or on a weekday/ D*ck I heard that women like d*ck

7 I need money to flex/ Money to look fresh/ Money all the time others it’s God bless/

You are narrow-minded I’m a business woman

8 Our life is G / Our life is pretty, our life is pink/ Of course we work hard/To be able to be bosses

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Référence électronique

Coraline Kandassamy, « Shatta Music, from Madinina to The World: New Identity Dynamics in Martinique »Études caribéennes [En ligne], 54 | Avril 2023, mis en ligne le 15 avril 2023, consulté le 03 juin 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Coraline Kandassamy

Ph.D. student at Florida Atlantic University,

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Creative Commons - Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale 4.0 International - CC BY-NC 4.0

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