While the French West Indies are largely associated with zouk, the Martinican singer Ralph Thamar specialises in nostalgia-tinged ballads with more of an international flavour. Thamar, who made his name performing with the group Malavoi, has gone on to enjoy a successful solo career as a Caribbean crooner, delighting female fans with his highly sensual vocals. He has also played a major role in promoting his native culture worldwide.
Ralph Thamar, who was born in 1952 in Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique, is one of the leading male singers to have emerged from the thriving music scene in the French Antilles.
Ralph began his career as a bank clerk, but, being a passionate music fan, he would devote all his free time to performing with a number of local groups and orchestras. Between 1973 and 1978 Ralph went on to make a name for himself as a singer, working with the renowned Martiniquan pianist and composer Marius Cultier
But it was Ralph's role as lead singer with the group Malavoi
which would really establish his reputation on the French music scene. Indeed, Ralph's smooth velvet-toned vocals proved an enormous hit with the French public, rapidly earning him the nickname "The Crooner From The Caribbean". After fronting the popular group Malavoi up until 1987, Ralph went on to record with zouk stars Kassav'
. He also lent his slick vocal style to many of Fal Frett
Ralph Goes Solo
But, while happy to record with zouk groups and other singers, Ralph Thamar had long dreamt of performing on his own. In 1988 his dream would come true. That year the singer would not only launch his own solo career, he also received the "Karib d'Or" (an award presented by the 'Karib d'Or' association to the Best Artist of the Year from France's overseas territories).
Ralph Thamar's debut album, "Exil
", was released the following year and its driving zouk rhythms (fusing African styles, Caribbean pop and American funk) soon proved immensely popular both with the critics and the record-buying public. Thamar's best-selling single "Polisson
" would also score a massive hit on dancefloors across France.
The album "Exil
" proved to be a real treat for fans of Antillean music, for it featured a whole host of international guest stars including the talented Manu Katché
on drums and Jean-Yves d'Angelo
on keyboards. A number of renowned Antillean singers and musicians such as Georges Décimus
, Michel Alibo
, Edith Lefel
and Patrick Saint Eloi
also joined Ralph Thamar in the recording studio.
Thamar returned to the studio in 1991 to record his second album, "Caraïbes
". The release of this Caribbean fusion album coincided with the release of Thamar's new single "Comme disait le poète" (a brilliant cover of the Brazilian singer Vinicius de Moraes
's classic hit).
The ten tracks on the album "Caraïbes" featured an explosive fusion of Caribbean styles, ranging from soca and mazurka to biguine, quadrille and bolero, with a healthy dose of reggae thrown in for good measure. Thamar made sure he enlisted the aid of a team of top Martiniquan songwriters including Dédé St Prix
, Jean-Claude Naimro
and Jocelyne Beroard
(founder of the famous zouk group Kassav'). He also chose to work with the talented producer Steve Forward
(renowned for his work with a host of legendary stars such as Ray Charles and Paul McCartney).
Although Thamar has established a formidable reputation as a defender of Creole culture, the singer's albums have always featured a rich linguistic mix. Indeed, thoughout his career Thamar has proved himself to be a talented polyglot, equally at home singing in English, Spanish and Portuguese as he is in his native Creole.
Following the immense success of his albums "Exil
" and "Caraïbes
", Thamar had become one of the best-known figures on the Martiniquan music scene. So it came as no surprise to anyone when in 1992 the SACEM (the French Association of Singers and Songwriters) presented him with the 'Prix du succès' in their French Antilles/Guyana category.
The following year Thamar was back in the studio, putting the finishing touches to his third album "A toute…
". This album continued Thamar's winning formula, fusing bolero, zouk and biguine, but it also included a special tribute to French chanson with a cover of Boris Vian
's legendary hit "Bois un coup".
The album "A toute...
" also marked the beginning of Thamar's successful collaboration with Mario Canonge
, the talented pianist famous for his work with the groups Ultramarine and Sakiyo. Thamar and Canonge got on like a house on fire in the studio and decided to prolong their collaboration after "A toute ...", working together on a special tribute album dedicated to the memory of the Martiniquan pianist Marius Cultier
(who died in 1985). Following the release of this album in 1994, Thamar set off on an extensive tour, performing a series of concerts with a host of special guest stars such as Alain Jean-Marie and Michel Alibo.
In 1995 Thamar's record label, Déclic, decided it was time to release a compilation of the Martiniquan singer's greatest hits. Encouraged by the success of this compilation, Thamar returned to the studio the following year to record a brand new album entitled "Embarquement créole
". This vibrant new fusion of Antillean rhythms and Latino sounds featured Thamar at his eclectic best - and, true to polyglot form, the accompanying CD booklet was written in a mixture of French, Spanish and Creole!
Ralph Thamar returned to the forefront of the music scene in 1999 with a new album entitled "La Marseillaise noire
". This album featured contributions from an impressive list of guest stars including Makossa sax hero Manu Dibango
and legendary Antillais pianist Mario Canonge
After 14 years of living in Paris, Ralph Thamar had kept in close touch with his roots and in 2001 he decided to move back to Martinique. It was here that he recorded his new album, "Un jour
", which features four songs performed in French including covers of classics by Henri Salvador
and Gérard Laviny ("Roro").
2005: " Alma y Corazon"
The album that marked a big comeback for Ralph Thamar on the international music scene in 2005 was "Alma y Corazon
". This album, recorded in close collaboration with his old friend, the Martinican pianist Mario Canonge, delved into the heritage of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, notably Cuban boleros. "Alma y Corazon", which still had more than a hint of French-speaking Caribbean influence to it, found Thamar reviving a number of bolero classics from the ‘30s and the ‘50s. The album featured smooth crooning reworkings of Ernesto Lecuona’s "Siboney", "Tres palabras" by Osvaldo Farres
(the famous author of "Quizas") and "Contigo en la distancia" by Cesar Portillo de La Luz. Thamar’s Latino ‘tour’ did not end there, however, the singer also paid homage to boleros from Puerto Rico, Brazil, Mexico, Haiti and Saint-Domingue.
In September 2006, Ralph Thamar brought the house down when he performed at the legendary Parisian venue Le New Morning.
At the end of 2006, the Ralph Thamar compilation "Otantik
" (produced by Mario Canonge) hit record stores in the Antilles. The album arrived in mainland France at the beginning of 2007. In May 2007, Ralph Thamar appeared at Le Baiser Salé, in Paris, giving a number of performances there as part of the "Caribéennes de mai" festival.