This obituary is part of a series about people who died from the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Jacob Desvarieux, the guitarist and singer who directed Kassav ‘, an internationally popular band from the French West Indies, died on July 30th in a hospital in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, the island where he lived. He was 65.

The cause was Covid 19, reported the Agence France-Presse.

Mr. Desvarieux and the founder of Kassav ‘, bassist Pierre-Edouard Décimus, created a style called Zouk by fusing Afro-Caribbean traditions of the French West Indies with elegant electronic dance music.

Kassav ‘made nearly two dozen official studio albums, and the band recorded another two dozen studio albums attributed to individual members, along with extensive live recordings.

Kassav ‘toured worldwide and sold millions of copies, particularly in France and in French-speaking Caribbean and African countries. Mr. Desvarieux shaped most of the band’s songs as guitarist, songwriter, arranger or producer, and his gracious, gruff voice often shared the band’s lead vocals with lyrics in French Antilles Creole.

Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, paid tribute on Twitter: “Holy Zouk monster. Excellent guitarist. Emblematic voice of the Antilles. Jacob Desvarieux was all of this at the same time. “

Kassav ‘made soft, irresistibly upbeat music with a carnival spirit and remained determinedly connected to his Afro-Caribbean roots. His albums mixed love songs and party songs with sociopolitical comments, sometimes with ambiguity. The core of the Zouk beat was based on gwo ka from Guadeloupe and chouval bwa from Martinique: two traditions rooted in the drumming of enslaved Africans.

“We question our origins through our music,” Desvarieux said in an interview with the French newspaper Liberation in 2016. “What did we do there, we were black and spoke French? Like African Americans in the US, we looked for answers to pick up the thread of a story we had confiscated. “

He added: “Without being a politician or an activist, Kassav ‘has worn it all. From our faces to the themes in our songs, everything was very clear: we were West Indians, it shouldn’t be a mistake, we wanted to mark our difference. “

Jacob F. Desvarieux was born in Paris on November 21, 1955, but soon moved to Guadeloupe, where his mother Cécile Desvarieux was born; she raised him as a single mother and did housework. They lived in Guadeloupe and Martinique, in Paris and for two years in Senegal.

When Jacob was 10 years old, he asked his mother for a bicycle; she gave him a guitar instead because she thought it was less dangerous.

After returning to France, he joined rock bands in the 1970s, played songs by Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix, and worked as a studio guitarist. His own music was increasingly oriented towards Caribbean and African styles, including compas from Haiti, Congolese soukous from what was then Zaire, rumba from Cuba, highlife from Ghana and makossa from Cameroon.

One of his bands in the 1970s, Zulu Gang, included musicians from Cameroon; Mr. Desvarieux also worked with the Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango, who had the international hit “Soul Makossa”.

In 1979, in Paris, Mr Desvarieux met Pierre-Édouard Décimus, a musician from Guadeloupe with an ambitious concept for a new band: deeply rooted in the West Indies but outwardly. “We were looking for a soundtrack that would synthesize all traditions and earlier sounds, but that could be exported anywhere,” Desvarieux told Liberation.

Kassav ‘was named after a Gaudeloupe dish, a cassava flour pancake, and also after ka, a drum. A zouk was a dance party, and a 1984 hit by Mr. Desvarieux, “Zouk-La-Se Sel Medikaman Nou Ni” (“Zouk is the only medicine we have”) made the word Zouk synonymous with the style of the Tape.

Kassav released his debut album “Love and Ka Dance” in 1979. “It was successful because it was Antillean music – it was local,” Desvarieux told Reggae & African Beat magazine in 1986. “But it was also better made than other Antilles discs. The instruments and the vocals were in tune, and there were more sounds, like synthesizers and the like – all the things that couldn’t be heard on Antillean records. “

As the band brought out new music, their early disco and rock influences receded; Kassav ‘simultaneously brought out his Caribbean essence and mastered programming and electronic sounds.

The commercial breakthrough came in 1983 with “Banzawa”, a single from a nominal solo album by Mr. Desvarieux, which was later repackaged as a Kassav album. The 1984 album “Yélélé”, which was billed as a project by Mr Desvarieux and Georges Décimus (Pierre-Edouard’s brother) and later attributed to Kassav, contained the single “Zouk-La-Se Sel Medikaman Nou Ni”. With 100,000 copies sold, it was the first gold record for a band from the Antilles and resulted in Kassav being signed to Sony Music and distributed internationally. In the late 1980s, the sound of Zouk influenced dance music around the world.

In 1988 Kassav ‘was named Group of the Year by Victoires de la Musique, an award from the French Ministry of Culture.

Zouk’s popularity peaked in the late 1980s, but Kassav continued to attract huge audiences. From the 1980s, Kassav ‘regularly played long residences in the 8,000-seater Le Zenith arena, where it recorded live albums in 1986, 1993, 1996, 2005 and 2016; Mr. Desvarieux estimated that the band performed there 60 times.

For the band’s 30th anniversary, Kassav ‘played in 2009 in the French national stadium Stade de France and in 2019 their 40th anniversary concert in the 40,000-seat Paris La Défense Arena was sold out.

Kassav ‘also toured continents and built a huge, loyal audience, particularly in Africa, where it has drawn stadium-sized crowds since the 1980s. Senegalese songwriter Youssou N’Dour wrote on Twitter: “The West Indies, Africa and music have just lost one of their greatest ambassadors.”

In Luanda, the capital of Angola, there is the Zouk Museum La Maison du Zouk with a collection of 10,000 albums. Mr Desvarieux and Pierre-Édouard Décimus attended the opening in 2012.

Mr. Desvarieux has also been cast occasionally for film and television. In 2016 he appeared as the African cardinal on the HBO series “The Young Pope”.

Mr. Desvarieux welcomed the collaboration with musicians from Africa and the Caribbean. He appeared on Wyclef Jeans’s 1997 album “The Carnival” and recorded songs with reggae singer Alpha Blondy from the Ivory Coast and with Toofan, a group from Togo.

Laisse Parler les Gens, a 2003 single that he produced with Guadeloupe singer Jocelyne Labylle, Congolese singer Cheela and Congolese rapper Passi, sold more than a million copies.

Mr Desvarieux, whose immunity was weakened from a kidney transplant, was hospitalized on July 12 with Covid-19 and was placed in a medically-induced coma before he died.

Information on survivors was not immediately available.

Throughout the band’s career, even after Kassav ‘was signed to multinational labels and encouraged to sing in English, the band’s lyrics have always been in French Antilles Creole and insisted on their island heritage. “Music is a stronger language than language itself,” said Mr Desvarieux in 1986. “If the music is pleasing, the language is not important.”