Hot Sounds, Cool Times:Looking Back at Dominica’s 3rd Annual World Creole Music Festival (1999)*

Français : Le World Creole Music Festival

A more recent World Creole Music Festival.  It  always draws  a  huge crowd of residents and visitors! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This year, Dominica is celebrating the sweet 16th anniversary of the ever-popular and enduring World Creole Music Festival.  It always takes place just before the Nature Island’s Independence, which is recognized on the 3rd of November.  I’ll be posting about these events in due course – in fact, very soon!

Over the years, I’ve been to this annual event  a number of times.  Somehow, I was able to stay up three nights in a row, as I became enraptured with the ‘captivating rhythms’ of Creole music genres.  I do confess that in later years, I have limited myself to one night only and have still been very satisfied and much less fatigued the following week!

*This article was originally published in Caribbean Compass, January 2000, and has been slightly modified.

Fireworks sparkled overhead as I parked my car in downtown Roseau and walked a short distance to Festival City, site of Dominica’s 3rd annual World Creole Music Festival.  It was held from October 29 – 31, 1999.  Although I had been on-island since its inception in 1997, this was my first time at the big event and I was very excited about it.

Hundreds waited eagerly along with me in the entrance line on Friday night as Creole tempos and tunes from the Haitian group Boukman Eksperyans welcomed us.  Finally, I was through the gates and into the park.  As I gazed upon the massive stage in the dim light, I was mesmerized. To my left, a huge video screen magnified the performers to a size much larger than life.  In the semi-darkness, I wound my way through the tangled assembly- young, old, local, foreign – all moving to the Creole bouyon beat.  The night was young – the music pulsated, pounded, swelled, caressed and serenaded the growing mass on the park grounds.  Creole bands from around the region and as far away as the U.S. and Africa turned music into magic.

My preferred picks that first evening included Dominican group Ruff and Reddy, who  got the crowd jumping with their cheery upbeat rhythms. The Zouk All Stars from Guadeloupe, French West Indies had over ten thousand people hopping for a good hour. They really gave everyone a great appreciation for this style of Creole music.  By daybreak, Dominica’s First Serenade Band, a local favourite, re-energized the gathering as everyone ignored fatigue and danced for sheer joy in the early morning drizzle.

On Saturday, I arrived at midnight – a little late, but there was much to come.  The serene sounds of Ophelia, Dominica`s leading lady of song moved my soul while listening to the live radio broadcast as I searched the city for an available parking space.  Once I and thousands of Creole music enthusiasts were through the gates and security checks, I swooned to a mix of merengue, beguine and cadence rhythms emanating from the New York-Haitian group Skah-Shah Number 1 with Cubano. A steady rainfall did not dampen any spirits – the music soothed and warmed an even bigger crowd than the previous evening.  Dominica`s Grammacks – New Generation band offered up reggae, cadence and bouyon, which completely enthralled one and all.  Although now situated in France, their Dominican musical ties remain strong.  The people loved their performance. I was converted to a brand of music that was basically unknown to me until now.  What a way to begin a new day!

It was  after  twelve when I came back to hear the third and final performances on Sunday night. Numbers of attendees were reported at over 20,000 strong. By now, I was completely captivated.  I could easily understand why Creole music has become so popular. Reason`s Orchestra from St. Lucia, West Indies sizzled with a sexy zouk-compas Creole sound that moved the assembled mass of humanity. Dominica`s Exile One, now based in France, provided the historic but familiar sounds that helped Creole music gain recognition around the world. Then WCK, Dominica`s versatile and extremely popular band had the exhausted but exhilarated audience jumping until 7:30 on Monday morning!

Bleary-eyed but happy, I headed home to catch up on three nights of sleep. Unsurprisingly, my dreams were filled with sweet sounds from Dominica`s 3rd annual World Creole Music Festival.