Capturing Dominica’s Creole Spirit: Saturday Morning at the Market precedes a Fabulous Night at ‘The Festival’!*

The stage is dark in anticipation of the start of the Saturday Night edition of Dominica's World Creole Music Festival 2013.

The stage is set for the start of the Saturday Night edition of Dominica’s 17th annual World Creole Music Festival 2013. Digicel, a telecommunications company was the headline sponsor.

On the morning of Saturday October 26th, I slept in a little later than usual.  There were two important items on my agenda that day: 1. go to the Roseau  where a Creole ‘Market Day with a Difference’ was being celebrated; and then later, 2. THE BIG EVENT: attend part of the second night of the 17th annual WORLD CREOLE MUSIC FESTIVAL (WCMF)!

It’s true that I am a faithful market supporter:  I always purchase organic produce from Karen and Roy at Roots Farm

and then I buy other locally grown products from my favourite

Dominica's Prime Minister, the Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit graciously consented to having his picture taken at the Roseau Market Day with a Difference.

Dominica’s Prime Minister, the Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit kindly consented to having his picture taken at the Roseau Market Day with a Difference.

vendors.

These drummers added to the Creole feel at the Roseau Market Day with a Difference.

These drummers added to the Creole feel at the Roseau Market Day with a Difference. The flag of Dominica is behind them.

There was definitely a festive feel in the bustling market place that Saturday. Creole-African-style drummers entertained the shoppers and dignitaries casually moved around the  decorated stalls greeting both the buyers and the sellers.  I have always been impressed with the warmth and friendliness of people in Dominica, and this day was no different.

His Lordship Gabriel Malzaire, Bishop of the Diocese of Roseau stopped to have a friendly chat wit me for a few moments

His Lordship Gabriel Malzaire, Bishop of the Diocese of Roseau paused to have a friendly chat with me in his Creole madras attire.

My  pleasant encounters  with my favourite friendly vendors, as well as the gracious dignitaries were wonderful warm-ups to the exciting performances I would experience that evening.

After a quiet afternoon, I headed to Roseau in advance of the 8:30 p.m. start time to familiarize with stage area in the Windsor Park Sports Stadium and receive any last-minute instructions from the Media Coordinator of the WCMF, Ayodele Andrew. It was fortunate that I arrived when things were still relatively quiet, as she noticed that my Press Pass did not have access to the photographers’ ‘pit’ below the front of the stage. She knew that I would need photos for this blog, so Ayodele immediately took me over to the security guard in that section to introduce me so that I could enter the ‘pit’ when it was not overcrowded with professional photographers.  I remain extremely grateful for her help, as I was able to capture some poses of the performers that I will always cherish.  I will be sharing some of them with you here.

“Gwen, you are always here every year!” exclaimed Tim, a Canadian-Dominican videographer with Link InternationalProductions who was working backstage. Some of you who are familiar with the WCMF will be wondering why I have not mentioned the Friday night show.I explained to Tim that  as an advanced member of the ’50+ club’, I decided that it would be prudent to choose activities and events that were of very  special interest to me.  This year, I wished to watch the performances of young Dominican  ‘rising stars’ and see Fitzroy Williams, this year’s WCMF Icon in action.  Of course, I wanted to take in plenty of  authentic Creole music and a bit of ‘Latin’ too!  More about that in the Sunday night review, to follow this one.  I understand that the Friday night show was fabulous.  You can check out some great pics by clicking Images Dominica, professional photographers and friends of mine!

The Signal Band is a young band whose energy is infectious.  here, lead singers Sheldon Alfred and Darvin Labad heat up the house with hot Bouyon, a Dominican styel of Creole music.

The Signal Band is a young group whose energy is infectious. Here, lead singers Sheldon Alfred and Darvin Labad heat up the house with hot Bouyon, a Dominican style  of Creole music.

After opening announcements and Dominica’s national anthem, the Signal Band, an up-and-coming group with a taste for the bouyon beat got the show on the road.  The crowd was constantly drifting into the stadium and many excited patrons made their way to the area closest to the stage to take in the energy emanating from these young men.

I positioned myself front and centre of the stage in the photographers’ pit, as there was still enough room for those assembled to

The drummers of the Karina Cultural Group created strong rhythms to complement the tribal dance by the women.

The male drummers of the Karina Cultural Group created strong rhythms to complement the tribal dance by the women.

move around.  I am glad I remained in my spot, because I was completely enthralled with the drumming and dancing of the Karina Cultural Group.  These indigenous Kalinago people completely captivated me with their traditional presentation.  I admired the focus and discipline of preserving their ancient tribal  dances.  I reminded myself to revisit Kalinago Barana Aute (Carib Model Village by the Sea) very soon to re-acquaint with their culture and traditions.

The powerful determined movements of the Kalinago women held my DSCF0918fascination for their entire performance:

DSCF0913DSCF0916
By now, more media people were in the pit, so I moved out to give the professionals some  more space.  I wandered outside the stadium area and was amazed to observe a

The Africulture stiltwalkers amazed everyone with their sensay-like costumes and amazing balance as they 'hung out' in the Fodd Court area.

The Africulture stilt walkers amazed everyone with their  traditional sensay and Creole costumes and amazing balance as they ‘hung out’ in the Food Court area.

carnival-like atmosphere as the Africulture Stiltwalkers and the Gutter Village Lapo-Kabwit (goat-skin drummers) band were moving around the Food Court.  This reminded me that Carnival season was not so far away! In Dominica, there is always something to celebrate…

I could hear that the next artiste had started to sing so I threaded my way through the thousands of enthusiastic people were ready to take in a little (or a lot!) of Zouk. This particular type of Creole music originated in the French West Indies and its development  is largely credited to Kassav, a band that would be performing late on Sunday evening (I mean, early  Monday morning!)  Like other Creole genres, it is a fusion of various styles, such as compas, but with lots of percussion that gives it such as jumpy beat.  There were hundreds of French Antilleans in “the house” and I can assure you that they were in seventh heaven, along with their Dominican brothers and sisters when the

The Zouk All-Stars , Alex Alexis, Jean-Marc Ferdinand, Lucile Kancel and Patrice Hulman held the huge crowd in their hands.

The Zouk All-Stars , Alex Alexis, Jean-Marc Ferdinand, Lucile Kancel and Patrice Hulman held the huge crowd in their hands.

Zouk All-Stars entertained them with plenty of old-favourites.

Patrice Hulman,m one of the Zouk All-Stars was obviously adored by hundreds of fans in the Stadium.

Patrice Hulman,one of the Zouk All-Stars was adored by hundreds of fans in the Stadium.

The crowd roared with pleasure when they paid tribute to  a late-great Zouk musician, Patrick St. Eloi and then honoured  deceased Dominican Music Icon, Jeff-Jo.

It was timely that one of Jeff Jo’s longtime colleagues and friends was also receiving a big tribute on this particular night.  Fitzroy Williams, who also happened to be celebrating his birthday was acknowledged by government officials and the  thousands of supporters in the Stadium as this year’s WCMF Icon.  He is credited with helping to create the cadence-lypso style of Creole music and for promoting it by playing it with various bands, including the famous Exile One all over the world for more than 45 years!

Then keyboardist and composer  Fitzroy treated us with a huge serving of the music for which is known best everywhere. With back-up from the Cadence All Stars (comprised of members of the popular Fanatik Band) and some other “friends”, the audience reveled, reminisced and regarded the stage with rapt attention.

Fitzroy is an incredible compooser and creator of cadence and cadense-lypso music.

Fitzroy is an incredible composer and creator of cadence and cadence-lypso music.

It was fun to get a close-up of Fitzroy focussing on the keyboards, which was blown up on the big screen at the back of the stage.

It was fun to get this close-up of Fitzroy focussing on the keyboards, which was blown up on the big screen at the back of the stage.

it's easy to tell that Fitzroy lives and breathes his music and that he enjoys sharing it with his devoted fans.

It’s easy to tell that Fitzroy lives and breathes his music and that he enjoys sharing it with his devoted fans.  He is keen on helping young musicians too.

Along came King Dice, Dominca's 6 time Calypso Monarch.  Here he switches gears and performs a Fitzroy cadence creation, in Creole no less!

Along came King Dice, Dominica’s 6- time Calypso Monarch. Here, he switches gears and performs a Fitzroy cadence-lypso creation, in Creole no less!

Flamboyant and highly entertaining Elisha Benoit wowed the crowd with some pof his own well known compositions such as Hosse'y'(in Creole of course!).

Flamboyant and highly entertaining Elisha Benoit wowed the crowd with some of his own well-known compositions such as Hosse’y'(in Creole of course!).

Again, I was lucky to be right in front of all the action and I truly loved this huge portion of Dominican music offered by a mix of the Nature Island’s finest artistes.

The crowd grew to immense proportions as the night   went on.  The real revelers were right at the front!

The crowd grew to immense proportions as the night went on. The real revelers were right at the front! (as seen from the Photographers’ Pit)

Fitzroy smiles as he shares the stage with Carlyn Xavier-Phillip 's powerful cadence renditions. She is lead singer of the highly regarded Fanatik band.

Fitzroy smiles as he shares the stage with Carlyn Xavier-Phillip ‘s powerful cadence renditions. She is lead singer of the highly regarded Fanatik band.

Cornell 'Fingers' Phillip is a prominent Dominican musician, to whom Fitzroy paid tribute.  He is a  renowned composer, arranger and brilliant keyboardist  who has assisted many other musicians on the Nature Island.

Cornell ‘Fingers’ Phillip, creator of Fanatik band, is a prominent Dominican musician  to whom Fitzroy personally and publicly paid tribute. He is a renowned composer, arranger and brilliant keyboardist who has assisted many other musicians on the Nature Island.

By the time Fitzroy and his colleagues had completed their sensational set, it was after 2 a.m.  Time for Gwendominica to get a little rest – as Sunday night promised to be as memorable as  the music I had experienced here.  As I slowly walked out of the Stadium, I had to dodge through a huge mass of humanity.  The Nigerian group Bracket was on the stage and there was no doubt that they were a great hit.  I was pleased to part with their African-inspired rhythms in my head as I headed off to bed – much earlier than the rest!

*Many thanks to the Dominica Festivals Committee for their support and assistance! Special gratitude is extended to Event Director Natalie Clark for reviewing the draft of this post.  Good vibes!

** For more information about other bands and artistes  who performed over the three nights, please consult the World Creole Music Festival 2013 website here.

Ophelia Marie: Dominica’s Sensational ‘Lady of Song’ for more than 30 years! *

*This feature article about Ophelia Marie  originally appeared in Domnitjen Magazine, December – February 2009-10.  It is reprinted with the kind permission of the publisher and has been slightly modified. For more specific biographical details about Dominica’s ‘Lady of Song’, click here.

She will be singing at the 16th Annual World Creole Music Festival on Sunday October 28, 2012.  I look forward to her performance and will be blogging about it and the other artistes after the show.

Ophelia Marie, Dominica’s ‘Lady of Song’. Photo taken by McCarthy MARIE (mariem@cwdom.dm)

I caught up with Ophelia Marie  just after attending her 30th anniversary show in October 2009. I was completely captivated by her professionalism and show(wo)man ship. She certainly knows how to engage her audience with her effervescent personality, exceptional energy and powerful contralto voice.  I was also in awe of the diversity of her program.  Of course, there was Creole cadence-lypso music, but she also offered us other traditional songs, her own compositions, classics and some pop selections too. For me, it was ‘the concert of a lifetime’. Her stellar performance had  the packed hall of adoring fans eating right out of her hand!

After that spectacular show, one would think that a top notch musician would likely take a break.  But not Ophelia.  Right away, she was immediately preparing for an upcoming overseas tour.  At the same time, she was also  assisting with the popular Seniors’ Games to be held a few days hence.  Dominica’s ‘Lady of Song’ clearly exudes a vibrant energy and joie de vivre in her private life, as well as on the stage.

As she looks back over her successful and ongoing three decade plus career, she acknowledges that she has not done it alone. “God plays a vital role in my life.  I [also] pray before every performance,” Ophelia readily discloses.  Mark, her husband and manager, is a constant source of support and encouragement.  In her formative years, family members including her father, brother and sisters developed her interest in singing.  Ophelia graciously acknowledged her proud father at her 2009 Dominica concert, where he was seated front row centre.

Ophelia’s devotion to her family is clearly evident.  Her father hails from Gallion (a village above Soufriere in the southwestern part of the island) and her late mother was from Pointe Michel, a village on the southwest coast which is not too far from Roseau. They met ‘around a piano’ that her father was playing in Curacao (a Dutch West Indian island in the southwestern Caribbean) and fell in love almost instantly.  When they returned to Pointe Michel, Dominica, Ophelia was a young girl.  Her mother was adamant that the children NOT speak Creole!  “She felt it would prevent us from learning English,” recalls Ophelia.  But after only three years of English, she won a scholarship for select high school admission based on her ‘Common Entrance’ exam results, so the two languages never posed any problem.

As an overseas student at the University of West Indies campus in Barbados in the mid-1970’s, Ophelia often  reflected on her beloved homeland: “I felt an intense mystical/magical connection to Dominica.”  As a result, she was inspired to write and create the melody to the enduring Creole song called Aie DominiqueIn 1975, she won a Dominican patois song competition by performing this piece.  It was later recorded in Paris and released in 1978.  In her opinion, the popular song’s message is timeless. “People understand the sentiment…that we must protect Dominica,” she emphasizes.

However, Ophelia believes that Aie Dominique has even a more universal appeal. “It is well received in other French countries too,” she notes.  This selection launched her career at a concert in Guadeloupe, French West Indies in 1979. Her special bond with Francophones around the world remains solid. “French attitudes appeal to me,”  Ophelia explains.

After  more than three decades, she has performed in many French countries: France; Martinique; Guadeloupe;French Guyana; and Reunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean.  The audiences are always massive, sometimes exceptional, such as one show in Guadeloupe where there were 14,000 people in attendance and another concert in Martinique where Ophelia fans numbered in excess of 10,000.  In March 1981, she sang at a series of sold-out shows in Paris, which marked the first time that Caribbean music had ever been performed in a French concert hall.

Her fame as Dominica’s ‘Lady of Song’ is acknowledged in many other nations. She has sung on most Caribbean islands, London, U.K., as well as other cities in Europe and North America. Her international appeal can be attributed to her versatility as a performer and the special rapport  she has with audiences everywhere.  “The audience is  part of the show.  Without an audience, a big part of the performance is missing,’ she explains.

Ophelia says that much of the inspiration from her songs comes from nature, which she compares with love. Her popular chanson called Hypnotique (2005) was co-created with her husband Mark in the garden at their residence in the Roseau Valley of Dominica. In 2009, they had great fun making Move It which features the fabulous Pom Kannel dancers from Martinique. (They also appeared in Ophelia’s October 2009 concert in Dominica). This high energy song has been a hit with people of all ages.

Wherever she travels, Ophelia is proud to represent Dominica as an Ambassadrice de Coeur ((an ambassador of the heart). “I am always honoured to be of service to my country,” she exclaims. Whenever she is at home, she generously contributes her time and talents as a volunteer with various community groups.

All Creole traditions are very dear to her.  She feels that Creole culture has not yet achieved the status that it deserves.  Ophelia encourages her countrymen and women to embrace the unique Creole customs of Dominica every day in order to promote and preserve them.

Her contributions to Dominican society are extensive.  “I was exposed to being sensitive to other people’s needs at an early age,” she says.  She qualified to become a social worker because she always knew that she had an ability to lead and work with other people.  Ophelia has held positions as a teacher, social worker, youth officer, Chief Cultural Officer and Deputy Director of Tourism.

A passion for life, as well as her devout faith have enabled this sensational Dominican singer to endure and overcome occasional challenges. When Ophelia was starting her career in the late ’70’s/early ’80’s, “[it] was a man’s world.  There was much more pressure for a woman.” Because she persevered, she became the first female performer to break into Caribbean Creole music circles.

Despite numerous accolades, awards and accomplishments, she shows no sign of slowing down.  “My songs have been my life,” Ophelia muses, “I am fueled by what I have lived and also other people’s experiences.  I thank God…that this has happened.  I don’t make plans. When you put confidence in the Lord, He will guide you.”

I am truly inspired by this extraordinary Dominican woman.  I sincerely wish her many more years of song and success, good health and happiness!