Capturing Dominica’s Creole Spirit: An Afternoon ‘in the Park’

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Gwendominica waits near the main stage at Creole in the Park to see and hear ‘Freddie and Friends’, a renowned assembly of Dominican musicians who have perfected various types of Creole music. Photo taken by J.

Creole in the Park is a highly popular daytime event that is anticipated by Dominicans of all ages, returnees and visitors during the Independence season.  By 2013, this four day celebration of all things ‘Creole’ has been taking place annually for 11 years, under the sponsorship of LIME, a telecommunications company on the island.

This year, I attended the event  on Thursday October 24th,  2013,the final day of Creole-based festivities that have always been in the Botanical Gardens near Roseau.

Because I arrived on the site in advance of the musical presentations, I was able to spend some time viewing  hand-made goods and chatting with the vendors.  I was astounded by the diverse range of creative talents in the craft industry in Dominica.  Traditional and contemporary fashions, natural soaps, home-made rums and other  herbal beverages, eye-catching photographs of the Nature Island,  renowned Kalinago baskets, attractive costume jewelry and other locally made products were on display.  Their presence here certainly increased awareness about the availability of  unique creations on  Dominica.  Residents and visitors perused the showcase tables and were able to buy items of appeal then and there!

Here is a sampling of the wares on display at Creole in the Park 2013:

This Creole Craft Expo  on site recognized the 30th anniversary of International Creole Day..

This Creole Craft Expo on site recognized the 30th anniversary of International Creole Day.

Products crafted by Dominica's Indigenous people, the Kalinagos, were also on display.

Popular ‘baskets’ crafted by Dominica’s Indigenous people, the Kalinagos, were admired by many.

Hand-made soaps and massage oils are easily found in Dominica.  This particular brand is made by Heaven Scent.

Hand-made soaps and massage oils are easily found in Dominica. This particular brand is made by Heaven Scent.

Jervez Jno. Baptiste (jpix@hotmail.co.uk) displayed some of her wonderful photos at  the Craft Expo

Jervez Jno. Baptiste (jpix@hotmail.co.uk) displayed some of her wonderful photos at the Craft Expo.

Home-made rums and local tonics (noni) were available for sale.

Home-made rums and local tonics ( such as noni) were available for sale.

All of the crafts-people and the food stalls were contained under large tents.  There were even some provided for patrons to shelter whenever it rained!

All of the crafts-people and the food stalls were contained under large tents. There were even some provided for patrons to shelter when it rained!

On my way to the area in front of the stage, I was delighted to see that the good folks from the Dominican Mountain Chicken Project had an information booth.  Although they have a Research Facility in another area of the Botanical Gardens, they chose to be a more obvious presence during the festivities.  Numerous interested and concerned individuals had chatted with them and  gleaned more information and understanding about the dire plight of this almost-extinct amphibian.  You can read more about the ongoing international collaborative efforts to save the mountain chicken frog here. 

Researchers from the Mountain Chicken Research Project had a public booth on the site.  From left: Luke, Machel and Alex.

Researchers/staff from the Mountain Chicken Research Project had a public booth on the site. From left: Luke, Machel and Alex.

I was very pleased to speak informally with some of the people involved in this project.  Watch for an update about their work and the status of this fragile frog in the New Year.

It had rained considerably that week and the first day of the event had to be cancelled because of  muddy conditions and consideration for the protection of the natural terrain in the Botanical Gardens.  However, that decision turned out to be my good fortune, as I was able to see and hear an important longstanding group  who had been originally scheduled to perform on Monday.  I was delighted to indulge in local Creole music offered up by  Freddie (Nicholas) and Friends, an assembly of some of the finest and most renowned Dominican

Fitzroy Williams has been in the music industry for almost 50 years and has performed in many countries around the world.

Fitzroy Williams has been in the music industry for almost 50 years and has performed as a keyboardist in many countries around the world.

musicians.  This well-known band included a man who was bestowed a Creole Lifetime Award by LIME earlier in the week and received another one for his contributions to Dominican culture at the World Creole Music Festival later in the week: Fitzroy Williams.

Fitzroy, as he is commonly known helped to develop a form of Creole music called Cadence-Lypso, which combines rhythms of Haitian music with calypso, which of course always tells the audience a story about a social situation or challenge. He was one of the key players in the Exile One band, which was formed in the early 1970’s. They travelled all over the world to perform and put this unique brand of Dominican music on the map!

He has worked with many other musicians in promoting this Dominican musical style and most recently teamed up with  the immensely talented Dennison ‘Dice’ Joseph, six-time Calypso Monarch.   Together, with some other brilliant local musicians, they created a compilation of Cadence-Lypso songs on a CD called ‘Heritage’.  When I heard ‘Dice” singing in this genre instead of strict calypso for which he is famous, I really had to do a double-take!  He easily crossed over into a different type of music – but then again, they are related!

Calypso Monarch Dice serves up a Cadence-Lypso creation by Fitzroy, who is on the keyboards on hte left side of the photo.

Calypso Monarch Dice serves up a Cadence-Lypso creation in Creole by Fitzroy, who is on the keyboards on the left side of the photo.

No matter what style of music, Calypso Monarch Dice has an innate ability to entertain and instruct his audience!

No matter what style of music, Calypso Monarch Dice has an innate ability to entertain and instruct his audience!

Freddie and the other musicians in his band are fantastic!  Freddie is on foreground bass guitar; Jerry in background on guitar; Finnish-Dominican saxophonist  who is superb; brilliant drummer too and nice back-up vocals from the lady on the left.

Freddie and the other musicians in his band are fantastic! Freddie is on foreground  keeping the band together on bass guitar; Jerry  is in the  background playing smooth licks on  lead guitar; Fitzroy plays it up on the keyboard;superb sounds emanate from  the Finnish-Dominican saxophonist; a super tight beat is held by the drummer and sweet back-up vocals from the lady on the left blend with Dice’s dramatic voice.

J., a well-known musician round town takes a break from marking papers to enjoy listening to his associates in Freddie and Friends.

J., a well-known musician around Roseau takes a break from marking papers to enjoy listening to his associates in Freddie and Friends.

I really enjoyed his performance at Creole in the Park and I remained directly in front of the stage to take it all in .They played a long set and I was content with the wonderful infusion of Creole melodies that emanated from Freddie and Friends.  It was also a great pleasure to observe visitors from a cruise ship that was in port that day really enjoying the local “vibes” at Creole in the Park. One of the ladies even expressed their collective delight in being there to Alex Bruno,

These two couples (one from NYC, USA and the other from Vancouver BC Canada) came off a cruise ship to revel at Creole in the Park!

These two couples (one from NYC, USA and the other from Vancouver BC Canada) came off a cruise ship to revel at Creole in the Park!

one of the MC’s. He had noticed that the tourists were really taken with the music and I could tell that he was thrilled about their instant attraction to Dominica!

Between main music  acts, other artistes took to the smaller second stage.  Performers of all ages from the Waitukubuli Dance Theatre Company entertained those assembled with contemporary  Creole movements.  Because of their flowing poses, I chose to watch and not attempt to photograph.  I really appreciated the contribution of this renowned troupe, which has been in existence for more than 40 years!

One of the young artistes from the Waitukubuli Dance Theatre strikes an impressive pose in a still moment.

One of the young artistes from the Waitukubuli Dance Theatre strikes an impressive pose in a still moment.

By now, the afternoon was wearing on and the people were starting to pour into the ‘park’ – that’s usually my cue to scoot.  I do have a bad habit of enjoying events before I get lost in the crowd!  But I did stick around to hear a few songs from Neijel ‘Nayee‘ Jno Baptiste – a young man who is called the ‘Prince of Bouyon‘ as he writes and records this particular style of music that was also created in Dominica!  I listened to a few of his tunes, which started to get everyone ‘jumping’! Bouyon is  another blend of local Creole styles, including Cadence-Lypso and traditional Jing Ping, with plenty of keyboard emphasis.

Nayee is a Bouyon artist who was orignally a lead singer for the WCK but has now made a name for himself on his own.

Nayee is a Bouyon artiste who was originally a lead singer for the WCK  band, but has now made a name for himself on his own.

Nayee is certainly popular with the young people! I wish him well.

As the afternoon wore on, more peole came inot the 'Park' to enjoy a Creole infusion of Music, Food and crafts un

As the afternoon wore on, more people came into the ‘Park’ to enjoy a Creole infusion of Music, Food and Crafts

My mission for the day was accomplished, even though there was more great music to come – including a reunion of the original members of the acclaimed WCK band.  I knew that thousands would enjoy it but I was content to leave the ‘Park’ with a good infusion of the Creole culture to last me until the next big events (the following few days!). Check out Ti Domnik Tales to read all about it!

Capturing Dominica’s Creole Spirit: Enjoying Memorable Meals made with the Nature Island’s Finest Recipes

My classic Creole breakfast at Cartwheel Cafe comprised boiled egg, fresh baked bread, seasoned codfish (saltfish), cucumber salad and coffee, of course!

My classic Creole breakfast at Cartwheel Cafe  (448-5353)  on the Roseau Bayfront consisted of boiled egg, fresh-baked bread, seasoned codfish (salt fish), breadfruit, cucumber salad with avocado slices and coffee, of course!

When Creole Day rolls around every October in Dominica, I tend to fast the day before to  be able to feast in the true sense of the word!

Of course, I do spend the morning running around Roseau so that I can take plentiful pictures of people in their gorgeous Creole garb.  Perhaps you’ve looked at my earlier post about fashions in madras fabric as seen on the streets on October 25, 2013.  You can take a(nother) peek here.

In order to have enough energy for my wanderings through ‘town’, I fortified myself with a hearty Creole breakfast at Cartwheel Café (448-5353) on the Bayfront.  For me, it was the perfect balance of protein, starch and greens.  The coffee  just added a little extra ‘umph’ for my ‘runnings’.

By midday, I was satisfied with my photographic pursuits and I had certainly greeted everyone I knew (and some strangers too) with ‘Bonne journée Créole‘.  (It’s not quite Creole – my French gets in the way – but it sounds similar!)  The streets were becoming increasingly congested as  out-of-towners drove in for the well advertised Creole lunches that were taking place at various establishments – both large and small.  But I was headed in the opposite direction – guess where!!

Like last year, Springfield Guest House was offering a grand buffet Creole lunch – with numerous main course  choices à la Créole: Codfish Sancoche; Fish Coubouillion; Creole Stewed Chicken; and Curried Goat!  I knew what to expect and that was exactly what I wanted, as I have always enjoyed Chef Sandra’s culinary creations – and the natural ambience at this lovely and historic establishment gives me a feeling of complete contentment.

I appreciated this display of some local fruits at Springfield Guest House.  It was created so that cruise ship visitors could view some of the Nature Island's produce up close.

I appreciated this display of some local fruits at Springfield Guest House. It was created so that cruise ship visitors could view some of the Nature Island’s produce up close.

It was an easy 15 minute drive from Pottersville (on the north side of Roseau) and the weather cooperated (no rain!) on the way there.  As soon as

This beautiful bouquet of rainforest plants and flowers complemented the splendor of Springfield Guest House.

This beautiful bouquet of rainforest plants and flowers complemented the splendor of Springfield Guest House.

I got out of the car, I gulped great breaths of pure  fresh air.  As I was a bit early,I walked around the stately ‘ Great House’  and admired the views and the well presented dining areas – both inside and outside.  I started off the meal with a glass of sweet fresh coconut’ water’ (its juice).  At about that time, Nancy the Managing Director and Susanne, a German expatriate joined me and remarked that I seemed to have quickly revived from that natural beverage.  It was truly refreshing!

Then it was time for a starter.  I chose a cup of  vegetarian callaloo soup with a home-made bun on the side.

A cup of all-natural vegetarian callaloo soup and a home-made bun by Chef Sandra served as the starter to my substantial Creole meal.

A cup of all-natural vegetarian callaloo soup and a home-made bun by Chef Sandra served as the starter to my substantial Creole meal.

This new ‘national dish’ of Dominica is made from the green leaves of the dasheen plant. It was divine!

May main course Creole lunch included Tuna Couboullion; Codfish Sancoche; Pigeon Peas and Rice in Cocnut Cream; Breadfruit Croquettes; Avocado-Farine Balls; Madras Plantains; Pumpkin Accras; Roasted Breadfruit; cabbage and Tomato Salad.

My main course Creole Lunch at Springfield Guest House included Tuna Couboullion; Codfish Sancoche; Pigeon Peas and Rice in Coconut Cream; Breadfruit Croquettes; Avocado-Farine Balls; Madras Plantains; Pumpkin Accras; Roasted Breadfruit; Cabbage and Tomato Salad.

Then I was warmed up for the main course  – well I actually had two…I did tell you it was a day of feasting.  I guess I was making up for

The westerly view from the dining porch of Springfield Guest House is a Dominican favourite of mine.

The westerly view from the dining porch of Springfield Guest House is a Dominican favourite of mine.

missing Canadian Thanksgiving dinners a couple of weeks earlier in October!   The plate on the left reveals what I consumed a few minutes after the photo.  As we savoured every morsel, we reminisced about other times we had enjoyed in this wonderful setting.  I am also always rejuvenated by spending some time gazing down the Antrim Valley to the Caribbean Sea. That sensational view always

restores me to a tranquil frame of mind.

We did pause for a few moments before dessert, but the selections were so tempting that we could not wait for very long.  I had hoped to take a walk around the property after the meal, but the weather was turning and my stomach was almost overloaded.  Therefore, I succumbed to the whims of the day and reminded myself that the objective was to feast – and it was just so!

The home-made smooth and mouth-watering  guava ice-cream, which was served with wholesome  fruit ‘tarts’  completed this dining extravaganza.  I don’t know how I managed to find room for all that food – but I have no regrets.  Only a hurricane would have kept me away from my delectable Creole Lunch at Springfield that day!

There wasn't any room in my stomach, but that didn't stop me from sampling these fruit 'tarts': coconut; guava and apricot.

There wasn’t any room in my stomach, but that didn’t stop me from sampling these fruit ‘tarts’: coconut; guava and apricot.

Chef Sandra outdid herself when she prepared rich and filling guava ice cream.

Chef Sandra outdid herself when she prepared rich and filling guava ice cream.

If you would like information about weekday lunches at Springfield (by reservation only) contact: springfield.dominica@gmail.com  You can also find out more about this Research Center here.

Many thanks to Nancy and Sandra and the entire team for organizing and preparing this wonderful repast on Creole Day. I can’t wait for my next lunch  at Springfield Guest House!

Capturing Dominica’s Creole Spirit in Traditional and Contemporary Fashions

Gwendominica gets into the spirit of the season while holding onto a traditional 'chapeau pai'.  Photo taken by Lasting Images Photo Studio in Roseau.

Gwendominica gets into the spirit of the season while holding onto a traditional ‘chapeau pai’ (straw hat). Picture taken at Lasting Images Photo Studio in Roseau.

On Friday October 25th, Dominica celebrated  Creole Day, an annual acknowledgment of traditions and language that reflect the country’s African-European

heritage.  I really like this time of year on the Nature Island, which leads up to Independence on November 3rd. This beautiful republic is now 35 years old!

The people’s proud patriotism is clearly evident as hundreds partake of numerous activities that honour their cultural ‘roots’.  On this particular day, I really enjoyed walking around town and capturing the joy and delight on camera  that seemed to pervade the festive atmosphere.  I got completely caught up in it and took great delight in capturing the essence of the day in the photos here.

As I moved through the streets of Roseau, I collected  posed and impromptu shots of people of all ages enjoying the morning (before Creole lunch! )in their individual styles.

Take a look at these:

Flavian of Cartwheel Cafe in Roseau made her own pretty Creole apparel.  She is holding on to my Creole breakfast that I am about to enjoy.

Flavian of Cartwheel Cafe  (448-5353) in Roseau made her own pretty Creole apparel. She is holding on to my Creole breakfast that I am about to enjoy.

Lovely Isis, 4 month old daughter of Dominique at Desiderata Boutique/Cafe in Roseau slept peacefully in darling Creole wear.

Lovely Isis, 4 month old daughter of Dominique at Desiderata Boutique/Cafe on Old Street (448-6522) in Roseau slept peacefully in darling Creole wear.

Carol, Proprietress of Island Wash in Pottersville (near Roseau) poses outside her establishment.  She and her husband also offer back-country hikes through their other business:  Hiking Dominica.

Carol, Proprietress of Island Wash in Pottersville (near Roseau) poses outside her establishment. She and her husband also offer back-country hikes on the Waitukubuli National Trail  through their other business: Hiking Dominica.

Karen, a news presenter at Q95 FM Radio in Roseau takes a break at Cartwheel Cafe in a Kai-K Boutique-inspired Creole outfit.  The painting behind her was created by Henderson, a Dominican artist.

Karen, a news presenter at Q95 FM Radio in Roseau takes a break at the Cartwheel Cafe in a Kai-K Boutique-inspired Creole outfit (440-6922 – on the Bayfront). The painting behind her was created by Henderson, a Dominican artist.

Jones sported a madras cloth shirt as he stood outside his wife's batik shop on King's Lane in Roseau.

Jones sported a madras cloth shirt made by his creative wife, Janice. He was standing outside her batik shop on King’s Lane in Roseau.

Elyion strikes a majestic pose in front of Stone Love Itals snackette on Cross Street, just south of ACS grocery store.  She acknowledged Creole Day as a Rastafarian by wearing an outfit adorned with African symbols of Egyptian origin.

Elyon strikes an elegant pose in front of Stone Love vegetarian snackette on Cross Street, just south of ACS grocery store. She acknowledged Creole Day as a Rastafarian by wearing an outfit adorned with African symbols of Egyptian origin.

Even at the last minute, it is easy to buy a Creole outfit on the streets of Roseau.  There are many talented seamstresses and tailors on the Nature Island!

Even at the last-minute, it is easy to buy a Creole outfit on the streets of Roseau. There are many talented seamstresses and tailors on the Nature Island!

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Bright and varied patterns of madras fabric ensure that there is a colour and design to suit everyone’s taste.

The morning’s  Creole Parade was the culmination of weeks of preparation by  talented seamstresses, excited students, enthusiastic parents and regal pageant participants.  The streets of Roseau were filled with beautiful contemporary and traditional Creole designs.   Here are a few photos to give you a feel for this wonderful celebration. When it ended around midday, I headed up to Springfield Guest House for lunch. More about that in the next post!

It was a delight to see so many young people taking pride in their heritage.

It was a delight to see so many young people taking pride in their heritage.

Hundreds of school children, teachers and parents marched in the Creole Day parade and displayed an awesome array of Creole fashions - both traditional and contemporary.

Hundreds of school children, teachers and parents marched in the Creole Day parade and displayed an awesome array of traditional Creole fashions.

Young boys and their fathers dressed in traditional male Creole wear and proudly displayed the "c..." toy trucks that they made, which is a part of Domincan hertiage

Young boys and their fathers dressed in traditional male Creole wear and proudly displayed the hand-crafted toy trucks that they constructed together, which is a long-standing Dominican tradition.

The winners of the three traditional 'Wob Dwyet" (formal Creole dress pageants) strutted their beautiful creations during the Creole Day parade.

The winners of the three traditional ‘Wob Dwyet” (formal Creole dress pageants) strutted their beautiful creations during the Creole Day parade.

English Immersion on the Nature Island: French Students Learn about Dominica’s Cuisine and Culture*

I love a Creole lunch! Watercress and a slice of avocado make up the greens, fried plantains and dasheen puffs and farine balls make up the starches, and grilled local tuna in a mild Creole sauce gives the protne that makes a hearty, wholesome and healthy meal!

I love a Creole lunch! Watercress and a slice of avocado make up the greens, fried plantains, dasheen puffs and farine  (from cassava flour and avocado) balls make up the starches, and grilled local tuna in a mildly seasoned Creole sauce gives the protein for a hearty, wholesome and healthy meal!

After the English immersion students from Ludicademi in Martinique spent a busy June weekend touring major sites in Dominica: Indian River; Cabrits National Park and Fort Shirley; Emerald Pool; The Carib Territory and its Kalinago Barana Aute ( Carib Model Village), they dragged themselves into the classroom on Monday morning looking collectively exhausted! We were concentrating on Creole foods that day.  Fortunately, there are many of the same and similar recipes  in the ‘French Islands’, so the vocabulary lesson was not especially difficult!

Because we were not in a cooking class, I offered the students the following video clips about Dominican cooking:

Pepper sauce (r) is a prolific product on the Nature Island.  Sorrel juice (l) is a spiced drink made from the red sepals of the hibiscus flower.  It is delicious and is a Yule-tide favourite beverage.

Pepper sauce (r) is a prolific product on the Nature Island. Sorrel juice (l) is a spiced drink made from the red sepals of the hibiscus flower. It is delicious and is a Yule-tide favourite beverage.

1. How to Cook – Dominica Style

2. Tropical Vegetable and Fruit Garden Dominica

3. Cassava Bread Making in Dominica

4. Dominica Food for the Soul

I could not emphasize enough the proliferation of crops that thrive in Dominica’s fertile volcanic soil.  Some people say that you can plant practically anything on the Nature Island; You just have to stick it in the soil and watch it grow! Some farmers may disagree with me, but I suspect there are numerous places to till the soil!  There is no need to artificially season one’s recipe when cooking on Dominica:  celery, chives, green onions, peppers, parsley and thyme are a few of the herbs that thrive here.  There are also many starchy root vegetables which are traditionally called provisions : tannias, dasheen, cassava, cush-cush, sweet potatoes, yams.  There are others that grow on trees and are considered essential staples: green bananas, plantains, breadfruits, to name a few.,

We went through all the standard cooking terminology, but the class was definitely more drawn to the similarities in meals with their own country, Martinique.  We talked about callaloo soup, which is made from the leaves of the dasheen plant. It’s a popular dish around the Independence season in October and November. Some people like to add crab to their soup when they can be hunted at that time of year.  Sancoche is another tasty dish, if you like  the smoked flavour of codfish or chicken.  It is sometimes available at Cartwheel Cafe  on the Bayfront in Roseau during the year .Souse (pickled pig, cow or chicken)  delights many Dominicans.  There is also black (blood) pudding (like sausage) which can be found in Roseau and villages, largely  on weekends. On Friday nights, many little snackettes and little shops offer customers goat, fish or chattoo (octopus) water, which is a tasty seasoned broth containing these meats. Titiri are little river fish that are seasoned and fried in a batter for a filling snack called accras.  They can be found in various smaller establishments, such as Marvo’s Snackette on Independence Street (near King George V Street intersection).  There is so much more: fig pie is actually a small banana which is cooked, mashed and then baked with a fish such as tuna in a cheesy or creamy sauce.  I love it! Everyone has their own version of Creole sauce, which frequently adorns fish and chicken plates.  It contains many of the above-mentioned seasonings and usually has a tomato base.

And there are so many fruits. I wonder if anyone has an exact count of the different types.  Some of the more exotic/unfamiliar (to my hearing and/or taste) are; sapadilla; apricot (it’s huge!); carambola; pommerac; pomme citaine (golden apple); gooseberry; fwaise ( like a strawberry); canip;  tamarind;guava; papaya; cherry; passionfruit; pineapple; banana; all the citrus varieties; and that’s only naming a few! (Please excuse any incorrect Creole spellings!)

I didn’t get a chance to talk about sweets in the class – but I’ll save that fort another post!  The students made it through that day and were rewarded with a soothing soak at the Soufriere Sulphur Springs that afternoon to regain their vitality!

Dominica and Martinique share a number of cultural customs, including this type of Creole wear. The hat (tete mawe) and the jupe (overskirt) are made from madras cloth. The underskirt (jupon) and blouse (chemise decollotee) are created from white cloth, often with lace adornments.

Dominica and Martinique share a number of cultural customs, including this type of Creole wear. The hat (tete mawe) and the jupe (overskirt) are made from madras cloth. The underskirt (jupon) and blouse (chemise decollotee) are created from white cloth, often with lace adornments.

On the last morning of class, the students looked much more refreshed, and as this was the day we would cover vocabulary about Dominica’s culture, I offered them a surprise when I asked them to stand  up straight away.  Their eyes opened wide when I sang the first verse of Dominica’s National Anthem for them.  Then they performed a few songs for me, such as Frère Jacques, which we sang as a traditional round.  What a great way to start this day!

We then jumped into having a look at Dominica’s motto, Apres bondie, c’est la ter (After God, it’s the land).  The students were most intrigued that Dominica’s endangered Sisserou Parrot is a national symbol which features prominently on both the Flag and the Coat of Arms.  They were further awed when they observed that Dominica’s critically endangered Crapaud (mountain chicken) frog has a place of honour on the Coat of Arms as well.  They had just been learning about these creatures in the previous class on Flora and Fauna.

Again,  as with foods, there were many similarities in terms of traditional dress and language, as the mix of European and West African cultural practises are also evident on the French islands.   As well,  Dominica is home to the Kalinago people, who paddled up to Dominica over 1,000 years ago from South America and called the  mountainous island ‘Waitukubuli’, which means “tall is her body.”  It was Christopher Columbus who named her Dominica, as he sighted her on a Sunday  on his second voyage in 1493.

The Creole language does reflect the influence of English, French and Kalinago words, mixed with African grammatical speech syntax.  The Martiniquais students could easily understand Dominican Creole, so they were cautioned by me to only speak English when out and about on the Nature Island, as that was the point of their visit.  They assured me that they stuck to their immersion experience except when they were really confused.  I hope that wasn’t too often!

Creole wear is sometimes worn in the French islands too.  I have seen ladies at the produce markets in both Guadeloupe and Martinique sporting the colourful

Contemporary desingers such as Dora (l) create modern versions of Creole wear. She is also wearing a 'chapeau paix' (straw hat) which is a traditional head wear in Dominica.

Contemporary designers such as Dora (l) create modern versions of Creole wear. She is also wearing a ‘chapeau de paille’ (straw hat) which is a traditional head wear on Dominica.

madras cloth in traditional styles as such as the Wob Douillette, which is fashioned after French styles of the 17 and 18th centuries.  Heavy gold jewelry frequently complements the outfit, and is said to

A type of "Wob' (dress) which is worn by Madame Wob during the Independence season in 2012.

A type of “Wob’ (dress) which was worn by the ‘Madame Wob’ competition winner during Dominica’s Independence season in 2012.

have  been inspired by African traditions. The same thing can be said for dance styles of old on the Nature Island.  There are competitions all over the country that acknowledge this art form during the Independence season. As examples, the French inspired Mazouk looks like this.  A very African type of dance, called the Bélé, looks like this.  And there were English types of dance too, such as the ‘heel and toe’!

Beauty Pageants and Calypso Shows are  big part of Carnival celebrations. Miss Dominica 2012 Nadira Lando and now 6 time Calypso Monarch Dennison 'Dice' Joseph lead the Opening Parade for Carnival 2013.

Beauty Pageants and Calypso Shows are big parts of Carnival celebrations. Miss Dominica 2012 Nadira Lando and now 6 time Calypso Monarch Dennison ‘Dice’ Joseph lead the Opening Parade for Carnival 2013.

Carnival is another area of Dominica’s culture with strong ties to African and European traditions.  The students said that while they do celebrate Carnival in Martinique, it didn’t seem to be anything like what Dominica has to offer.  I hope they will come back to find out during the next one! I have always described Mas Domnik as being original, traditional and fun!   I am certain that most Dominicans will agree with me.  It is celebrated in Dominica and the French Islands on the two days preceding Lent in the Catholic faith.

We also talked about the other festivities that draw large crowds from near and far –  around the time of Independence in November and the World Creole Music Festival in October.  It seems to me that there are always celebrations on the Nature Island – be

Dominica's friendly, informal Carnival means that it is possible to have photos taken with popular participants, such as Miss Dominica 2013 Leslassa Armour-Shillingford. She is also a repeat regional winner now too.  You go, girl! XO

Dominica’s friendly, informal Carnival means that it is possible to have photos taken with popular participants wearing their traditional costumes, such as Miss Dominica 2013 Leslassa Armour-Shillingford. This exceptionally talented young lady is a repeat regional winner now too. You go, girl!

Sensay costumes, seen during Carnival are rooted in African traditions.

Sensay costumes, seen during Carnival parades are rooted in African traditions.

it Hike Fest, Nature Island Literary Festival, DOMFESTA, Dive Fest, Emancipation and more.  Further details about these events can be found here.

Internationally-renowned Dominican divas Michele Henderson (l) and Ophelia Marie performed at the 16th annual World Creole Music Festival in 2012.

Internationally renowned Dominican divas Michele Henderson (l) and Ophelia Marie performed at the 16th annual World Creole Music Festival in 2012.

The last hour of the  class was given over to a special guest, who knows culture through and through.  The Cultural

The French students were very attentive to Gregory Rabess's instruction about culture in Dominica

The French students were very attentive to Gregory Rabess’s instruction about culture in Dominica.

Division’s Gregory Rabess   is a Creole specialist, poet and musician.  He elaborated dramatically on the bits and pieces of cultural history and subsequent  vocabulary that I had offered the group.  They hung on to his every word!

Cultural Division Officer Gregory Rabess emphatically demonstrates a point to the class.

Cultural Division Officer Gregory Rabess emphatically demonstrates a point to the class.

We were all especially delighted when he closed the session with one of his own Creole compositions that required active class participation in the refrain.  It was in Creole language of course, so the only person who perhaps missed some of its meaning was me!

Although I was extremely tired after the four English immersion classes, I did thoroughly enjoy my short and sweet teaching stint.  I wish the students of Ludicademi in Martinique the best of luck with their continuing studies of the English language and their English-speaking neighbour , Dominica.  I hope I will see them again sometime on the Nature Island.

Reference: Africa and Dominica by Lennox Honychurch, PhD.

*This mini English immersion course was organized by Tina Alexander of Lifeline Ministries, Roseau Dominica.  Thanks for having me along, Tina!

Celebrating Creole Day in Dominica

Gwendominica relaxes after a delicious Creole-inspired Dominican meal in Roseau on Creole Day 2011. The painting in the background is by Dominican artist Ellingsworth Moses and is entitled ‘Mama’s Yard’. Photo taken by Nancy Osler.

Every year around the end of October, the Nature Island gears up for its Independence season, which culminates on November 3rd.  This year marks Dominica’s 34th  anniversary as an independent nation.  Proud Dominicans return in great numbers from abroad to take part in numerous organized events, as well as reuniting with family and friends.

One of my favourite activities is the celebration of Creole Day, which is held on the last Friday of October.  At this time, Dominicans honour their heritage, which is a mix of African and European traditions that have endured over the centuries. The Creole language is a blend of French words and West African grammar and syntax,  as well as a smattering of other tongues.  On this special day, it is spoken everywhere, although the older generations who live in the countryside still converse in this language with each other, as well as English.  Traditional foods are served in restaurants and people dress up in what is referred to as ‘national dress’,which is made from brightly patterned madras fabric.  The whole day is a real feast for my senses and I love to take part in it as best I can!

I spent the morning wandering around Roseau and  admiring the beautiful Creole costumes. It was a brilliant, hot, sunny day and there was most definitely a festive feel in the air.  Express des Iles ferries were arriving at the Bayfront, where they offloaded hundreds of excited French West Indians (who share a similar Creole heritage) from Guadeloupe and Martinique.  Their weekend visit was prompted by the opening of the 16th World Creole Music Festival, which would start later that evening.

Madam Wob 2012 Annette Bates is wearing a ‘wob dwiyet’ (dress), which is a symbol of Dominica’s cultural heritage.

Almost everyone on the streets of town was adorned in beautiful madras fabric in an array of traditional and contemporary designs.  While I normally do not ask strangers for a photo, I did request one from a lady who was wearing a style of dress that harkened back to an earlier era in Dominica.  She in fact had just won a pageant called ‘Madam Wob’ where she and several other ladies competed for this title by wearing  the lovely ‘Wob Dwiyet‘, which is a traditional dress of tremendous elegance and contrasting colour. It is acknowledged internationally as a symbol of Dominica’s heritage.  Although she was rushing to take her place in the Creole Day parade, she graciously consented to pose for me.

The ladies at Cartwheel Cafe sported madras head-wear on Creole Day.

Simone from Kai K Boutique (440-6922) on the Bay Front wears a beautiful custom-made contemporary madras dress with matching necklace.

I stopped for breakfast at one of my favourite Roseau haunts on the Bayfront, the Cartwheel Cafe (448-5353).  There I feasted on breadfruit, codfish and salad, along with a strong cup of coffee. That would hold me for a while.  The place was packed and I met up with some friends who were stepping out in Creole style that special day. I was very impressed with young Andrew, who dressed up in the traditional wear worn by men – simple but elegant with white shirt, black pants and a red sash.

Wendy and her son Andrew were heading to a special event at Andrew’s school, Orion Academy (440-3233) in honour of Creole Day.

Dora and Dernelle at Dr. Green’s dental office really capture the spirit of Creole Day with their unique designer outfits.

On my Roseau rounds, I persuaded Arun Madisetti of Images Dominica (www.imagesdominica.com) to take a picture of me on the General Post Office porch. Thanks Izzy!

I even passed by Dr. Green’s dental office, where I knew that some of staff would be wearing smashing outfits created by their own Dora. I was amazed by their unique styles.

Woody’s cool Creole style combines contemporary with traditional. He is wearing a ‘chapeau paille’ (straw hat) which is a symbol of Dominica’s heritage.

After a  few more sweeps around Roseau, I saw that the parade was slightly delayed.  It was extremely hot, so I decided to head out-of-town for my next adventure.  I was going up to Springfield Plantation, my first home in Dominica, where I would have Creole lunch with friends.  Somehow or other, I had not been back there for a couple of years!  As I headed back to the car, I caught sight of Woody, a local tour operator who takes his guests Off the Beaten Trail (275-1317). We only spoke for a moment,  as he had a jeep full of visitors and would no doubt take them on a real Dominican adventure!

It was actually a relief to drive away from Roseau, as it appeared that just about  everyone was going “to town” for Creole lunch.  I didn’t mind the relentlessly winding ascent into mountains on that perfect day in paradise. The road was in good condition and there were no rain clouds in sight. I was very excited about reacquainting with my old home, eating great food prepared by Dominican Chef Sandra, and relaxing over the meal with friends Nancy and Sarah.

Gwendominica, Nancy and Sarah enjoyed a lovely Creole Day afternoon having a special lunch at Springfield Plantation.

Nancy, who is Managing Director of the Archbold  Research Center based at Springfield, warmly welcomed me.  I almost squealed with glee to be surrounded by Springfield’s stately splendor once again.  Here, on the edge of the rainforest, gentle breezes tempered the harsh heat of the midday sun.  As I looked down the Antrim Valley to the Caribbean Sea, I recalled numerous previous occasions where I had lingered on the porch of this mid-18th century great house, which is now a dining room on the ground level.  Sweet memories came rushing back to me about those halcyon days in Dominica, but Nancy quickly disturbed my daydreams.  Sarah had arrived and it was time to eat!

My Creole lunch at Springfield was divine. I left a little room on the plate so I could go back for more!

The stately dining room at Springfield. It dates back to the mid 18th century.

There are gorgeous vistas both near and far at Springfield.

The grounds around Springfield are simply stunning.

From the buffet table, I filled my plate with all kinds of Dominican delicacies: mildly seasoned codfish; perfectly prepared steamed tuna; dasheen (a starchy  root vegetable) puffs; sweet fried plantains; fawine balls (avocado and cassava flour);  avocado pear and  tangy watercress salad.  I sipped a glass of freshly pressed carambola (star fruit) juice as we savored the distinctive tastes of everything on our plates.  On this divine day on the Nature Isle, we took our time, had a few ‘seconds’ to fill any remaining empty spaces and finished off the meal with fresh fruit salad, guava tart and coconut cake.

Before I knew it,  almost four hours had passed and it was time to go back down the mountain to beat Roseau’s Friday afternoon rush hour though the congested town.

It is so pleasurable to gaze down the densely forested Antrim Valley to the Caribbean Sea from Springfield’s covered dining porch.

As I drove away, I felt especially privileged to have had such a memorable  Creole lunch in this spectacular place.  Thanks to Nancy and the  staff  at Springfield for  a superbly delicious meal in such sensational surroundings.  I promise I’ll be back again soon!

Feeling Nostalgic about Dominica’s 4th World Creole Music Festival in Y2K*

The year 2000  likely holds meaningful memories for many people.  It was a real thrill to witness the turn of the century on the Nature Island. However, one of my most poignant recollections of that year took place just before Dominica’s 4th annual World Creole Music Festival (WCMF).  In anticipation of the upcoming WCMF # 16, I am recalling the unusual situation that year, which was originally published in Caribbean Compass* in January 200o. The text has been slightly modified.

By the time Dominica’s 4th annual World Creole Music Festival took place in October 2000, it was recognized as an event of growing importance on the Caribbean cultural calendar.

However, the generally jovial tone of this grand event was a little subdued that year.  This was due to the sudden death of Dominica’s Prime Minister, the Honourable Roosevelt (Rosie) Douglas due to a heart attack in his home on the first of October. After an official mourning period, he was buried on the 14th of October, which was only a few days before the scheduled international event.  Despite the sudden shock of this tragedy, the remarkably resilient Dominicans disguised their grief and extended their hands in friendship to welcome those from afar to the 4th Annual World Creole Music Festival.

During the touching ceremony which officially opened the festival, the event was dedicated to the memory of ‘Brother Rosie’ Douglas. He would not have been disappointed.  This tremendous three night show of various types of Creole music was performed by 17 bands from around the world.  It was the best one yet!

Thousands braved the cool drizzle to partake of soukous and salsa rhythms on that Friday night.  Sweet Mickey from Haiti took the chill off the night air with many popular songs with a compas rhythm.  My favourite band, Sakis, from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa kept me visually and aurally stimulated into the wee hours with vibrant costumes, sexy dancers and a sizzling hot beat.

That year, the combination of improved organization, a superb stage and great talent was clearly demonstrated during Saturday’s show, which offered the lively audience unforgettable acts until 6 am Sunday.  From my position backstage, I gazed with awe at the mass of humanity in front of the performers.  Numbers swelled to an estimated 10,000 that night.  Festival City, the venue for these shows, was filled to capacity.  From my secure space in the press area, I marveled at the energy and joy that filled the air with zouk and zydeco Creole sounds.

France’s Kassav, Dominica’s all time favourite foreign band, was welcomed onto the stage by a sparkling display of fireworks and a roaring mass of humanity.  Kassav‘s energy, vitality and vibrancy complemented all of the zouk melodies that they could dish out in their almost two hour performance.  Then WCK, one of Dominica’s best loved bands finished off the night ( I should say morning!) with a sizzling show of all their well-known songs. The place was hopping despite heavy rains and a muddy field.  I thrived on the energy emanating from the entire group.  Their drummer’s remarkable talent and powerful command of tempo had me completely enthralled.  Oh, what a night!

Sunday’s sounds were more subdued, but entirely satisfactory.  A smaller tired gathering faithfully followed all of the performers until the last note resounded at 4:30am.  I enjoyed the subtler cadence-compas rhythms and was particularly intrigued by Guadeloupe’s Kadans, who thrilled the crowd with many popular West Indian tunes.

In genuine Dominican style, considerable warmth,  friendship and harmonious pleasures had clearly been extended to all performers and visitors to the beautiful Nature Island.  The captivating Creole music enraptured all of us who attended this sensational three  night show.  ‘Brother Rosie’ would have been proud…

I am very excited about attending the Sunday night show of the 16th annual World Creole Music Festival (WCMF) which will honour another famous Dominican, the late Jeff-Jo, a cadence-lypso music icon par excellence.  Watch out for my report!

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.

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!