Jazz and Creole in Dominica: a Musical High on the Nature Isle!

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CineJazz at Alliance Francaise was a wonderful event that formed part of the 2015 Jazz n Creole season on Dominica.

For the past six years, the season of Jazz ‘n Creole has made itself well-known on Dominica.  This fine fusion of traditional and contemporary musical styles can be seen and heard at various venues around the Nature Island and culminates with a feature event that takes place at the Cabrits National Park on the Pentecost Sunday of that annual long holiday weekend. You can read about my earlier enjoyment of  a fringe event at River Stone Bar & Grill here.

While I have yet to attend the main event, I have enjoyed the variety of shows in the evenings before the main event. They are referred to as Fringe Events.  These are smaller affairs, but no less entertaining than the big day!

This shot is taken from the movie, biguine, which vividly portrays the origins of  Creole Jazz - in dance and song.  Photo taken from Trinidad and Tobago Guardian Online, May 31, 2013.

This still appears in the French movie, Biguine (2004).  It vividly portrays the origins of Creole Jazz – in dance and song, during the late 19th/early 20th century in Martinique, FWI. Photo taken from Trinidad and Tobago Guardian Online, May 31, 2013.

As part of my 2015 selection, I got completely caught up in the first  session, called CINÉJAZZ, which was hosted by the Alliance Française de la Dominique.

Director of the Alliance Francaise de la Dominique, Stanislas Riener welcomed the audience to  the free CINEJAZZ fringe event of Jazz 'n Creole 2015.

Director of the Alliance Francaise de la Dominique, Stanislas Riener welcomed the audience to the free CINEJAZZ fringe event of Jazz ‘n Creole 2015.

Director Stanislas Riener  had organized a film showing of Biguine (in French, with English subtitles), which was directed by Guy Deslaurier and written by Martinican Patrick Chamoiseau (He is a prominent French Caribbean author who created Texaco, which won the notable Prix Concourt in 1992.  It is available in English at the Roseau Public Library. I highly recommend this historical novel for its fascinating details and insights into the plight of the people in this same-named shantytown near Fort-De-France Martinique in the 19th and 20th centuries).

I was particularly excited about viewing the Biguine movie, because I had studied the origins of French West Indian/Creole-Jazz music in my French language classes with Monsieur Stanislas around the time of Dominica’s  World Creole Music Festival 2014.   To see the film only added to my enjoyment and appreciation of Creole-Jazz music and its roots.

From the start, I was drawn into this visual/auditory tale, which was set in St. Pierre, Martinique, once known as the ‘Paris of the Antilles’ in the 19th century.  The imminent eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902, and its  massive destruction of all but one or  two (sources vary) of its inhabitants during that catastrophe only added to the intrigue of the story as it evolved on the screen.  After the abolition of slavery in the mid-19th century,  a musician couple  abandon their no-longer popular traditional African instruments, such as the wooden (bamboo) flute, which was originally accompanied by drums. With strong encouragement from his lady, the gentleman takes up the clarinet, and infuses the woodwind with a sound reminiscent of a mixture of traditional African and then-contemporary European-influenced styles.  Their music further evolves as a result of their experiences at the opera, and the lady (chanteuse) again incorporates classical ‘colonial’ styles with Creole lyrics that told stories of personal and current events through song. They formed a band that delighted large crowds in the nightclubs where they played.  The exchanges between the rich woody tones of the  clarinet and the darker brassy resonance of the trombone pleased my ears tremendously and I wished I could have heard more.

Of course, dance is part of the Biguine and the renowned Compagnie Pomme Cannelle  from Martinique vividly displayed this mix of African rhythms with  formal ballroom steps,bringing the movie to life.  The beautiful traditional Creole wear also complemented the musical action that took place in the bars and taverns of this once-famous French-Caribbean city.  I was on the edge of my seat as the music, song and dance hypnotized me.  I was increasingly jilted out of my revery when the rumblings of the background volcano became more prominent and persistent.  I won’t give away the earth-shattering conclusion (although you probably can guess some of what happened). But did the music die too?

After having seen Biguine, I have a better sense that the Caribbean origins of jazz have often been overlooked.  While Cole Porter did give this Creole genre some prominence in the 1930’s with his enduring ‘Begin the Beguine’, this movie will convince you that there is a magical, musical, mystery that originally unfolded on a French Caribbean island in the late 1800’s.  If one is lucky (as I feel I have been), it can still can be occasionally heard today in countries that honour their Creole heritage – and that includes Dominica!

The audience who stayed a little late on a Tuesday night to enjoy Dekalaj certainly thrilled to their wonderful sounds.

The audience who stayed a little late at Alliance Francaise on a Tuesday night to enjoy Dekalaj certainly loved their wonderful sounds.

Frantz Laurac and Jussi Paavola are a fabulous musical duo known as Dekalaj.

Frantz Laurac and Jussi Paavola are a fabulous musical duo known as Dekalaj.

After a break for some delicious refreshments, the evening continued with  another treat: entertainment from two superb musicians who call themselves Dékalaj. Saxophonist/flautist Jussi Paavola from Dominica was accompanied by keyboardist Frantz  Laurac   from Martinique. This dynamic musical duo has also performed in Paris and the Dominican audience was privileged to hear their wonderful Jazz-Creole offerings that night.

Frantz Laurac from Martinique is a well known international musician who has graced Dominica with his performance  talent recently.

Frantz Laurac from Martinique is a well-known international musician who has graced Dominica with his performance talent recently.

Again, I feel blessed to have experienced the tremendous artistry of both of these musicians before this evening, and because of their high standards, I appreciated the opportunity to hear them again.  I was initially ‘wowed’ by Frantz Laurac when I heard him accompany fellow Martinican, SLAM poet Black Kalagan in March at the Alliance Française de la Dominique.  The rhythmical mix between the beat of the poet’s  emphatic words, interspersed with  percussive electronic piano interludes impressed me to the max!

And then there is Jussi – I was ‘blown away’ the first time I ever heard him play a few years ago with BREVE, a very popular and versatile  local band of highly talented musicians. (More on them shortly). I am in awe of his ability to switch easily between flute and saxophone, add percussive accents with tambourine, cow bell, etc. and even sing!  At this writing, he draws an enthusiastic crowd every Thursday night at 8 Castle Street wine bar and café in Roseau for ‘Sax and the City’.

Jussi on flute at Allaince Francaise.  Apparently this is his first instrument, but he certainly plays sax just as well!

Jussi on flute at Alliance Francaise. Apparently this is his first instrument, but he certainly plays sax equally well!

Jussi on Alto Saxophone at the Alliance Francaise's Jazz 'n Creole fringe event 2015.

Jussi on Alto Saxophone at the Alliance Francaise’s Jazz ‘n Creole fringe event 2015.

As the two musicians offered up a variety of Creole-Jazz and even some Reggae fusions, the small crowd hung on to every note until 10 p.m.  I certainly left the Alliance Française with a huge smile on my face, as the high calibre film and superb live performance assured me that life on a small island is NOT void of cultural activities of an international standard.

Jenny and Gwendominica jazzed it up for Fort Young Hotel's Jazz 'n Creole 2015 fringe event.

Jenny and Gwendominica jazzed it up for Fort Young Hotel’s Jazz ‘n Creole 2015 fringe event.

Friday was a big night out for me.  I was eager to attend the ‘Tis the Season to be Jazzy’ Happy Hour at the Fort Young Hotel in Roseau.  Friend Jenny came along with me, and we arrived early to see the sunset and secure a table in the bar area.  While

Singer Asher Thomas and his band 'Mac & Cheese' offered up easy-listening R+B to the early crowd at the Fort Young Hotel's Jazz 'n Creole fringe event 2015.

Singer Asher Thomas and his band ‘Mac & Cheese’ offered up easy-listening R+B to the early crowd at the Fort Young Hotel’s Jazz ‘n Creole fringe event 2015.

Asher Thomas and his band ‘Mac & Cheese” serenaded the drinkers and diners with easy-listening tunes, Jenny and I made short work of our  substantial, reasonably priced, delicious fish dinners.  We appreciated the prompt and friendly service of the efficient wait-staff, which definitely added to our enjoyment of the evening.

I really did not know in advance about the featured band, but I can assure you when I heard the familiar sounds of the saxophone, well, it just had to be BREVE!  No more sitting at a table from that moment, as Jenny and I situated ourselves in close proximity to the music-makers.  While all the tables in that area were filled with keen patrons, we were content to stand and take in the abundant Jazz, Creole and Reggae tunes. Of course, I could not be still – impossible in that setting, so I moved my body to the beat.  This group really knows how to entertain a diverse crowd – they engaged the audience with every song.  It was also fun to watch them interact with each other through constant smiles and eye contact, as well as their delightful playing of improvised duets and solos ( it’s jazz!).   You can read a recent rave review about them right here.

There's Jussi on soprano sax with BREVE.  This man is musically amazing!

There’s Jussi on sax with BREVE. This man is musically amazing!

Part of the audience at the Fort Young Hotels' Jazz 'n Creole fringe event 2015 savor the sweet sounds of BREVE.

The audience at the Fort Young Hotel’s Jazz ‘n Creole fringe event 2015 savored the sweet sounds of BREVE.

BREVE in action - they definitely have great musical vibes!

BREVE in action – they definitely have great musical vibes!

Although all of these competent musicians sang well while playing their respective instruments, I was particularly impressed

BREVE vocalist Jade Leatham sang some roots Raggae with her acoustic guitar beautifully.

BREVE vocalist Jade Leatham beautifully  sang some roots Reggae with her acoustic guitar.

with a young lady named Jade Leatham.  Her rich, resonant contralto voice complemented the harmonious qualities of the other instruments.  I also enjoyed her stint on acoustic guitar, which brought back memories of my glory days on that six-stringed non-electronic instrument.

Dominican Music Icon Gordon Henderson graced the stage for one Cadence-lypso song at Fort Young's Hotel's Jazz 'n Creole fringe event 2015.  he is backed up by BREVE.

Dominican Music Icon Gordon Henderson graced the stage for one Cadence-lypso song at Fort Young’s Hotel’s Jazz ‘n Creole fringe event 2015. He is backed up by BREVE.

When the night was almost over, renowned Dominican music icon Gordon Henderson, the ‘God-Father’ of Cadence-lypso music graced the stage for one Creole song in the genre that he created.  The audience was ecstatic and I could tell that this particular tune took them down memory lane.

By the time we left, it was almost midnight.  BREVE had played a very long set – about 2 1/2 hours non-stop. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to get high on  fabulous Jazz and Creole on the Nature Isle!

The BREVE band is good at giving an audience a sensational musical high!

Dominica’s BREVE band is very good at giving an audience a sensational musical high!

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:

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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.

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 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.

A Few Notes about Jazz ‘n Creole Music in May on the Nature Island

As you know by now, Dominica’s annual Hike Fest definitely has a grip on me.  But this year, I decided to sample some of the Jazz ‘n Creole offerings as well.  Sweets sounds did abound during the week of May 15th -19th, which formed part of the numerous activities during Tourism Awareness Month on the Nature Island.

While I didn’t do any of the special hikes  that were offered during that midweek time period, I did attend the Pan ‘n Jazz Soireé at the Evergreen Hotel on the evening of May 15th. When I arrived just after 7 p.m., I was surprised to see that the hotel’s dining room and bar area were packed with enthusiastic guests who were all engaged in conversation.  Because the room was so full, I remained close to the exit door.  After I few minutes, I detected beautiful sounds of steel pan, piano and saxophone drifting in from the outside patio.  I followed the melody to its source and was one of a

Dominican musiciansJulie Martin on piano (l) and his brother Athie on steel pan (l) perfectly complemented the sweet sax sounds  of Luther Francois from St. Lucia.

Dominican musicians Julie Martin on piano (l) and his brother Athie on steel pan (r) perfectly complemented the sweet sax sounds of Luther Francois from St. Lucia.

very few who stood in front of this intimate group of amazing musicians, two of whom are well-known to me.  The man playing the cool tunes on the saxophone was complete mystery.  After a couple of quick enquiries, I found out that these mellow tones were emanating from the instrument of none other than Luther Francois, St. Lucia’s acclaimed jazz saxophonist!  While the performance was low-key and the spectators were few, I delighted in the smooth music of these exquisite artistes.

Tiffany Maynes really has a presence that holds that crowd. Saxophonist Marivn Marie (r) smooth sounds blend well with her voice.  On background keyboard is Peter Letang of the Swinging Stars band.

Tiffany Mayne really has a presence that holds that crowd. Saxophonist Marvin Marie`s (r) smooth sounds blend well with her alto voice.

When their set was complete, the music moved to the seaside terrace, where the  Shades of Green band entertained with their Creole-Jazz fusion sounds.  They collected a crowd, and everyone was tapping their toes to the beat.  After their pleasing renditions, emerging jazz songstress Tiffany Mayne and popular local saxophonist  Marvin Marie of the renowned Swinging Stars  band really got the  entire gathering into the groove.  By the time I left around 10 p.m., I noticed smiles on the faces of everyone in the room.  The opening Fringe Event of Jazz ‘n Creole met with resounding success.

Tiffany really gets into the song and Marvin on sax knows how to complement her sound.

Tiffany really gets into the song and Marvin on sax knows how to complement her sound. On background keyboard (l) is Peter Letang of the Swinging Stars band.

While there was lots more to hear that week, it wasn’t until after the Jaco Flats and Jaco Steps  hike on Saturday that I got a bigger taste of  Fringe Event Jazz ‘n Creole fusion sounds. While we dined post-hike at the RiverStone Bar ‘n’ Grill near the village of Bells in the heart of Dominica, we got to relax and unwind from the morning’s exertions over some exceptional sounds.  On the patio overlooking the River Laurent, we watched cultural guru Gregory Rabess and his band bring Creole stories  to life through some of his original compositions.  With experienced back-up musicians such as the bass player  from Swinging Stars and the keyboardist from Shades of Green, the sound was tight and well rehearsed. Rabess and soprano back-up Miriam blended their voices well.  He also expressed musical sentiments through traditional drums, steel pan and guitar.  Towards the end of this Creole-Jazz Segment, a number of the  Hike Festers were on the floor moving their hips to the beat.   This was our cool-down in the mid-afternoon!  We had by then worked out any muscle soreness and stiffness that was setting in!

If you`ve read my previous post about our morning foray to Jaco Flats and Jaco Steps, you will know that my camera met the mighty Layou River and was out of commission (permanently, I think!).  Therefore, I have no photos to offer you, but I assume you might find some elsewhere online!

Most of the hikers had left by the time the hot sounds of one of Dominica`s newer bands took the stage. BREVE  is a group of young men with  a very musical, melodious,  rhythmically tight, well-rehearsed, jazzy sound that is quickly earning them top marks in Dominica and around the region.   I first saw and heard them  at the World Creole Music Festival last October.  I`ve been hooked ever since.  While they didn`t have their horn section with them  this time (saxophone and trumpet), they did not disappoint with their vibrant performance.

A big surprise of the late afternoon was a guest performance by Maxine, proprietress of RiverStone .  She is a well-known Dominican chanteuse, but I had not heard her sing for some time.  When she suddenly appeared on stage where she sang `Misty`, she had the audience in the palm of her hand!  Her 1950`s  vocal performance style, subtle gestures and expressive face absolutely captured the mood of this sultry song.  I was completely blown away by her interpretation.  Maxine, you go girl!

The second big treat of the afternoon was the song or two I heard from Golda James of Salisbury, a village on the west coast of Dominica. Her powerful, gutsy, versatile voice perfectly suited the accomplished style of all the musicians in the BREVE band.  I wish them well and can`t wait to hear them again.

Although the night was young, the remaining few  tired and bedraggled hikers departed at 5:30 p.m., as we all had places to go and things to do after our long day .

`Can`t we stay a little longer,“ pleaded Abigail.  Unfortunately not, but I reminded her that she would be heading to the main stage event at Cabrits National Park  at Portsmouth the following day. There, an assembly of superb Jazz `n Creole music makers, such as Dominica`s incomparable  Michele Henderson would entertain thousands on the grounds of restored Fort Shirley.

Abigail, I hope you had a great time!  I have no doubt that you were surrounded in mellow sounds at Dominica`s 4th annual Jazz `n Creole.  I`ll see you there next year!

The Amazing Michele Henderson: Dominica’s Super Songstress

Michele Henderson has an extraordinary voice and a captivating stage presence.
Photo credit: Alpha Paul

There was something special about Dominican singer Michele (pronounced Mi-kel) Henderson`s unique soprano voice that caught my attention during my early days on the Nature Island.  I first heard her harmonizing as a background singer in a Creole recording called Mizik a Nou (Our Music) that had just been launched prior to the first annual World Creole Music Festival in 1997. Over the next couple of years, two more of these Creole CD’s were produced by prolific musician  and arranger Cornell Phillip of Imperial Publishing.  By then,  Michele’s voice was  much more front and centre in many of the songs!

Then I  happened to hear Michele perform with her band at hotels and clubs around Roseau for the next few years. This  petite young woman could belt out beautiful tunes with ease!   I made it a point to go to her shows, as I was so impressed with her exceptional vocal talent, stage presence and professionalism.   She competently sang in a broad range of music styles apart from the Creole genres, such as jazz, soul, reggae and R+B.  As I looked around  the packed performance venues, I could see that she  greatly appealed to very mixed audiences of nationals, expats, tourists, foreign language speakers, the younger set and the older crowd too!

Of course, I still knew very little about her personally, but that changed very quickly one day.  With some supportive friends such as Cedric Phillip, Director of the River Song choir, I found my way back into music circles, although I had not sung for many years.  Another Canadian-trained musician, soprano Marilyn Smith asked me if I would like  to  sing the  alto part in some duets just for fun.  Then, as Christmas 2002 approached, Marilyn decided we should expand our repertoire for some upcoming concerts and named us the Beau Bois Ensemble.  She had invited renowned Dominican  piano teacher Leng Sorhaindo to accompany us.  Marilyn also excitedly announced that none other than Michele Henderson would  sing a classical Christmas trio with us, as well as play other parts  on flute.  I was thrilled to be singing with this awesome Dominican songstress.   And from personal experience, I can definitely confirm that Michele Henderson is nothing short of amazing!

The Beau Bois Ensemble in April 2003, just before Marilyn returned to Canada.  Those were the days.  We had a great time, that's for sure!

The Beau Bois Ensemble in April 2003, just before Marilyn returned to Canada. Those were the days. We had a great time, that’s for sure!

Ten years later, I am again humbled because this dynamic artiste whose  career continues to skyrocket took time out for her hectic schedule to bring me up-to-date on her musical endeavors .  I was delighted when  one of the first things she said to me when we met was: “Remember when we sang in the Beau Bois Ensemble, Gwen?”  As if I will ever forget!  What an honour to have sung with the woman who is referred to as ‘the Princess of Cadanse’ and performs all over the world!

Michele comes by her musical talent naturally.  She hails from the southern village of Grand Bay, also known as  ‘South City’, the self-proclaimed ‘cultural capital’ of Dominica.  Therefore, it should be no surprise that her roots are steeply immersed in music.  “I grew up in a very musical family – my mother sang, my father played guitar, and even my grandfather was the organist at the Catholic church next door. I was constantly surrounded by music.”  There was no escaping from musical acts in her village as the vintage cadanse band called the Midnight Groovers used to rehearse right beside her house.  And one of her cousins, Gordon Henderson, went on to create the jazzy cadanse-lypso style of Creole music which greatly appeals to both Europeans and  West Indians.

“I revel in music.  I always knew I wanted to be a singer,” she declares. Although Michele can’t remember her first performance, her mother tells her that she started to sing publicly in church at the tender age of two.  As a young child, her late father inspired her and exposed her to many different styles of music by having her listen to recordings of vastly different types of music, such as country and calypso.  “He was my number one coach, cheerleader and motivator,” Michele lovingly recalls.

Around the age of nine, she started to attend the Roseau Girls’ School (now Roseau Primary School) in the city.  The principal, Patricia Benjamin recognized Michele’s budding musical talent and referred her right away to Leng Sorhaindo, director of the  Kairi School of Music (sadly no longer in existence).  There, she studied with accomplished flautist, composer and choir director Pearle Christian on recorder and then flute. She also joined the junior choir, where she sang a number of leading roles in some of the school’s musicals.  “Pearle really groomed me into being an artist,” she says with affection about Ms. Christian, who continues to support and encourage Michele at every opportunity.

“My classical training was a pleasant part of becoming a musician.  I wanted to know more about it.  I enjoyed studying it and will continue.”  And true to her word, one can still find Michele playing her flute and singing from the classical repertoire in  charity concerts and church events.

Michele has a very vibrant and energetic presence that takes up the entire stage!

With her musical family and upbringing, as well as a firm foundation in the classical genre, Michele  caught the attention of many people when she won the DOMFESTA Song Contest in Dominica in 1995.  From that time on, her career has firmly established itself and is always expanding locally, regionally and internationally.

Michele sings with veteran Creole Chanteuse Ophelia Marie at the 2012 World Creole Music Festival.

Michele has performed at several World Creole Music Festivals, including the most recent one  in 2012 where she harmonized with veteran Creole singer, Ophelia Marie in paying tribute to   their  recently deceased  music colleague, the legendary Jeff Jo.  This performance was particularly meaningful to Michele: “I always wanted to be like him [Jeff Jo],” says Michele, “He had a real stage presence,  and such a big aura that any audience was compelled to pay attention to him.” This admiration must have been mutual, as Jeff Jo actually was one of her mentors who  did arrange for her to perform at various shows overseas.  And as for her  own vibrant and energetic stage moves, I would like to think that Jeff Jo would continue to be very impressed with her act!

Apart from Michele’s tremendous talent as a performer, she also possesses an uncanny ability to easily compose melodies and write lyrics to dozens of original songs.”I really love to write, as well as perform,” she professes.   Michele did tell me that she often has a melody in her head, which can come to her at any time, including the middle of the night!  She will immediately stop whatever she is doing, and even get out of bed to record the tune that’s floating around in her head on a mobile phone ‘app’.  Then she will further develop it at her studio   The lyrics will follow later.

“I just write about life and draw from my own and other people’s experiences,” she explains.  Michele approaches her creations as a form of story telling through songs.  In a  culture of African-Creole origin, this oral method is very traditional and is one of the features of the cadanse style, for which Michele is well-known.  She has also composed plenty of material in English, including Dominica’s 30th anniversary reunion theme song in 2008, entitled ‘Celebrating the Journey Together‘. But she doesn’t only write for herself.  Her prolific talent is clear in the Creole songs she wrote for seven finalists in the recent  NCCU Cadanse-Lypso Contest.   She is thrilled that  the winner, Webster Marie,  “had great delivery” of an idea that he suggested to which she wrote playful words and a pleasing melody for a song called ‘Toutouni’, (which means  naked in Creole!).  “I am very proud of that.  I’ve never had a winner before,” she admits.  And now she is even venturing into writing calypso songs for other performers.  Her capacity for creativity seems endless!

Many of Michele’s compositions are found on six albums, to date. A good number  of the songs are in Creole and are tremendously  popular in Dominica and the French Caribbean countries.    This talented artiste continues to attract fans all over the world through the songs she writes in English, French and Creole.  Her innate ability to cross-over into  jazz, soul, reggae and R+B with her own works and innovative remakes of popular tunes has audiences cheering for more.  She really loves doing ‘gigs’ and has been extremely well received in numerous nations, including: the United States; Scandinavia; the United Kingdom; France, Germany, parts of central America; and everywhere in the English and French Caribbean.   European visitors  to Dominica have been known to come off the cruise ship in port and ask where they can buy Michele’s CD’s!

To get a glimpse of her astounding performance at a glamorous high-profile Charity Ball in London England in 2009, click here.   While there have been many sold-out shows  in various countries, she feels that her most memorable concert to date was the one which took place  at the Shrine Auditorium in Hollywood, California in 2007. See a sampling at this link.  “There was a very high degree of professionalism in preparing for that show,” Michele recalls about that exceptional event.

In the French West Indian islands, her name is practically a household word.  She has worked with other  established French musicians, producers and arrangers in Guadeloupe and Martinique.Her Creole songs are often heard on the airways, and the popular  Pas Lesse Mwen was  a Number 1 hit on some Martinique Radio Stations.

I was privileged to pose with Dominica’s première Creole Divas after the 16th World Creole Music Festival in 2012. Michele (left) has established herself on the circuit for more than 15 years and veteran performer Ophelia Marie (right) is known on the international scene for more than 30 years! Photo taken by Giselle Laurent, Domnitjen Magazine.

I’ve been blessed to actually see her perform locally in front of thousands at several World Creole Music Festivals, as well as in smaller venues with intimate audiences around Roseau – and even  in churches.  It doesn’t matter how big or small the crowd: Michele  consistently offers everyone  the best of her precious musical gift and a presentation of the highest standard.  She recently represented Dominica at a special Caribbean Showcase at Grosvenor House as part of the 2012 London Olympics this past summer.  And yes, she sang in Creole for the delighted  dignitaries.

Michele is a proud Dominican who eagerly promotes her culture through her  Creole compositions and her wonderful voice. Photo credit: Tainos Creations

Her incredible musical accomplishments, coupled with her strong belief in the value of having a social conscience have deservedly earned her what she feels is the most prestigious award, among others.  In 2004, she was appointed a ‘Goodwill Ambassador’ for Dominica by the country’s Prime Minister, the Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit. “I am delighted to promote Dominica’s culture at every opportunity,” Michele declares. Other accolades and awards  are found here and on Michele’s own web site: www.michelemuzic.com.  You can also check out Michele’s latest activities on Facebook.

Immediate plans include more songwriting, coaching young Dominican ‘Rising Stars’ and performing on the MV Freewinds ( private cruise ship) this December.  While she has made great gains up to now, she is determined to reach higher heights.  With the full support of   husband and fellow musician, ‘Junior’ Delsol, along with her two daughters, she is already making arrangements to spend more time in the United States where there are more opportunities for advancement.  At the same time, she remains strongly enmeshed in her Grand Bay roots and is reluctant to take her family away from the quality of life that they enjoy on the Nature Island.  It seems obvious to me that she has what it takes to strike a healthy balance between personal and professional obligations.

Perhaps part of the secret of Michele’s continuous rise on the route to super-stardom lies in her unflinching determination to succeed and a persistent positive attitude.  She has proactively chosen to “stop waiting for it to happen” and instead is focused on “being what she wants to become.”

Michele Henderson is an amazing woman. She is  a rare Dominican gem of incredible brilliance who is destined to sparkle all over the world.  I am so proud of the ongoing accomplishments of this exceptional daughter of the Nature Island.  Aren’t you?

*special thanks to Leng Sorhaindo for additional details about  the Kairi School of Music

** much love to Michele for taking time out to talk to me and  reviewing the draft of this article

The Sweet Sounds of Sunday at Dominica’s 16th World Creole Music Festival

The stage lights shone at sunset for the Sunday night show of the World Creole Music Festival at Dominica’s Windsor Park Stadium.

The night of Sunday October 28, 2012 will stand out forever in my mind.  Under crystal clear skies, an almost full moon continuously glowed over Dominica’s Windsor Park Stadium as the third and  final program for the 16th annual World Creole Music Festival (WCMF) got underway.

I arrived at the ‘park’ around 4:30 p.m. in anticipation of an early start to a long line-up of talented artistes, both local and international.  Although I  had not attended the festival for a couple of years, I felt prompted to do so now because the entire event paid tribute to one of Dominica’s foremost music icons, the late Jeff Jo. He had actually performed at the 15th WCMF the previous year and then suddenly died a few weeks later. Throughout his distinguished and lengthy music career of about 40 years, he constantly promoted Creole music  styles such as ‘Cadanse‘( also spelled Cadance and Kadans) all over the world, thereby exposing  international audiences to Dominica’s unique culture.

Dominica’s BREVE is a band to watch. Their jazzy blends and mellow sounds are very tight!

The tone was set very early that evening by some young talented singers, referred to as Dominica’s ‘Rising Stars’.  They had all competed in local contests where they were voted crowd favourites. Some of these voices, such as Asher Thomas paid tribute to the late Jeff Jo by offering the appreciative audience renditions from the deceased musician’s repertoire, such as the ever popular ‘Soucouyant‘ (witch in Dominican folklore).  The back-up band called Breve served up their own jazzed- up versions of  Jeff Jo’s compositions.  I was really intrigued by the lead singer/trumpeter and the saxophonist, who delivered a sweet warm blend of smooth tenor voice, mellow reedy tones and bright brassy sounds.

‘Rising Star’ Shamika Sorhaindo confidently delivered her R+B songs to a delighted crowd.

But the young singer who impressed me most didn’t actually touch the Creole genres on this night.  She wowed the growing crowd with her delightful presentations of a couple of R+B tunes.  Shamika Sorhaindo  definitely knew how to hold the audience in the palm of her hand with lots of confidence despite a low-key stage presence.  Her  vocal quality is pleasing to the ear, whether she is singing in the upper or lower ends of her range.  She is someone to follow and I wish her well!  I also know that everyone who heard her must agree, as indicated by the strength of their applause.

As darkness fell and the grounds of the big stadium began to fill-up, I waited with great anticipation for the next act.  My very favourite Dominican lady singers, Ophelia Marie and Michele Henderson    (pronounced Mi-kel) were actually performing together as well as separately.  Although these two renowned musicians are a generation apart, their mutual love of Creole music and international reputations continue to put Dominican music “on the map!”

Even though I do not speak  Creole  well enough to understand every word, these two Dominican chanteuses easily cross the language barrier with their expressive voices and commanding stage presence.  The rhythms of the different genres of Creole music also have definite appeal and enable the sentiments of each song to be more easily understood.  There is a certain passion which is found in the words and music which aids in interpreting the message contained in each piece.  Creole music  such as the ‘Cadanse‘  style did originate in the early 1970’s, when Dominica was struggling towards becoming an independent nation.  The themes of many of the songs often portray a societal issue or a solidarity in terms of social conditions or tell a story about something that affects everyone.  This unique form of music helps me to get a better ‘feel for’ and appreciation of the Dominican culture and its origins.  I absolutely love it!

Michele Henderson intersperses some of her songs with sweet flute interludes.

Michele’s outfits and energetic moves are as vibrant as her voice!

Michele  started  with a great mix of songs in English and Creole.  She’s been on the circuit for over 15 years and knows how to reach a diverse audience.  In my mind, her claim to fame, apart from a brilliant soprano voice, is her complete versatility and ability to sing in many different styles such as R+B, ‘cadanse‘,’ zouk, reggae, jazz and soul, to name a few.  She is also an accomplished flautist, speaks/sings in English, French and Creole, and can  constantly cover the stage with her energetic show(woman)ship!  It is obvious that she sings with a passion that comes straight from her heart!  I especially enjoyed hearing Dominique Vivan – a very patriotic song that incorporates some of Dominica’s national anthem; The Beat Goes On (her own composition)an empowering rendition for women; and a song written by a Haitian called Roseau (Creole for a strong and resilient reed that grows along river banks) which Michele dedicated to Haiti and her people who continue to overcome many challenges.

Ophelia’s commanding stage presence, mellow voice and thoughtful lyrics easily capture the audience’s attention!

After a  smooth transition between the two chanteuses, Dominica’s ‘first lady of song’, Ophelia, then graced us with her presence on the stage. She is a veteran award-winning Creole singer with more than 30 years on the international circuit.  Her intense cadanse renditions complemented her soulful and powerful contralto voice. Deliberate stage moves enraptured the spellbound audience, who sporadically cried out:”We love you, Ophelia!”  Her enduring songs thrilled the crowd. Ophelia’s most famous composition, Aie Dominique – which refers to her passionate sentiments about Dominica in the 1970’s before Independence  –  really seemed to stir up memories for the devoted listeners.  Two of my favourite chansons were:  Dingolay  a Creole version of  a song by a Trinidadian calypsonian called ‘Shadow’ ; and the sexy  and seductive Son Tambour La  (written by Dominica’s Gordon Henderson of Exile One fame), sung with 2012 cadanse-lypso  song competition champion Webster Marie  Its  Creole lyrics, including  this partial translation: ” I hear the sound of the drum making waves in the country”  really got the crowd moving their hips to the beat!

Michele and Ophelia blended their voices beautifully as they paid tribute to their colleague, the late Jeff Jo.

I got to pose with these amazing Creole divas, Michele (left) and Ophelia (right) after their rousing performances. It was a wish come true!  Photo taken by Giselle Laurent.

When Ophelia and Michele sang together to pay tribute to their departed colleague Jeff-Jo, I am sure there weren’t many dry eyes in the park.  Their joint rendition of Chanson D’Amour (also written by cadanse-lypso icon Gordon Henderson) was particularly moving, as the two Creole divas blended their contrasting vocal qualities into lovely harmonies with heart-felt lyrics.

Roberto Martino, lead singer and guitarist in the Haitian kompa band called T Vice played his heart out for Jeff Jo.  He was acquainted with the late cadanse icon through his father, who knew him as a fellow Creole musician.

The night was no longer young when the Haitian group T Vice (who are based in Miami) turned up the heat and got the crowd jumping to the beat.  Their very bouncy Creole style, called kompa was also mixed with a little reggae, merengue and flamenco.  Additional electronic synthesizing of the sounds created an infectious and energetic rhythm that kept everyone warm as a cool wind began to blow down the Roseau Valley and into the stadium.

Damien Marley is a huge promoter of universal peace and love through his popular reggae music.

Then the tempo really mellowed as reggae rhythms filled the air with the appearance of Damian Marley, three-time Grammy award winner and  son the late Bob Marley.  While I do appreciate the genre, I remained focused on Creole music and related matters backstage. I was also deeply engrossed in conversation with Giselle Laurent, publisher of Domnitjen.  This magazine specializes in a variety of subjects that are unique to Dominica, including the music!

It was clear that we were the odd women out, as the playing field of the stadium was now packed to capacity and the bleachers facing the stage were filled with enthusiastic and devoted fans.  In the press conference following his powerful performance, it was evident that apart from Damien Marley’s tremendous musical gift, he is intent on sharing the Rastafarian philosophy of universal peace and love with the world. Much respect!

‘Chubby’ of Chubby and the Midnight Groovers performs vintage cadanse Creole music. They are one of Dominica’s most popular bands and have performed at every WCMF except one!

It was just a little after 2 a.m. when the Original Grammacks International performed a tribute set in honour of their late leader, Jeff Jo.  My energy was really flagging at this point, as I had been at the show for about eight hours.  I recognized that I was fading fast and would not be able to catch the last two acts.  Just before I left the backstage area to hear a song or two from them, I had a brief conversation with ‘Chubby” Mark, lead singer of Dominica’s Chubby and the Midnight Groovers.  Although I realized that I would not be able to stay for his band’s vintage cadanse ‘gig’ a couple of hours later, I did manage to have a brief conversation with him. Right then,  I thanked him for his wonderful and enduring music, as the group has been in existence since the early 1970’s.  Chubby smiled at me, took my hand, and looked into my eyes as he said, “Peace and love, my sister.”  Talk about ending my  night on a high note!

As I walked out of the stadium, my camera failed and I was unfortunately not able to get one last photo of Grammacks.  However,  I was serenaded by their classic cadanse renditions.  Jeff Jo must have smiled down from heaven on  the sweet sounds of  every musician who performed on Sunday night at Dominica’s 16th annual World Creole Music Festival.  Oh , what a show!

* With thanks to Michele Henderson and McCarthy Marie for Creole song translations.

** With appreciation to the Dominica Festivals Committee for providing me with a media pass.

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!