Capturing Dominica’s Creole Spirit: Sunday Night at ‘The Festival’ 2013*

Gwendominica is thrilled to hear Carimi (a Haitian Compas Band) warm-up before the start of the SUnday night show at the 17th annual WCMF.  Photo taken by Kim.

Gwendominica is thrilled to hear Carimi (a Haitian Compas Band) warm-up before the start of the Sunday night show at the 17th annual WCMF. Photo taken by Kim.

What I really like about the Sunday night edition of recent World Creole Music Festivals (WCMF) is the earlier start time!  As I am not

really a late night person, I appreciated  the opportunity to arrive in daylight at the  Windsor Park Sports Stadium, the venue of the event.  And my efforts were duly rewarded!  As I walked through the gates, I was thrilled to hear the fabulous sounds of Carimi, a Haitian-American band that specializes in the Creole compas (kompa in Haitian dialect) beat.  I  love their music.  Whenever I listen to this fantastic group, I just have to move my feet!  They were actually performing their sound check, as they were scheduled to appear later ( wee hours of the morning!) and I had not planned to turn into a pumpkin on this night.  While I have had the pleasure to see them at earlier WCMF’s, my spirits soared to experience a  little taste of their unique sound once again. Although they were the last act  on this third night of the 17th WCMF, thousands  did stay on site to take them into their hearts before they headed off to work  on Monday morning! And if you’ve never had the pleasure – check out their latest album Invasion.”  It recently reached the number 2 spot on Billboard’s Best Selling World Music Album’s Chart (November 2013). I can’t wait to get it!

The Carimi keyboardist knows how to blend the most beautiful arminies.

The Carimi keyboardist knows how to blend the most beautiful compas harmonies.

The Carimi guitarist  makes some magnificent 'licks'.

The Carimi guitarist offers up  some magnificent Creole ‘licks’.

While I waited for the programme to begin, I chatted with a few media and musician friends backstage.  We excitedly awaited another superb evening of the finest Creole music anywhere on earth.

I feel very strongly about supporting young emerging musical talent on the Nature Island.  It was a real delight to see and hear these young people, referred to as ‘Rising Stars’ perform on the ‘big stage’ and  literally sing their hearts out.  While the night was still early, and people were slowly sauntering in to the stadium, I was able to remain front and centre in the photographer’s ‘pit’ for some time.  The singer who really

Rachel Jno Baptiste is a 'Rsing Star' who relly sparkled at the WCMF.  You go, girl!

Rachel Jno Baptiste is a ‘Rising Star’ who really sparkled at the WCMF. You go, girl!

caught my attention was a 2012 talent search winner with whom I was already familiar: Rachel  Jno Baptiste.  I have watched and heard her for a several years and I was very impressed with her presentation at the WCMF.  She has a lovely, rich, powerful voice and intuitively knows how to grasp the attention of her audience.  She also appeared very much at ease (while I can well imagine how stressful it may have been!) and expressively ‘communicated’ the message in each song to the crowd.  She certainly got  resounding applause for her efforts!

There were other ‘Rising Stars’ who clearly put everything they could into their performances and I applaud them for their efforts.  I also encourage them to work very hard at perfecting their craft as emerging

Miss Dominica 2013, Leslassa Armour-Shillingford poses with 'rising stars' Rachel Jno Baptiste,   Leona Peters   and Davin Labad.

From left, Miss Dominica 2013, Leslassa Armour-Shillingford poses with ‘Rising Stars’ Rachel Jno Baptiste, Leona Peters and Davin Labad.

Mel-C is a young lady who is definitely making a name for herself as she has been performing at various venues and events around Dominica.

Mel-C is a young lady who is definitely making a name for herself as she has been constantly performing at various  events around Dominica.

artistes.

The Soufriere Street Swag Dancers sported pretty costumes and danced divinely after the "rising stars' had finished their set.

The Soufriere Street Swag Dancers sported pretty costumes and danced divinely after the “Rising Stars’ had finished their set.

The musicians in Tito Puente Jr.'s band are top notch and put on a perfect show.

The musicians in Tito Puente Jr.’s band are top notch and put on a perfect show.

Tito Puente really captivated the crowd with his Afro-Cuban Latin rhythms.

Tito Puente Jr. really captivated the crowd with his Afro-Cuban Latin rhythms.

Then came the highlight of my night – and it wasn’t Creole music in the true sense, “but in a kind of a way” – as NYC Latin music sensation Tito Puente Jr. might say. This vibrant, energetic, charismatic, seasoned performer graced the stage at the WCMF and truly carried on his father’s legacy as a Latin music legend.  I didn’t stay in the photographers’ pit too long – it was now filled.  I took some quick ‘pics’ and headed out into the crowd to practise a few long-forgotten dance steps – merengue, cha-cha, samba and rumba, to name a few. (Sorry – I don’t do mambo  or salsa – yet!). As Mr. Puente Jr. told the media after his performance, his music is largely Afro-Cuban in origin, hence the Creole connection!  What a fabulous show.  If any Latin music enthusiasts happen to be around NYC, then you’ve just got to check him out (or go see him wherever in the world he has a gig)!

Calypsonian Daddy Chess and Stars back-up singer Phillip Horsford wow the crowd with old favourites.

Calypsonians Tasha P, Daddy Chess and longtime  Swinging Stars singer Phillip Horsford wow the crowd with old favourites.

A little drizzle didn't stop people from jammin' to the beat of Swingin Stars at theri best.

A little drizzle didn’t stop people from jammin’ to the beat of Swingin’ Stars at their best.

I have been a loyal fan of the Swingin(g) Stars since I first arrived on the Nature Isle.  Back then, they played on some Sundays at Springfield Guest House.  Those were the sweetest afternoons and I have fond memories of those jams.  This versatile band truly knows how to entertain a crowd – and they should – they’ve been around for more than 50 years! On this night, they were focusing on outstanding calypso greats of the past 35 years. After a little soca, bouyon and other Creole favourites, lead singers Chester (Daddy Chess) Letang, Tasha (Tasha P) Peltier and long-time singer Phillip Horsford had all the Dominicans in the house tripping down memory lane as they served up the best of oldie-goldie Carnival road march calypsos from years gone by, as well as a few more recent tunes.  Other renowned calypsonians, Daryl (De Bobb) Bobb ,

Daryl Bobb (De Bobb)  is a longstanding calypsonian who sings about social issues with a passion.

Daryl Bobb (De Bobb) is a veteran  calypsonian who sings about social issues with a passion.

Derek (De Hunter) St. Rose  and reigning Monarch Dennison (Dice) Joseph followed them with some well-known renditions.Then it was time for me to go!

Yes, I know – Kassav  from Martinique was on next and the Haitian band Carimi  would close the 2013 show – and I was thankful that I had heard their great Creole music at other WCMF’s.

The WCMF 2013 banner intermittently flashed on the big screen throughout the three nights of pulsating rhythms.

The WCMF 2013 banner intermittently flashed on the big screen throughout the three nights of pulsating rhythms.

Was I crazy to leave then – or what?  Probably – but my mission to hear and support Dominican Creole and Calypso music was accomplished. I left the stadium with a smile, knowing that I’d hear lots more Calypso very soon – as Carnival 2014 was just around the corner!

*Many thanks again to the Dominica Festivals Committee for providing me with a media pass and access to the photographers’ ‘pit’.  Much appreciation is extended to Event Director Natalie Clarke for reviewing this piece before publication.

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 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.