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!

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!