Two Months after Tropical Storm Erika: An Independence Season of Reflection, Renewal and Hope

Morne Trois Pitons towers over the island's interior on a beautiful day several weeks after Tropical Storm Erika. A land slide on the right bank can be seen here.

Morne Trois Pitons towers over the island’s interior on a beautiful day several weeks after Tropical Storm Erika. A landslide on the right bank can be seen here.

As Dominica continued to recover from the devastating after-effects caused by Tropical Storm Erika, this year’s Independence

activities reflected the overall mood of the nation with quiet celebrations and ongoing efforts to rebuild the country.

I was on-island for about a month before I ventured beyond the environs of Roseau. My neighbour’s mother, with whom I was acquainted had recently passed away

The Wesley Catholic Church is a beautiful house of worship on Dominica's northeast coast.

The Wesley Catholic Church is a beautiful house of worship on Dominica’s northeast coast.

and I honoured her memory by attending her funeral in Wesley, on the northeast coast of the island. Buses had been organized to take attendees across the mountainous interior, and I was fortunate to take a front seat for the best view of the terrain.  Of course, my camera was in hand, as I was curious to capture the current state of the land one month after my return.

While major landslides had been cleared, there was still evidence of instability with occasional mounds of dirt and stones blocking one

The Layou River overflowed its banks in the area of the village of Bells, in Dominica's interior.

The Layou River overflowed its banks near the village of Bells, in Dominica’s interior, leaving severely eroded banks following T.S. Erika.

lane of the  interior highway.  As well, this main road had been undermined in several locations where it followed along the course of  powerful rivers, such as the Layou and the Laurent near Bells, deep in the Heart of Dominica. Restoration works were also well underway around the perimeter of Douglas-Charles

Morne Diablotin, Dominica's highest mountain forms a misty backdrop to the repair works underway at the Douglas-Charles Airport.

Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s highest mountain forms a misty backdrop to the repair works underway at the Douglas-Charles Airport.

Airport at Melville Hall, following the repair and reopening of the runway where I had  safely landed a few weeks earlier.

When I arrived at Wesley, I joined hundreds of others at the Catholic Church in that village for the funeral of Theresa Gordon.  We collectively paid tribute to a lady who was obviously very well  respected by all who knew her or her immediate family. Despite the sadness of the occasion, it was clearly evident to me that feelings of love and good will prevailed.  I think that ‘Ma Gordon”, as I called her, would have been very happy about that and I was moved by the positive atmosphere that surrounded me there.  I was reminded once again, that despite tragedy and loss, Dominicans are a very resilient people who determinedly ‘carry on’, no matter what challenges they have endured!

Cartwheel Cafe offers tasty breakfasts - not just on Creole Day, but every day! The seasoned codfish, boiled egg and breadfruit makes a very filling meal.

Cartwheel Cafe offers tasty breakfasts – not just on Creole Day, but every day! The seasoned codfish, boiled egg and breadfruit make a very filling meal.

This year, persistent inclement weather put a bit of a damper on Creole Day

Many seamstresses create beautiful variations on traditional Creole wear - for all shapes and sizes!

Skilled seamstresses create beautiful variations on traditional Creole wear – for all shapes and sizes!

festivities, but it did not prevent me from enjoying delicious traditional foods, especially the vegetarian and fish varieties. And I always enjoy the seasonal fashions, created with bright madras fabrics, although I was more subdued with my style of  dress this year. The spirit of the season was definitely ‘out there’, but in a low key and respectful

Simone at Kai-K Boutique poses beside the manequin beside Cartwheel Cafe on the Bayfront.

Simone at Kai-K Boutique poses beside the mannequin close to Cartwheel Cafe on the Bayfront.

way.With the cancellation of the World Creole Music Festival and Creole in the Park  due to the post-T.S. Erika situation, the streets were much quieter too.

Who is this' belle dame'? If you think you know, let me know!

Who is this’ belle dame’? If you think you know, let me know!

It is my usual annual habit to breakfast at Cartwheel Café on the Bayfront in Roseau. The staff is consistently in high spirits, and clients always seem to be in a Creole mood as they eat and chat with each other, which suits me fine!

Piano teacher Leanne looks very sweet in a lavender/rose-hued madras blouse, with matching lipstick and eye glass frames!

Piano teacher Leanne looks very sweet in a lavender/rose-hued madras blouse, with matching lipstick and eye-glass frames!

I devoured my codfish and breadfruit breakfast there, then wandered the streets searching for the Creole spirit.  I did find it here and there, and took pleasure from conversations with friends and strangers. When it began to rain more heavily,

I couldn't wait to take a bite from this avacodo/accras infused whole wheat bake from Stone Love Ital Shop on Cross St. in Roseau.

I couldn’t wait to take a bite from this avocado/accras infused whole wheat ‘bake’ from Stone Love Ital Shop on Cross St. in Roseau.

I purchased a large cup of tangy pomme-citan juice and an avocado vegan accras ‘bake’ from Stone Love Ital Shop. Then I picked up a few slices of rum cake and banana cake from the Urban Garden Café around the corner before heading home to savour these treats a little later.  (More on those two wonderful  natural foods eateries in the next post!)

I feasted on these filling avacado/farine (cassava flour) balls made by Marvo and staff at her snackette on Independence Street.

I feasted on these filling avocado/farine (cassava flour) balls made by Marvo and staff at her popular snackette on Independence Street.

I do confess to indulging in a delicious  vegetarian pizza  at Fusion Village Restaurant in the heart of Roseau  the next day.

It was wonderful to meet with my 'sister' Liz and friend Nancy (photographer) for pizza adn treats at the Fusion Village Restaurant over the Independence weekend.

It was wonderful to meet with my ‘sister’ Liz and friend Nancy (photographer) for pizza and treats at the Fusion Village Restaurant in Roseau over the Independence weekend.

However, the

I met up with other Creole-inspired friends at the Roseau Market: Anne (l) from Papillote Wilderness Retreat in Trafalgar Karen from Roots Farm Organic Produce in Cochrane.

I met up with other Creole-inspired friends at the  Saturday Roseau Market: Anne (l) from Papillote Wilderness Retreat in Trafalgar and Karen from Roots Farm Organic Produce in Cochrane.

objective was to meet and spend time with good friends with whom I hadn’t really connected since my return from Canada.  Our lengthy lunch  and catch-up certainly added to my personal enjoyment of this unique Creole Season. Thanks Nancy and Liz!

The Freewinds Cruise Ship glowed at the Roseau Cruise Ship Berthon the evening of Kai & Vicki's Kids' Charity fundraiser in aid of children in need in Dominica

The Freewinds Cruise Ship glowed with anticipation at the Roseau Cruise Ship Berth on the evening of Kai & Vicki’s Kids’ Charity fundraiser in aid of needy children in Dominica.

Independence celebrations were far from over, but the highlight for me was the special fundraising concert that I had the pleasure of attending on the Freewinds Cruise Ship on Sunday November 1st.At this auspicious occasion, internationally renowned Dominican singer Michele Henderson offered her talents, along with the Freewinds band and other first class musicians from the Nature Island in aid of the Kai & Vickie Kids’ Charity, which

Vickie & Kai hold up an autographed West Indies Cricket Team shirt, which was auctioned off on the spot!

Vickie & Kai (after whom the charity is named)hold up an autographed West Indies Cricket Team shirt, which was auctioned off  for a ‘steal’ on the spot!

Michele is a phenomenal flautist, as well as a powerful singer, with a brilliant and versatile soprano voice.

Michele is a phenomenal flautist, as well as a powerful singer, with a brilliant and versatile soprano voice.

supports underprivileged children locally.

Michele opened the performance with some well known songs from Dominica. Her husband Junior is on bass guitar.

Michele opened the performance with some well-known songs from Dominica. Her husband Junior is on bass guitar.

Michele's daughter Kai jams with mum and her version of Purple Rain, which closed the show. The Free Winds bassist backs them up.

Michele’s daughter Kai jams with mum and her version of Purple Rain, which closed the show. The Free Winds bassist backs them up.

As usual, this amazing artiste delivered a world-class performance to the delight of the  enthralled audience, comprised of local politicians, foreign diplomats, citizens, expatriates and children.  Michele has the uncanny ability to easily cross musical genres, and as such everyone got a taste of different styles of local and popular music. I love it all, but I am partial to Dominica’s cadence, which is a specialty of this exceptional lyricist, composer and singer. To her credit, she also surprised us by presenting some rising stars on the Nature Isle, and everyone appreciated their obvious potential.

With a few hundred people filling the performance space, and an

Michele is one of Dominica's pride and joys. She is also a Goodwill Ambassador for her country.

Michele is one of Dominica’s pride and joys. She is also a Goodwill Ambassador for her country.

auction of some enticing goods and services, I am certain that this charity raised several thousand dollars.  These monies will directly aid children who were adversely affected by T.S. Erika in numerous ways.

It’s impossible to walk away from a Michele Henderson performance (and I’ve been fortunate to have heard her countless times over the years) without feeling inspired, uplifted, joyful and hopeful.  Music of that calibre has a way of bringing people together, which was most fitting for the mood of this unique Independence season on Dominica.

Because I did get chilled in the a/c on the ship and then walked a distance through a persistent drizzle in the cool night air, I did succumb to the sniffles the next day.  By Independence morning, I was ‘under the weather’, so I gave those  official festivities a miss this year.  However, if you’d like to see some photos, you can find them on Dominica News Online  for November 3, 2015.

Plastic is a huge polluter, no matter where we live on the planet. Please think before you throw. It's the least we can do to protect our earthly environment.

Plastic is a huge polluter, no matter where we live on the planet. Please think before you throw. It’s the least we can do to protect our earthly environment.

By the next morning, I was thankful to have rested the day before, as it was National Day of Community Service and I had made a pact with myself that I would do something for my neighbourhood.  I am not much good at hoisting a shovel, but I can certainly put on a back pack filled with garbage bags – and that is what I did.  It was a hot, humid morning, and I was guaranteed a healthy sweat – just what I needed.  I started at the top of the main road in my subdivision and worked my way down to the junction at the bottom of the hill, which is part of my usual walking route.  If I did this stretch at a normal pace, it would take me half an hour total to go down and back up to my home.  But with rubber gloves, hiking boots, and four and a half garbage bags filled with curb-side debris, the activity actually took  over three hours.  Although I was really fatigued by this exercise, I felt good that perhaps I had made a tiny difference on my beloved Nature Island . There were many formal projects taking place all over the country, and significant numbers came out to lend a hand.  I got the distinct impression that the tragedies and losses incurred as a result of T.S. Erika, prompted  people to pull together to restore Dominica to her former glory.

Despite plentiful rainshowers during Dominica's 37th Independence season, there were a few gorgeous sunsets, such as this one!

Despite plentiful rain showers during Dominica’s 37th Independence season, there were a few gorgeous sunsets, such as this one!

After a good rest, I ended my energetic day with a refreshing and relaxing  ‘sea bath’ as the sun set on Independence 2015. I floated on the calm and soothing waters,  and reflected on the power of hope and the realization that Dominica shall indeed renew herself, and rise again.

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:  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.