Dominica’s Calypso Fever: It’s Contagious!

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Showdown Mas Camp is one of two popular weekly ‘tents’, where enthusiastic audiences watch and hear member calypsonians in the run up to the formal competitions during the Carnival season in Dominica.

I’ll never forget the first calypso show I

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King Dice did it again!  He won the 2016 Calypso Monarch competition last night – that’s his 8th crown! (Photo taken in 2012).

attended in Dominica. It was Carnival season 1998 and I walked in to the Stardom Monarch of the Tent competition at the Sisserou Hotel with a young Dominican lady that I had only recently met.  The place was packed – with hardly a space to move, but somehow this attractive young woman was able to charm bystanders so that we could step in front of them to stand directly below the stage.  I looked up at a handsome man, known in calypso circles as ‘De Hunter’ who was dressed in traditional Kalinago attire.  He was singing a composition called  ‘Carib Bacchanal‘.  I was so caught up in the  powerful refrain, the throbbing beat and the sweet repetitive melody that I instantly fell in love with this special genre of music. And that year, ‘Hunter’ went on the win the big Carnival Calypso Monarch  competition with that enduring song.

Since then, I don’t attend as many shows as I once did:  too many late nights for me in the damp, chilly air (relatively speaking) that prevails in January and February.  But that doesn’t stop me from continuing with my deep affection for this art form.  I listen to all the songs each year, the detailed professional commentaries and  also contribute to lively discussions with friends and strangers alike.

So, what makes calypso so ‘hot’ on the Nature Island?  “Let me tell you something…” to use a Dominican expression.  It’s true, it didn’t originate on the Nature Isle.  That honour belongs to Trinidad, where Carnival, in which calypso plays a huge part, is a  VERY big deal. But that being said, Dominica’s brand is not to be underestimated. Part of the fun is the intimacy of the performances, the familiarity of the political and social issues and the overall popularity of the songs amongst a small population that gives tremendous support to its calypsonians.

The concept of calypso evolved from a fusion of West African and Latin rhythms, with the idea of a lead singer with crowd responses about social injustices during the periods of slavery and colonialism.  A more detailed description of its background can be found on the web site of local historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch, right here. In Dominica, calypso competitions became formalized in the 1950’s, where one singer discreetly performed/presented a certain social or political issue to a listening audience. More details are available in a previous piece on Ti Domnik Tales right here.

The Dominica Calypso Association is a formal organization that ensures that standards

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Daryl “De Bobb” Bobb is a gifted and  longstanding calypsonian who also writes his own lyrics.  He placed second runner up in the Calypso Monarch 2016 competition.

are met in terms of the art form and the calysonians’ performances.  If you think that writing a calypso or performing it is just a simple matter of venting one’s concerns in any old way, then think again!  Specific guidelines exist that outline the way in which this genre of song must be written, composed and performed. A detailed breakdown of the components required in a calypso song can be found  here on the avirtualdominica.com web site.  Lyricists must cleverly disguise the outstanding theme in the literary guise of double-entendres, puns, metaphors, similes, and parodies, with plenty of satire, allusions and sometimes parables.  The point is that the message is not supposed to be glaringly obvious, but it can be deciphered by the listeners as a result of the careful crafting of the composition: the obvious subject often alludes to an entirely different matter.

When I taught students  English Literature at Orion Academy, I derived tremendous pleasure from using examples of literary devices from the calypso songs of the day to illustrate their meaning and usage.  The kids really enjoyed it too.  On one occasion, we were graced with the presence of prolific veteran calypso songwriter Pat Aaron, who writes exclusively for 8-time (2016) Calypso Monarch Dennison ‘Dice’ Joseph.  He had written lyrics for a calypso entitled ‘Animal Farm’, which was performed by ‘Dice’.  It was based on themes presented in the allegorical novel, ‘Animal Farm‘ by George Orwell, which I was teaching to second formers at that time.  He carefully explained to the class  about his methods for incorporating some of the ideas from the novel into the calypso song, making it relevant to various political, social and topical issues of the day in

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Tasha ‘Tasha P’ Peltier was the first woman to ever win the Calypso Monarch Competition in 2011.

Dominica.

There is one caveat, however.  If one is not familiar with the issues of the day in Dominica, then it is more difficult to interpret the message that is being relayed by the calypsonian.  I found this out in my early days here. Apart from being entertained by the spectacle of the staged show, and being caught up in the excitement of the crowd, I often did not understand the disguised message in the songs.  But after almost 20 years on the Nature Isle, I can assure you that I am well versed in the issues of the day, as I follow current events very closely and frequently discuss them with my Dominican friends!

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Janae Jackson is a very talented 17 year old girl who went all the way to the Calypso Finals this year.  While she did not place, she did win the Calypso Queen 2016 award. She is definitely one to watch!

So last night was THE big night for the Calypso Finals.  This enormously popular show is traditionally held on the Saturday before Carnival Monday. While I didn’t attend this year, I was able to listen to part of the show on the radio. But it went well into the early morning hours, and I fell asleep before it was over. When I woke up sometime later, I immediately went to my computer to find out the results.

Calypso fever finally spiked and King Dice did it again – the eighth time in fact! He’s now tied with Trinidad’s  ‘Mighty Sparrow‘, renowned all over the world – who previously captured the crown in his country that many times.  Congratulations to ‘Dice’ for a superb performance and to his songwriter, Pat Aaron, who has an uncanny gift for creating the best in calypso lyrics.  What a team!

I am also delighted for Webster ‘De Webb’ Marie, who was awarded the first runner up position.  I have had the pleasure of singing with this young man in the RiverSong choir many years ago.  He has a wonderful tenor voice and is a natural on stage.  He was a longstanding member of the well-known Sisserou Singers and was the first winner of Dominca’s annual Cadence-lypso competition in 2012.

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I have to update my photo with King Dice, now 8-times a Calypso Monarch.  Wendy Walsh took this photo of me with the talented calypsonian a couple of Carnival Mondays ago.

Now that this year’s calypso fever has broken, I’ll prepare myself for tomorrow’s early morning J’ouvert and all the fun that follows in the next two days (Carnival Monday and Tuesday).  I’ll be on the lookout for the amazing Calypsonians on the Carnival route and will certainly offer my heartfelt congratulations for keeping Calypso music very ‘HOT’ in Dominica!

 

Dominica’s Sixth Form Sisserou Singers Celebrate 20 Years of Sensational Sounds!*

The Sixth Form Sisserou Singers always put on a highly anticipated annual concert, which is staged in Roseau and Portsmouth. Photo courtesy of DAME.

The Sixth Form Sisserou Singers always put on a highly anticipated annual concert, which is staged in Roseau and Portsmouth. Photo courtesy of DAME.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of attending a performance of Dominica’s Sixth Form Sisserou Singers (SFSS), then  you’d better be sure to go to the next one if you  live here!  And if you happen to be visiting the Nature Island when they are having a concert, do put that guaranteed-to-be-wonderful evening on your list of things to do!

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to hear this melodious group of young choristers many times.  They are a constant delight.  And I am not the only one to say that.  Their consistently sold-out concerts confirm the positive results of their collective dedication, polished renditions and capacity for entertainment.  Thanks to the inspired guidance of their director, renowned musician and retired cultural officer Pearle Christian, they have maintained high standards and have really ‘raised the bar’ for choral music in Dominica.

In 2014, the SFSS celebrated 20 years as a choir in Dominica.  Here is a little glimpse into the group’s history and a few insights that Ms. Christian has happily shared:

Pearle Christian, Director of the Sixth Form Sisserou Singers (SFSS) has repeatedly said that “anything worth doing is doing well,” which is also  the choir`s official motto. Over 20 years, numerous young people have had the honour and pleasure of singing under Ms. Christian’s ‘baton’. As well, hundreds of loyal fans and eager concert-goers have received tremendous pleasure from the group’s annual musical endeavors. The enduring popularity of the SFSS is a testament to its well-earned reputation for excellence!

It all started when Pearle conducted a choral workshop for a few senior students at the Convent High School in 1993. The participants were determined to continue once they were in their sixth form. Pearle worked with their serious interest and the first 22 choristers enthusiastically performed at the (now-named) Dominica State College’s graduation ceremony in 1994.

After that first success, Pearle’s vision of the SFSS evolved so that the weekly rehearsals and special performances were only part of her ‘hidden agenda’. Her dream of enhancing character development, along with musical skills was subtly realized when the group organized an executive body and created objectives. This initiative enabled the singers to apply some of their other abilities, build confidence and take on external leadership roles.

'Aunty Pearle' directs in the shadows while the singers have the spotlight under her direction.

‘Aunty Pearle’ directs in the shadows while the singers have the spotlight.

Colourful costumes and beautiful vocal sounds are appealing to the eye and ear.

Colourful costumes and beautiful vocal sounds are appealing to the eye and ear.

The choristers have always enjoyed performing a diverse and varied repertoire of musical styles, including classical genres, Negro Spirituals, gospel, and jazz, among others. They also offer a medley of Caribbean folk songs with scripted narrations at their annual concerts.

It's real teamwork that results in great entertainment. The choir choreographs their very popular Caribbean folk song medleys.

It’s real teamwork that results in great entertainment. The choir choreographs their very popular Caribbean folk song medleys.

Every member is given an opportunity to recite one of the verses, thereby proactively contributing to the show`s success.

The SFSS sometime perform in less formal venues.  ON this occasion they were performing at a casual outdoor concert at Springfield, in the mountains of Dominica!

The SFSS sometimes perform in less formal venues. On this occasion, they were part of a casual outdoor concert at Springfield, in the mountains of Dominica!

SFSS Director Pearle Christian (2nd from right) describes the journey of the choir over the past 20 years at the Nature Island Literary Festival in August 2014.

SFSS Director Pearle Christian (2nd from right) described the journey of the choir over the past 20 years at the Nature Island Literary Festival in August 2014.

Although many choristers have come and gone over 20 years, “Aunty Pearle,” as she is affectionately known derives great pleasure from following their career paths and life events. Admittedly, she has devoted phenomenal amounts of time and energy into enhancing the talents of these fortunate young people. But she insists that if she had to live her life over, she would not hesitate to ‘pick up the baton’ again for the sheer joy of directing the Sixth Form Sisserou Singers.

*This article first appeared in the Dominica Association of Music Educators (DAME) November 2014 Newsletter.  Content for the piece was submitted by Ms. Christian and then edited by Gwendominica.  It appears here with the kind permission of DAME.

** Updates on the SFSS can be found on their Face Book page by clicking here.

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!

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

Caught Up in Calypso: A Dominican Passion*

By the time Carnival season has rolled around after Christmas each year,  thousands of Dominicans will have succumbed to calypso fever!  During my first few years on the Nature Isle, I tried to resist this unfamiliar form of song and rhythm.  But when I really started to pay attention to the lyrics and appreciate the Afro-Latin beat, I was hooked!  So what’s the attraction? Let me give you some background on this popular seasonal obsession.

In 2011, ‘Tasha P’ Peltier became the first woman to win the Calypso Monarch crown in over 50 years of competitions. She is the reigning Calypso Queen (2011 + 2012) and recently placed first runner-up in two regional shows. While she lost the coveted Monarch crown to ‘Dice’ this year, this talented young lady will no doubt be a strong contender again next year.

Calypso music has roots in island folk music, but was strongly influenced by Latin American rhythms when it first gained prominence in Trinidad.  By the late 1950’s, calypso  shows and songs became an enduring part of Carnival festivities in Dominica.  Every year, talented songwriters, calypso singers and instrumental musicians create a new crop of lyrics and melodies which always seem to appeal to their large audiences.  Historically,  calypso songs have provided opportunities to address societal problems and speak out against oppression. A common focus of the text of the songs  draws attention to specific current events so that the public is better informed and can perhaps do something to improve certain circumstances.  As well, some calypso songs focus on celebratory situations.

Apart from the catchy beat and  an often memorable musical  refrain, the lengthy lyrics are cleverly constructed  with puns, doubleentendres, satire, irony and parody.  An English teacher’s dream!  But one doesn’t have to be a literary expert who can name the technical terms to “get the message” relayed by the Calypsonian.  This form of music seems to bring everyone together – regardless of political stripe or religious persuasion.  Calypso fever is infectious!

People in Dominica truly love their calypso.  Between January and Lent, there is no escaping it!  The songs are heard everywhere – on radio stations,  in shops and restaurants, on the buses, along crowded streets. You might even find a tour guide humming one of the tunes along a mountain trail!  And not only that,  constant commentaries and conversations  appear to focus on this one thing!  So if you’re a little shy, but you have an opinion about a calypso song, then you’ll have plenty of opportunities to share your views!  Everyone has something to say when it comes to calypso.

As for live performances, there are usually at least two informal shows each week in the season, called “Tents” or “Camps.”  At these venues,  performers can perfect their songs and please their loyal fans as they try for a place in the formal competition, which includes general eliminations, quarter and  semi-finals and then the grande finale. At the Calypso Monarch Final, nine competitors  vie  to take the crown away from the previous year’s winner.  This event draws thousands of excited fans and takes place on  the Saturday night that precedes Carnival Monday and Tuesday.

2012 Calypso Monarch Dennison ‘Dice’ Joseph is the youngest person to have won the crown five times. He really knows how to wow a crowd, whether on the stage or during the Costume Parade in Roseau.

In this year’s (2012) bid for the crown at the Final, Dennison ‘Dice’ Joseph emerged victorious for the fifth time in his young career.  His two songs, written by prolific lyricist Pat Aaron, pleased the crowd tremendously. People were also captivated by Dice’s sensational stage presentations. His first calypso, entitled ‘Teacher” honoured these dedicated professionals with the respect they are due, despite less than ideal working conditions and low  salaries.  His  other piece, called “Back to Country” dealt with a perceived loss of patriotism by many citizens and a plea for its reinstatement.

Calypsonian Murphy ‘Sye’ Jno Jules is the 2012 Road March King. His popular song entitled “Just Burn” earned him this award as it was played during the Carnival Monday and Tuesday street jump-ups more than any other number. He was also a Calypso Monarch finalist. Photo taken at a Showdown Mas Camp.

There were so many fine performances over the entire season – from both novices and seasoned artists.    I was truly entertained and instructed time and again.

Above all, calypso songs give me greater insight into both  the societal  issues and subjects to celebrate  in my adopted land.  This unique performance art helps me to understand Dominica and its people on a deeper level.   I may be inspired to write a calypso song too!

For more information, refer to the website of the Dominica Calypso Association.  There, you will find out  more about this type of performance art, its local history, profiles of calypsonians past and present and even some of the songs!

*This post was originally written in 2012.