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!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BREVE in action - they definitely have great musical vibes!

BREVE in action – they definitely have great musical vibes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Dominica’s Music Missions International: A Dream Come True on Waitukubuli*

Luther 'jams' with a young Dominican music friend in his wife Ruth's  kitchen in Dominica!

Luther ‘jams’ with a young Dominican music friend in his wife Ruth’s kitchen in Dominica!

When Canadian expatriate Luther Kosowan was a little boy, he became fascinated by an article in National Geographic about an unfamiliar far-away land called Waitukubuli. About 55 years later, his daughter and friends vividly described a recent trip to a wonderful Caribbean island of lush green mountains, sparkling rivers and plentiful palm trees. It was called Dominica. Then in 2006, Luther and his wife Ruth journeyed to this beautiful tropical paradise to see it for themselves.

During that first visit, they immediately fell in love with the country`s natural beauty and friendly people. Upon their return to Canada, they immediately organized and planned for an overseas move to Dominica. However, they experienced an unforeseen delay when Luther was diagnosed with cancer. But the couple`s determination and vision of their new life sustained them. After Luther`s surgery and radiation therapy were completed, they finally arrived in Dominica around Christmas 2007. The couple was thrilled with Luther`s miraculous recovery. They were further delighted when told that the intriguing country called Waitukubuli was in fact, Dominica, their adopted home!

Right away, the Kosowans connected to their new community and greatly appreciated the love of music that prevails on Dominica. They enthusiastically created a non-profit organization called Music Missions International (M.M.I.) so that students and their teachers at participating schools around the island could have access to various types of musical instruments and learn how to play them.

Mr. Alexander, Instructor at St. John's Academy in Portsmouth Dominica receives repaired instruments for the students from M. Kosowan.

Mr. Alexander, Instructor at St. John’s Academy in Portsmouth Dominica receives repaired instruments for the students from Mr. Kosowan.

This incredible dream is being realized with assistance from some dedicated volunteers and generous sponsors. Along with Luther and Ruth Kosowan, fellow western Canadians Mike and Sharleen Townsend and Don Lowry help with this invaluable project in many ways. The Townsends not only initiated making contacts to obtain the musical instruments, but have also come to Dominica for six weeks in each of the past six years to train the teachers and students. As well, Luther and Ruth regularly acquire additional instruments and humanitarian supplies during their annual trips to Canada.

Luther repairing instruments before they are sent out to the schools.

Luther repairing instruments before they are sent out to the schools.

To date, schools in Dominica have received over 600 musical instruments and accessories as a result of this collaborative effort.

Instruments being moved from the Kosowans home en route to the Dominica State College

Instruments being moved from the Kosowans home en route to the Dominica State College

In addition, Mr. Egbert Charles of E.H. Charles & Co. Ltd. in Roseau has kindly provided materials so that Luther and Mike could build 60 music stands. They

Mike and Luther made 60 music stands for students in schools that are participating in the MMI program.

Mike and Luther made 60 music stands for students in schools that are participating in the MMI program.

have now been distributed to all schools involved in the M.M.I. program. Mr. Charles continues to assist M.M.I. by sponsoring materials for an Instrument Repair Technology course to be held at the Dominica State College where Luther will be the instructor. As a result, all instruments will be maintained in good working condition.

For Luther and Ruth, their dream of giving back to Dominica has certainly come true. In 2012, 102 students from around the Nature Island performed in a band concert. Then, the very next year, 200 students from 16 school bands `raised the roof` at the Arawak House of Culture in Roseau. You can read about that memorable event here.

Luther loves to 'jam' as well as fix instruments.  He has made many friends in Dominica who share his passion for music.

Luther loves to ‘jam’ as well as fix instruments. He has made many friends in Dominica who share his passion for music.

As Music Missions International continues to thrive, the Kosowans thank God for their fulfilling lives on Waitukubuli!

*Waitukubuli  (pronounced Why-too-KOO-BOO-lee)is the indigenous Kalinago word for Dominica.  It means “tall is her body.”

**This article first appeared in the Dominica Association of Music Educators (DAME) November 2014 Newsletter.  Information provided by Mrs. Ruth Kosowan was subsequently edited by Gwendominica for the original submission, which is republished here ( with slight variations) with the kind permission of DAME. Photos provided courtesy of Ruth Kosowan, with thanks.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Carimi guitarist  makes some magnificent 'licks'.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

artistes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

The Amazing Michele Henderson: Dominica’s Super Songstress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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