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.

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Good Company, Great Food, the Best Music: A Special Sunday Afternoon in Dominica!

Lise and Hans are the owners/managers of the award-winning Champs Hotel, Restaurant & Bar in Picard Dominica.  They first opened their doors in 2008.

Lise and Hans are the owners/managers of the award-winning Champs Hotel, Restaurant & Bar in Picard Dominica. They first opened their doors in 2008.

I had looked forward to enjoying a special outing to The Champs Hotel, Restaurant and Bar in Picard (near Portsmouth) Dominica to DSCF0301partake of their monthly Sunday Live Jazz Lunch for some time.  Part of the appeal was The Champs perfect venue – set high on a hill overlooking  pretty Prince Rupert Bay with the scenic Cabrits National Park and Fort Shirley in the distance and the expansive Ross University Medical School directly below.

Morne Aux Diables is a prominent massif of almost 3000' which is north of De Champs.

Morne Aux Diables is a prominent massif of almost 3000′ which is north of De Champs and towers over the town of Portsmouth (far left).

Prince Rupert Bay and the Cabrits National Park (centre left) feature promoinently from The Champs.  Ross University Medical School Buildings and Housing in Picard are in the foreground.

Lovely Prince Rupert Bay and the Cabrits National Park (centre left)  as seen from The Champs. Ross University Medical School Buildings and Housing in Picard are in the foreground.

Michele's back-up band consists of  very fine musicians.  Her husband' Junior' is on the  front right of the photo.

Michele’s back-up band consists of  the finest  Dominican musicians. Her husband’ Junior’ Delsol (right) is on the bass guitar.

The  afternoon’s exceptional entertainment would be provided by none other than  acclaimed  singing sensation Dominican chanteuse Michele Henderson and her Band.  And of course, the food! A delectable dinner menu was being prepared by American chef Eric Subin, who has definitely  made a name for himself on Dominica.

Chef Eric Subin  concentrates while his  cheerful assistants await his instructions. preparing the delcious menu selections for De Champs' Sunday Live Jazz Lunch.

Chef Eric Subin concentrates while his cheerful assistants await his instructions as they prepare the creative menu selections for De Champs’ Sunday Live Jazz Lunch.

My Canadian friend Nancy offered to drive, so I was able to put my feet up and enjoy the seaside sights on the hour plus drive up the west coast from Roseau to Picard.  I had not been at The Champs for over a year, and I was excited to renew old acquaintances, revisit a lovely property and partake of some of the best food and music that Dominica has to offer!

When we arrived around 12:30 p.m., we were cheerily welcomed by Hans & Lise and directed to our table for two with a lush coconut palm tree-lined southerly view of the Picard area  and the sparkling Caribbean Sea beyond it.  As we sipped refreshments and perused the menu, Michele (pronounced Mi-kel) came over to say ‘hello’ and hugged me warmly.  Although she was due to start her show at 1 p.m., we had a few moments to catch up on news and have a chuckle or two.  Her spontaneous outburst of merriment was prompted when I produced a photo of her with me and Marilyn Smith as the singers in the Beau Bois Ensemble back in 2003!  We reminisced and I gave her recent greetings from Marilyn, who now lives in Canada.

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!

As well, I asked the Dominican singer about her latest international and local performances.  Delightedly, she informed me that she was received extremely well at the recently opened Crescendo Jazz Lounge in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia by large crowds  for three nights in a row.  In Virgin Gorda (British Virgin Islands), she and the Band headlined an event called “Jazz on the Hill’ to great reviews.  Her feature at Dominica’s annual Jazz ‘n Creole pleased the huge audience tremendously.  Then she mentioned that she would be traveling to Sydney Australia  in the near future to participate in a church event to raise funds for some social programs.  As usual, she left me nothing short of impressed and she hadn’t even started to sing yet!

All of a sudden, it was 1 p.m.: time for Michele to start the show and for Nancy and me to make our lunch selections from the detailed menu.  Our helpful server answered our questions about ingredients and dietary concerns. Nancy chose the tuna dish and I opted for a vegetarian Indian specialty.  While we waited for the meals, we listened pleasurably to Michele on flute as she warmed up the diners for the afternoon’s  entertainment.  Her superb musicality was clearly evident in a funky Chick Corea rendition that had me tapping the

Michele is an accomplished trained flautist, as well as a superb soprano vocalist.

Michele is an accomplished trained flautist, as well as a superb  and versatile soprano vocalist.

table to the beat.

Nancy delights in the visual presentation of her main course: Sesame-Seared Tuna wiht Sweet Soy Glaze, Wasabi, Jasmine Rice and Temoura Onion.  She thoroughly enjoyed it too!

Nancy delighted in the visual presentation of her main course: Sesame-Seared Tuna with Sweet Soy Glaze, Wasabi, Jasmine Rice and Tempura Onion. She thoroughly enjoyed it!

Then our lunches arrived.

I was amzed a teh generous serving of Chana Masala with Mango-Apple Salad and Jasmine Rice. I really savoured all the Indian inspired flavours!

I was amazed at the generous serving of Chana Masala with Mango-Apple Salad and Jasmine Rice. I really savoured all the Indian inspired flavours!

We gazed at them open-mouthed: yes, we were hungry and the huge plates were filled up with our appealing orders.

By now, the room was packed.  Large contingents of faculty and students from Ross University Medical School were seated at long tables. Other Dominicans and expatriates filled all the remaining available space.  I was thankful that I had made a reservation, as I could see that late-comers could be disappointed or at least have to wait for a while to eat!

Lise and Hans take a little break while the rest of us take to the dance floor.  Sarah (centre) is a well-known restauranteur and food services consultant.

Hosts Lise and Hans took a little break while the rest of us took to the dance floor. Sarah (centre) is a well-known local restauranteur and food services consultant.

Michele doesn't just sing a song: she puts her heart and soul into it too!

Michele doesn’t just sing a song: she puts her heart and soul into it too!

We tried our best to finish everything on our plates.  I felt badly about leaving a bit – but I had already enjoyed some smooth and mildly piquant hummus with pita bread as an appetizer, for which Chef Eric is famous.  And there was no way I was going to pass up dessert.  While we let our dinners digest, we leaned back in our chairs to take in the mellow sounds emanating from the front of the room.  I was touched that Michele publicly acknowledged me from our earlier singing days. Then she belted out many well-known classical and contemporary jazz and jazzed-up favourites:  ‘Favourite Things’ (Sound of Music); ‘Livin’ my Life Like It’s Golden’; ‘Give Me One Reason to Stay Here’;’The Beat Goes On’ (her own composition at my request!); some popular reggae  tunes and many more over two enjoyable hours.

Michele's brilliant and expressive voice always please her audiences, whether she performs in a small room, a large stadium or on a concert stage! her husband Junior is on the bass guitar.

Michele’s brilliant and expressive voice always pleases her audiences, whether she performs in a small intimate room, a large outdoor stadium or on an international concert stage! Her husband Junior Delsol is on the bass guitar.

After that substantial meal, I knew what I wanted  to satisfy my sweet tooth with only the slightest glance at the menu.  I have previously tasted Chef Eric’s chocolate concoctions elsewhere so it is no surprise that the ‘dark chocolate cake’ was my choice.  It was only one mouthful before I exclaimed to Nancy that it was the BEST CAKE EVER!  It’s a good thing that I live a distance from Portsmouth or I might be found sneaking daily into the kitchen to ask for possible leftover slices!

However, I did savour it slowly, and endeavored to work off a few calories by hitting the dance floor with some of the ladies from Ross University. Wow!  Can they move it!  I also met

After my divine dessert (Dark Chocolate Almond Truffle Tart with Coconut-Cashew Crust), I had to work it off to the cool beats of Michele and her Band!

After my divine dessert (Dark Chocolate Almond Truffle Tart with Coconut-Cashew Crust), I had to work it off to the cool beats of Michele and her Band! Orla has her back to camera.  She was definitely groovin’ to the tunes!

up with Orla, a faculty member who had me laughing and singing on the trails during Hike Fest.  It was great to see her again – although at first we didn’t recognize each other without t-shirts, caps and boots!

Just after 3 p.m., the music wound down and we reluctantly dragged ourselves off of the dance floor.  I still had some cake to finish and then it was time to go!

It is such a pleasure and honour to know Michele Henderson. It's also a thrill to watch her career grow locally, regionally and internationally.  I wish her continued and endless success!

It is such a pleasure and honour to know Michele Henderson. It’s also a thrill to watch her career grow locally, regionally and internationally. I wish her continued and endless success!

It was such a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Chef Eric’s culinary creations, Michele’s magical musicianship, the warm hospitality of Hans and Lise and the fantastic atmosphere at The Champs  guarantee that I will return for Sunday Live Jazz Lunch again very soon!

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.

Ophelia Marie: Dominica’s Sensational ‘Lady of Song’ for more than 30 years! *

*This feature article about Ophelia Marie  originally appeared in Domnitjen Magazine, December – February 2009-10.  It is reprinted with the kind permission of the publisher and has been slightly modified. For more specific biographical details about Dominica’s ‘Lady of Song’, click here.

She will be singing at the 16th Annual World Creole Music Festival on Sunday October 28, 2012.  I look forward to her performance and will be blogging about it and the other artistes after the show.

Ophelia Marie, Dominica’s ‘Lady of Song’. Photo taken by McCarthy MARIE (mariem@cwdom.dm)

I caught up with Ophelia Marie  just after attending her 30th anniversary show in October 2009. I was completely captivated by her professionalism and show(wo)man ship. She certainly knows how to engage her audience with her effervescent personality, exceptional energy and powerful contralto voice.  I was also in awe of the diversity of her program.  Of course, there was Creole cadence-lypso music, but she also offered us other traditional songs, her own compositions, classics and some pop selections too. For me, it was ‘the concert of a lifetime’. Her stellar performance had  the packed hall of adoring fans eating right out of her hand!

After that spectacular show, one would think that a top notch musician would likely take a break.  But not Ophelia.  Right away, she was immediately preparing for an upcoming overseas tour.  At the same time, she was also  assisting with the popular Seniors’ Games to be held a few days hence.  Dominica’s ‘Lady of Song’ clearly exudes a vibrant energy and joie de vivre in her private life, as well as on the stage.

As she looks back over her successful and ongoing three decade plus career, she acknowledges that she has not done it alone. “God plays a vital role in my life.  I [also] pray before every performance,” Ophelia readily discloses.  Mark, her husband and manager, is a constant source of support and encouragement.  In her formative years, family members including her father, brother and sisters developed her interest in singing.  Ophelia graciously acknowledged her proud father at her 2009 Dominica concert, where he was seated front row centre.

Ophelia’s devotion to her family is clearly evident.  Her father hails from Gallion (a village above Soufriere in the southwestern part of the island) and her late mother was from Pointe Michel, a village on the southwest coast which is not too far from Roseau. They met ‘around a piano’ that her father was playing in Curacao (a Dutch West Indian island in the southwestern Caribbean) and fell in love almost instantly.  When they returned to Pointe Michel, Dominica, Ophelia was a young girl.  Her mother was adamant that the children NOT speak Creole!  “She felt it would prevent us from learning English,” recalls Ophelia.  But after only three years of English, she won a scholarship for select high school admission based on her ‘Common Entrance’ exam results, so the two languages never posed any problem.

As an overseas student at the University of West Indies campus in Barbados in the mid-1970’s, Ophelia often  reflected on her beloved homeland: “I felt an intense mystical/magical connection to Dominica.”  As a result, she was inspired to write and create the melody to the enduring Creole song called Aie DominiqueIn 1975, she won a Dominican patois song competition by performing this piece.  It was later recorded in Paris and released in 1978.  In her opinion, the popular song’s message is timeless. “People understand the sentiment…that we must protect Dominica,” she emphasizes.

However, Ophelia believes that Aie Dominique has even a more universal appeal. “It is well received in other French countries too,” she notes.  This selection launched her career at a concert in Guadeloupe, French West Indies in 1979. Her special bond with Francophones around the world remains solid. “French attitudes appeal to me,”  Ophelia explains.

After  more than three decades, she has performed in many French countries: France; Martinique; Guadeloupe;French Guyana; and Reunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean.  The audiences are always massive, sometimes exceptional, such as one show in Guadeloupe where there were 14,000 people in attendance and another concert in Martinique where Ophelia fans numbered in excess of 10,000.  In March 1981, she sang at a series of sold-out shows in Paris, which marked the first time that Caribbean music had ever been performed in a French concert hall.

Her fame as Dominica’s ‘Lady of Song’ is acknowledged in many other nations. She has sung on most Caribbean islands, London, U.K., as well as other cities in Europe and North America. Her international appeal can be attributed to her versatility as a performer and the special rapport  she has with audiences everywhere.  “The audience is  part of the show.  Without an audience, a big part of the performance is missing,’ she explains.

Ophelia says that much of the inspiration from her songs comes from nature, which she compares with love. Her popular chanson called Hypnotique (2005) was co-created with her husband Mark in the garden at their residence in the Roseau Valley of Dominica. In 2009, they had great fun making Move It which features the fabulous Pom Kannel dancers from Martinique. (They also appeared in Ophelia’s October 2009 concert in Dominica). This high energy song has been a hit with people of all ages.

Wherever she travels, Ophelia is proud to represent Dominica as an Ambassadrice de Coeur ((an ambassador of the heart). “I am always honoured to be of service to my country,” she exclaims. Whenever she is at home, she generously contributes her time and talents as a volunteer with various community groups.

All Creole traditions are very dear to her.  She feels that Creole culture has not yet achieved the status that it deserves.  Ophelia encourages her countrymen and women to embrace the unique Creole customs of Dominica every day in order to promote and preserve them.

Her contributions to Dominican society are extensive.  “I was exposed to being sensitive to other people’s needs at an early age,” she says.  She qualified to become a social worker because she always knew that she had an ability to lead and work with other people.  Ophelia has held positions as a teacher, social worker, youth officer, Chief Cultural Officer and Deputy Director of Tourism.

A passion for life, as well as her devout faith have enabled this sensational Dominican singer to endure and overcome occasional challenges. When Ophelia was starting her career in the late ’70’s/early ’80’s, “[it] was a man’s world.  There was much more pressure for a woman.” Because she persevered, she became the first female performer to break into Caribbean Creole music circles.

Despite numerous accolades, awards and accomplishments, she shows no sign of slowing down.  “My songs have been my life,” Ophelia muses, “I am fueled by what I have lived and also other people’s experiences.  I thank God…that this has happened.  I don’t make plans. When you put confidence in the Lord, He will guide you.”

I am truly inspired by this extraordinary Dominican woman.  I sincerely wish her many more years of song and success, good health and happiness!

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.