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.

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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.

Feeling Nostalgic about Dominica’s 4th World Creole Music Festival in Y2K*

The year 2000  likely holds meaningful memories for many people.  It was a real thrill to witness the turn of the century on the Nature Island. However, one of my most poignant recollections of that year took place just before Dominica’s 4th annual World Creole Music Festival (WCMF).  In anticipation of the upcoming WCMF # 16, I am recalling the unusual situation that year, which was originally published in Caribbean Compass* in January 200o. The text has been slightly modified.

By the time Dominica’s 4th annual World Creole Music Festival took place in October 2000, it was recognized as an event of growing importance on the Caribbean cultural calendar.

However, the generally jovial tone of this grand event was a little subdued that year.  This was due to the sudden death of Dominica’s Prime Minister, the Honourable Roosevelt (Rosie) Douglas due to a heart attack in his home on the first of October. After an official mourning period, he was buried on the 14th of October, which was only a few days before the scheduled international event.  Despite the sudden shock of this tragedy, the remarkably resilient Dominicans disguised their grief and extended their hands in friendship to welcome those from afar to the 4th Annual World Creole Music Festival.

During the touching ceremony which officially opened the festival, the event was dedicated to the memory of ‘Brother Rosie’ Douglas. He would not have been disappointed.  This tremendous three night show of various types of Creole music was performed by 17 bands from around the world.  It was the best one yet!

Thousands braved the cool drizzle to partake of soukous and salsa rhythms on that Friday night.  Sweet Mickey from Haiti took the chill off the night air with many popular songs with a compas rhythm.  My favourite band, Sakis, from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa kept me visually and aurally stimulated into the wee hours with vibrant costumes, sexy dancers and a sizzling hot beat.

That year, the combination of improved organization, a superb stage and great talent was clearly demonstrated during Saturday’s show, which offered the lively audience unforgettable acts until 6 am Sunday.  From my position backstage, I gazed with awe at the mass of humanity in front of the performers.  Numbers swelled to an estimated 10,000 that night.  Festival City, the venue for these shows, was filled to capacity.  From my secure space in the press area, I marveled at the energy and joy that filled the air with zouk and zydeco Creole sounds.

France’s Kassav, Dominica’s all time favourite foreign band, was welcomed onto the stage by a sparkling display of fireworks and a roaring mass of humanity.  Kassav‘s energy, vitality and vibrancy complemented all of the zouk melodies that they could dish out in their almost two hour performance.  Then WCK, one of Dominica’s best loved bands finished off the night ( I should say morning!) with a sizzling show of all their well-known songs. The place was hopping despite heavy rains and a muddy field.  I thrived on the energy emanating from the entire group.  Their drummer’s remarkable talent and powerful command of tempo had me completely enthralled.  Oh, what a night!

Sunday’s sounds were more subdued, but entirely satisfactory.  A smaller tired gathering faithfully followed all of the performers until the last note resounded at 4:30am.  I enjoyed the subtler cadence-compas rhythms and was particularly intrigued by Guadeloupe’s Kadans, who thrilled the crowd with many popular West Indian tunes.

In genuine Dominican style, considerable warmth,  friendship and harmonious pleasures had clearly been extended to all performers and visitors to the beautiful Nature Island.  The captivating Creole music enraptured all of us who attended this sensational three  night show.  ‘Brother Rosie’ would have been proud…

I am very excited about attending the Sunday night show of the 16th annual World Creole Music Festival (WCMF) which will honour another famous Dominican, the late Jeff-Jo, a cadence-lypso music icon par excellence.  Watch out for my report!

Hot Sounds, Cool Times:Looking Back at Dominica’s 3rd Annual World Creole Music Festival (1999)*

Français : Le World Creole Music Festival

A more recent World Creole Music Festival.  It  always draws  a  huge crowd of residents and visitors! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This year, Dominica is celebrating the sweet 16th anniversary of the ever-popular and enduring World Creole Music Festival.  It always takes place just before the Nature Island’s Independence, which is recognized on the 3rd of November.  I’ll be posting about these events in due course – in fact, very soon!

Over the years, I’ve been to this annual event  a number of times.  Somehow, I was able to stay up three nights in a row, as I became enraptured with the ‘captivating rhythms’ of Creole music genres.  I do confess that in later years, I have limited myself to one night only and have still been very satisfied and much less fatigued the following week!

*This article was originally published in Caribbean Compass, January 2000, and has been slightly modified.

Fireworks sparkled overhead as I parked my car in downtown Roseau and walked a short distance to Festival City, site of Dominica’s 3rd annual World Creole Music Festival.  It was held from October 29 – 31, 1999.  Although I had been on-island since its inception in 1997, this was my first time at the big event and I was very excited about it.

Hundreds waited eagerly along with me in the entrance line on Friday night as Creole tempos and tunes from the Haitian group Boukman Eksperyans welcomed us.  Finally, I was through the gates and into the park.  As I gazed upon the massive stage in the dim light, I was mesmerized. To my left, a huge video screen magnified the performers to a size much larger than life.  In the semi-darkness, I wound my way through the tangled assembly- young, old, local, foreign – all moving to the Creole bouyon beat.  The night was young – the music pulsated, pounded, swelled, caressed and serenaded the growing mass on the park grounds.  Creole bands from around the region and as far away as the U.S. and Africa turned music into magic.

My preferred picks that first evening included Dominican group Ruff and Reddy, who  got the crowd jumping with their cheery upbeat rhythms. The Zouk All Stars from Guadeloupe, French West Indies had over ten thousand people hopping for a good hour. They really gave everyone a great appreciation for this style of Creole music.  By daybreak, Dominica’s First Serenade Band, a local favourite, re-energized the gathering as everyone ignored fatigue and danced for sheer joy in the early morning drizzle.

On Saturday, I arrived at midnight – a little late, but there was much to come.  The serene sounds of Ophelia, Dominica`s leading lady of song moved my soul while listening to the live radio broadcast as I searched the city for an available parking space.  Once I and thousands of Creole music enthusiasts were through the gates and security checks, I swooned to a mix of merengue, beguine and cadence rhythms emanating from the New York-Haitian group Skah-Shah Number 1 with Cubano. A steady rainfall did not dampen any spirits – the music soothed and warmed an even bigger crowd than the previous evening.  Dominica`s Grammacks – New Generation band offered up reggae, cadence and bouyon, which completely enthralled one and all.  Although now situated in France, their Dominican musical ties remain strong.  The people loved their performance. I was converted to a brand of music that was basically unknown to me until now.  What a way to begin a new day!

It was  after  twelve when I came back to hear the third and final performances on Sunday night. Numbers of attendees were reported at over 20,000 strong. By now, I was completely captivated.  I could easily understand why Creole music has become so popular. Reason`s Orchestra from St. Lucia, West Indies sizzled with a sexy zouk-compas Creole sound that moved the assembled mass of humanity. Dominica`s Exile One, now based in France, provided the historic but familiar sounds that helped Creole music gain recognition around the world. Then WCK, Dominica`s versatile and extremely popular band had the exhausted but exhilarated audience jumping until 7:30 on Monday morning!

Bleary-eyed but happy, I headed home to catch up on three nights of sleep. Unsurprisingly, my dreams were filled with sweet sounds from Dominica`s 3rd annual World Creole Music Festival.

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!