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/ Photography / St. Lucia Jazz: The Caribbean’s Heartbeat

St. Lucia Jazz: The Caribbean’s Heartbeat

This must be an out of body experience…or at the very least what this experience would possibly feel like. Those were the words going through my mind as I witnessed the performance of the internationally acclaimed zouk band “Kassav’ perform on my old stomping ground in my hometown of Soufriere (St. Lucia).

The iconic Pitons (dramatic volcanic spires that rise sharply) in the background must have added to this feeling of the experience being surreal. Was it the unbelievably melodic voice of lead singer Jocelyn Beroard being backed up by instruments that seemed to coo forcefully as if they were being made love to. That may seem oxymoronic, but when you experience the 30 plus year phenomenon that is Kassav, you’d understand. Was it the fact that they sang in french about love and romance that added a certain exotic je ne sais quoi? After all I am unashamed about the fact that I am indeed a hopeless romantic. Beyond hopeless. The performances of the very talented Evalucian band, Shayne Ross and the legendary Ronald Boo Hinkson must have contributed as well to this dream like trance.

I’m in the midst of the second official day of the St. Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival 2014 after witnessing the official opening the night before. The opening boasted a stellar line up of both local and regional performers of soca, dancehall and cadasse. I’m not a big fan of cliches but it was indeed ‘standing room only’ at the Marchand grounds the night before. As many people as could fit into the venue before the emergency team gave the orders to halt admittance, squeezed in to witness the likes of Grenada’s ‘Mr. Killa’ of Rolly Polly fame, who credits his song for giving ‘fat gyals’ an uber boost of self confidence. Also performing were Kerwin Dubois, Skinny Fabulous, Ricky T, Superman HD, Evalucian, featuring Arthur Allain and dancehall artiste Popcaan and the Ruff Kutt. The festival, now in it’s 22nd installment, as far as I was concerned, was off to a stellar start.

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With over 15 venues and countless events and activities surrounding the event, you’d have to be a superhero to attend every one. However, I did find myself, two days later, happily barefoot on grounds of the Rudy John Beach Park in Laborie, a picturesque village in the south of the island for a free concert. This annual event, put on by a community group called Labowi Promotions featured the likes of the popular Haitian group Jacques Schwarz Bart’s Jazz Racine Haiti, Etienne Charles, Gregory Privat and the Children of Cyparis and the Shomari and Wendell Jazz Project. It seemed as if the entire island had descended upon this very quaint community. Not totally surprising as I was delighted to find a myriad of culinary treasures (I am apparently known for my voracious appetite) and refreshments such as passion-fruit iced tea. I’ll be back next year, not just for the music, but the creative dishes which seemed to be the hallmark of every booth.

Part of the list of of outstanding venues was the world famous hurricane hole and set of the original Dr. Doolittle movie, Marigot Bay. The concerts which featured a slew of local artistes including the Derek Yarde Project, multiple calypso monarch title holder, De Invader and soca monarch Superman HD were held on the grounds of the Capella Resort. Whereas I did not make it to these events, from the account of my good buddy who could barely remember how he got home that night, a great time was had by all! Note to self: pencil it in for next year!

Meanwhile on the edge of a different bay, award winning Chef Bobo never disappoints with his annual week long celebration dubbed ‘Jazz on the Grill.’ The setting: one of his acclaimed restaurants ‘Fire Grill.’ His Classic ‘Eurrobean’ cuisine which is a marriage of European and Caribbean cuisine coupled with some of the island’s best musical talent makes for a most delicious event. Every night of the main jazz week, the Rodney Bay Strip which is the heart of the St. Lucian night life scene is even more packed with visitors and locals alike. The event culminates of on Monday after jazz with a play off between some, if not all of the previous week’s performers. It’s an excellent send off for anyone who is still on the island after the main stage events.  Jazz on the Grill always serves as a perfect end to an evening after other fringe events, including a splendid performance by Ronald Boo Hinkson at Jazzy Rhythms at the Rodney Bay Mall. After all, it is right down the street.

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A most remarkable addition to the Jazz and Arts Festival’s calendar of events is a fashion event dubbed ‘Hot Couture.’ This event is appropriately named as it feature’s the regions hottest fashion designers and their jaw dropping creations. The Caribbean fashion Guru himself Richard Young worked along side a local committee which including the publisher of She Caribbean magazine Mae Wayne. What is most outstanding about the designs featured at this event is how boldly ‘Caribbean’ they are in terms of the vivid tropical colors and designs which are not just cat walk appropriate, but absolutely street wearable. 

This year’s event featured the likes designers of Sonia Noel, Heather Jones, Meiling, Claudia Pegus, Robert Young and Sophie Betts. Appropriately styled in a gorgeous Sonia Noel creation I sat in a cozy spot which would allow me a full view of the stage but yet allow me to experience first hand the ‘oooo’s and ahhh’s’ of the audience. Richard Young’s insistence on making the fashion show a truly Caribbean experience was apparent throughout the event. The models were lively and exciting to watch as they strutted to an amazing mix of Caribbean music which had been expertly altered to be more catwalk friendly by local DJ Sir Lancealot. The trunk show which followed the event was, needless to say, a massive hit as the designs were perfect for parading the Pigeon Island National Landmark which is the home of the culmination of the festival which takes place on the weekend.

Pigeon Point, Most commonly known as Pigeon Island is one of the island’s most prominent landmarks, quite arguably, second only to the island’s famed Pitons. Once separated from the main land and now joined by a causeway, it is the setting of the culmination of the Jazz and Arts Festival. The normally peaceful and serene park, usually the location of choice for meditators, nature enthusiast and peace seekers is transformed into a hub of activity. This particular weekend the likes of Tessane Chin, Barrington Levy, Teddyson John and Alison Hinds as well as R and B singer Maxwell, Azonto group P Square and will add to the melodic noise. The Friday night, now dubbed ‘Caribbean Night’ saw a huge crowd. People could not get enough of the island’s own Teddyson John who sang hit after hit of his signature groovy soca repertoire. He was joined on stage by the ‘Queen of Soca’ Alison Hinds who performed a few other old and new favorites. Barrington Levy didn’t fail to impress with his signature sound and striking voice. The crowd sang along to all of his hits including ‘Living Dangerously’ and ‘Work.’ The stage had been warmed up earlier by Alternative Quartet, a string ensemble out of Trinidad and Tobago. The classically trained group never fail to deliver with their classical takes on Caribbean music.

Barely recovered from the previous night’s debauchery (with a very overworked liver) I find myself back on ‘the island’ to witness my first ever azonto performance. This genre of music native to Africa exploded on the scene when a few mainstream artistes introduced us to the infectious beats and entertaining dance routines. The duo P Square is all set to perform their hits. They try to perform over the crowd which is singing their songs ‘Personally’ and ‘Alingo” word for word. Elvis Crespo has just created a tropical feel with his fast paced infectious salsa and meringue and entertaining maneuvers on stage.

I feel like I’m being transported around the world on a cultural magic carpet. I can hardly believe that my two weeks of ecstasy will be over by tomorrow…

(First Published @ Dave’s Travel Corner – January 2017)