I called my good friend Teddy Francis early Monday morning. He did not answer his phone. I reckon he must have still been in bed after all the hard work he and others put into the arts component of the 2015 Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival. Or better yet, maybe he was still drunk on the high he received during Robin Thicke’s finale of “Blurred Lines”.The singer, upon entering the Pigeon Island National Landmark on Sunday, had caught a glimpse of the artistic expressions on display. The activity was spearheaded by Francis, the director of carnival and a member of the festival committee. What had particularly caught Thicke’s attention was the models bearing carnival costumes, among the revelry of body painting, stilt walkers and drummers that welcomed patrons at the venue. “I need them on stage,” the American pop star had insisted. And, after an exhilarating performance with an all black band, the models, now turned dancers, paraded on stage with Thicke, his band and back-up singers to a show-stopping rendition of the biggest song of his career to date: “Blurred Lines”. It felt like the finale of the festival that had started ten days earlier on April 30. But it wasn’t.
The 2015 Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival got off to a wonderful start on Thursday April 30 with a Caribbean Party featuring Saint Lucian performers Invader, Dupes, Arthur and Sedale (with Wildfire). Jamaican reggae singing sensation Chronixx wowed fans at the event and converted some new ones, while Destra may have disappointed some of her fans, somewhat. Many had come for her sassiness, her bodacious presence and, oh yes, the many soca hits. Instead, they were fed a barrage of soca songs by her male onstage companion and just some of the singer’s popular songs. Her finale and ever-popular “Lucy” closed the show.
On May 1, all roads led to Soufriere for Soufriere Creole Jazz featuring Barbara Cadet, TJ, Future Lights and Avot Servis, all from local soil. The Original Bouyon Pioneers and Jah Cure ended the show. Cure saved it, whetting the appetites of fans who earlier could not find one cold drink at the venue.
The following day, Fond D’Or upped its numbers, which were somewhat down in 2014. The line-up at the heritage park included Evalucian band, Miste En Local, Carimi and Zouk Machine. The fair-sized crowd manoeuvred the park with ease, able to enjoy the ambience of the venue. But here again, long set changeovers may have spoilt a good thing. After a brilliant performance by Carimi, fans had to wait more than half an hour for Zouk Machine, the final act. After about four songs, particularly their biggest hit “Pisime Zouke”, the crowd started dwindling.
The music faithful continued their round-the-island trek on Sunday May 3 for Jazz in the South in Vieux Fort and then Monchy Creole Jazz on Tuesday May 5.
Vieux Fort received much support from its parliamentary representative and the prime minister, Kenny Anthony, with Trinidadian Calypsonian Shadow as the main act. Before him the band Karma had excited the crowd while DYP kept the party momentum on point. Shadow was off to a slow start, with his vocals hardly audible at first. Things improved somewhat but the crowd had long decided that the band Karma had taken the cake on the night.
Monchy Creole Jazz (Mizik en Kweyol) raised the ante this year as a major community event at the heart of the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival. The stage placement and the side stage featuring the Secret Band and others was well placed. The event also featured the Royal Saint Lucia Police Band, Avot Servis, Invader and DYP who raised the roof until 1 am the next morning.
The talk of the town on Wednesday, before and after the event, was HOT Couture. Depending on who you spoke to you would hear, “The Cubans stole the show,” “The Trinis were great,” or “Wow, our models did great.” HOT Couture has so far been receiving rave reviews in the local, regional and international media.
Thursday’s Jazz Showcase at the wonderfully refurbished National Cultural Centre starred Alain Jean-Marie featuring Grant Stewart and Joey DeFrancesco. Alain Jean-Marie’s tributes to Duke Ellington were riveting while DeFrancesco’s “The Nearness of You”, as he fingered the keys on his piano while playing the trumpet, was mind-blowing.
Amidst all of this the city of Castries came alive with Jazz on the Square and Tea Time Jazz while an arts village in Rodney Bay gave much deserved character to the festival.
Friday’s main-stage Caribbean night at Pigeon Island felt like a Jazz Festival finale. Saint Lucian reggae singer Meshach and his band were fantastic and made us all proud; Krosfyah was good and Beres Hammond simply sublime. What a performance! “Oh what a night!” to borrow a line from one of the singer’s songs. Hit after hit after mesmerizing hit song, the sixty-year old Reggae singer delivered with that melodious voice of his. The audience helped with the singing too, familiar with his extensive repertoire. The sound quality on the night was incomparable. No one left until the end. Now that would account for the dizzying traffic encountered by persons leaving the venue.
Saturday May 10 and the Pigeon Island National Landmark was virtually empty when the first act, Lucian Pan Fusion came on stage. Sax man Arturo Tappin was up next with a beautiful contemporary set, while those Latin dudes Timbalive stirred things up somewhat before Jon Secada came on. The teenagers (and young at heart) enjoyed hip hop/pop star FloRida’s set though. He was another of those headline acts, akin to Akon,who relied more heavily on sampling and playback music instead of actual “live” singing, something more apt for the clubs. But what do I know? Some hot-blooded cougars who looked pleased to see his abs and biceps were delighted. Not too sure about pricing Saturday’s ticket at EC$200, the same as Sunday’s finale though.
And what a phenomenal finale it was on Sunday, something I have not had the pleasure of saying in recent times. For starters, the crowd, which was three times that of Saturday, was served an ample amount of Jesse Billie and Derede Williams, two wonderful Saint Lucian vocalists. Also, the entrance of the venue displayed a wonderful assortment of Saint Lucian creativity, as mentioned earlier.
Singer/songwriter Chrisette Michele then put on a class act ahead of a double dose of the main course. She belted out songs like “Golden”, “What You Do”, “Epiphany” and “If I Had My Way” with such verve. And the Gospel “You are the Source of my Strength” brought out her inner truth. Chrisette then had some fun with one of her backing singers, Dee-Dee as they attempted to imitate Ella Fitzgerald and Anita Baker before dropping the final tune “A Couple of Forevers”.
A short break later and Robin Thicke and his full compliment of musicians was on stage. The American singer offered a plate of R&B and soulful hits including the upbeat “Magic” and slow jams like “Lost Without You”. And the finale with the Saint Lucian ladies in carnival costume on stage was delicious dessert.
Jimmy Cliff, the closing act was phenomenal with a set that included the opener “Bongo Man” as well as “You Can Get It”, “Under The Sun”, “I Can See Clearly Now” and “Many Rivers To Cross”. “This next song introduced Reggae music to the world,” he said before the band struck the first note to “The Harder They Come”. True, there were many who were disappointed that he did not perform “Dear Mother” and “Reggae Nights”, two fan favourites, but with an amazing set of musicians and a more than hour long performance, Cliff closed off the festival in grand style.
The numbers are not in yet but, judging from the positive response of visitors and locals alike, the fantastic social media comments about the island and the festival by FloRida, Jimmy Cliff and Chrisette Michele, the 2015 Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival rose to the occasion. On Monday morning Chrisette Michele tweeted “Last Night/Best Night I Ever Felt/St. Lucia Jazz Festival.”