While the country basks in the aroma of bakes, saltfish and cocoa tea during October—the designated month for all things Kwéyòl and cultural—some of us struggle with aspects of what others consider local culture. Case in point: Lucian Kudoru or Dennery Segment.
Dennery Segment music has grown from small localized gigs to a larger scale, including even international performances. Kudoru is now being marketed as an iconic part of the island’s culture and many have expressed pride in the fact that some of the lyrics are in Kwéyòl. This year Dennery Segment artists were provided the opportunity to tour the United States, sponsored by taxpayers and private sector establishments. Individual artists have also performed in Europe and Latin America.
Times have certainly changed for the Dennery Segment. Not so long ago they were widely despised, as much for their lyrics as for their videos. Dennery Segment was also considered “not soca”. While some people memorized what might be the only Kwéyòl lyrics they know, and gyrated to whatever “piwat” might mean, others refused to acknowledge that the music was anything but degrading. Today, even though the group is forced sometimes to defend itself against churchy criticism, it is also true that its music has been officially declared an “export product”.
Shortly before the U.S. tour, its promoter, Shannon Lebourne, said, “We think it’s their lyrics that’s gotten them the international attention. What stands out now is the uniqueness of the music, the lyrics, the rhythms and the history of what it is. As to my personal views on censorship, I feel like what the fellas are doing now is what the world wants and what is going to give us the unique edge.”
And it’s the truth. While most of the Dennery Segment tour audiences comprised mainly overseas-based Saint Lucians, the millions of views on YouTube cannot be discounted. Just like Trinidad’s signature soca music and Jamaican dancehall, carnivals from Nottingham to Miami have been clamouring for Dennery Segment performances. Some of the Caribbean’s most influential DJs, such as Private Ryan, find themselves setting the twanche-shaking mood with Kudoru.
Tourism minister, Dominic Fedee expressed sentiments similar to Lebourne’s. He told this reporter: “Controversial lyrical content has always been a factor in music, whether rock ‘n’ roll or R&B. I’m not going to be the judge of what’s acceptable. That’s for the consumers to decide. I believe Saint Lucia is represented by a number of different things and our people are diverse and special, they’re interesting and colourful. I think Dennery Segment is just a small but very important part of what’s happening musically.”
But George “Fish” Alphonse says he doesn’t think that what Dennery Segment represents should be considered part of our culture. He said, “Saint Lucia’s culture is a culture of respect. There are certain conversations we hold in public and certain conversations we hold in private. As a young child, as a young man growing up, I knew there were certain things I shouldn’t say in the presence of an adult. That’s the culture.
But these days you can say anything in the presence of children, babies. That’s not the culture.”
The Folk Research Centre is responsible for “promulgating Saint Lucia’s rich heritage” and, although Fish agrees that culture is ever-changing, true art “does not remain as stagnant”, as he belives is the case with the Dennery Segment. He adds: “No writer, no performer, writes on the same theme all of their lives. Repeatedly it seems the female body is the main subject. And some of it is very offensive. You listen to them and it’s always fooyay [shove it]. Some of the words sound as if you are doing wickedness to another human being.”
Fish is immovable. “These guys need to open up their minds, stop seeing the lady as some sort of thing that you should jump on her back. It’s much more than that. We’re about changing lives and changing the world and all they doing there is trying to say, ‘It’s okay, it’s all right for us to be derogatory. Say what we want and do what we want. So this year we coming with the same thing, next year we coming with the same thing.’ Yes, Sparrow might have sung nasty things but he is a clear example of an artist that has gone all around the place singing all kinds of things. He didn’t stay year after year telling you saltfish sweet.”
Fish refuses even to listen to Kudoru music. He questions the worthiness of Dennery Segment’s governmental support. Referencing the
current Jounen Kweyol celebrations he said: “I might even have a problem with them. I’m listening because I know some fools will come to me sooner or later about putting them on the show. But I’ll stand my ground and refuse. There are other more deserving artistes that are not given the attention given to Dennery Segment. I prefer to have them on that show instead.”