St. Lucia’s Jazz in the South—Cultivating Communities


Simon Lee reviews St. Lucia’s Jazz in the South; here are excerpts with a link to the full review below:

Under the stars of the first night in May, Rudy John Beach on the outskirts of Laborie, a fishing village of humble wooden houses perched on St Lucia’s south west coast, has momentarily been transformed into an impromptu, interactive Wassoulou dance lesson. From a stage backed by the evening tide and framed by palms, the incandescent Malian vocalist Fatoumata Diawara gives teeth-flashing directions and encouragement to the beach-packed crowd, who by now would happily walk the waves with her all the way back to west Africa, if she only asked. Instead she beckons to the slight form of jazz panman Andy Narell, whose shimmering chromes weave into the crescendo marking her finale, and the crowd’s roar echoing across the bay. This is the first night of Jazz in the South, a small community-based festival with a future which may well be more sustainable than that of much larger and better-funded festivals, like its cousin, the recently rebranded St Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival.

Now in its 16th year, Jazz in the South is just one of the projects initiated by Labowi Promotions, a not-for-profit community organisation established some 20 years ago by a small group of Laborie-based cultural activists, with the objective of enhancing “social togetherness and harmony” and promoting “economic development through cultural events and expression.” The jazz festival has become Labowi’s flagship promotion, with an enviable track record of presenting some of the best Caribbean jazz performers as well as African artistes like Fatoumata, in addition to Lucian musicians.

This year’s Rudy John Beach curtain raiser also featured two groups for children and young people: the Manmay-La Di-Way after-school orchestral project alongside the Laborie Steel Pan Project (which benefited from three weeks of workshops from Andy Narrell, festival patron for the past three years); the local Shomari Maxwell quintet and Vieux Fort’s own reggae band 4th World Ina Irie Blues and Reggae Vibe with acclaimed Lucian guitarist Carl Gustave. The balanced mix of local, regional and international artistes was again in evidence at the second concert, held up north in the Castries Cultural Centre. The programme began with “a conversation about global warming”, a folk-style performance by the Soufriere Action Theatre group, under the creative direction of Lucian poet Kendel Hippolyte.

For visitors to the Caribbean, this provided an entertaining entry point to local Creole culture from the call and response (Tin tin-bwa sec) format of story-telling, Kweyol and Lucian English lyrics, to the drumming and dancing which framed the pertinent ecological statement (“Rivers are drying yet we have floods…Nature will take care of its own, we just want to make money”). Lucian keyboardist Emerson Nurse’s Quartet followed with a mellow set ranging from bossa to beguine, punctuated by the conversation between Ricky Francois’ trap set and Martiniquan percussionist Micky Telephe’s congas.

For Creole jazz aficionados, the final set by the Meddy Gerville Trio, proved a revelation. Gerville hails from La Reunion, a Creole-speaking French department in the Indian Ocean and works the rich rhythms of his island’s traditional maloya and sega genres, in his uniquely evocative and propulsively melodic compositions.  Gifted with a voice which ranges from Bele force to nuanced scat and the lyricism of Tom Jobim, Meddy was a powerhouse, explosively supported by ace bass Martiniquan Michel Alibo and compatriot Emmanuel Felicite on drums. [. . .] From Samba Galactica and the Larry Young inspired Emergence to a take on Marley’s Jammin (watch out Monty Alexander!) and The Other Side (“ a song at the end of a beautiful life”), Velocity were superb, Stanley unleashing pathological organ solos over Segundo’s tightly-coiled beats.

[. . .] With Saturday declared a rest day (Kassav were performing at the Fond D’or heritage park) Jazz in the South concluded on Sunday with an afternoon concert held in the bucolic charm of the Balenbouche Estate. After Lucian community youth choir Justus, Martiniquan Eric Ildefonse set the tone with his melodic take on traditional forms like the damye, ladja and belay. Ildefonse’s delivery, recalling Keith Jarrett’s elegiac style, was hauntingly matched by maestro Luther Francois’ sax particularly on Jour de Peche.

Hearts and feet were seemingly possessed by the Cuban Pedrito Martinez “the hottest conga player in New York”, who combined Santeria and rumba rhythms and chants with everything from salsa and timba to hip hop, funk and reggaeton.  With a Peruvian percussionist playing cowbell a la clave and a truly demented keyboardist whose bleach blond Afro and beard matched his Chucho Valdes influenced improvisations, Pedrito proceeded to mash up the place, challenging Andy Narell to keep pace on pan. At one point in the middle of his anthem Que Palo, so taken with his own power Pedrito levitated off his cajon (which sounds far more interesting than a bass drum) to wine in time with the three congas he polyrhythmed on.

Zouk Queen Tanya St Val, expertly guided the family-picnic style crowd to a mellow sundown finale, her zouk love intonation caressing, evoking and embracing, before her closing number when Andy Narell joined her to wrap up Jazz in the South 2013.

[Photo of Zouk Queen Tanya St Val by Chris Huxley (Caribbean Images).]

For full article, see

2 thoughts on “St. Lucia’s Jazz in the South—Cultivating Communities

  1. Promised to send you interesting articles/emails…

    This article was written by…Simon Lee, you may not have noticed him…we invited to cover the JITS, he’s a great writer. He wore a hat most of the time, sort of petite white guy…stayed by Yves…

    This article was also featured in the Trinidadian Guardian (SL lives there).

    This online Magazine (RI) is about one of the most interesting…in the region and beyond.

    Sent from my BlackBerry® device from Digicel

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