Jazz in the South: A Feisty Kweyol Experience

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In “Jazz in the South: A Feisty Kwèyol Experience,” Simon Lee reviews this gem of a festival, which recently took place in St Lucia. [Photos, courtesy of Simon Lee: above, Etienne Charles and Jacques Schwarz-Bart of Jazz Racine Haiti; below, Gregory Privat (left) and Children of Cyparis ensemble.] Here are a few excerpts with a link to the full review below:

A magnificent ram goat, accompanied by his all-in-white Bobo Shanti minder, noses the sand of Laborie’s Rudy John beach, on St Lucia’s south west coast. Beyond the susurrus of the lazy waves’ percussion, St Vincent floats twenty miles offshore. Onstage, Denis Lapassion and his band from Cayenne, French Guiana caress the warm currents of a late Sunday afternoon with cadences from the Amazon rainforest and feisty Kwèyol kaséko rhythms.

The beach buzzes with picnicking families; village fishermen resting their nets in favour of shots of rum and robust fatigue; old tanties selling homemade delicacies; kids clamouring for surfside pony rides and travellers from afar with a thirst for Creole Jazz.

This is the 17th edition of Jazz in the South, the flagship project of 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 community-based jazz festival has an enviable track record of presenting some of the best Caribbean jazz performers, as well as African artistes like last year’s headliner, Malian vocalist Fatoumata Diawara.

Like many homegrown cultural initiatives in the region, Jazz in the South is underfunded to the extent that this year’s festival has been trimmed down from four concerts to this single performance plus Erol Josué’s Haitian dance and Jacques Schwarz-Bart’s sax master classes in Castries. But what’s been lost in quantity has in no way compromised Labowi’s highest quality standards. The afternoon into night descarga promises some of the region’s most gifted young and young-at-heart performers, with the best surprise left for last.

True to the Labowi tradition of programming international with rising local talent, the Vieux Fort-based Shomari (Maxwell on keyboards) and Wendell (Richards on sax) Jazz Project, take the stage in the wake of Lapassion. In tune with the gentle waves, the young ensemble take a slow glide through Marley, Sparrow, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, their creolised version of the Sting hit—transformed into An Englishman in Vieux Fort and the Lord Melody classic kaiso Mama Look a Boo Boo. As the sun dips into the sea taking the temperature with it, young Martiniquan pianist Gregory Privat and his Children of Cyparis quintet, featuring Guadeloupean master percussionist/drummer Sonny Troupé, invoke both bélé and gwo ka rhythmic traditions with the elegiac suite, Tales of Cyparis.

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[. . .] Privat uniquely sifts the ashes of his island’s volcano, for a narrative with which to frame the flow of his music; a subtle yet volatile flow, which with a sudden change of tempo is capable of shifting from the lyrical to the explosive eruption of Mt Pelée in 1902, an event of both geological and cultural significance.

For the full star-studded night sky finale Guadeloupean saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart led his Jazz Racine Haiti ensemble in an invocation to the Vodou lwas, voiced in spine-tingling style by Haitian oungan, vocalist and dancer Erol Josué. [. . .] Erol Josué’s invocation of Atibon Legba, (lwa of the crossroads connecting this world with that of the spirits), the chant with which all Vodou ceremonies begin, tapped into the holistic power of a living tradition. [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.guardian.co.tt/entertainment/2014-05-19/jazz-south-feisty-kyeyol-experience

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