Tag: music

The Essence of the West Indies Captured in 16 Songs

The Essence of the West Indies Captured in 16 Songs

It is nearly impossible to avoid looking back longingly at the 90s. It may have been the absence of advance technology – us and our inability to summon whatever music we wanted, whenever we felt like it – that may have made music such a sate pleasure as it was back then. Now however, the sounds of the 90s are likely at the center of many 90s, 80s and 70s babies’ nostalgia.

Although every Caribbean island had their share of local hits, there were definitely mainstream classics which together, serve almost as a West Indies, 90s soundtrack. Here are 16 songs(oldest to newest) which capture the essence of the West Indies in the 90s.

1) Black Stalin – Feeling to party (1991)

Granted this song was “birthed” in the same year as most 90s kids who are now old enough to recall it and it’s presence throughout the decade. However, If it was not part of your personal collection, you would likely remember it as a staple piece among your parents’ and/or elders’ music favs.

2) Terror Fabulous Feat. Nadine – Action (1994)

Action was released on Terror Fabulous’ second album Yaga Yaga. For 90s kids this one definitely falls into the “we were too young to actually know what we were singing and dancing to” category. Who wants to bet that the lyrics of Nadine’s classic chorus is known by all bonafide West Indians, or atleast all above the age of 23.

3) Mighty Shadow – Dingolay (1994)

This Trinidadian Calypsonian is known for his distinctive voice and his early Soul, Calypso hit, Dingolay. It was important to include this one in such a line up because then and even now, when we listen to it, we can feel the ingenuity in its lyrics and Mighty Shadow’s musical expression. It is a classic.

4) Chaka Demus and Pliers – Murder She Wrote (1994)

Is it even possible to talk about Dancehall without mentioning Chaka Demus and Pliers’ Murder She wrote? The fact that this song is still heard at Caribbean fetes and concerts currently is an indication of how big it was in the 90s.

Murder She Wrote was a huge international, commercial success upon its release in 1994 on the duo’s album“tease me.”

5) Bere Hammond – No Disturb Sign (1994)

Beres Hammond has been gifting the world with his musical talents since the 70s. The 90s however, saw a peak in his career and an era of classics. Many of his songs are treasured Jamaican, Caribbean masterpieces. No disturb Sign captures a West Indian essence, encompassing everything, including life’s mundanities, the possession of an insatiable love for another, and the desire for a good time – all back-dropped by one of the smoothest reggae melodies.

6) Dawn Penn – You Don’t Love Me (No No No) (1994)

Life is full of ups and downs. For women dealing with “love”, the ups feel like soaring way above the highest earthly elevations. The lows however, are like being shot down from the sky mid-flight. You don’t love me‘s” drawn out lyrics were relatable enough to be a hit in the 90s, and still are today.

7) Shaggy – Boombastic (1995)

Before his other mainstream hits like Angel and It Wasn’t Me came the hard-hitting commercial smasher Mr Boombastic aka ‘Mr. Lover Lover’. Mr. Boombastic came off of Shaggy’s third album and was featured in International ads and movies. Shaggy also won a Grammy for Best Reggae Album that same year.

8)Kassav’ – Dife Soupapé (1995)

A heralded band in the Caribbean, particularly in the French West Indies, Kassav is firmly established as regional/ international treasures. The group was formed in 1979 in Guadelopue and has been blessing the world with passionate, zouk music eversince. Released in 1995,  Dife Soupapé is one of their many hits.

 

9) Buju Banton – Murderer (1995)

“Murderer” is steeped in sociopolitics and was released on Banton’s Til Shiloh album, a deviation from his initial Dancehall sound.

Disclaimer, Buju Banton will show up a few more times on this list (merely because most persons still know all the words to so many of his songs). He is one of those musicians whose music you may seek out for a quick listen, only to end up devoting atleast an additional fifteen more minutes to the task.

10) Sanchez – Never Dis Di Man (1995)

Out of Jamaica once again, with roots in Reggae, Never Dis Di Man was set out to enlighten. It’s catchy cadence helped plant Sanches’s lyrics on everyone’s tongues in the 90s, including those of us who were too young to appreciate the message but were old enough to vibe to a good ol’ reggae tune.

11) Buju Banton – Untold Story (1995)

Untold Stories set Buju Banton up, for some, among the likes of Bob Marley, due to its conscious message and soulful delivery.

It is one of those songs where as young children, some of us sang along to its verses and chorus without knowing what we were truly singing till we grew older. Our understanding though, did not come with the usual shock at vulgar lyrics but rather, personal disappointment that things in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean were dire then and still are now.

12) Chris Garcia – Chutney Bacchanal (1996)

I do not mean to make this about me but, I did my first ever dance performance to this song (as far as I can remember). It was at my pre-school graduation and also marks the beginning of a life long love for performance art. This is the power of art.. the power of Chutney music.. the power of the 90s.

13) Lady Saw – Give me a Reason (1996)

A living legend she is. With a career spanning over two decades, Marion Hall, better known as Lady Saw, aka, the Queen of Dancehall has given us hit after hit and is known around the world for her gutsy style. Give me a Reason was released during the earlier stages of her career, but still stands as one of her greatest hits.

14) Buju Banton – Wanna be Loved (1996)

Not much else to say. He is a great artist and his 90’s success is undeniable. Wanna be Loved never gets old, really. Add his 1997 hits Destiny and Hills and Valleys to the list too.

15) Beenie Man – Sim Simma (Who am I?) (1997)

The king himself released Who Am I as the second track off his album Many Moods and Moses. The song was produced on the Playground Riddim and was written by Beenie himself. It’s basically a dancehall anthem at this point.

16) Mr. Vegas – Heads High (1998)

Last on our list and rounding things out, we have this piece of vintage, Caribbean gold. Mr. Vegas is another Jamaican artist with so many globally successful records it is hard to keep track of them all. Heads High is one of those songs you would hear belting through the neighbourhood on a Saturday morning back in the day. #ClassicCaribbean

END

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Choosing ‘Art’ For A Living

Theatre production; Adaptation of Elena Garro’s ‘El Encanto, Tendajon Mixto’ – Mexican Embassy’s 10th anniversary celebration.

Theatre is a gem of an artform. Anyone who has seen a staged play live knows it can be likened to magic.

Kentillia Louis is an Artistic director, lecturer, manager and curriculum officer advocating for and enriching Arts and Culture in Saint Lucia. She has worked as the Artistic Director for the Walcott School’s Festival and as Director of Requiem for a Badjohn, a play staged for the first time in Saint Lucia earlier this year. She also manages the Youth Studying Performing Arts and Culture (YouthSPAC) organization, and works as a part-time lecturer at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College and University of West Indies open campus, among several others gigs.

We were fortunate to have the opportunity in May of this year to pose a few questions to Kentillia on her experiences working as an Artist on a small, Caribbean island.

Q: Can you highlight the aspects of this profession you enjoy?

K: One of the things that I enjoy about being an artist in the Caribbean is that because of, I suppose, size there’s a camaraderie between us all. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Trinidad, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, everybody’s always willing to lend a helping hand. Always willing to try and see how they can collaborate or assist, because as much as we think we’re different, we all have similar issues.

Another thing is we have a rich culture. We have so many cultural forms that provide for the arts. We have material to create plays, to create performance styles, to use in so many different ways as stimuli for dance, drama anything. To find inspiration for anything that I do, it’s very easy, I just have to close the books, close the laptop and go out there and just observe my people, listen to the radio, listen to the music, watch the dancing and within there, something always comes up.

The good thing about our cultural forms is that it’s participatory. I mean you can go to the La Rose festival and you are not just be a spectator on the outside. Those different groupings are always very willing to include you, listen to what you have to say. So I really have enjoyed that, his is what gives me my identity and my unique approach. I’ve been able to really make sure i’m well grounded in it, in everything that I do to use it as my base.

Q: Can you highlight the challenges?

K: Always training-training and space. There are never enough spaces for training or opportunities for training – long term training I should say. There are always persons who approach me to join the group but i’m very particular about numbers. That’s why I have not increased the size past a certain point because we have a lot of young persons in Saint Lucia who are very, very talented, but they just have the raw material. What if we invested in them and helped them with the training and the exposure. As well as training them for showcasing opportunities because you can train, but you have to be trained to perform and be showcased.

We forget that not everybody starts off at the top, nobody did. Everybody had to build their way there and we have to, as a nation support them. That’s one of the major challenges, so sensitizing our public to the importance of supporting their own, even those up and coming, support them, because they will be the next big thing and it will be nice if you could be part of that experience with them.

Space has always been a problem- performance spaces. I mean right now we only have the National Cultural Center which is extremely limited and expensive. So persons who are building should put an auditorium. That’s what a lot of organizations do, and they will rent it out at a reasonable price. We can take that into consideration here. People think there are not a lot of groups but there are a lot of groups out there. They just don’t have the opportunity to perform in a proper performance space. That’s one of the major issues that we have right now.

I think as much as people understand the performing arts and culture, there is also not a respect for it and that’s one of the things I’d like to see change. That’s where your identity comes from, that’s where your sense of you comes from. We go to all of those platforms to balance our selves out when we feel angry, sad, and so forth. They’re crucial to us and our development as a person, as a society. And the respect that art should be given,it’s not being given right now. We do it as a by the way thing, we do it only as something we can use to maybe enhance the tourism product. But it’s more than that. Every society you find persons really holding on to their arts and culture because that’s where you find a sense of pride, you find reflections of yourself, that’s one of the things that we don’t have here.

Requiem For a Badjohn was staged at the National Cultural Center, Castries Saint Lucia in April of 2017

Q: You seem to have a passion for the performing arts as do many, but people often forego theirs after leaving Secondary School. As someone who continues to do work in this field, what other options can those with similar interests consider outside of school?

K: There are a lot of opportunities. I think though, when people think of the performing arts they only think of the performance aspect of it. To go out there and really survive in the arts you need to have more than one skill, for example I direct, I teach, I do production managemnet and I do stage management. So, you do more than one thing, it’s the same way everywhere else. You have to pay your dues. There’s also the amount of work you are going to have to do for free because you have to get your practical in as well as you building your name and your reputation. I see a lot of young persons going around saying “not for exposure” (referring to the ‘exposure not currency’ local campaign) and so forth, but I think we miss the point because I see every body jumping on that band wagon, but we have to be very careful… first of all if you’re an amateur you’re an amateur let me be very clear about that. You chose to be an amateur, you chose not to go an train yourself, you chose not to certify yourself, you chose not to do that, therefore if that’s the level you are going to hold yourself at, you’re going to be treated at that level. If you want to be a professional then invest in it, invest in it and pay for your training. There are a lot of clubs and certification courses you can do here, do them, pay the money and do it. And then start to build your credit within it, so then yes you can then look at a business or someone, a client and tell them this is my worth. That’s what needs to happen and once you have that skill you will get a job.

Q: Can you tell us a little more about Youth Studying Performing Arts and Culture?

K: The first group of students were students from secondary school and they were interested in continuing to look into the field as their employment, as their profession. And so, I continued with them, to train them in the various artforms, make sure to provide them with

various opportunities. Not only do you get training but you get real life opportunities to use your training whether it be in dance, drama, music and so on. And a lot of the work that we do has a cultural heritage component to it.

It is for the youth, the age range is about 14-25. So it really is for young people and their wants and needs really pushes everything that we do within those fields. We also do stage management, production management, we teach various parts of the different artforms and how to use performance to help bring about some kind of change or awareness.

Kentillia (upper middle) addressing four young performers during ‘she.lc 2017’ rehearsals

Q: Do you and the group’s members share a vision when it comes to the future of Saint Lucia’s Art and Cultural industries? 

K: Yes, it’s about producing the next set of artists and producers, stage management and so forth. We want to make sure we have a world class arts and cultural industry in Saint Lucia that someone won’t come and say “well that’s how they do it in Saint Lucia apart from the rest of the world”. No it has to be on par – whether it is you’re in Trinidad, Jamaica, New York, London, everything must be on par, that is what we are working towards, so that that way too, you have more opportunities, more changes, more chances of persons getting big not only here but going international and being able to make their name and to develop.

And, What kind of work do we plan to do in the future? Same like we’ve always done. Right now we just came from two major projects so  we’re on a break because one of the things I encourage is that my group members also do their individual projects and have their individual activities, because I also want to train them to have leadership qualities and take the initiative. A lot of them do individual work at carnival time, so usually we don’t do anything as a group during this time. But as soon as that’s done we do social events, we start training again and then we get ready for activities later on in the year and next year. So we are hoping to do a play or a short film towards the end of the year.

Q: Are there any current or upcoming projects from yourself or the organizations you work with that you would like people to know about?

K: At this point in time, I think we have found the fruits of our labour, it’s actually starting to show right now. There are lots of performance based youth groups around the island. From Youth on Fire in Anse La Raye, to Kiddie crew. So I’m just happy that all of those organizations are working. And what people fail to realize is that we are not in competition with each other. There’s this misconception that we are, but we all work together, we help each other because we realize that we are trying for the same thing and there’s not going to be a situation where there is too many of us. It’s all of us coming together to help to build Culture and Arts in Saint Lucia as well as to provide a medium for young persons.

There’s a lot going on when you look at carnival bands, when you look at Kiddie’s carnival bands coming on, a lot of people who have created the bands are persons who went through some sort of training as performers, in Theatre Arts, music stage management, stage production and so forth. A lot of those persons who have bands now will tell you its in those kind of groupings they got their start. I think a lot of those young persons are becoming their own entrepreneurs, I’m very happy to see that.

In terms of me personally, I’ll be working with CVS to ensure that their summer youth platform program comes off and is as educational and entertaining as possible for the participants. And I’m working towards Nobel Laureate week, that’s my next big thing.

 –END

 

Why I Can’t Get Enough Of Princess Nokia

Up – Princess Nokia in Tomboy video, Bottom – Princess Nokia in Brujas video

With my lil’ titties and my fat belly (x10)” – actual lyrics from Princess Nokia’s single “Tomboy”. The song opens up with a baggy shirt and trouser clad Princess Nokia walking across the screen, flanked by two women.

When I first watched the video and heard that cool voice ejecting itself from my speakers, I knew this discovery would be a problem; I would be obsessing over another Artist yet again for an unforeseeable amount of time.

This was not the beginning however. It started where it remains; with her self awareness, self love and spirituality. It was infact these things that led me to her heterogeneous body of music.

I had stumbled onto a video she had done with Genius; “Princess “Nokia “G.O.A.T.” Official Lyrics & Meaning | Verified”, where she explains the lyrics of the first verse from her song “G.O.A.T”. At that time, she was decked in floral print sitting against Genius’ distinctive pineapple yellow background.

The video begins, a composed, smooth, raspy voice says “I am a gorgeous woman. That’s not me being egotistical or narcissistic, it’s just a fact. I’m a knockout. I have confidence and je ne sais quoi that is, you know, unmistakable and my pheromones and my chemistry and the way I walk, I am divine feminine energy.” My attention is now grabbed and gripped tight. About fifteen more seconds into the video, to debunk the implication that she is the “greatest of all time” she says “in no way am I the best… I ain’t shit…” To her, “G.O.A.T” was simply a double entrendre that she “decided to run with”, as the analogy of a being “eating off the land, using [its] resources” to become “great” is something she identifies with.

I was enamored. “Who is this woman speaking of herself so brashly?” I thought. “Why is she doing it?” Knowing well the repression societies have inflicted on blossoming women, I wondered, “how did she become this?”

She continues. As she raps the lyrics, I notice that her voice crouches in a corner of her throat, a pur turned into an enticing gnarr. When the video ends, my journey through a hypnotic world of roses, mermaids, passion and weed begins.

Interview after Interview I fall deeper in awe as I witness a dancing, uninhibited spirit and I can’t seem to get enough.

Princess Nokia is a woman who has found her voice. She does not push politics but rather, principles. Having had feminism as a major recurring theme in her life, she speaks to everyone, including the neglected female; the excluded, unjustly demonized black and brown women (and men) who often go unheard and unrepresented in feminist movements. Her work and her world act as compassionate spaces for everyone.

She has acquainted herself with purpose and has leaped into action; Once a journalist and photographer, she also hosted the Smart Girl Club podcast where she echoed the importance and fundamental components of self love and self care – encouraging listeners to connect with their spiritual selves.

She has learned of her roots and of her history. A woman who associates herself with the borough of Manhattan, A woman of Harlem. Her inspiration comes from both the lightness and darkness of that world. A girl familiar with the uncensored night scene of an urban neighbourhood. A girl who walked on its streets alone. A woman of Afro Latinx, Afro Caribbean ancestry living in a society dirtied by color-ism, she is in complete love with her Puerto Rican heritage; “I am an Afro-Indegenous woman, I’m Puerto Rican which means I’m triple raced, I’m black, I’m white and I’m native American” she says in one of her interviews, before going on to explain how these roots have shaped her spirituality and her identity.

She has fortified herself away from the possessive grasps of men who want to be held accountable for her success. She produces her music independently and tours the world performing at sold out venues, a rare thing for underground artists.

She has blossomed in her solitude. Outcasted for her frank queerness, her rugged way of existing and her outright eccentricity at a young age, she spent lots of time alone. Now, as a twenty five year old woman, alongside her healthy relationship with nature, (and its generosity towards providing us with life and beauty hacks) retreat is a chief component of her spirituality.

She has stepped into herself as a woman and embraces who she is so audaciously it is delicious to even watch and listen. A woman who was not bred under a glorifying gaze towards her beauty but was stripped of it, having her crown mutilated at a young age for no reason, then to grow into a body that is not conventionally lauded, she now declares her own beauty.

In the span of a few days I have watched and re-watched several of Princess Nokia’s interviews as well as her Fader documentary “Princess Nokia – Destiny”. I cannot cover all that she is in an article but I did want to show my love and appreciation for who she is.

Her confidence, her magic, her full acceptance of self is damn near tangible – it’s contagious. I have felt more beautiful, more a woman, more intelligent more confident in my struggles, triumphs, spirituality and perspectives because of the bravery of this woman. My wish is that girls and women everywhere can hear, see, feel Destiny Nicole Frasqueri, aka Princess Nokia and be moved by her in the same way that I am.

 

PS I watched this interview and revisited it about 5 times in one weekend:
Princess Nokia at Brown University (click the photo)