Jamaican Music

“Little Jamaica” Shows Off Its Musical Side

Written by Dawn A.Davis

Saint Lucia’s Minister of Tourism Allen Chastanet warmly refers to his island as “Little Jamaica”. Just as lush, mountainous, and friendly, Jamaica’s “little sister” truly showed off its beauty and warm Caribbean vibe at the recently concluded Saint Lucia Jazz festival, May 1-9, 2010. Now in its 19th year, little sister beat out its older island sibling by 4 years — Jamaica Jazz & Blues celebrates 15 years. 

Famous for its breath-taking twin mountains, the Gros “Grand” Piton and Petit Piton, its drive-in volcano with its hot bubbling pools, St. Lucia becomes the playground for music lovers every May. Pigeon Island, the little strip of land jutting out into the calm Caribbean sea like a huge thumb, comes alive with music, food, art, culture. 

Like Jamaica Jazz, the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival is rated among the most anticipated festivals in the Caribbean, showcasing chart-topping international and local artistes spewing intoxicating jazz, reggae, soca, R&B, and world beat.

Women of Soul

An inspiring event this year, the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival featured three young women with the talent and poise legends are made of. Twenty-five year old Esperanza Spalding wowed with her virtuosity on the standup bass. But that’s not all, the petite singer/songwriter’s unique vocal styling seemed to capture the essence of Brazil, Cuba, the blues, a little funk, and hip hop. Watch for Esperanza to become a household name. 

English singer/songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae (31), the product of a black Kittian father and a white English mother, catapulted to the top of the English music scene with her 2006 self titled debut album, which shot to number one on the British charts. Her latest album, The Sea promises to do just as well. Winner of 11 prestigious music awards, Rae’s music is uplifting and soulful. Onstage she gets lost in her own music, perhaps even forgetting she has an audience. 

Seems like Great Britain is really churning them out. Twenty-two year old singer/songwriter Laura Izibor is fast becoming well known across Europe and America with her sultry, pop musical expressions. Born in Dublin to an Irish mother and Nigerian father, the young songstress has melded both cultures into a unique musical style. 

Men of Soul

It’s always fabulous to see musical legends such as master jazz violinist Jean Luc Ponty. The French-born musician has been wowing audiences worldwide since the early 1960s. Only Ponty can produce the passionate, modern jazz funk that mesmerizes audiences everywhere. 

His island counterpart, guitarist Ronald ‘Boo’ Hinkson, mixes contemporary jazz licks with lilting Caribbean hues, giving his music a warm Caribbean feel international and local fans have come to love. And love it they did, on the Pigeon Island main stage. 

Dubbed Men of Soul, R&B crooners Jeffrey Osborne, Freddie Jackson, Phil Perry, and Howard Hewitt took the audience back to the days of romance with their classic hits. Who doesn’t remember Osborne’s On the Wings of Love and Stay With Me Tonight or Jackson’s You Are My Lady and Rock Me Tonight? Even the young people in the audience who were not even born when these songs topped the charts, seemed to be reminiscing to these tunes. 

Speaking of young people, hundreds of teen girls just about went crazy as Ne-Yo took to the stage. The Grammy-winning artiste and songwriter held them captivated with his blockbuster hits Miss Independent, Closer, and So Sick. Watching the 30-year-old take command of the stage and the reaction from his young fans was like Beatlemania all over again, a time back in the 60s when frenzied Beatles fans lost control. With tears, screams, and near hysteria the young girls reached out to the stage knowing in their hearts Ne-Yo was singing to them personally. 

Another soulful flava, popular St. Lucian soca artiste Teddyson John electrified the boisterous crowd with local favourties. Showing his versatility, John easily switched gears, going from sweet soca to soulful R&B. 

Jamaica’s Gift

Indeed, no music festival is complete without reggae, Jamaica’s gift to the musical world. Shaggy and Maxi Priest proved that the music born out of the largest English speaking Caribbean island, can be squeezed, poked, dressed up, funkified, and served raw, but will never lose its appeal to a worldwide audience. 

With hits like Boombastic, Angel, and Hey Sexy Lady, and some near naughty antics onstage, Shaggy had the excited crowd in the palm of his hands on closing night. Born in Jamaica, Shaggy (Orville Richard Burrell) grew up in the United States, eventually becoming a US citizen. But, he never lost his roots, evident from his music. His remake of Oh Carolina in 1993 brought him nuff attention, and his first hit. Subsequent album releases help put him over the top with platinum and gold sales levels, making him a sought after act on the music festival tours worldwide. 

Maxi Priest’s fusion mix of soul and reggae has made him one of the most popular artistes on the touring circuit. Hyped and energetic, the handsome dreadlocked crooner gave the Caribbean and international crowd more than their money’s worth. English-born of Jamaican descent, Priest’s Wild World and Just a Little Bit Longer have become reggae/soul anthems across the globe. And, it seems Priest’s son, Marvin, is walking in his daddy’s footsteps. Joining his father onstage, Marvin delivered big, with a little of Maxi’s style evident. 

Bringing roots reggae into the mix was one of Britain’s most successful reggae bands, Steel Pulse. On the scene from the late 1970s, the Grammy award winning group made a name for themselves with their unique mix of roots reggae, jazz, and dancehall hints. From Jamaica’s Reggae Sunsplash to Japan Splasn to the UK’s Glastonbury Festival, Steel Pulse has been in demand at world music fests following their string of musical message hits Stepping Out, Roller Skates, Babylon the Bandit, State of Emergency, Bodyguard. And, based on the crowd’s reaction one thing is certain, the music, the message will never die.

About the Author
Dawn A. Davis is a freelance writer with a focus on Caribbean culture, politics, entertainment, tourism, and social issues.

About the author

Dawn A.Davis