AS preparations wound down for the debut performances at this year’s St Lucia Roots & Soul festival, (I travelled with 3canal to their soundcheck), one was struck by the significance of the destination festival to this island’s fortunes.
While competing for Caribbean audiences with Carifesta in TT on this penultimate weekend in August, this festival has as markers the idea that people will come for the music, and that the business of music and culture outweighs the idea of culture as identity and heritage.
The official blurb says it is: “a festival dedicated to musicians who are setting new trends in reggae, conscious hip-hop, Afro-punk and R&B, with performances, master classes and encounters between artists and other actors in the music business.”
The reality is one where native talent is given pride of place to share stages with international stars with storied careers.
Headlining this opening night of the three-day festival at the 450-seat purpose built venue, the Ramp at Rodney Bay, was rapso group 3canal who were supported by a cast of local St Lucian acts — UK-raised poet Curmiah Lissette, Canada-based hip-hop artiste Asher “Smallz” Small, and resident native singer Ngozi Grandiso. Collectively they fulfilled a programming goal of flavouring this festival with music that celebrates the local performance industry and satisfies an audience still in awe of popular international music genres.
One can surmise from this cast that the first night’s show, however, was to satisfy a local audience outside of the regional and international tourist as the desired audience member.
But unfamiliarity sometimes yields gems for non-natives. A standout performance by Lissette, culminating in a standing ovation, recalibrated the idea that interactive spoken-word and talk-singing — her judicious use of video and dance as adjuncts to her narration were highlights — were popular only among a younger generation.
The full house that night applauded wildly as Lissette took the audience on a metaphorical journey that paralleled hers: childhood migration from St Lucia to the UK, a nostalgic return as an adult to the Caribbean and to her island, and the resultant culture shock of those encounters were themes explored in distinctive oration — she calls her poetry “truth juice.” It worked well with the fine neo-soul vibe and the moving Caribbean rhythms of reggae, zouk and Dennery Segment.
Eight-year old Thandie Wilson, who was discovered in a YouTube viral video reciting Lissette’s poetry, was a special guest who had the audience cheering her for her pluck and confidence in using words that celebrate an older perspective.
3canal closed the show with its typical brand of word and riddim. Rapso, “representing a positive social outlook,” as defined by Stanton Kewley of the group, is “a consciousness, not just a sound.” For the St Lucian audience that night, that meant being a part of the “J’Ouvert” experience that is a 3canal concert. Boom Up History, Blue, Talk Yuh Talk are crowd favourites everywhere, and so too in St Lucia. Utilising their live band, Cut + Clear Crew, their mission to spread the word was reinforced with their desire to connect the Caribbean using their music. Wendell Manwarren said St Lucia has a vibe that is similar to that of TT, with its familiar history of conquest and creole.
Those riddims that unite Caribbean people and instigate an urge to dance make 3canal’s presence in this Roots & Soul festival an acknowledgement of the importance of the group to Caribbean music and Caribbean-based festivals that look inward and outward for audiences with money to spend and with influence to make a difference in how the region sells itself.
The festival moved to the larger Pigeon Island National Park on the last two days of the weekend festival, a mix of R&B and hip-hop, dancehall and reggae, and a sprinkling of more Lucian diaspora artists, make an interesting case for the examination of the music festival as a tourism magnet in the future.
On the first night, a celebration of native excellence was mixed with the tried and true showmanship of veterans. The pull of the music and the nature of Lucian attitudes towards visitors suggest that there could be a template for a revival of the spirit of moving towards the music beyond the Carnival.