If the opening day of the three-day Saint Lucia Roots & Soul Festival last Friday was the intimate precursor to a weekend of soul, reggae and R&B music that moves the masses, then Saturday’s concert was a celebration that left no one wondering whether this three-year-old festival was going down the wrong path. The jam was moving, and the audience was there to support it.
A few thousand people, St Lucians in the main, along with dozens of music fans from neighbouring Martinique, and others, came together on the rolling green lawn of the Pigeon Island Nature Park venue, among the ruins of Fort Rodney, for a reconnecting with the vibe that was a staple at the hugely popular St Lucia Jazz Festival just a few years ago.
Young and old, black and white and all the colours in between made up an audience that slowly built up in numbers from its 6 pm start to the climax after 1.30 am the following morning.
St Lucian folk-rock band Skip Monday opened the show with a mix of bluesy originals and covers of the music of Magic! (Rude), Ed Sheeran (The Shape of You), Alanis Morrisette (Ironic) highlighting the nature of the band as a fixture on the local music scene. They make good music using just guitars, bass, drums and singers alone.
That wide range of song genres and eras ensured that everyone in the audience had something to sing along to. It was further reinforced with the introduction of the next act, Leee John and Imagination.
A throwback to the days of post-disco in the early 1980s, a silver-sequin-shirted John sang his repertoire of hits with a multi octave voice that spans from low tenor to his trademark high falsetto.
Music and Lights, In the Heat of the Night, Flashback, and, of course, Just an Illusion had people old enough to remember them singing along and dancing like no one was watching.
An experienced performer, John squeezed into his hour-long set a number of surprise song choices that had impressive impact, like Arrow’s Hot, Hot, Hot and Marley’s One Love, and brought St Lucian soca artist Mongstar to sing his hit St Lucia We Love.
Even Prime Minister Allen Chastanet came on stage to congratulate John and remind everyone of John’s St Lucian heritage. The prime minister’s awkward dancing off from the stage was a plus!
The changeover from the first two acts to the final two had a visible transition that saw the younger audience members, and the visibly more “urban” members too, come to the front of the stage to get happy to the music of Nigerian singer Timaya and reggae star Tarrus Riley.
Timaya sang his hits Bum Bum, Sexy Ladies, Sanko and more Afrobeats jams, in an energetic performance that had some people dancing, but had others wondering out loud why the dependence on vocal tracks was necessary for live music.
A non-karaoke generation was hoping for better, and that came in the form of the man who sang She’s Royal.
Tarrus Riley came to perform, and that he did. For 90 minutes, he sang, he slid across the stage, he cajoled the audience to sing loudly, and they did, he starred.
To say this concert was The Tarrus Riley Show with opening acts would be unkind, but the feeling on the grounds that night was that this is what they wanted, and Riley delivered.
Backed by a superlative band led by veteran Jamaican saxophonist Dean Fraser, gems like Superman, Just The Way You Are, Simple Blessings, Gimme Likkle One Drop and the excellent cover of Human Nature were sing-alongs that make one recognise the magnificence of Caribbean music anywhere.
British soul singer Estelle dropped in to do a couple songs from her recent reggae LP Lovers Rock, including Love Like Ours, her duet with Riley.
Audience interaction, hit songs and almost perfect sound made for a great climax to a six-plus-hour show, with very few leaving.
The precedent set for Sunday’s finale showed this music festival, which vibrates with the energy and frequency of Caribbean people, can be a winner, and, more importantly, can bring diverse audiences together in the name of music.