ON Sunday, the honour of mashing up Pigeon Island Nature Park grounds at the 2019 edition of St Lucia Roots & Soul Festival went to reggae veterans UB40, featuring Ali Campbell and Astro.
This came at the same time as news was filtering around of the pending arrival of Tropical Storm Dorian, which would cancel flights in coming days.
But Caribbean brio has never been bothered by bad news. Give us good music and we will survive.
And so it was as the pioneers of the reggae cover song with a 40-year career just came on stage without fanfare and delivered a set and encore that had everyone animated and electrified.
Call any song: The Way You Do the Things You Do, (I Can’t Help) Falling in Love With You, Cherry Oh Baby, Here I Am (Come and Take Me) and yes, Red Red Wine – UB40 has covered it, and Ali Campbell’s voice has been the trademark of the reggae cover.
Legal disputes aside, this iteration of the band continues to perform music that had young people dancing in the 1980s in the aftermath of Bob Marley’s passing. Looking at the audience at this show, young people are still dancing and singing those 40-year-old hits.
Their sound was clear and resonant. Astro was still spitting those rhymes and hooks that made nostalgia obsolete.
Before UB40 brought a close to the third edition of St Lucia Roots & Soul, opening acts St Lucian pop sensation Sherwinn “Dupes” Brice, Afro-Canadian 18-year-old soul singer Zamani and young veteran R&B hitmakers Mýa and Ginuwine had varying impact.
To begin, there was an unexplained two-hour delay before the appearance of Brice to open what should have been a 4 pm show. Coupled with his mild audience interaction during his set of catchy songs, the finale was not looking to supersede the Saturday show.
But things have a way of settling and righting themselves. The huge Sunday crowd was dressed for relaxation and fun, picnic baskets and blankets were out, drinks were flowing, and the music would not simply be background accompaniment to an evening lime.
By the time young Zamani appeared, the sun had set, and the audience was looking forward to better things. With a voice that reflects influences as diverse as Elle Fitzgerald and Betty Carter to India Arie and Jill Scott, the set was a revelation. Admitting to nerves at playing to this large crowd, she sailed through a set of neo-soul ballads that included a few cover songs. One in particular, by fellow Canadian Daniel Caesar, Best Part, was her high point in a set that never wavered from excellence or settled for average. A fine Caribbean debut.
Unlike the Saturday show which moved from nostalgia to now, Sunday’s show flipped that script.
Rocking the same musical unit, Mýa and Ginuwine, who are touring together, gave an R&B review that made up for delays and delivered.
Mýa, all glittering and sexy, with a pair of nubile dancers, put on a showstopping performance of hits, covers of Lauren Hill, Michael Jackson and more of her heroes. Dance steps were tight, voice was on point, her energy did not give away the fact that she was feeling the tropical heat as she admitted later. Her My Love is like…Wo and Ghetto Superstar were audience hits.
A muscular Ginuwine did the super-male sex symbol performance with long-stemmed roses and sweaty T-shirts thrown in the audience for the receptive ladies, plus close encounters at the stage perimeter for the obligatory chest and bicep massage. Pony has them screaming and looking for his “saddle!” No shrinking violet, the man put down a hot performance. Both young veterans, with careers averaging 25 years, showed that they have not lost their touch, while being contemporary.
The template of these concerts seems to position St Lucia Root & Soul Festival as a reggae concert with opening acts in the soul/R&B conscious-music genres.
Day three of the adventure in festival tourism saw the culmination of efforts by Events Saint Lucia to produce an event that will be a talking point for many in the Caribbean. Early years still, but as a marquee event in a series of events on this island to make it a go-to destination, things are looking up.