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By Shaun Hutchinson


Saturday/Sunday, May 31-June 1, 2008.



St Lucia Jazz Festival builds slowly but its climactic four-day showpiece at the historic Pigeon Island National Landmark is a superb conclusion to the party.


On these final days the event’s reputation for strong acts is confirmed.  Three generations of female soul superstars - Dionne Warwick, Anita Baker, Angie Stone – share the bill with a super group put together by saxophone king Najee, who was not overshadowed by performances from Lucian stars Barbara Cadet and Luther Francois. Hip hop master, super producer and musician Wyclef Jean brought the show to a blistering end with a set which included tree-climbing and a leap frog over St Lucian Prime Minister Stephenson King. Yeah – you had to be there really.


The 17-year-old event – organised by the St Lucia Tourist Board, the local business community and Labowi Promotions - is an exciting fusion of contemporary jazz, alongside mainstream Black music, which tempts the all-important international visitors to the event. And as befits a teenager it’s sometimes erratic, and maybe blows hot and cold – but it’s also vibrant and full of creative energy.


With the entire island geared up for the Caribbean’s second most popular festival (after Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival) reggae, soca, calypso, Cuban Jazz and salsa ably represent the region’s music, alongside the African American sounds of jazz, soul, R&B and hip hop.


As well as the centrepiece ‘Amidst The Ruins’, there are a whole heap of events throughout the island, with Lucian musicians joined by performers from the wider Caribbean. These free events in Castries, Dennery, and remote areas of the South of the island contrast the more exclusive Pigeon Island party, which is ever-so 'bourgie' –and overly-priced (at US $40-$70 ) for many locals. 


It’s the “fringe” events that make the overall Jazz experience, whet the appetite, and give an opportunity to see other parts of this beautiful island.


The capital Castries has Jazz on the at historic Derek Walcott Square, Tea Time Jazz at La Place Carenage, and Jazz on the Pier at tourist trap Pointe Seraphine shopping complex. Rodney Bay’s La Reduit Beach is an eye-catching location for a free concert and sun-soaked lime.


The official opening of “The Jazz”, as it’s known locally, at Fond D’or Nature and Heritage Park in Dennery, showcases the island’s tropical landscape, whilst Jazz in the South at Soufriere sees performances in the shadows of the United Nations' World heritage site at The Pitons - the island’s dramatic twin peaks landmark.


The challenge is choosing what to check out during a hectic, but well organised and professionally executed, 10-day period. After all, it is tempting to lay back and chill by one of St Lucia’s picture postcard beaches, overlooked by stunning scenery with a rum punch close to hand.


Dragging yourself from the beach is rewarding though. The first two days of the centrepiece Jazz programme are sedate, restrained affairs in the cool evening slowdown zone.


Mind you, the bill is a glittering one: jazz heavyweights the Juillard Quintet, Dianne Reeves (modern-day Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Dinah Washington rolled into one), and superstar Michael Bolton head the line-up of hard core jazz and contemporary twists on soul music, with excellent performances to prepare for the coming bacchanal.


What a contrast though for the weekend session. No dinner jazz ambience here, as adults and children, locals and foreigners gather late morning to plants their flags, unpack cool boxes, and lay beach mats and folding chairs underneath a fierce sun in front of the main stage.


The mood is relaxed, but there is a Festival etiquette here. To step on another man’s mat is sacrilegious – but it’s all in good humour with a party vibe as the aroma of barbecue, vibrant steel band of NorthStars from Castries, numerous watering holes, food stalls (named after St Lucian towns and villages) and the nearby beach remind festival goers they’re in the Caribbean – not a mud sodden Glastonbury.



© 2008


Image by St Lucia Jazz.


Shaun Hutchinson is The New Black Magazine's arts editor and a London-based freelance journalist.

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