All That Jazz and more

Fatoumata Diawara

Fatoumata Diawara
Photo: Criben

St Lucia Jazz has become St Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival. The Caribbean’s second most popular cultural event, after the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, runs from April 30th to May 12th this year. Here we profile four acts to look out for, from headliners to local heroes to unknown quantities to traditionalists with a twist.

R. Kelly is the star name on a bill which also includes the stellar talents of fellow R&B artists, Akon and Ginuwine. Whilst rumours of rap’s demise have proved exaggerated, with the title of Nas’ 2006 album Hip Hop Is Dead proving premature, R&B’s future looks less certain. Step forward its saviour, fortysomething Robert Sylvester Kelly.

Kelly claims that “R&B has, in some ways, been abandoned and it’s being used in areas when people see fit to maybe put a hook on a rap song to blow up a rap song.” But he insists such shenanigans aren’t important if R&B continues to exist as a genre in its own right: “Now, I don’t knock that hustle, but if we’re gonna respect R&B when it comes to rap, than it deserves to stand on its own as well.

And so the keeper of faith went back to basics on latest album, Write Me Back. Here classic cuts like Feeling Single hark back to the golden age of soul. It’s a throwback of a single, evoking Ray Charles at his most sincere.

R.Kelly plays the main stage at Pigeon Island National Landmark on Sunday 12th May. Supported by The O’Jays, Brian Culbertson and a Folk Coalition led by Ronald “Boo” Hinkson which features local musicians, the show starts at 3:00 pm. Tickets cost $200 (East Caribbean dollar) and $80 (US dollar).

Akon and R. Kelly

Akon in concert and R. Kelly performing.

 

Vieux Fort is St Lucia’s second-largest town. Located on the southernmost tip of the island, it’s also one of the best places to catch a classic reggae concert on the island. Which explains why 4th World have established themselves as old-school purveyors of reggae music, in the vein of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.

Part of Vieux Fort is named Black Bay. Allegedly because infamous pirate Blackbeard hoarded his treasure here. Which, in turn, explains why, at times, the band members appear to be breaking out into a full-blown sea shanty. But not why, at others, they also do a mean impression of a barber-shop quartet.

4th World are a band of nicknames. As well as lead singer/songwriter Darrel “Frenchy” Augier, there’s veteran dread, Sylvester “Itooba” Peter. And let’s not forget Nijah “Cold Sweat” St. Catherine whose vocals mix the rough with the smooth.

Catch 4th World at the Jazz in the South event on Wednesday May 1st. Turn up at Laborie’s Rudy John Beach Park from 2:00pm. There’s no entrance fee.

Meet Fatoumata Diawara who headlines Jazz in the South. The one-time, or perhaps more appropriately sometime, actress was born in the Ivory Coast to parents hailing from Mali. Moving to France to fulfil her acting dreams, she later picked up a guitar to blend the Wassalou folk of south Mali with more international influences.

In an interview with The Guardian in March 2012 she claimed “singing was like a medicine for me…ah! I forget everything”. Singing in her native Bambara language, she hopes her music can be a remedy for the world’s ills. Particularly in sorting out her war-torn home country. Diawara returned to capital Bamoko last December to record Mali-Ko (Peace), enlisting the collaboration of 40 other artists including the legendary duo Amadou and Mariam.

As well as being melodic, Diawara’s music is very percussive. So it doesn’t come as much of a shock to discover she’s worked with legendary drummer, Tony Allen, on Rocket Juice and the Moon’s debut album. You’ll definitely want to dance to the beat of her drum.

Kréyol Project are a band seemingly committed to free jazz, the type of music that monkeys around with your brain. But then they’ll throw a pinch of soca and a punch of zouk into the mix. Which only serves to leave you feeling even more disorientated.

Perhaps the most Creole of all the artists on the bill, Kréyol Project (the clue’s in the name) hail from South America’s French Guiana. These are no absolute beginners, although their numbers include the fledgling talents of backing vocalist Gloria and up-and-coming MC Maldone Msay. They’ve been joined by Serge Toulope, “the golden voice of French Guiana”, who’s on the comeback trail after a four-year exodus.

But this Project is helmed by the likes of old hands Jean Marceline, Christian Bardou, and Jocelyn “Joss” Furcy. Marceline’s the composer as well as a multi-instrumentalist. Meanwhile, Jocelyn plays a mean guitar.

Kréyol Project support Haiti’s Eric Ildefonse at Friday May 10th’s Jazz on the Square from 12:00pm. Entrance to this Derek Walcott Square event is free. Saint Lucia’s very own Inner Urge complete the line-up.