Soleil St Lucia Jazz sizzles

Pigeon Island came alive last Saturday with a potpourri of French, Latin, Afro-Cuban and hip hop-flavoured jazz on day three of the Soleil St Lucia Jazz Festival. It was the closest thing to a musical trip around the world in four hours.

Bluemangò, a group of musicians who come from St Lucia, Martinique, and Dominica, has appeared at St Lucia Jazz several times before, but this year they took it up a few notches. Their set featured an eclectic mix of Folk, French and Kweyol jazz – both instrumental and vocal.

Bluemangò is currently working on material for its next CD and trying to confirm a gig in Cuba.

Bandleader and pianist Richard Payne urged Events St Lucia Inc., organizers of the event, to “harness the brand equity that St Lucia Jazz has garnered over the last 25 years, and find a way to transition that equity to the Soleil brand”.

Bluemango bandleader and pianist Richard Payne.

“This has immense promise, and I have no doubt that Soleil can be a festival to be reckoned with,” he added, referring to the rebranded festival that is now a six-event Soleil St Lucia Summer Festival.

Appearing as special guest performers with Bluemangò this year were trumpeter Jean Caze of Haiti, and Guadeloupe-born jazz singer Malika Tirolien.

Trumpeter Jean Caze of Haiti made a special appearance with Bluemango.

The Montreal, Canada-based Tirolien performed at the Royalton St Lucia Resort & Spa with her band on Friday night and with Bluemangò at Pigeon Island on Saturday.

She has performed in Europe, China and India, but this was her first time in St Lucia.

Jazz Singer Malika Tirolien delighted the crowd.

“I really enjoyed my time here. St Lucia reminds me a lot of Guadeloupe – the people, the food, the French Creole. I’m looking forward to coming back and staying a little longer next time,” she said.

Kenny Garrett was a throwback with his authentic jazz sound that must have pleased the purists on Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t long, though, before he broke into some hip hop-flavoured jazz that got the crowd moving and chanting. Garrett stunned many in the crowd when he went into some beat boxing à la Doug E. Fresh.

Richard Bona is no stranger to St Lucia Jazz. The bassist and singer has been there twice before, first at Balenbouche and then at Jazz on the Square. Bona, who is from Cameroon, sings in his native language. He recently made a foray into Latin flavoured jazz and is now working with Mandekan Cubano – a group of musicians from Cuba.

He has a warm, soothing voice that’s almost hypnotic. You may not understand the words he’s singing but you are entranced by every note. He switches effortlessly from his natural singing voice to falsetto.

Bona engaged the crowd in a call and response that was as much fun for the patrons as it was for him. He invited Garrett to join him on stage for the latter part of his set. They entertained the crowd with some musical sparring, matching each other note for note.

Bona ended his set with a Macosa dance number that got people on their feet, and Latin dance was on show in the crowd.

Reflecting on his performance, he said: “It’s always fun to be here. The vibe is always good. The people are nice, the fans are always very receptive, and that’s what music is all about – bringing joy to people.”

About his new connection with Mandekan Cubano, Bona said: “Afro-Cuban music is about 500 years old. It’s a very beautiful combination of different cultures. It fuses African, European, Latin and Indian musical styles and influences. Horns and piano came from Europe, congas from Africa, and the maracas came from India. This is all part of my own evolution, because I’m a student of music, for life.”

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