Gordon Henderson

Gordon Henderson

There are many fallacies and misconceptions surrounding Cadence-Lypso as a musical genre as well as the place it occupies in the global musical industry.

While Cadence-Lypso is perceived and recognized as a Dominican brand all over the very significant Creole music market which spans many continents, the product is often misunderstood both at home and abroad. This misunderstanding has stagnated the growth and development of the genre resulting in placing it in a quasi-traditional category carved in stone at home though enjoying the continued wide acclaim abroad in that specific niche market.

At one point which still lingers in the collective narrative of Dominicans, Cadence-Lypso was considered dead or moribund though such artists as Gordon Henderson with or without Exile One, the late Jeff Joseph with or without the Grammacks, Ophelia and Anthony Gussie continued to respond to a global demand for both recordings and stage performances. Michele Henderson also for some time sparked much attention.

Most people in Dominica including some in the media rate artists on longevity, the number of records released and how much they make locals and the Dominican Diaspora sweat with their music. Little or no attention is paid to the quantum of copyright amassed, global sales of the music, demand for stage and other performances, fees, number of international hits, number of songs covered by other artists far and wide and the level of respect commanded in international markets: basically, the track record.

Importantly, Cadence-Lypso, contrary to the Trinidad styled Dominica calypso most popular at carnival, does not export exclusively for Dominicans abroad but to foreigners and Dominicans alike, making it, Dominica’s only veritable exportable musical product consistently over the past forty years.

In order to fully comprehend Cadence-Lypso as a genre and an exportable product, it is important to take a thorough overview that clarifies the history, the evolution and the current status of both the art on the one hand and the product within an industry setting on the other.

Although Cadence-Lypso has been accepted as a Dominican musical format, it is important to know how it began and under what circumstances.
Cadence-Lypso was born of Dominicans but not in Dominica. Furthermore, Cadence-Lypso grew up in the Dominican Diaspora and was adopted at “home” at a crucial moment in Dominica’s history on the eve of independence when this international recognition brought much needed pride to the people.

Cadence-Lypso began, of all places, in Paris, France when the Dominican group Exile One was forced to “creolize” its rather Anglo-styled repertoire on stage in order to make a French Antillean audience dance. This was an immediate success which resulted in an offer to record the new style which in turn became a success and a new musical trend which swept all over Africa, South America, Japan and beyond.

Exile One and its Cadence-Lypso became the most prominent musical group in the Creole world beyond the expectations of many professionals of the industry in record sales and concert performances.

Promoters and record producers who were all resident out of Dominica on the belief that Cadence-Lypso was a usual musical pattern performed in Dominica, solicited Dominican bands to their shores, particularly to Guadeloupe and Martinique. The Dominican bands were all “forced” to follow the templates provided by Exile One and a movement was launched. It is therefore fair to say that Cadence-Lypso’s global success is the collective effort of all the bands and other participants.

The market was quickly saturated in terms of the excessive number of bands and recordings on the market. Only a few musicians/bands mainly those who settled in the French Departments, succeeded in making a decent living from the music and scores were forced to return home.

Another significant consideration in the development of Cadence-Lypso is the fact of the incorporation of a Dominican owned Record label (Saultone) which launched the careers of many artists including Dominica’s lady of song Ophelia thus introducing the genre outside of the uniquely band focused presentation. The incorporation of a Dominican owned company within the foreign market to ensure professionally produced products, marketing, promotion and distribution has been proven an effective tool. This important factor in the consideration of exporting should not be overlooked.

While many Caribbean people commonly attach national identity to their popular music formats, in Dominica’s case Cadence-Lypso is one among others in the Creole market and from an industry standpoint competition and market share must be the focal points of those involved.

Cadence-Lypso suffered a major setback in market share when Zouk was introduced in the early 1980s. Kompa of Haiti, the other keen competitor also suffered the same fate.

This was due to many factors. The government of France at the time faced tremendous pressure from independence movements in Guadeloupe and Martinique and was forced to counteract by paying particular attention to the recognition to the cultural specificity of the Overseas Departments.
The group Kassav was a major beneficiary enjoying the largesse of even the national airline Air France. Zouk was largely led and dominated by Zassav which enjoyed the lion’s share of the market. Zouk was introduced at a moment when popular music was making the transition from analog recordings to digital and they used the best available studios. Kassav followed the footsteps of Exile One to become the second Creole act to sign a recording contract with a major company. Most of all, however, the target market embraced for the first time in its history a musical expression of its own!

Two groups dominated the pre-Zouk era in terms of international sales, copyright and international tours: Exile One and Tabou Combo. When Kassav arrived on the scene, just as it was for Exile One a decade before, only the Kassav trend followers managed to get varying amounts of the scraps which fell from the table.

In the heyday of Zouk, many Kompa and Cadence-Lypso bands went into oblivion. Only those that were home town acts continued in their limited markets but had little or no impact in the wider Creole market which spans the French West Indies, French Guyana, Haiti, La Réunion, Mauritius, The Seychelles, a large number of African countries, etc…Several million consumers!

Cadence-Lypso made a major comeback to reclaim considerable market share with the album “Fraiche” by bringing changes to the recorded music but also to the stage act in a manner that often made the heavy duty Zouk artillery too expensive for the target market.

The transitory album “Fraiche” proposed two basic innovations to the music. One focused on modernizing the sounds and styles to include new additions to the synthesis, and the other went back to deeply rooted Dominican traditions. The song “L’hivernage 39-45” popularly renamed “Tchwé Yo” caught the attention of the Dominicans at home, but did not consider the song as a component of the evolving Cadence-Lypso genre. Something drew the people to clinging to the “home town” pattern of the early days as if it were carved permanently in stone.

Two things resulted. Exile One and its new evolved notion of Cadence-Lypso regained market share in the global Creole market and the young musicians of the time followed up the traditionally inspired trend (TchwéYo) and brought in different aspects (accordion, etc) calling the music Bouyon, contrary to the new generation Haitians who returned with a new concept but the same name: Kompa. (For better or for worse)

If careful consideration is given and adequate research is done to confirm the veracity of the preceding statements which can all be backed up with figures from reliable sources, it is fair to conclude that there are two brands of Cadence-Lypso.

One is the local brand with its kings and princes loved and appreciated by Dominicans at home and abroad. This brand has not evolved from the direct copy of what Exile One introduced in the early seventies. It often uses a very parochial Creole language often understood only by Dominicans and probably some St. Lucians. There is always a market for “old school”.

The second brand is open to the global Creole market and consequently enjoys a market share.

When a few years back the NCCU took up the noble challenge of reviving, “resuscitating” or resurrecting Cadence-Lypso, as it was put at an open conference, I was left perplexed as to what exactly did they intend to do.

Did they want to assist in promoting and perpetuating the local brand as described above? Did they intend in discovering new artists with the old seventies sound? Where they searching for new and old artists that brought some innovation and creativity to the Cadence-lypso philosophy? Were they aware of the continued successes of Cadence-Lypso in the Creole market and were they at all interested in joining forces to increase and consolidate market share?

Unfortunately, these questions remain unanswered at a moment when the nation has announced the will to invest in music. This leaves me with one more question. Are we sure that we understand the business?