Dennis Joseph

Dennis Joseph

One of my favourite songs from the group Kassav   is Tim Tim Bwa Sek which speaks of a lost tradition of days gone when older people would relate stories of things that happened and the moral of those stories to their children, grandchildren and younger folk and the song urges a need to restart this great tradition.

If older Labourites had passed on the ideals of the Labour Party and its sufferings to their children then Savarin could never have been appointed president of Waitikubuli by the Labour Party.  They would cringe to know that he is awarded the Medal of Honour to place in his record.  But then that is just me an old Labourite remembering the time of the pain and struggle and I am sure you will say it is the pain speaking.   In Waitikubuli we the people are not big on our history.  Commonly you hear, “Oh that is past tense let’s forget that.”  We should learn from the great nations of the world who never forget their history.  The two sets of words used repeated by the Jews are, “Never again,” and “Lest we forget,” referring to the holocaust when Hitler slaughtered millions of them.  In the cities and towns of the great nations you observe their history   in their monuments, museums, artistry, architecture, TV programs and in their commemorations going back centuries.  There is even a dedicated expensive   History Channel on cable TV.

We still do not understand that it is the past that creates the present and the future.  If we did we certainly would not accept that excuse for an Edward Leblanc monument with a nearly invisible teeny- weenie photo of the man stuck on   hurriedly plunked down in front of the Mahaut toilet restroom the day before the opening of the rehabilitated road renamed the Edward Leblanc Highway and then about turn to lift up Charles Savarin who did his best to destroy Leblanc’s work and his Labour Party.  But then who cares?  Certainly not those who struggled with him and benefitted from his struggle as they mostly remain mute and some even support what is happening.

In writing this column I try to take the opportunity as often as I can to take you back even way back because if you believe in Waitikubuli then you must know her as a wife knows her husband and he knows her the same. How did she come to be what she is?   That is why whenever the Creole season comes around I try to take you back to the time when it was not like it is today, when creole was simply called ‘patwa’ a bad word to some yet the means of communication to so many of the rural folk and this is the past which has led to the music we celebrate in the present.  If you can bear to read something twice the length of my usual presentations read on but if not stop here for it is folly to just taste the water because, ‘A little learning is a dangerous thing drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring.”(Alexander Pope)   After that then it is your turn to comment for or against, nicely or fiercely as you will for we live in changing times.

Some say Kweyol music others say daintily Creole music but however your tongue rolls it is our music.  Music which is part of mass culture has been divided into two main spheres-popular music (Pop) and standard music.  In Waitikubuli we have added creole music in which we are able to fuse all West Indian music into one, in other words the ‘Creolisation” of various types of indigenous music.  Such was the case with Cadence-lypso a product of the band Exile One.

French creole or ‘patwa’ as it was first called was for many years the language of the farming community who were called then, “country bookie,” and was severely rejected by mainstream society.   There were some who worked to keep the language alive in song and dance.  In that regard the work of the late Mabel ‘Cissie’ Caudieron in the 40’s and 50’s is well documented though hardly ever remembered during the creole activities.   The struggle of Edward Leblanc whose attempts were ridiculed by the Roseau crew when he introduced the national cultural gala during the National celebrations was a huge stride forward in keeping the creole alive.   Edward Leblanc therefore began the movement that started the change of the negative thinking of our people toward our cultural heritage yet it was not remotely easy as ridicule and derision was heaped on his efforts by those who saw ‘patwa’ as the language of the uneducated and illiterate to be banned forever.

However the contemporary Creole movement possibly truly began in late 1975 when amid much protest the Creole tongue was introduced as part of the regular programming at DBS.

It happened this way:

In August of 1975 I was asked to take over the management of the station.  I had the name changed from Radio Dominica to Dominica Broadcasting Service –DBS Radio and decided that if we would change the name we should also change the programming so I had the station off the air for reorganization for a full week when only news was broadcast at noon.  I was amazed when going through the old logs that I could not find any reference to anything creole or ‘patwa’ as it was then called.  I felt that was a huge omission especially as I had just come in from managing the Gaylords Power Union, a band which promoted and recorded ‘patwa’ songs around the world and also
I enjoyed the music of the Siffleur Montagne a singing group led by Jean Lawrence who also promoted ‘patwa’ songs.  I discussed this with my assistant the great broadcaster Alvin Knight who had been there for years before I became Manager and he vigorously supported the effort but we both knew what would be coming at us from the ‘patwa’ haters.  I decided to do some piloting on a Friday evening with Tim Durand who had volunteered.  He was later assisted by Ferdinand Frampton who surprised us all as we did not know that he was such a ‘patwa man’ with a great style and so with Tim’s consent he eventually took over the program.  There was a firestorm as the ‘patwa’ haters ranted and raved.  I recall one particular caller who many years later apologized to me suggesting that I should be hanged in the market square for, “Spoiling the minds of the youth with ‘patwa and Cadence on radio.”

DBS pressed on nonetheless and over the years has brought forward such stars as one of my best finds Felix Henderson,  and Leroy Wadico Charles now also the female voice is added –Kaywana Fontaine who has more possibilities than even she knows.  Today when suddenly everybody loves creole it should stand as one of the triumphs of DBS radio, for in this regard the station changed the thinking of the whole nation making a once unaccepted part of our ……………………………………………culture to be so infused that we even have a Journee’ Creole(Creole Day).

With that background of the work of others  it was easier for the modern technology Creole music to take root though not conceived in Dominica but in Guadeloupe by a band of Dominican musicians called Exile One.  When they began their musical journey they could not have known that their efforts would result in moving Creole expressions from a minority culture to a pop culture starting a musical adventure that eventually would become the signature event of their homeland.  Their efforts changed the way we regard the power of local musicians as did the Gaylords Power Union.

There are many theories as to how the idea came about and some have been boasted of as having visions and all of that.  The truth is that this evolved from the thoughts and ideas of a number of people before it then came to seed.  There was consultation with Mark Marie, Gordon Henderson, Michael Fagan, and a committee was set up by Sheridan Gregoire the then NDC general Manager   to come up with ideas for special events.  I headed that committee which included Ronald Lander, Kelly Williams, Eddie Toulon and Sherita Gregoire and we came up with the suggestion of a Dominica Cadence Music Festival to coincide with the Independence celebrations but in my phone conversation with Gordon Henderson to which he refers in his book Zoukland he suggested that ‘Cadence’ should be changed to ‘Creole’ and ‘Dominica’ to ‘World’ so as to encompass all creole music.

We then had a name- World Creole Music Festival.  I have been told that this was also a suggestion from friends of Gordon including Mark Marie, husband and Manager of Ophelia Marie whose voice is a national resource, but I do not know enough to set it down here.  It is also a fact and I should know it is a fact that we suggested the WCMF should be modeled along the lines of the previous Harlem all night Festival held years before on the Newtown Savannah.   So as you can see it took many minds and ideas to come up finally with the WCMF and not any one person’s vision.   However none of this would have happened but for the decision by the UWP government to adopt and sponsor the idea amid much criticism and accusations of money wastage on ‘sewo’ and even ridicule by their political opponents who were having a good Ha-Ha- Ha including Charles Savarin.  It is that United Workers Party government decision that changed the face of our musical culture and took what was essentially hometown music into the world of music and international entertainment that even those very political opponents of the past now hail it as the greatest musical cultural adventure of our time.

It would not be fitting if I did not add a word about the late Eddie Toulon.  When his name came up only Sheridan Gregoire and me on the newly formed Festival Commission strongly supported his application for the job of Executive Director.  It was suggested that perhaps another person with experience from overseas could be found for the task.  By the by he was accepted and he must be commended for his splendid work in leading this mammoth undertaking out for its debut international exposure in 1996 and his surprising death just before the fifth anniversary of the WCMF was a great loss to Dominica.  I find it totally unbecoming that very little is said of him during the WCMF season.  By and through his work he changed the thinking that only a foreign person could do big things in Dominica.  R.I.P Eddie.
But there are more changes I would like to see.

A change in the thinking of the management that the WCMF is nothing more than three all night shows and recycled musical band performances year after year.  That was not the original intention.  It was intended to make Dominica the home of creole music and be promoted worldwide that way just like Jamaica for reggae and TNT for calypso.  That each year there should be a theme competition and a special WCMF song.   It was intended to allow our music to be on international platforms and to reach out to the Francophone territories and to be made into a brand that could invade the other territories in the region and the vast possibilities on the African continent.  It was intended to go beyond nightly rhythms to exhibitions using other venues, exposures, discussions, and important visitations.  It was intended to find a permanent home for the event.  I was a member of the original Festival Commission so I know that though we have the signature creole event we have not yet written that signature on the world as it was first intended and envisaged and it is about time.