If there’s one word that can describe music from Dominica, that would be diverse. It draws its influence from many different places: Africa, other Caribbean islands, French, British, the Americas, Latin America. But not only did they borrow styles and genres from other countries, it also took these styles and developed their own variations and sub-genres as well. It can be quite complicated to list all of these different styles of music performed on this small island.
During the 1950s and 1960s, music from Caribbean nations, especially Trinidad, had a lot of influence on Dominican music. Genres like calypso, samba, merengue, and funk were commonly performed. Steel bands also emerged and were widely popular as well. A Haitian genre called kadans or compas also landed in Dominica, and Dominican musicians used kadans and merged it with other styles, like calypso. Groups like Exile One and The Grammacks were heavily influenced by not only kadans, but also zouk and soca as well.
During the 1990s, Dominicans developed a new style called bouyon music. One band in particular, WCK (Windward Caribbean Kulture) was instrumental in developing this style, which is more or less a fusion of cadence-lypso and jing ping styles to create bouyon music. It tends to rely on a drum machine with keyboards, cowbell, and guitars. The language used is a mix of both English and Creole (also called Kwéyòl) and is really influenced by dancehall and rap styles, making it more a young people’s genre.
Starting in 1997, the World Creole Music Festival is held every year in Dominica and features Creole music from all over the Caribbean (including Louisiana’s zydeco). Many people see this festival is the only festival aimed at celebrating indigenous music in Dominica, and some even extend that to the Eastern Caribbean. One day, I’ll definitely have to come.
Carnival is also an important time for music and dance. A style known as chanté mas or lapo kabrit is a call-and-response type of music is commonly sung at Carnival – the lead singer does this while dancing backwards. Dancing and dance contests are always a part of Carnival and other festivals. Some of the folk dances of Dominica have their roots from French and British dances (like the quadrille, lancers, mazook, polka, cotillion, schottische, contredanse, la ronde), but some have their roots in African dance, like the famous bélé dance. This dance is accompanied solely by drumming, and the dancer dances in the middle of a circle. There are actually two dancers, but only one dances at a time, except in transitions.
One musician I came across is reggae musician Nasio Fontaine. I’m a huge fan of reggae, and I’ve been listening to his album Universal City. I absolutely love this album. I asked for some iTunes gift cards for Christmas, and I hope I get at least one so I can buy this album. I think his style has a lot of African reggae sound to it, very easy to listen to.
Of course, I also listened to Exile One’s album Old School Sessions: Green / Vert as well as The Grammacks’ album 1974-1976 Grammacks Collection. I think The Grammacks remind me of early Bob Marley. The Gaylords were another group who came out of the 1960s who played calypso and steelpan styles from Trinidad.
Up next: the food