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Friday, December 17, 2010

THE STATUS OF COUNTRY & WESTERN IN CHOISEUL AND SAINT LUCIA


Introduction
 There is a popular theory among some Choiseulians that  Country and Western (C&W) was discovered by St. Lucia in the District of Choiseul (DC)!, It’s a view that I personally do not share. Other rural communities can equally claim the same. For example, Vieux North, Micoud and Dennery don't just equally love the art form; but they also share our cultural/historical profile (and in some cases, even to a greater extent!).


The question is: Why would a seemingly predominant “Yankee” art form be so popular in a black society? Why is Soul, Reggae. Jazz and R&B (which is closer to our identity) not enjoying that profile?  Why should George Jones, Vernon Oxford and Stonewall Jackson be Legends in St. Lucia?


To help us answer this question, let take a brief trip through the historical corridors of country music.


Historical Review
First of all, America did not invent or discover country music. It was brought to her homeland by the people of the British Isles, continental Europe, and Africa. For example the Quadrille was brought to America by France.


Throughout history, people have also sought entertainment; and C&W people are no exception. As far back as the early 19th century, large farm houses had dance rooms. In smaller houses where there were space limitations the kitchen was used for dancing.  Town halls were also used for dances which would last from mid-afternoon through the next morning.


Community events known as “frolics” were also popular. These "Frolics" resembled the Bajan Crop-over Festival where “the end of the labors on the field” was celebrated with feasting and dancing. Usually, a fiddler (often a black man) was the main source of the dance music. The banjo, too, derived from earlier African instruments, was also an important component. “Reels”, square dances, waltzes, polkas and other couple dances were performed with “a spirit of freedom and improvisation - all so mingled that it was a dance without name".

However, it was America who christened the art form with its various names. The term "country dance" aka “ranch dance” originated from West Texas and soon became a “significant institution in the life of many Americans”. People in very small areas enjoyed dances which lasted the evening; however, involved people who could not return home the same day enjoyed all-night dances. So, while children slept, adults danced and socialized until morning, enjoying midnight meals cooked and served by the cowboys. When crowds were large, dancers would take turns, paying a fee each time they danced so that the musicians could get a salary.


It is noteworthy that "House parties" featuring music and dancing were very popular in the South until the 1920s, when the commercialization of country music began.


Commonalities and accolades 
 There are a lot of commonalities between the American and the St. Lucian Country and Western (C&W) profiles. It is however obvious that the American influence was  - and still is - overwhelmingly strong in our native versions of C&W music and dance. After all, it is almost exclusively their music that we dance to, albeit our dancing configuration has its own distinct nuances. In addition, the “frolics”, house parties, square dances (quadrille), etc are all features of our musical landscape.


In its earlier days, the country music and dance in native St. Lucia were dubbed the music and dance of “Neg Marons” and “country bookies”. In the 1990s, America dubbed that same dance as the “dance of the decade” with the “Two Step” and “Waltz’ being among the most popular couple country dances. Moreover, the world's largest Night Club is a Country Night Club known as “Gilley’s Club” in Pasadena, Texas. That Dance floor can hold 6,000 people.


Arrival in St. Lucia
 How did C&W arrive in St. Lucia? The older folk claim there were three major gateways: Short Wave  (SW) radio, the US naval bases and returning migrant workers from the US and Panama.


The SW radio – which was standard broadcast medium – beamed C&W throughout the world which was at the time a very popular genre of music. After the war, syndicated radio shows were hosted and broadcast on SW radio and TV. The SW signals which carried the C&W music were picked up in the Caribbean; and soon the natives fell in love with the art form.


World War II resulted in worker migrations and troop movements that spread country music and dance into other parts of the USA as well as abroad. C&W and Swing music echoed from the dance halls and casino lounges of the soldiers at the naval bases, where they  introduced it to the natives; the migrant worker who worked on the canefields also brought it down to the Caribbean.

Why do we love country music?
 There’s a general theory that there is a strong affinity between our own folk music and the traditional C&W music. But the question is: Do St. Lucians love all country music? The answer is not all! We only love a subgenre of country music which lends itself to square dancing and other dancing configurations which form an integral of our “folk” dancing.



What is C&W music and dance?
 Country and Western dance comprises many dance forms or styles which are associated with American country and western traditions. Many of these dances were "tried and true" dance steps that had been "put aside" for many years, and became popular again under the name(s) "country-western", "cowboy", or "country”.


Western couple dancing is a form of social dance. These include: two-step, Waltz, Cowboy or Traveling Cha Cha, Polka, Ten Step Polka, Schottische and other Western promenade dances. The Two Step and Western promenade are unique to country western dancing.


Country dancing is informal, relaxed, simple, casual and without affection. It emphasizes smoothness on the dance floor, and keeping time with the music with little exhibitionist flourishes. Style in country dancing is a lot more important than acrobatics. It involves  a type of “flat-footed glide with some heel and toe touches”. During the performance of the dance, the upper body is usually quiet and there is very little hip movement. Pumping of the hands, bouncing, and swaying are not encouraged.


The "country" waltz consists of gliding steps rather than "on the balls of the feet" quick steps of the classic version. Neither foot is lifted completely from the ground; and the steps should be a light-footed glide rather than a flat-footed shuffle.

Discussion
St. Lucia's world of country music has is not flat and has never stood still. We have improvised beyond compare and to the point where claim ownership of some aspects of the art form in the areas of dance and improvisations.

Perhaps the biggest improvisation was the Piton Country Train organised and produced by Piton Beer., followed by the Chairman's Country Train (organised by Chairman's reserve) where dancing couples competed for grand and attractive prizes. In addition, every weekend, top C&W disc jockeys celebrate Birthday Bashes.

Perhaps, the most successful improvisation to date was the "Show-Me-Your-Motion Championship which ran for two years. In that championship, participants were encouraged to inject as as much creativity and imagination to create their own "out-of-the-box", "Show-Me-Your-Motion dancing styles. It was tremendous success.

The Piton Country Train highlighted some outstanding performances: Balls and Samantha were the most outstanding Waltzing pair I have ever seen; Theresa and Arthur were the most creative and enterprising rock-dancing pair.

In the show-me-your-motion Championship, King Babbo from Choiseul, Pettifa from Belle Vue, Wisha and Ti-Apo from Blanchard stood out for distinction; but the King of Motion from the Pack was our very own from Choiseul - King Babboo.

Our top selectors/DJ include: the ultimate DJ Prio, Rontgen,  Price Charles, DJ Dynamix, DJ Tall Boy, DJ Cameron and DJ TimTom, among others.

Conclusion
Today, C&W has literally taken over our music and dance landscape to the point where St. Lucia has produced its own version of Gilley’s Club (Pryo’s Country Palace) located in the heart of the city of Castries. Many people are turning away from the rough music in favour of the melancholic, heartbreaking, peaceful “ladies and gentleman’s” dance. A country and western dance is to many, a celebration – just ask the scores of mothers and fathers groups (who celebrate anniversaries) every weekend about it!

7 comments:

  1. Boss, I like the way you organise your blog. you are objective, balanced and you write about everything: politics, development,foreign affairs, culture, medicine and even entertainment. I just finished reading your piece on Country & western Music. Boss, we are proud of because you enlighten, educate and entertain. only one man? Boss, you versatile and wild!

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  2. Congo Man from ChoiseulDecember 17, 2010 at 3:33 AM

    Country music going places just like Lorne! I get vague impression that this Blog is run by either a person or a group of person supporting Mr Lorne Theophilus. I find it to be a smart Blog and I suspect you all have a real brain - a genius? - behind that Blog. I discovered it on Facebook and since then, I can't help it. I go there everyday expecting something new. Good news about my hometown and I like it. Keep posting! Can you post some pictures of the village, Morne sion and La Pointe showing the new Jetty the fishermen have in the Village. I would also like to see some of the pottery products from Morne Sion and La Pointe. How is Mr King, Mr Defray, Mr Aldrick doing?

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  3. Satisfied former UWP supporterDecember 17, 2010 at 6:42 AM

    This blog shows that Lorne and his campaign team are not just about politics. They are educated people who have a true interest in Choiseul, in educating us, not just coming to ask for our vote and support. I used to read Gilo's blog and will no longer waste my time. It is not objective. Keep it up Cyberboss. Ignore the criticisms out there. You are a jewel in Choiseul's crown. I wish you, Lorne and your team all the best for Christmas and the New Year. This year is your year, they can do what they want.

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  4. OH Boy! I love the country and western playing. We are definitely going places. Big up KingBolo and the Powerhouse crew from Choiseul!

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  5. This is a very interesting article, something I have pondered for many years, thanks Cyberboss.
    one of the thoughts on the subject that I have had is that I find that generally it is very hard for people to articulate their emotions and C & W not only gives one the opportunity to show off on the dance floor but to sing in your partners ear the words you have been longing to say but don't quite know how.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    st kitts and nevis citizenship

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