Carnivals, jazz and nightlife – the sounds of St Lucia

We’re taught to associate the Caribbean with music, quite literally in my experience. Even before discovering Peter Tosh and Bob Marley along with the still popular sounds of reggae music, the British curriculum had me creating my own Caribbean rhythms (Calypso and Reggae particularly) slightly before it had even pointed out to me where the region is on the map. And though I’m now a lot better at reading maps than I am at reading music, the message has been drummed into me with a characteristic percussive power: the atlas may as well declare “Here be Music”.

Pigeon Island St Lucia

Pigeon Island St Lucia

Different Islands, different musical styles

Despite the region-wide image, the three power-houses of Caribbean music are surely Cuba, Jamaica and Trinidad / Tobago. Cuba gave us Mambo and Salsa, Jamaica gave us Ska and Reggae, Trinidad / Tobago gave us Calypso and Soca. There are many other genres and sub-genres created and advanced by these islands. The other islands are usually influenced by whoever they’re closest to, and in Castries, the capital of Saint Lucia, the music of Trinidad and Tobago has travelled north up the Lesser Antilles.

The specific origins of a musical style matter little to the tourist, and it would be unwise to ignore an island purely for the fact that its own genres have been pushed to the sidelines in favour of popular music from a number of islands away. The same is true of most nations, after all. Besides, the influences of Kwadril music and forms of folk  – especially via the banjo and cuatro – are still felt in Saint Lucian music. And for the tourist, I have found that St Lucia holidays offer a fantastic opportunity to hear regional music – especially at events like the St Lucia Jazz Festival.

St Lucia Jazz festival

St Lucia Jazz festival

If you’re looking for a hotel in St Lucia check prices and book at my Hotels Booking Page powered by HotelsCombined.

The St Lucia Jazz Festival

The website for the island’s annual jazz festival is rather refreshingly honest about the origins of the Jazz festival – it apparently “started as a marketing event to boost tourism industry arrivals during a low period”. Given the big names in the line-up, the “Jazz” credentials of the event sometimes get legitimately questioned. Nevertheless, you quickly find out that this is a versatile festival that draws you in with international megastars whilst laying on some quality jazz artists and a dash of Calypso and Soca.

This year, the ticket shifting name is Lionel Richie – his only real link to Caribbean music surely being the Soca-influenced 1983 hit “All Night Long” – with Ziggy Marley providing a Reggae set and the Catalonian Gipsy Kings providing a Spanish edge. If you can tear yourself away from these treats on the main-stage (located in the beautiful surroundings of the Pigeon Island Nation Landmark, in the north of the island) I can personally recommend the Jazz in the South programme at the Coconut Bay Resort and Rudy John Beach Park if you’re after a little more local ‘authenticity’ (though local names are still found on the Pigeon Island bill).

The Saint Lucia Jazz Festival is held every year in later April and early May. In 2012, it starts on Monday April 30th and finishes with the Lionel Richie headline event on Sunday 13th May.

St Lucia Carnival photo: Fergysnaps

St Lucia Carnival

If you’re looking for a hotel in St Lucia check prices and book at my Hotels Booking Page powered by HotelsCombined.

St Lucian Carnival

Carnivals are an important tourist draw on most Caribbean islands and the Lucian Carnival is no exception. Held in 2012 between Monday 28th May through Tuesday 17th July, the music popular on the island – especially Calypso – is the cement that holds the carnival period together. Obviously, music accompanies the main parades, but this is hardly an environment in which to absorb the best music – even if you were to follow the best sounds, the wild atmosphere of J’Ouvert and the Parade of the Bands is only really a way to sample the scene. At any rate, the parades have a reputation for being most fun for younger, tipsier revellers rather than those after something solely cultural.

The parades are an after the fact event for the musical side of the carnival anyway. Starting in late June, the island’s Calypso Association holds a competition to determine the ruling “Monarchs” of Calypso and Soca. The song-contest format judges each artist on their lyrics, music and performance of the song they bring, considering wide ranging aspects such as the “Strength and party appeal of the song” and “The use of the microphone”.

It goes without saying that for exploring the contemporary music scene, the finals are the place to be, and the competition encourages some fantastic showmanship. If you’re unfamiliar with the music, I’d say that the Calypso monarch event is the most accessible: you can probably tell from the name that Power Soca is a bit more hectic and contemporary (it fuses Hip Hop and Soca) whereas Groovy Soca has a more electronic / pop feel to it. Thanks to the internet, you don’t have to go into this experience blind – there are plenty of YouTube videos for past winners of the festival, though atmosphere is a crucial ingredient in really getting into the rhythm of the songs! (And yes, I never did quite get the Saint Lucian way of dancing down).

Music resort St Lucia

Music resort St Lucia

If you’re looking for a hotel in St Lucia check prices and book at my Hotels Booking Page powered by HotelsCombined.

Year Round Entertainment

Whilst the Jazz Festival and Lucian Carnival offer the most obvious events to latch onto if you’re exploring the Saint Lucian music scene, the island doesn’t go silent as soon as they think nobody is looking. In my own experience, a lot of the best venues are in the relatively youthful town of Gros Islet in the north, which plays host to the Marina. A favourite venue for some casual listening is the Fire Grill and Lounge, which focuses on Jazz and Blues all year round. I also enjoyed the unassuming Jungle Cafe with its Live Music on Thursdays (just don’t let the shabby hut scare you off). One final bar recommendation: the Rodney Bay Marina’s Boardwalk Bar does a mix of great live music on Fridays with All-Day EC $8 Margaritas, all accompanied by friendly service and those sea views you’re probably in the Caribbean for by default.

If you want something more lively, either visit Gros Islet on a Friday for “The Jump-up” for street-vendors and a messy night of revelling in the streets, or visit the nightclubs (Taboo, Pulse and the Loft are just a few names). Seeking out live performances, the nightclubs can be a mixed bag, but are always good if you just want to let off some steam. In general, you should just keep an eye out for promising looking events – there’s always something going on!

St Lucia Sunset

St Lucia Sunset

Thanks to Steph Wood for this article brought to you by Tropical Sky a UK-based Tour Operator who offer travel to tropical adventures in not just the Caribbean, but in the Indian Ocean and the Far East too.

If you’re looking for a hotel in St Lucia check prices and book at my Hotels Booking Page powered by HotelsCombined.

Photo Credits: Pigeon Island from Tropical Sky, St Lucia Jazz Festival from St Lucia Jazz, St Lucia Carnival by Fergysnaps

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1 Comment

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    April 2, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    ooo, this is such an amazing place! I was in St Lucia some years ago and had a great adventure their. A really wonderful place. Recommend everybody to visit it. Thank you for the great memories.

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