Bouyon Monarch, Carlyn XP
Bouyon Monarch, Carlyn XP

Well, I never thought I would be in for such a treat at the Old Mill Cultural Centre for the DOMFESTA Song Contest but it was for the hundreds who gathered in this picturesque and historical venue. It had been ten years since this event was last staged and it came back with a bang.

The diversity of songs was what caught my attention most because when I took part in this event in my day it was basically Cadence, Calypso, Reggae and a few Ballads.

Another remarkable feat was the management, efficiency and fluidity of the show with MC Val Cuffy really moving the show along, as it should. It started on time, give or take 10 minutes, and this is a rarity for shows in Dominica.

The participant with the only Reggae number opened the proceedings with an appropriate rendition-"Freedom Time". Creftlee Lodrick was not only lyrically sound but he had a strong voice which made the MC comment that he thought it was Dice, the former eight-time Calypso Monarch.

The artiste who has the record of participating in the most song contests, in fact every song contest on island, Cyril 'Elf' Henderson, was next with one of the most popular renditions from Hurricane Maria. He did not disappoint this time with his delivery but in my opinion a song contest can do without these lengthy dramatic introductions before one starts singing. A lesson I thought the experienced Elf should have learnt long ago. This might have costed him a place in this competition because, I understand, that was the only point of debate among the judges between him and the eventual third place winner.

Then it was the turn of leading present day performing artiste of the pack and Dominica's Bouyon Queen, Carlene XP. As expected it was Bouyon and the presentation was fantastic with colors, flags indicative of her composition "Raise Your Flags". She was strong in all departments except for creativity- the idea of raise your hands or flags is cliché- overused in these parts. Still the message was clearly pride in country even in the aftermath of what we all went through in 2017.

Experience followed experience in the next competitor, Emmanuel 'Haxey' Salamat, the artiste with the most experience in stage competitions presented with confidence appealing artistry, the heart wrenching rendition titled "Kite Mwe en Pe." The joint Calypso Road March title winner of 2018 personified the one inflicted with pain, woes and depravities; hence his plea to the devil aka the biblical Job, to leave him alone. Maybe it was my mind but somehow I could sense some discord in the rhythmic structure of this Cadence but this was the only barely audible blemish.

Then came new competitor Drew Thomas with a Soca- rhythms and Blues crossover which commenced as a Ballad and fans gravitated towards him, with a rendition simply entitled "Bassline." A unique and marketable piece, I thought. His diction in some quarters required improvement but the judges thought he was good enough to edge out the Elf for the third place. Still some seemed to have thought after the show that it could have gone either way.

Now for the first waltz experienced in a music contest on the island; Martha Dangleben will be remembered for it as she befriended Dominica. If the rhythm or genre was not in keeping with what one expects at a Dominica festival of arts song contest, the lyrics made up as she befriended Dominica and held her close to her bosom as she strutted out from stage with her 1…2…3 timing.

A young woman, another first timer, Kadeen "Melody" Etienne impressed me as a potential calypsonian of sorts. She came with confidence and zeal as she belted out her Soca composition 'DA mi say.' Similar to Carlene XP, she represented some of the indigenous rhythmic patterns of the Jing Ping and Heel and Toe, which she infused as part of her arrangements. The carnival-type atmosphere she created with bwa bwa- stilt walkers and dancers was impressive.

What an act for Julian Riviere, a three-time Christmas Song Contest winner and a veteran with some international experience to follow. He did it with his usual Country style, guitar in hand, hat, boots, the signature voice frills, and the works. The most solid lyrical piece really resonated with the enthused patrons. He posed serious questions to the nation's stewardship and attitudes, with Country &Western flair and professionalism which left the judges no choice but allow him top honors in the night's competition.

If Cyril Henderson has taken part in the most competitions his only rival, though a distant second, could be "Pupa Akar", George Jervier, who brought down the curtains on the competition with a prophetic Cadence composition " Chonge Papa la"- asking the nation to change their ways least they face the wrath of God's judgement.

In approximately 2hrs and 15 minutes, the entire show was completed and results given; probably another record as far as shows staged on the Nature Island. This song contest, all in varied genres, proved that length does not necessary mean great quality. Quality in this case epitomized good stage management, Arden Sounds, a well-rehearsed Swinging Stars "Bits & Pieces" and performances. The Cultural Division under the leadership of Raymond Lawrence had done it again.