Bouyon music at the crossroads
After almost three decades, Bouyon, this wonderful rhythmic music created by Dominicans (more specifically the WCK) must be examined. First off, that band and those who popularized the music- Serenade, Effects, PIK and Triple Kay- must be commended for creating the region's most pulsating beat.
It must be noted that there are five major genres of music that came from the English-speaking Caribbean: Reggae, Calypso/Soca, Spouge, Cadance and now Bouyon. Notably, Dominica played an integral role in the creation of three of them and actually created the last two. This makes Dominica, to my mind, the most musically creative of all the islands, certainly among the Eastern Caribbean group. Much like Cadence, Bouyon music started by accident, before it was labeled or defined,. I still remember the Raymond Lawrence-hosted ASC Happening on DBS radio when 'Rah' Peters was asked by the host how is this new music defined. After he explained the ingredients he surmised it was a Bouyon, hence the name. However, it must be remembered that a couple of albums had already been created before the music was christened or its birth registered.
It was true, as Raymond Lawrence observed, that this music was not what Burning Flames or Imagination Brass played; neither could it be described as Calypso or Soca. Well, Rah was quick to say that one of the main requirements defining the sound was the drum machine as well as some of the other cultural instruments used in our Jing Ping and Bele such as the accordion, gwage etc.
Many saw the music as young people's response to the wave of Virgin Islands music from Jam Band, Imagination Brass, Eddy and the Movement, 17 Plus and Antigua's Burning Flames.
Hence that connection to the youth was lacking and a loss of identity eroded until in 1988 when Flames became a fixture in Dominica's 10th anniversary of Independence celebrations. Thanks to Nicks Productions, the fascination with the drum machine changed Dominica's music landscape as the C in WCK, Cornel Phillip, took note.
Prior to this it was Cornel and Keith playing at small domestic social events. The first time I saw the W added, as in Wackers, was when they played at the Courtesy Song Contest in the mid- 80s. They graduated from simply CK to WCK. Then when Wackers left another W joined, Wayne Mc Lawrence, and so this did not affect the name. Later we were told that the acronym now stood for Windward Caribbean Kulture and found this to be more palatable and sensible. Such was the metamorphosis.
The first album of 'Mopsy One More Sway' was an instant hit and after Conch Shell, Culture Shock and Balance Batty, WCK was now part of the big seven, among the seven top musical groups/ bands ever to grace Dominica's musical landscape. The others were Gaylord's, Swinging Stars, Exile One, Grammax, Belles Combo and Grovers.
Though RSB, Serenade and Triple Kay have rivaled, undoubtedly WCK is the most renowned and acclaimed Bouyon group from the Nature Island. Just as Grammax's 'Mi Debar' or Exile's " Rosita" or "Fresh" WCK can boast of regional hits "Conch Shell" 'and "Balance Batty" as two of the biggest Bouyon songs to date.
It is interesting to note, however, that after close to 30 years, no other band in the region identifies itself as a Bouyon group though they utilize elements of the rhythm as can be identified in compositions in Trinidadian's Soca or Guadeloupian's Jump-up music.
Recently, Dada Lawrence, a leading music producer here lamented that unlike the love and patriotism Cadence was identified with in the French departments, Bouyon is seen as a hostile music which evokes fights and unruly behavior. At one time it was banned in certain quarters as musicians from Guadeloupe, in trying to copy Dominican bands, have managed to develop a rowdy following.
It is true that though the music appeals to the feet it is yet to appeal to hearts and minds in terms of its lyrical content. In fact many argue that the music has deteriorated from what obtained in its formative years. There has been a lack of instrumentation and arrangement and a dependence on the drum machine, chants and sequencing, minimizing true musicianship. Does it mean that the music cannot be effectively administered without the machine, as one original member seems to indicate?
There have also been disagreements as to how the music started, who has the ownership to the songs. There has also been a split up to form the Original Bouyon Pioneers (OBP) leaving one of the originators, bassist Keith Goddard, as the only original WCK member, among other concerns.
A lot of innovations have been tried in the music in the days of Skinny, Dice and the Klockers Crew when Rap and R&B were first introduced. Acer Bantan seem to be gaining the most traction as he has developed an uncanny ability of merging Rap infused with social commentary-type lyrics on the Bouyon beat with some success. Still the music has not left our shores as an identifiable Bouyon brand.
Others such as Extacy Band have chosen Haitian Compa for self-expression and original members found expression in "Fanatic Band" albeit temporarily. And many of our youths (though they love Bouyon), have chosen R&B, Dancehall and other genres to express themselves as budding artistes, while Calypso remains a seasonal affair and Cadence is in the emergency ward.
Tomorrow Tuesday 26th July a discussion on Vibes radio from 7pm will seek to unravel the way forward for Bouyon and Dominica's music in general. The question to be considered is "where do we go from here, now that Bouyon music seems to be at the crossroads?"