Soca’s Fallen Soldier
It all went downhill when he seemingly hit his peak in his music career. A front runner in the soca arena, his 2008 single “Rise”, portrayed a different side of the local star and created an awareness of the plight of soca music as an art form. On a campaign, not solely to elevate soca music but also the youth, he became a codirector of RISE Saint Lucia Inc. But in February 2009 fortunes changed drastically for this entertainer, after being arrested and jailed on murder charges. With bail being denied him three times based on ‘public opinion’, he has been languishing on remand for nearly six years now. This fallen ambassador is Jonathan “Ninja Dan” St. Rose. Ninja Dan happened to be among the inmates I interviewed at Bordelais who had successfully sat the CXC examinations, as featured in last weekend’s article, ‘Education: The ‘key’ to Bordelais’. Ninja also permitted me a separate interview about his life prior to and being at the penitentiary.
What was your primary goal before being incarcerated?
ND: My main goal was youth development. Through me being involved with RISE St Lucia Inc. it was a transition period for me to move on a different level, where I could begin to portray positive messages; because as an entertainer you also have a responsibility to educate and elevate the people.
What was it like being arrested and jailed? How difficult was that to cope with for you?
ND: First of all, I was surprised when I was asked by the police to accompany them for questioning, but because I am innocent I went along. But what is shocking though is how everything has unfolded and how I have been treated. But I don’t want to go into that. Basically, I’ve been in solitary confinement from day one, which is good. In the beginning it was a disadvantage for me because I am away from other inmates, adding to that they teased me a lot, like “look the man that used to preach stop the violence, look at him now”. So my profile and affiliations sort of made it hard to cope with the harsh reality of prison.
How do you spend your time in prison?
ND: I spend my time reading all sorts of books and educating myself. I play my guitar and I interact a lot with the foreign inmates like the Venezuelans, I learn to speak their language and vice versa.
What motivates you to educate yourself at Bordelais?
ND: What motivates me is that being in here, I have to keep myself abreast with society, and listening to the news as to what’s going on, on the outside in terms of the music, social issues, government, politics, economics and such. Because I see myself as a leader, and I have to keep myself at a certain level so that when I get out of here I can educate the youth. Because right now the youth have no one that they can look up to; everyone seems to be caught up in the material world.
What really motivated me also is my son. My son was eight when I got jailed and right now he is 14. Prison was never a place I’d want my son to have to be limited to visit me but with me being in here, I am determined to show him that prison has its negative effects but I will use this experience to become a better person and father to him.
What is your opinion of the level of soca music currently?
ND: Honestly I think it has digressed. I mean, which artiste on the outside can stand firm and say we’re forming a movement or we mobilizing for the betterment of soca music in Saint Lucia? I’m not criticizing or chastising anybody, but we need to change the focus of our music. What are we doing for the youth, the community and soca music on the whole? We as artistes have to realize that our music has power and what we portray in our music is only the party vibe. The main role of artistes is to educate in a form of entertainment. We are role models for the youth and we are to help make them aware of not just living and enjoying life now but 15 years from now.
In terms of the industry, when I came out in 2002, it was real tough being a local artiste. About six of us local artistes came together and explained to the powers that be that we are the ones representing the country; the foreign artistes get treated a certain way so raise the bar for the locals also. From then we observed an emergence of local talent into the industry. When I get the chance to speak to artistes nowadays, they tell me of their struggles in the industry and these are the things that real crush me inside. Because the things that we had worked for, to be put in place are being tossed aside and artistes now have to work harder. To be honest, I feel demotivated to come back into the art form, because it’s like the same artistes we fought for to have better opportunities are the ones killing the art form and have no respect for it.
If you could do one thing differently right now, what would it be?
ND: If I could do one thing differently and I knew all the things that I know now, I would’ve loved my family more. I read a book while in here about Mandela and in it he said that he gave all the people of his country privilege over his own loved ones, and I fall in that same bracket. When I was on the outside, I tried to help all those that I could especially in the music industry but what I regretted was not spending quality time with my son.
You continue to mention youth development and our artistes being role models. Don’t you think that your prison experience is one which can motivate the youth to be positive?
ND: Of course, definitely, and this is my goal when I get out of here. The work I used to do with RISE, it was like I was just testing the waters; I didn’t have the true reality. Now being in here, I have the understanding of how the officers, the inmates feel, the frustration and everything that goes on in here. So when I get out and I speak to the youth they have to feel it. And it has been a blessing and a privilege to be in prison because another man or artiste who went through what I went through inside of here could have committed suicide and I have contemplated suicide. But that’s not my purpose. My purpose is to go through the bottom-less pit, walk through the darkness and come back and tell the people about the darkness and how I managed to conquer it.
Dan” St. Rose during his days as a performer and soca artist.