Don’t men­tion Den­nery Seg­ment to ‘Fish’ Alphonse!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - Clau­dia Elei­box

While the coun­try basks in the aroma of bakes, salt­fish and co­coa tea dur­ing Oc­to­ber—the des­ig­nated month for all things Kwéyòl and cul­tural—some of us strug­gle with as­pects of what oth­ers con­sider lo­cal cul­ture. Case in point: Lu­cian Ku­doru or Den­nery Seg­ment.

Den­nery Seg­ment mu­sic has grown from small lo­cal­ized gigs to a larger scale, in­clud­ing even in­ter­na­tional per­for­mances. Ku­doru is now be­ing mar­keted as an iconic part of the is­land's cul­ture and many have ex­pressed pride in the fact that some of the lyrics are in Kwéyòl. This year Den­nery Seg­ment artists were pro­vided the op­por­tu­nity to tour the United States, spon­sored by tax­pay­ers and pri­vate sec­tor es­tab­lish­ments. In­di­vid­ual artists have also per­formed in Europe and Latin Amer­ica.

Times have cer­tainly changed for the Den­nery Seg­ment. Not so long ago they were widely de­spised, as much for their lyrics as for their videos. Den­nery Seg­ment was also con­sid­ered “not soca”. While some peo­ple mem­o­rized what might be the only Kwéyòl lyrics they know, and gy­rated to what­ever “pi­wat” might mean, oth­ers re­fused to ac­knowl­edge that the mu­sic was any­thing but de­grad­ing. To­day, even though the group is forced some­times to de­fend it­self against churchy crit­i­cism, it is also true that its mu­sic has been of­fi­cially de­clared an “ex­port prod­uct”.

Shortly be­fore the U.S. tour, its pro­moter, Shan­non Le­bourne, said, “We think it's their lyrics that's got­ten them the in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion. What stands out now is the unique­ness of the mu­sic, the lyrics, the rhythms and the his­tory of what it is. As to my per­sonal views on cen­sor­ship, I feel like what the fel­las are do­ing now is what the world wants and what is go­ing to give us the unique edge.”

And it's the truth. While most of the Den­nery Seg­ment tour au­di­ences com­prised mainly over­seas-based Saint Lu­cians, the mil­lions of views on YouTube can­not be dis­counted. Just like Trinidad's sig­na­ture soca mu­sic and Ja­maican dance­hall, car­ni­vals from Not­ting­ham to Mi­ami have been clam­our­ing for Den­nery Seg­ment per­for­mances. Some of the Caribbean's most in­flu­en­tial DJs, such as Pri­vate Ryan, find them­selves set­ting the twanche-shak­ing mood with Ku­doru.

Tourism min­is­ter, Do­minic Fedee ex­pressed sen­ti­ments sim­i­lar to Le­bourne's. He told this re­porter: “Con­tro­ver­sial lyri­cal con­tent has al­ways been a fac­tor in mu­sic, whether rock ‘n' roll or R&B. I'm not go­ing to be the judge of what's ac­cept­able. That's for the con­sumers to de­cide. I be­lieve Saint Lucia is rep­re­sented by a num­ber of dif­fer­ent things and our peo­ple are di­verse and spe­cial, they're in­ter­est­ing and colour­ful. I think Den­nery Seg­ment is just a small but very im­por­tant part of what's hap­pen­ing mu­si­cally.”

But Ge­orge “Fish” Alphonse says he doesn't think that what Den­nery Seg­ment rep­re­sents should be con­sid­ered part of our cul­ture. He said, “Saint Lucia's cul­ture is a cul­ture of re­spect. There are cer­tain con­ver­sa­tions we hold in pub­lic and cer­tain con­ver­sa­tions we hold in pri­vate. As a young child, as a young man grow­ing up, I knew there were cer­tain things I shouldn't say in the pres­ence of an adult. That's the cul­ture. But these days you can say any­thing in the pres­ence of chil­dren, ba­bies. That's not the cul­ture.”

The Folk Re­search Cen­tre is re­spon­si­ble for “pro­mul­gat­ing Saint Lucia's rich her­itage” and, al­though Fish agrees that cul­ture is ever-chang­ing, true art “does not re­main as stag­nant”, as he be­lives is the case with the Den­nery Seg­ment. He adds: “No writer, no per­former, writes on the same theme all of their lives. Re­peat­edly it seems the fe­male body is the main sub­ject. And some of it is very of­fen­sive. You lis­ten to them and it's al­ways fooyay [shove it]. Some of the words sound as if you are do­ing wicked­ness to an­other hu­man be­ing.”

Fish is im­mov­able. “These guys need to open up their minds, stop see­ing the lady as some sort of thing that you should jump on her back. It's much more than that. We're about chang­ing lives and chang­ing the world and all they do­ing there is try­ing to say, ‘It's okay, it's all right for us to be deroga­tory. Say what we want and do what we want. So this year we com­ing with the same thing, next year we com­ing with the same thing.' Yes, Spar­row might have sung nasty things but he is a clear ex­am­ple of an artist that has gone all around the place singing all kinds of things. He didn't stay year af­ter year telling you salt­fish sweet.”

Fish re­fuses even to lis­ten to Ku­doru mu­sic. He ques­tions the wor­thi­ness of Den­nery Seg­ment's gov­ern­men­tal sup­port. Ref­er­enc­ing the cur­rent Jounen Kweyol cel­e­bra­tions he said: “I might even have a prob­lem with them. I'm lis­ten­ing be­cause I know some fools will come to me sooner or later about put­ting them on the show. But I'll stand my ground and refuse. There are other more de­serv­ing artistes that are not given the at­ten­tion given to Den­nery Seg­ment. I pre­fer to have them on that show in­stead.”

Den­nery Seg­ment artists have been tour­ing the world, pro­mot­ing Lu­cian cul­ture. 'Fish' believes that the mu­sic and lyrics do not re­flect the is­land's her­itage— as he knows it.

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