jazz afrobeats

World Beat Missed the Rhythm

By Toni Nicholas

Saturday’s event of the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival can be summed up as the third leg in a 4×100 meters relay, where the first two legs were fantastic and the third falling short, even slipping when attempting to pass the baton, leaving the last runner to work even harder.

There has been much commentary and mixed reviews about the day’s event dubbed “World Beat,” which for the most part turned out more like a blended mélange with one ingredient or two, too many.

Yes, the crowd was huge, possibly even surpassing Friday’s record breaking event. But in the end, a few missteps may have left some not entirely satisfied.

Ahead of the event, I was of the view that too many acts were down to perform on that day. Saint Lucian acts Kalbas, Kayo and Michael Robinson were included on a line-up comprising Alfredo Maranjo Quintet from Mexico, the Afro Beat segment featuring C-Kay, Ayra Starr, Oxlade, Joeboy and Kizz Daniel as well as internationally renowned Zouk band Kassav.

Sometimes less can be more, and the fat should have been trimmed from the Pigeon Island line-up. Often times, when the headliner, which organizers pay top dollar for hits the stage, the audience is worn out from having to endure four or five acts and long set change-overs amidst the Pigeon Island heat. While some are too inebriated to care, after a few songs from the headliner, many begin to trickle out, some in a haste to beat the traffic. I predicted that Saturday’s event would generate the same reaction, but did not anticipate some of the other factors that would make the event, good but not so great. 

While the side stage featuring Saint Lucian performers worked beautifully in the past, highlighting some wonderful undiscovered talent, I am not sure that the carnival escapade/bouyon meets DJ clash worked in the Jazz Festival setting on Saturday. Overkill and overbearing I thought and many agreed. 

Meanwhile, the huge crowd overwhelmed the bars and food concessionaires-creating long waits and frustration. In some instances, water, alcoholic beverages and food quickly ran out.

 Main-stage side, fans eagerly awaited the Afro-beats segment, comprising the music phenomenon taking the world by storm. 

A blend of an amplified DJ, sampler and minimal instruments warmed up the crowd with a few popular afro-beats songs, before the first act Oxlade who appeared just okay. He was followed by C-Kay, who was more engaging with songs like “Love Nwantiti” and “Emiliana.” 

Ayra Starr the Beninese born Nigerian sensation took the stage with screams and shouts from adoring fans. Her hits “Rush” and “Bloody Samaritan” gripped fans as she did more dancing than singing, often pointing the mic at the crowd to sing instead. 

At that point the anticipation was high for a great Afro-beats finale, but mid-way trouble smashed an otherwise fairly good segment. Joeboy’s DJ decided to hit the audience with some profanity, not once but twice, which did not sit well with organizers. On stage there was an apology- backstage- I understand a lot more went on. Reports are that the Nigerian artiste’s manager was involved in a tussle with one of the organizers with the police having to be called in as things got heated. 

Beyond the stage, it is my understanding, that ahead of the event there was riff between Joeboy and Kizz Daniel as to who should be the last performer for the afro-beats segment. Both artistes, a source has confirmed, tried to delay their departure from their hotel to the venue to perform, creating some delay in the running order moving along on time. In the end, Joeboy’s set was cut short even as fans chanted “bring him back” and Kizz Daniel never allowed to hit the stage.

More than an hour behind the time they were scheduled to hit the stage, the French Zouk band Kassav took to the festival’s stage and in the end saved the day with a very good final lasting impression.  

At first, the response to the band was a bit lukewarm, probably due more to curiosity and anticipation as to how the group would do without their larger than life icon Jacob Desvarieux up front. Desvarieux was the unique voice, musician and leader of the band from its inception until his passing in 2021. 

Kassav, last performed with Jacob Desvarieux as part of the line-up for the 25th anniversary of the festival in 2016. 

Seven years later, they were here to pay tribute to their fallen leader and to kick of a world tour in his honour. And after a few mid-tempo and not so well known songs were out of the way, Kassav got down to the energetic performance they are known for.  It was as if Jacob Desvarieux had given them the nod to go ahead, let loose and excite the crowd as he would want them to, and this they did as Jocelyne Beroard, Jean-Claude Naimro and a new vocalist Patrice Hulman poured out the hits.

Two hours later and as the first notes for the finale “Zouk La Se Sel Medikaman Nou Ni” echoed into the early Sunday morning skies, the thousands who had stayed let out their final exhilaration. The wait was long, but worth it in the end.

Kassav had indeed saved the day of an event which had understandably overwhelmed the organizers and at times had Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival aficionados in a state of bewilderment.  

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