Official Publication of the St Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association

By Urban Dolor.
St. Lucians love country music more than the homegrown rhythms of calypso, reggae, ragga and soca

Country and Western extravaganzas advertised weekly and the daily radio programmes that play only Country and Western confirm it as the number one music form on the island.
The only time that Country and Western is not broadcast is Saturday night and that is because listeners are out attending a Country and Western dance. However, some Saturdays, music from a local dance is aired live on the radio!
St. Lucians love to dance to Country and Western music. Every weekend, hordes of people set aside the five or ten dollars required to get into a Country and Western dance. The dances usually end at 2:30 in the morning and patrons are quite happy to wait at the roadside until six before they can catch public transportation to take them home.
I use the term Country and Western music rather than the currently accepted “Country Music” because St. Lucians refuse to listen to modern era Country. More than ninety-nine percent of the Country and Western crowd here know nothing about Garth Brooks, Shania Twain or Clint Black.
When St. Lucians think of Country and Western they think of the music from the nineteen sixties and seventies. In St. Lucia, Jim Reeves and George Jones are revered.
Recently, an ardent fan insisted that the only concert she would make every effort to attend would be a Jim Reeves concert. Jim Reeves has been dead for well over forty years yet he remains so popular that at one time buses were named after his songs. As for George Jones, he has not had a hit for over thirty years. Charley Pride, Buck Owens, Skeeter Davis, John Hogan, Tammy Wynette, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams and Loretta Lyn are some of the other Country and Western stars that St. Lucians love to listen to.
One incident demonstrates our unequivocal love for the old songs. Moe Bandy held a concert in St. Lucia. The performance was well received until it seemed that he intended to leave before singing one very popular song. When patrons requested the song, Moe apologised and explained that he had not done that song in such a long time that he had forgotten the lyrics. The patrons were not to be denied. One of them effortlessly wrote out the lyrics and with help from another patron who held the paper up to Moe’s view, he coaxed his band into an extemporaneous performance of the required song.
The ability of the women to remember the lyrics is phenomenal. Some of them sing the entire song as they dance. Male dancers find it soothing when their partner sings. A partner who sings is also enjoying her cavalier’s smooth steps and, more importantly, she is in sync with him.
Men adopt the most predatory tactics at Country and Western dances. They become sharks! They walk purposefully from one end of the dance hall to the other assessing which of the ladies are unaccompanied. The sharks will later proposition these ladies. A few ladies even parade the dance floor hoping to fall prey to one of the marauding sharks!
Then there are the peacocks. Imaginary partners accompany these solo dancers as they dance with the purpose and rhythm of a boxer who is training with the skipping rope. Solo dancers hope to impress potential partners without appearing to be show-offs.
Then there are some who can’t dance Country and Western music. Telltale signs include the way they purse their lips as they dance; the way they concentrate on ensuring that every limb is in the proper position at the right time; the way they hold on too tightly to their
St. Lucia’s love affair with Country and Western music started in World War 2 when American G.I.’s stationed at the two United States military bases in St. Lucia brought their music from back home to listen to. In the 50’s and 60’s, St. Lucian airwaves were flooded with Country and Western music via radio broadcasts from Cincinnati and other stations in the southern states. Early short wave radios received signals from the southeastern sections of the United States, such as Texas and so most of the popular music came from that region. Country and Western was further popularised in the 70’s by St. Lucian migrant workers who grew to love it in Florida where they went to cut cane. Today, it is heard in rum shops, buses, on the radio and in countless commercials.
According to Jerry Wever, an American anthropologist who has written dissertations on the impact of Country and Western music on St. Lucian society, Country and Western music is popular because the lyrics deal with the dilemmas of life with a complexity not found in any other popular music.
“St. Lucians are reactivating moribund Afro-St. Lucian storytelling song traditions and inserting them into the framework of Country and Western,” he writes. According to his research, Country & Western is a Creole music born of the unique mixtures of European and African forms, reforging European balladry and dance forms together with the immediacy of the African-American blues lament. The poor blacks and the Irish started the art form. Renowned recording artistes like the Pointer Sisters and Aaron Neville sang Country music.
Says Wever: “As traditional music has declined in St. Lucia, Country and Western has replaced string band quadrille numbers that have gone out of style.”
Indeed, the St. Lucian Quadrille is hauntingly familiar to the fiddle music in Country and Western songs. The similarity between traditional St. Lucian music and the Country and Western is further underscored with dances such as the polka, the waltz and the Scottish being common to both types of music.
Despite such similarities, Jerry Wever maintains that a heated public debate continues in St. Lucia about the “appropriateness of a white-associated music dominating a supposedly decolonised society comprised predominantly of African descended people.” The casting of
Country and Western as a white musical form has made it difficult for many St. Lucians to understand its appeal.
Steve Anius, director of a local radio station and an avid Country and Western fan is adamant: “I have seen no racism in the music. People say it is for rednecks but it is not. Country is everyday things that happen: sadness, joy, love. People simply relate to the lyrics.”
Steve also runs a Country and Western DJ operation called the Colonel and the Crew. Every weekend, Country and Westerns fans flock to his dances at the Nashville Palace situated on the first floor of the Castries market.
At a time when preachers and teachers are complaining about the way the youth are seduced by dance hall music, St. Lucia is effortlessly exporting Country and Western to other Caribbean countries. Four or five times a year Country and Western concerts are organized in St. Croix by St. Lucians who have acquired American citizenship. Recently, John Hogan, one of the well-loved artistes performed for St. Lucians in St. Lucia and for St. Lucians in St. Croix on successive weekends.
Local country singer Linus Modeste has performed in Nashville where he filled the Wildhorse Saloon to capacity. His latest CD is a compilation of his original compositions.
It is not uncommon for promoters to advertise Country and Western dances to be held in Martinique, a neighbouring French island, on radio stations based in St. Lucia and picked up in Martinique. St. Lucians’ love for Country and Western is so well known that an old joke claims that the French authorities will organize a Country and Western dance whenever they want to round up St. Lucians living illegally in Martinique.
Further evidence that Country and Western music is a critical thread in the fabric of St. Lucia’s society is that calypsonians openly acknowledge the dominance of this musical genre. During the 2005 calypso season at least two calypsonians offered their perspective on the phenomena.
In his song, “Western Take Over We Country”, calypsonian Paulinus observed that Country and Western had taken over the island. Lord Believe Me, a calypsonian from Vieux Fort, lamented that there were too many Country and Western junkies. Those junkies were described as persons who refused to give attention to other genres, notably calypso music.
“People prefer Country and Western to calypso. It has a broader appeal. A lot of calypso is about sex or women’s posteriors, and country appeals to all age groups,” explains Steve Anius.
Mothers and Fathers groups in every local community have deep Country and Western traditions. Villages like Choiseul, Babonneau, and Millet are Country and Western strongholds and some communities host dances nearly every weekend.
Members of the Radio 100 Friendship Club are Country and Western lovers who regularly undertake charitable projects. The generosity of Country and Western fans is also demonstrated in the way that schools and social agencies raise funds through Country and Western dances.
Today Country gospel is gaining popularity and can be heard in churches all over the island.
“I started playing Country and Western on Radio Caribbean International in the 70’s. I even sold records. People used to hide to buy them because they felt it was redneck music. Town people thought it was for country bookies. They were ashamed of the music. Me, I just play my Country and Western and I don’t care what anybody says,” says Steve Anius.
A visitor to the island can get a sense for the visceral relationship between St. Lucians and Country and Western music by attending one of the many dances that are organized each weekend. Popular Country and Western haunts include the Nashville Palace in Castries, the Riverstone Hideaway in Corinth and dozens of Community Centres all over the island.

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