MUSIC OF OUR SOUL
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
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
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
Today, it is heard in rum shops, buses, on the radio and in countless
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
“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
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
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
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
“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
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