Saturday, March 17, 2018


The music of St Lucia is a mix of African musical traditions, European styles, and native Caribbean music. Children learn music from an early age and often use music throughout their lives. 

Some of the instruments you’ll hear in St Lucian music are string instruments like the fiddle, the guitar, the mandolin, the banjo, and the cuatro (a 4-stringed instrument similar to a guitar or lute that’s popular in the Caribbean and South America, although sometimes it’ll have more strings). You’ll also find a variety of percussion instruments like the chak-chak (a type of rattle) and bones (yes, actual bones in most cases -- I found a video about North Carolina folk music teaching how to play bones that I included below), tambourines, various types of drums, and a gwaj (scraper). There are also some wind instruments like bamboo flutes and the baha (a kind of wooden trumpet). Vocal music is also quite a strong tradition, and there are some folk styles composed entirely of vocal music. 

Folk music in St Lucia is highly integrated with folk dancing. It’s really pretty hard to separate the two. One type of informal musical style performed at social events like dances and wakes is called the Jwé. There are several different parts to it, but essentially it’s a form of comedic improv where the lyrics are often cutting, almost like a roast, maybe. The Jwé is a very important part of the St Lucian culture. The Kwadril is another style, roughly based on the European dance of a similar name, the quadrille. Compared with the Jwé and other music/dances, because the quadrille that it’s based on grew to be a dance of high society, this one is completely choreographed and memorized; improvisation is not encouraged with the kwadril. Bèlè is another traditional music style that is mostly performed at funeral wakes. There are also two rivaling societies that meet regularly to sing and/or play instruments and are based on the rivalry between the colonial powers: La Rose is English side, and La Marguerite represents the French side.

So, as far as modern music goes, I did happen to find a few bands on Spotify. The first one I listened to was Tru Tones. This was some true disco music. I’m not a huge fan of disco, so I thought the only thing that would make this better would be to turn it into some deep house track. (House music got its start from disco anyway.) However, I kind of question whether what's on Spotify is the same as I found on YouTube. Here's a video showing a little different side of their music.

I also listened to a band called Disturbing Joan. They sing in English, and their style in kind of a mix of rock and funk with some reggae layered on top. I really liked what I listened to, and I’m willing to bet they give a good live show.

Ricky T is a soca musician from St. Lucia who has won numerous soca awards for his work. The thing about soca music is that it’s so upbeat – like I can’t listen to it until its warm, I have an entire afternoon free, and I have a drink in my hand. And I believe soca musicians can and will make a song about pretty much anything, though.

I thought I added the music of the St. Lucian musician Prolifik to my playlist. However, upon further research, I found out I added another rapper who goes by the same name. There are actually a couple of rappers who go by that name. And all I could find was a grainy video from ten years ago. But there are many other musicians from St. Lucia, but I have a feeling many of them are local or underground. However, there are also several steel bands that have earned some kind of notoriety. And the island hosts a huge jazz fest every year.

Up next: the food (finally!)

Sunday, March 11, 2018


The island provides an incredible backdrop of inspiration for artists. The colors, senses, and textures make for a great area to work on your next pièce de résistance. Traditional arts include a number of wood carvings that is not only made of local wood but other natural materials (shells, reeds, etc.). These days, wood carvings can be seen in tourist craft shops, decorating hotels and other buildings, and in galleries. One of the more well-known wood carvers on the island is Joseph Eudovic, who is based in the city of Castries. 

No doubt the most prominent artists is Sir Durstan St Omer. He had spent a lifetime dedicated to art and was the designer of the Saint Lucian flag. His public murals are found across the island, and he’s created some in churches as well. St. Omer was even recognized and knighted by the Governor General on behalf of the Her Majesty the Queen for his accomplishments. 

Luckily in St. Lucia, there has been a general support for the art from the government, especially after gaining independence. On occasion the government works together with the Folk Research Centre (an NGO) on certain projects. Local businesses have also began to sponsor artists as well, which not only supports the artists but gives the businesses a way to exhibit local flair in their offices.

For such a small island, St. Lucia has produced two Nobel Prize winners. The first was Sir Arthur Lewis who won the Nobel Prize in Economics (1979), and the second was Derek Walcott, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature (1992). Walcott was known for his poetry, plays, and essays. While he trained as a painter and was quite accomplished, he leaned more heavily on his poetry. He wrote of his Methodist upbringing and saw poetry as a form of prayer. As far as influences go, he was drawn to several American and British poets, such as T.S. Eliot (even becoming a recipient of the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2011), Ezra Pound, Robert Lowell, and Elizabeth Bishop. Wolcott passed away just about a year ago at his home in St. Lucia.

Unfortunately, Derek Walcott’s feat kind of overshadows any other Saint Lucian writer. However, I came across a mention of a book called Neg Maron: Freedom Fighter by Michael Aubertin (he’s the former Director of Culture). You can read the synopsis on the post for Saint Lucian literature from the blog A Year of Reading the World. I’ll let her do all the heavy lifting on this one. However, if you are so inclined, you can order a book on Saint Lucian Literature and Theatre: An Anthology of Reviews on the Folk Research Centre’s website.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, March 4, 2018


Ah, it’s good to be back. And yes, I found a new job. What’s funny was that at my interview, I was talking to a woman about the blog. However, as I was trying to remember what exactly was next off the top of my head, and once I figured out it was St. Lucia, I realized I didn’t even know the correct pronunciation of it, so I took a stab at it (and of course I pronounced it wrong), but she quickly said, “Oh, I went to St. Lucia a while back and it was gorgeous [pronouncing it correctly as “LOO-sha,” not “loo-SEE-uh” like I have my whole life.].” While I was happy I was talking to someone intelligent, I made a mental note of it and vowed to always Google everything before I speak. This is how I’ve been fooling people into thinking I’m smarter than I am since 1998. 
The French, who were one of the island’s first European visitors, gave the island its name. It’s named after Saint Lucy of Syracuse and is the only country named after a female. The legend goes that the French sailors were shipwrecked on the island and since it was Saint Lucy’s Day (December 13), it seemed a fitting name.
Located along the Windward Islands in the Caribbean (part of the southernmost chain of islands), St. Lucia is a teardrop-shaped island located just south of the island of Martinique and north of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It’s also northwest of the island of Barbados. It has a tropical climate, with a dry season from December to May and a rainy season from June to November. St. Lucia was formed as part of an active volcanic system (the most recent activity was around 2000-2001).
It’s thought that the earliest people here were the Ciboney people, but there is mixed evidence for that. There’s far more evidence showing that the Arawaks were the first major group of people to live on the island. They called the island Iouanalao, meaning “land of the iguanas” after the large number of iguanas found there. Later, the Caribs moved in and took over. The Caribs were far more aggressive than the peaceful Arawaks. During the mid-1500s, the French arrived. And then the British. After both countries started seeing the advantage of “owning” a bunch of islands in the Caribbean once the sugar industry starting taking off, St. Lucia was often passed back and forth between the two countries many times during the 1700s and 1800s. For the most part, St. Lucia remained as a British colony. Slavery ended in 1838, and at that time, those of African descent outnumbered those of European descent. When St. Lucia stopped being a colony, it joined the West Indies Federation when it gained full independence in 1979. Over the years, a number of films had been at least partially shot in St. Lucia.
The largest city is the capital of Castries. Located on the northwest side of the island, Castries was built on what’s called reclaimed land (“Reclaiming my land…”); in other words, it’s when cities build up swamp land with cement and other materials so that they can build on unbuildable land. The city is also an important port city as well as a tourist hub. As the center of government, it’s also the center for transportation, media, and commerce.
The first time I saw bananas growing was in Brazil. They grow upside-down from what I always imagined!
St. Lucia has traditionally depended on a certain amount of tourism, but since the recession of 2008-2010, tourism has dropped and has been slow to regain. They do have a thriving economic driver in fruit cultivation (mainly bananas and plantains) and beer production as well as petroleum oil. Because St. Lucia has an educated workforce, many foreign countries have chosen St. Lucia for foreign investments, and offshore banking is one of St. Lucia’s key sources of revenue.
Almost two-thirds of the people practice Roman Catholicism (left over from the French) while nearly a quarter adheres to Protestantism. There are smaller numbers of people representing other religious followings such as Rastafarianism, Buddhism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam, Judaism, and Baha’i.
The official language is English; however, the vast majority of the people speak Saint Lucian Creole French. It’s a subgenre of Antillean Creole, which is used in literature and their music. It’s kind of a combination of African and Carib sentence structure with French-based vocabulary. Not really understood to French speakers, it’s more intelligible to other French-based Creoles. Even at that, St. Lucia is still considered part of the Francophone (countries that speak French).
I ran across a story about St. Lucia’s volcanoes. One in particular is known as Sulpher Springs. It was created as lava and steam wore a crater into the surface over 400,000 years ago. The water is black because of a reaction between the iron and sulpher. So, as tourists began flocking to the island to see this, they used to practically be able to drive right up to the edge. However, in the 1990s one of the guides fell through into the hot boiling water (I’m guessing this didn’t end well). So, now they built a platform a few hundred feet back. (Smart move.)

Up next: art and literature

Monday, January 15, 2018


Well, the new year is upon us, and January has proven to be a total jerk when it comes to weather. It’s been super cold and snowed, then it warmed up to almost 60 degrees, only to be followed by freezing rain, ice and more snow. Winter can go suck rotten eggs. But at least we’re cooking tropical food from Saint Kitts & Nevis today, so I can pretend that maybe it’s warm outside. I tried to go look, but the sun on the snow just about blinded me. 

Yeah, and pretty much like I thought: everyone has eaten this up, and I've only gotten on piece.
 Now, I’ve made several banana breads, but this Island Banana Bread seemed slightly different.  First I mixed 2 Tbsp of softened butter and 2 Tbsp of cream cheese in a mixing bowl. Then I added in 1 egg, 2 mashed up bananas, 1 tsp of vanilla extra, and 2 Tbsp of rum (it called for dark rum, but I can’t have dark liquor, so I’m using Captain Morgan’s white rum). I mixed everything together well. In a separate bowl, I mixed together 2 c of flour, 2 tsp of baking soda, 1/8 tsp of salt and ¼ of brown sugar. I left out the nuts (but if you wanted to, you can add in ¼ c of walnuts or pecans), but I did add in ¼ c of coconut flakes into the flour mix. At this point, I slowly added in my dry ingredients to my wet ingredients, stirring in between. Then I pre-heated my oven to 375ºF and laid a piece of parchment paper inside, cut so that the bottom and long sides were covered. Then I poured my batter into the loaf pan and baked it for 40 minutes, checking it at the 30 minute mark to make sure. While it was baking, I made the glaze. In a small saucepan, I mixed together 2 Tbsp of butter, 2 Tbsp of lime juice, 2 Tbsp of rum, ¼ c of brown sugar, and ¼ c of white sugar. I heated it until it started to boil. Then I added ¾ c of powdered sugar (a ¼ c at a time) until it became the consistency of honey. I pulled it off the heat and added in 2 Tbsp of coconut (I left out the nuts). When I took the bread out of the oven, I spooned the glaze over the top and let it sit up for 30 minutes. This was awesome. It was a little sweet with the glaze (I might cut the white sugar out of the glaze next time), but otherwise, it was delightful when it was warm.

This is one of the better fish recipes I've had.
Next I made the National Dish, which actually consists of four dishes. The first part is Stewed Saltfish. I used cod for this since when I tried to look this up, I basically found a bunch of references to Salted Cod. So, you know… But I thawed it out and salted both sides of it liberally. Then I heated some oil in a skillet, added in some green bell pepper, scallions, garlic, and a little onion powder, letting it cook together for about 5 minutes. Then I added in a can of diced tomatoes, letting it simmer for 2-3 more minutes. At this point, I added in my fish, a little butter, and a little bit of ground pepper. I covered it and let it simmer for about 5 minutes until the fish was flaky. I topped it with a little bit of scallions I had left over. I thought this was great! The saltiness of the fish was balanced by the scallions and tomatoes. I would definitely make this again. And it didn’t take that long to make, either – a great dish for a weeknight.

Although it was supposed to be plantains, the sweet potatoes were actually pretty good with this recipe.
The second part is Spicy Plantains. Normally, I don’t have much trouble finding plantains at all, but this weekend, I went to three different stores looking for them with no luck. So, considering this is a spicy dish, I substituted sweet potatoes instead of bananas. I peeled and cut three sweet potatoes and parboiled them until they were kind of soft but not to the point where you could easily break it apart. I drained the water and added in some ginger, a little onion, some salt, and a little cayenne pepper and stirred everything together. Then in a skillet, I heated some oil and fried them until they were golden brown. I really liked this, and it wasn’t nearly as spicy as I thought it was going to be. I mean, I only used ¼ tsp of cayenne pepper. I could definitely have added more, but then no one else in my family would’ve eaten it.

I know I was a little heavy on the potatoes with this meal, but I see no problem with this.
Part three is Seasoned Breadfruit. Because of the weather, I wasn’t able to get to the international grocery store, so I had to substitute for this: I went with some tri-color petite potatoes for this (golden, red, and purple potatoes). In a pot, I melted some butter and then added some oil. Once the oil was heated, I threw in some diced onions and sautéed them for about 5 minutes. Then I added in the thyme, garlic, and diced red pepper and sautéed them for another minute. I added in my diced potatoes and some chicken broth along with a little salt and pepper and let it cook until the potatoes were soft.
These actually look like glazed doughnut holes, but that might just be the fat girl in me talking.
And finally, the last part is Coconut Dumplings, the one part I had all the ingredients for. In a small bowl, I mixed together some flour, salt, butter, coconut, and oil. I had to use my fingers to crumb the butter into the mixture. Using a little more than a ½ c of water, I made a thick dough and kneaded it for a couple of minutes. I formed balls about the size of golf balls and then dropped them in boiling water. I let them cook for about 10-15 minutes, draining them on paper towels. I kind of liked these – they went well in between bites of the saltiness of the fish. They were certainly a little chewy from being boiled, but coconut added a little texture and sweetness to it.

I liked this meal quite a lot. It'll make for some good leftovers tomorrow.
And as I come to the end of my first country of 2018, I realized I have to make the difficult decision of pausing on the blog. Again. I’m making some changes in my career path, and I need to finish up some courses in order to try to merge into digital and content marketing. Up until recently, it was just something I was casually learning, but now… there is more of an urgency behind it. I basically need to fast track this. But I’ll be back as soon as I can. It might be a month; it might be two. But I’ll keep posting articles and videos on the blog’s Facebook page, so check me out there. And I want to take a quick moment to give a shout out to a lady who was one of the Band Moms when I was in high school and the mother of one of my friends. She was the Queen of Sass and No Nonsense along with being a fan of this blog. She passed away this week and will be sorely missed.

Up next: Saint Lucia

Saturday, January 13, 2018


Much of the music from Saint Kitts & Nevis has its origins from Africa mixed together with various types of Caribbean music along with some British, French, and American styles. Vocal music is an integral part of their musical traditions, with chanteys and other songs sung for a variety of occasions. A Tea Meeting is a type of performance found in Saint Kitts & Nevis (but also in the Virgin Islands and on Barbados). A chairman and vice-chairman will lead comedic songs and give speeches, often being heckled by the audience.
During the 1940s, iron bands started making its way into the islands. These bands consisted of musicians (typically guitars, saxophones, and trumpets) along with a percussion section using instruments made of things they found, like car rims and other metal scrap. This gave way to the steel pan bands of the 1950s and 1960s. Following a Trinidadian tradition, several of these bands from Trinidad were equally popular in Saint Kitts and Nevis. Some of the more popular steel pan bands include Roy Martin’s Wilberforce Steel Pan, Casablanca Steel Orchestra, and The Invaders.

By the 1960s, brass bands became known for its role in Carnival music. They not only use modern instruments that we know, but even a few of their own, like the baha (a blown metal pipe) and what they call the shack-shack (a tin can with beads in it – a most descriptive name). Not only is Carnival a festival filled with music, but there are several other music festivals held throughout the year like the St Kitts Music Festival and Culturama held on Nevis. The traditions around Christmas, especially those of parades, music, masqueraded dancers, and stilt walkers called Moko-Jumbies, are some of the best times to watch these iconic music and dance festivals.

Another musical style Saint Kitts & Nevis borrowed from Trinidad and Tobago is calypso music. This musical style was originally used as a means for the African slaves to communicate with one another about the oppression they were facing. Needless to say, it made its way across the Caribbean where many other countries adopted it and made it their own as well. During the 1950s, there used to be calypso competitions on St Kitts and on Nevis. Some calypso bands of note include Ellie Matt and King Starshield.

There are several musicians who share a heritage with Saint Kitts & Nevis, so I thought it would be fair to include them as well. Joan Armatrading is a folk singer who got her start during the mid-1970s. Her main style is folk music, with her playing the acoustic guitar and vocals. I like her style.

Another musician with ties to these islands is Corinne Bailey Rae. I have one of here albums, but I admit I only listened to it a few times when I got it years ago. I didn’t tag it for a long time, so I just realized a number of months ago that I had it in my iTunes. It was like finding a new album! I had forgotten how much I like her music. She mixes a little bit of folk, soul, blues, jazz, acoustic, and a little pop into her music. This is her Tiny Desk Concert she gave at NPR. You can tell she really enjoys what she does.

Mel B is probably better known for her role in Spice Girls. I was probably one of the only high school girls in the US who was not gaga over them when they were popular in the 1990s. I was more into Metallica and Smashing Pumpkins at the time (and still am). After Spice Girls stopped being spicy, she went out on her own. I think some of her songs are pretty catchy. This video, however, is weird with stripping in the middle of the street and kissing herself. But you be you, boo.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Art traditions here are a combination of native Caribbean influences as well as African origins. Many of the motifs are centered around island life. As far as handicrafts go, you’ll find weaving (mainly as rug weaving) and making batiks (a way of dying cloth using wax to resist certain colors). Wood carvings and sculptures are also common as well as leather work.

Pottery serves more practical purposes with holding water and other objects as well as being used for cooking and storing food. You’ll find pottery pieces made out of red clay but sometimes people use colorful glazes on it, decorating it with local designs.

Paintings are also popular on Saint Kitts & Nevis. With such beautiful landscape and seascape, the scenery is an obvious source of themes. However, island life and local culture and folklore are also common themes for paintings. One cultural item that makes its way into their art is that of clowns. No, I’m not talking about Pennywise-like clowns, or even Ronald McDonald. They’re called Moko-Jumbies, inspired from West Africa; they’re essentially stilt walkers dressed up in clown garb. Some are just colorful, but some are downright creepy-looking giants. It's a colorful experience to say the least.

Although there is no shortage of writing talent in Saint Kitts & Nevis, there is also a clear lack of access to training and publishers. Most authors start out self-publishing their works, unless they are lucky enough to get picked up by a major publisher elsewhere. Literary works as we know it today didn’t truly get its start until the 20th century, although there certainly have been stories passed down through the generations.

Caryl Phillips
One of the most famous authors of note from the islands is Caryl Phillips. His plays, short stories, novels, and essays made international fame starting in the 1980s. His themes center around immigration and returning to your homeland.

Carol Ottley-Mitchell

Another author of note is Carol Ottley-Mitchell. She has written numerous children’s stories that range from infant books to young adult lit. Other authors from Saint Kitts & Nevis include Charles Wilkin, who writes about the national political atmosphere, and Jewel Amethyst, who is a romance author that falls in a multi-cultural subgenre.

I think literature holds a certain regard here. Some people have formed reading groups together, but it’s nothing formal or broadly organized. Theatre is also popular on both islands. A couple of theatre organizations are established here as well, but mostly of an amateur, community level.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, January 7, 2018


A few years ago, I was introduced to the musical Hamilton. I listened to the soundtrack many, many times in a row. For those who may not fully be aware of it, Hamilton is a hip-hop/sung musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda about the life of Alexander Hamilton. It’s widely known for its diverse cast. I have not yet seen it live, but hope I can one day. Anyway, the musical didn’t expressly say so, but in doing my own research, I found out that the Caribbean island that Alexander Hamilton was born and raised on was the island of Nevis (pronounced Nee-vis). 

Originally, the Kalinago Indians living on Saint Kitts called it Liamuiga (“fertile land”), and the island of Nevis was called Oualie (“land of beautiful waters”). Christopher Columbus was the first European to spot these islands, and while there’s some dispute over the exact names and name changes, Saint Kitts is named after a nickname for Christopher (like Christopher Columbus). Nevis got it name after a variation of the Spanish name Nuestra Señora de las Nieves (Our Lady of the Snows—sounds strange considering it’s in the tropics).

Saint Kitts & Nevis is located in the Caribbean and part of the Leeward Islands. It’s located west of Antigua and Barbuda, just northwest of the French islands of Montserrat and Guadeloupe and southeast of the Dutch islands of Sint Eustatius, Saba, and south of the French island of St Barthélemy, the half French-half Dutch island of Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten, and the British island of Anguilla. The islands were created by volcanic activity; central peaks give way to numerous rivers that provide fresh water for the island. The islands have a tropical climate with a somewhat dry and cool season from January through April and a wet and rainy period from June through November.

First inhabited about 3000BC, the Arawak and Taino Indians moved into the area later. Christopher Columbus first sighted the islands in 1493, but in the early 1600s, the British settled in followed by the French. They agreed to divide the island between the two of them, and both went to bat at exploiting the island for its natural resources. That didn’t sit well with the natives living there and put up a resistance against their efforts to either enslave them or endure a forced relocation at the least. They continued a campaign started by the Spanish of systematically denying the natives humanity. Finally, the British and French (with Spanish support) said, “Skip this,” and just went on a killing spree. The Spanish handed all control over to the other two, who divided and claimed a bunch of islands in the area; the French eventually giving total control of St. Kitts over to the British. Because of the sugar trade, St. Kitts was one of Britain’s richest colonies. St. Kitts, Nevis, and Anguilla were all treated as three separate states of British colonies, and while in 1967 they all gained autonomy, only St. Kitts and Nevis gained independence in 1983. This makes it the newest country in the Americas (and the same age as my sister). Nevis actually tried to break away in 1998 but didn’t quite have the votes to make it happen. Not long after, it was ravaged by Hurricane Georges, the worst hurricane to hit the area in the 20th century. 

The capital Basseterre is located on the island of St. Kitts. Established in 1627, it’s one of the oldest cities in the Eastern Caribbean. The city is the financial and governmental center of the country. In fact, Basseterre has grown to be a financial hub for a lot of the Caribbean communities. It also hosted the 2007 World Cricket Cup, which was a big deal because it was the smallest country to hold a World Cup.

Historically, sugar was the primary economic driver. However, in 2005, their state-owned sugar factory closed down. Tourism is now the thing they depend on most and host a large music festival in efforts to attract more people. They also have a program where large business investors are granted citizenship, assuming they meet all the requirements and fulfill their end of the deal.

Because of their history with Britain and France, Christianity (mostly Anglican and Methodist) is the majority religion in St. Kitts & Nevis. There are a number of denominations represented, but there are also a smaller number of non-religious people and other religions found there as well.

In St. Kitts & Nevis, English is the official language. However, Saint Kitts Creole is the most widely spoken dialect in the country. Like some other Caribbean Creoles, this one is an English-based Creole with borrowings from various African languages and some from French.

Besides Alexander Hamilton, I was surprised to find a few other famous people with ties to St. Kitts & Nevis. I came across several as I was researching the islands who have either one or both parents from there. Mel B (from the Spice Girls) has a father from the islands. Corinne Bailey Rae’s father was also from St. Kitts. Both of Cicely Tyson’s parents came from Nevis. Louis Farrakhan’s mother was also born in the islands. Rupert Crosse was raised by his grandparents on the island of Nevis. And apparently, there are a ton of famous people from here who play cricket, if you follow cricket.

Up next: art and literature