A Special Music in My Heart Forever

Dear Friends,

There is a special place in my heart that lives with smiles forever. It is the small Caribbean nation of Dominica (avirtualdominica.com, wikipedia.org) whose people, singing happily as they work, that touched my soul more than 40 years ago.

To think of this beautiful paradise now, devastated by a Catagory 5 Hurricane with 165 mph winds earlier this week, is so sad. Roofs torn off most buildings, even in the capital of Roseau. So many modest lean-to's, corrugated shacks, even the better built little cottages - gone.

And I can only image what the beautiful Botanical Garden in Roseau must look like. Or the bridge they finally built on the small two-lane road up the west coast to the northern town of Portsmouth.

When I was there it was a simple dirt road where we had to ford a river, one of 365 fresh water rivers Dominica boasts of proudly, comparing itself to the dry islands with that many beaches but no fresh water and no dense rich green rain forest.

Oh my Dominica! I am one of thousands who pray for you, who join your singing heart! “Devastated,” said the Prime Minister of his beautiful country today, gone - “all worldly goods money can buy.”

Yet I know that nothing will have touched the rare gifts of nature on this island – Boiling Lake, the second largest such lake in the world, the Layou River, Emerald Pool and gorgeous water falls, the high volcanic slopes.

In the 70s this was a frequent refuge for me from my crowded and hectic New York business life. Just to take the little island hopper plane out of Antigua, two stops, and land on the so-short tarmac that hung over the edge of a precarious sea wall – this was paradise. Few tourists went there – no casinos, no white beaches and the few beaches were mostly hot black lava sand. This is an active volcanic island.

The dense jungles, the Carib Indian reserve, the trails deep into the interior with stiff climbs to magnificent falls – these were a must on each visit. No wonder it was named a World Heritage Site.

There was no “eco-tourism” in the 70s, just a few of us visitors who loved the pristine land. We would hang out and wait for the frequent jungle rains, watch for the indigenous birds – especially the Sisserou parrot, also known as the Imperial Amazon with bright plumage found only in Dominica. And we'd harvest plantains and breadfruit, sweet new tastes to my northern palette.

A little set of beach-front bungalows known as “the Castaways” run by Scotsman Bill Harris and his family became like home to me. The girls on staff would set up tables for us, singing joyfully.

Dominica has been hit by storms before and they have rebuilt. Usually the tall jungle mountain ridges rising to over 4,700 ft protect the Western side and the capital from hurricanes. But not this time.

The people of Dominica will rebuild, singing as they do. The music of Dominicans is known far and wide since its native singing groups have traveled introducing their special mix of creole and West African beats and melodic sounds.

Dominica gained prominence on the international music scene when in 1973, Gordon Henderson (wikipedia.org bioyoutube.com 2016 live concert) founded the group Exile One and an original musical genre, which he coined "Cadence-lypso". This paved the way for modern Creole music. Other musical genres include "Jing ping" and "Cadence". Jing ping features the accordion and is native to the island. Dominica's music is a melange of Haitian, Afro-Cuban, African and European traditions. Popular artists over the years include Chubby and the Midnight Groovers, Bells Combo, the Gaylords, WCK, and Triple Kay.

You've seen Dominica in the movies, among them Disney's “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest” and the sequel “At World's End.”

The people, the strong heart of this verdant country, will rebuild. And they will come back singing. No people who have such music in their hearts can ever be destroyed. Late in October is the annual Creole Music Festival. Somehow they will bring it together to gather the dancers and singers and have a darn good island time.

Will they recover? “Sho man” is the frequent expression in “Bee Wee” slang for “Sure man!” – British West Indies talk, though they are now an independent nation. A great people. A great nation to visit.

If you're inspired, contribute to their rebuilding through various organizations. In time go visit and take in the sites. And listen to the voices, singing with joy. It may just live in your heart forever.

September 19, 2017

©2017 Sangeet Kaur Khalsa, All Rights Reserved.