Upon this Rock : Rock Music in St. Lucia (interview w/ Jason Sifflet)
Upon this Rock : Rock Music in St. Lucia
(interview w/ Jason Sifflet)
by Nkrumah LucienIn the following interview I begin to explore some of the early development in Rock Music in St. Lucia. Even from the interview here with Jason it is clear that it has had many stops and starts. I have included also some videos by one of the pioneers of Rock in St. Lucia and a band which came later but has since disbanded and morphed into other bands which may still be in existence. Finally I include the trailer for the documentary about an aspect of Rock music which has gradually been pushed out of the mainstream image of Rock. Electric Purgatory: The Fate of the Black Rocker looks at how the association between African/Black People and Rock music has come to be seen as a curiousity. I would expect that others will have much more to share on this topic as persons read and engage this post and later ones. Jason SIfflet is a former member of the band Hostile Takeover, an actor both in Theatre and Film(most recent appearance in “The Coming of Org” directed by Davina Lee) and a journalist.
Iandiyanola: How and when did you initially get exposed to and interested in Rock music?
JS: The first rock song I heard was “When The Good Lord Sends An Angel” by Maclom Magarron. I heard it on Lucian radio and didn’t know he was a Lucian artist making it big in Germany. I liked the bigness and seriousness of the music (i.e. the instrumentation) as opposed to the laidbackness of roots rock reggae and the kind of jokiness of ska and calypso.
Iandiyanola: How common was it at the time to be interested in that type of music?
JS: It was not common to be into that or to identify with it. Everybody like a couple of Rod Stewart or Duran Duran songs, whatever was on radio at the time. But somehow I knew from a young age that I wanted music to sound more sincere, like rock, rather than satirical like calypso, or laidback like reggae. Our lyrics were great and it was like our music was too happy for the reality of what we were going through as Caribbean people. I always liked the music to be grim and dark.
Lulu Bergasse(Album Cover)
Iandiyanola: Could you give some background to your involvement in playing the music itself?
JS: In my teenage years, I tried to play guitar and straighten my hair to be more like glam rockers. But then I discovered Prince and Jimi Hendrix and realized that I didn’t need an identity change to enjoy or make rock music. I also discovered that Malcolm Magarron was a St Lucian. And I started getting into black power which lead to me wanting to play the guitar instead of listen to other people play. Learnt some drums along the way as well. But I learnt guitar, always in a rock music context, having discovered that there were more of ‘us’ than I thought.
Iandiyanola: A number of attempts have been made with Rock music here. I can think of Disturbing Joan, B9 among others. What is the history like for exploration of Rock music here in St. Lucia? (This is one question which I expect to need some development so you need not be exhaustive)
Disturbing Joan(Album Cover)
JS: The first musicians to blasts rebellious, loud music on the local scene were the jazz players from Mad Monk: Luther, Nurse and a bunch of other trippy 60s, early 70s guys who are still revered by just about every Lucian ‘rock’ musician I know. But actual ‘father of Lucian rock’ is Malcolm Magarron, who incorporated Caribbean culture into a big European rock sound to make his own niche. In the 80s, to get a good rock show, you’d have to go see a reggae band with a good guitarist. Ras Bonte is another hero to the rock fans in St Lucia. He had something of a successful music career in New Zealand and is a major influence of many young players of the last twenty years because he fuses African and Caribbean scales, modes and rhythms with modern pop (i.e. American) culture, very seamlessly. In the early 80s, the rise of grunge in America coincided with the explosion of rock in St Lucia with the emergence of Hostile Takeover, Disturbing Joan and a series of bands that Larry Bain was in which I can’t remember the name of. Bain’s bands had the best players but they were often off-island or non-St Lucian. Hostile Takeover made one of the earliest recordings at home (see Nev Destang on facebok). Disturbing Joan lasted the longest. Hostile Takeover joined with Lulu Bergasse to become Dust and when Lulu left, the rest of the players became Mary Ann Street. None of those bands exist anymore. B9 is a group that spun off from Mary Ann Street. Disturbing Joan broke up, giving birth to Richochet and now Skip Monday and I guess those are the two active groups right now.
Iandiyanola: Why do you think these various projects never grow beyond a relatively small audience?
JS: Playing rock from a Caribbean island is a trap, like playing reggae. It’s not indigenous to your culture, so every in and out of your culture sees you as a fake. But when you incorporate your culture into a bigger sound (or vice versa), you create something new which is not exactly rock, alienating everyone except the most open-minded listeners. With the market closed to you on all sides, you write the songs you want to write and play when you want to play rather than respond to audiences and markets and numbers. Plus there’s the race thing. Even though Hendrix, Prince, Sly Stone, Vernon Reid, Lenny Kravitz and scores of others proven over and over that a great black guitaris can’t be equalled, there’s still the everlasting impression that rock is white.
Malcolm Magaron- Caribbean Rock(Album Cover)
Iandiyanola: Of late there is again another rise in interest in the music here in some of its varieties, particular what is called ‘Alternative Rock’. What do you think accounts for this and how is it different (if at all) your entry into the Rock scene?
JS: The recent interest in Alternative Rock is more associated with the goth fad that was going by. The combination of a look, a sound and a common culture is one of the most appealing things about heavy rock music. That fad seems to be dying out. Also, people are just getting into what they hear and most of what they hear is what is pumped out to them – mainstream versions of the really rebellious artistic rock music. You can verify this by checking the astounding difference between say, SPIN Magazine’s top 50 albums of 2011, versus what locals are into. There is no overlap. The rock they are listening to (is) ‘chart rock’, manufactured record label stuff. To be truly into rock, you have to be into what the radio stations and record companies are NOT pushing.
To be honest, a lot of Lucian ‘rockers’ have identity issues. Many of them hate black rock bands. They like their rock white. And I will venture to say that they wish they could be something that they’re not. I don’t think it is as simple as self-loathing, though. I think a lot of it is a rejection of the herd mentality. Everyone is into soca, reggae and hip hop, so they are not! And they get pissed off when something they like gets too popular. They will actually stop listening to their favorite band if everyone else suddenly got into (it). If everyone suddenly started listening to rock, I would bet that the majority of rockers would start listening to zouk or polka or whatever seems most counter-culture from their vantage point.
Even with me, when my musical tastes expanded, I still would prefer to listen to Danny Brown and G-Side rather than Jay Z or Kanye, even though Jay Z and Kanye are great artists. I just have an aversion to what everyone else is into. So while everything else about identity and self-loathing and all that is also true, I think the core of this ‘self-rejecting’ phenomenon is really about trying to get out of the mainstream and not be part of the crowd. It’s all in the effort to stand out. For me, at least. But I think it’s true about a lot of people as well.
Glorification – Malcolm Magaron
Malcolm Magaron Live at Bar
Disturbing Joan – Inner Creature
Disturbing Joan -Affluence