Last week I attended ‘Fire Under de Pot’: a panel discussion organized by Bouyon Monarch Inc to analyse the status of Bouyon music. In case you’re wondering bouyon is unique to Dominica and is said to be a modernization of the traditional sounds of the country including jing-ping, string band, lapo-cabrit and the like. Most of the discussion was streamed live on Facebook and local radio, so check it out once you’re done reading.
The talk, though worthwhile, I thought was decades too late. The genre has been around for over thirty years, yet these types of discussions are so few and far between. Nevertheless, the topics presented were intriguing and the conversation created an avenue for cogitation.
Moderator, Tim Durand – a musician, prominent broadcaster and owner of Dominica News Online, did a fabulous job of taming the flames under the pot as strong opinions were shared and debates ensued. Panellists included: Manager of Triple Kay International, Geoffrey Joseph, Attorney Ducan Stowe, popular musician and singer, Cornell Phillip and Speaker of the House of Assembly, Alix-Boyd Knight. They provided much needed insight into the often-overlooked aspects of the local music industry and even shared some surprising opinions in their presentations.
I could feel my eyebrows touching my hair line when Madame Speaker announced her love for Bouyon. Just after Carnival (the ideal season for bouyon) Kairi News shared a story based on comments from Boyd-Knights about Bouyon music inciting violence. She is quoted as saying:
“[…]. I think a lot of it has to do with the music. I seriously doubt that people are going to fight when Kes ‘Hello’ is playing, okay? It’s the Bouyon music – it incites the young people, I don’t know […]. But you know, my recommendation is, no matter what time Carnival finishes two hours before there must be no Bouyon music. I’m advocating that very strongly because I have never seen anybody fight to any other music but Bouyon music.”
Her comments came under harsh criticism and fuelled a string of heated debates on local and social media. One bouyon artist, member of the Triple Kay International, Wayne ‘Mr Benji N20’ Benjamin said on Facebook: “Why blame Bouyon?” and indicated that fights are common in carnival bands despite the genre of music.
During her presentation however, a jovial speaker took time out to clear the air and gave what she said is her true opinion of bouyon music – particularly during Carnival.
“‘It’s such a pity, you know, that the bands have all these fights especially going on into the evening time. And maybe it would be a good idea if two hours before the end of the carnival day the bands are asked to low down on the bouyon music and play a slower beat, a kind of a chipping beat that would have everybody merry and gay and not wishing to fight’ that was what I said,” she emphasised.
Phillip, one of the founding members of the bouyon pioneers – the WCK Band, firmly stated that “bouyon is more marketable now than it was before” though he openly disagrees with some of the recent trends. To hear this from one of the men who started it all was totally unexpected because many – particularly the older generation, affirm over and over that WCK is the best bouyon band and that the others left a lot to be desired. According to him: “We have to be proud of it because it has no outside influence. It is 100 percent Dominican” and “we need to support Bouyon music.”
I agree, the music needs the support of the public. But I also think artistes and bands need to consistently give us a quality product worth supporting. For the most part, I believe the music is going through an evolution of some sorts that has the potential to reap positive results (check out this post for more details).
However, several things are missing from the strategy used to promote the genre.
In his presentation, Stowe encouraged bands and artists to choose a target audience and focus on exporting the product and stated that “bouyon needs to be conducted as a business.”
I think adding the business aspect will be a major turning point if applied correctly. It could end the old age debate about lyrical content, pace and relevance of bouyon if the music is taken more seriously and produced for potential outside audiences.
Still, bands and artistes need more guidance on how to go about using their passion for music to create an enterprise. Truthfully, it was slightly disappointing to note that many, including some of the most popular bands, are stuck as to where this guidance can come from and really have no clue as to what’s next for the future of the genre.
But that only means one thing: we must unite to promote and preserve our local music. It’s ours and we are the only ones who can improve it or kill it. Personally, I think the genre needs more variety so that there is a bouyon song to cater to different age groups and backgrounds. I also think more thought needs to be placed on the future of the industry and more action is needed.
Discussions like ‘Fire Under de Pot’ are important and certainly, several more are needed. But it would pain me to discuss the same issues over and over. The next step, after we lay all our cards on the table, I believe, is to actively improve the quality and craft of the genre through an exchange of ideas, techniques and constructive criticism as well as creating avenues for exposure and improvement. This could very well be what we need to raise the standard of bouyon music to a product that could be better received in regional and international markets.