title taken from “Release” by Machel Montano
Dyson Knight & Wendi Lewis on Caribbean Unity
Recently, Machel Montano made waves in the Trinidadian soca community by stating that soca no longer belongs to Trinidad, but to the entire Caribbean. The idea that trying to own soca would only limit the growth of the genre resonates with two of the hottest Bahamian artistes who are looking to take their music to the world.
“I claim soca as mine, which means I can claim the entire Caribbean as being an extension of myself.” (Knight)
Dyson Knight is best known for his work with International Grammy-award winning group Baha Men of “Who Let the Dogs Out” fame. The singer/songwriter and new father has also had solo hits such as “Fling It Up” and “I Can Do It.” While his schedule prioritizes work with the group, his local fan base requires him to perform with hometown band Visage, which includes his wife.
As the other lead singer of Visage, Wendi has her own busy schedule. The two-time Bahamian Icon Award Nominee spends most of her time promoting her extensive catalog of music which includes “Een Missing It,” “Attitude,” and her recent release “Bang Bang.” Her 2018 release “Meté” is a Haitian creole song she hopes will resonate with the Haitian residents who have been ostracized due to the overwhelming illegal immigration of Haitians to The Bahamas. “I want to push the envelope. I believe that’s what music is supposed to do” (Lewis).
The couple performs year-round in the Bahamas, but they are looking to take their talents to the world and they have a musical advantage.
“Our sound is an organic fusion of Junkanoo, rake and scrape, reggae, pop, and soca.” While other islands are clamoring for ownership of one genre, Knight and Lewis recognize that their sound is a combination of the art that has touched and inspired The Bahamas.
Rake and scrape is considered the sound of the Bahamas; however, it is actually an adaptation of country music that can be traced back to New Orleans. Even the quadrille dance performed to rake and scrape is similar to square dancing. Junkanoo, also believed to be indigenous to the Bahamas, is inherently African. Soca, which originated in Trinidad, has spread throughout the Anglophonic Caribbean, allowing each island to add its own flair to the genre. The influence of so many cultures affects the music, but also the country’s national celebrations.
Two notable celebrations in the Bahamas are Junkanoo and Carnival. The Junkanoo parade in December is more of a competition than a parade with strict rules about clothing and presentation that, if not adhered to, can disqualify a performer or band. Junkanoo has been a part of the country’s history since the 17th century; however, the Bahamas is no longer the only place that celebrates it. “There’s a Junkanoo in Africa. There’s Junkanoo in Grenada. There’s Junkanoo in Jamaica. It’s slightly different, but if you look into the substance of it and the reason and the purpose of it, it’s the same” (Knight).
Bahamas Carnival is less than 4 years old and has already become a new revenue stream for the country. Despite the initial resistance to yet another foreign-inspired event, Bahamians have become fond of the festival. Besides the influx of revenue, the carnival allows the people to free up from the stress of daily life and commiserate. "Carnival promotes fellowship. It promotes unity. It promotes togetherness” (Knight). How can anyone be against that?
Both artistes are proud of these shared traditions and believe that an understanding of their histories can actually unite the Caribbean. Instead of fighting over which island owns what music or festival, we should acknowledge that we have all been influenced by each other. “To say that soca belongs to the entire West Indies, I think that’s a very cool thing to say. I understand people wanting to lay claim to it, but I don’t know if that [supports] the unification of us all as a people. I always believe that our unity is better than division” (Lewis).
If you are ever in The Bahamas, be sure to catch one of their electrifying performances. Bahamas Carnival will take place May 2nd-May 5th, 2019 in Nassau. This is a great opportunity to sample the local food (definitely get some good conch salad), sample local beverages (I’m still not sure what Sky Juice is, but I like its effect), and take in a Visage band performance.