Landing the sweet deal of a trip to the Caribbean doesn’t happen every day (It’s never happened), so going there to review a music festival seemed idyllic. The disclaimer I need to put out there before going any further is my knowledge of Caribbean music is in fact limited to a small selection of artists and labels. For that reason alone I wanted to review the festival on a more holistic level, to document the Pure Grenada Music Festival experience.
The ten-and-a-half hour plane journey gave me plenty of time to contemplate my next few days and as everyone does; to conjure up images of what lies ahead. I was hoping for a lively affair with an array of bright colours and pockets of life dotted around the festival site, illegitimate sound systems blasting out the Grenadian born ‘King of Soca’, The Mighty Sparrow and an overall party atmosphere. I was using the Notting Hill carnival as a reference point as that festival began and still is ran by a British West Indian community in West London.
This wasn’t quite what I found. For one thing Pure Grenada is a very organised festival, maybe due to it only being in its second year of existence and maybe an extra emphasis on making it run without hiccups was a reflection of the disastrous Fyre Festival that Ja-Rule and his band of idiots attempted on the island of Barbados just a week or two before. No sir, the Pure Grenada Music Festival was prolifically organised and, unfortunately, that does thwart attempts from any renegade bbq enthusiasts trying to organise their ‘party within a party’ – the fun was strictly credited to the festival. That said, the lack of pop-up ‘bring your own’ grills was countered by a selection of excellent street style food stalls selling everything from Jerk chicken to Lambie waters, the latter of which I was informed doubles up as a Caribbean viagra. With the festival being set in the Port Louis Marina, the sea breeze was responsible for taking the food stall smells and distributing them around the festival site, giving me a constant craving to overindulge and to which I duly obliged.I arrived on the first night of the festival to Sabrina Francis playing her brand of ‘acoustic soul’ and although I don’t think she quite has the songs yet, there is definitely something about her stage presence. Francis is striking in appearance and her performance brought good vibes to the place, albeit quite tempered and under control, she still put a spring in my otherwise jet-lagged step. Following her was Queen Ifrica who bounces around the stage like she’s been in solitary confinement for the weeks leading up to the festival and the energy is reflected in the reaction of the audience. She delivers her message in a pious manner, preaching to the crowd with poignant messages and I admired the way she flipped these negative experiences into positive energy. There was a track in her set with the lyrics “Daddy don’t touch me there”, which while shocking and upsetting to hear she uses it to gain strength and turn it into something else, “This is about positive music, people”.
A notable performance came on the Saturday evening in the form of Cody Chestnutt, who spent the majority of his set doing one of three things… Singing slightly flat, trying extremely hard to get the crowd to put their hands up in the air and attempting to attract a call and response with the audience. No matter how many times he shouted “C’MON” or “LOUDER” or “C’MON, LOUDER!!” it never really took off for Cody Chestnutt who I doubt will look back on this set fondly. Anyone beginning a song with the lyrics ‘Grenada is cool’ has lost me from the get go.Sunday was setup to showcase solely Grenadian artists and for me this worked well, i’m not sure if it was because the crowd wanted to get behind the local talent or maybe the artist and audience bond was that bit stronger. Either way it worked and the closing performance had a tonne of energy, these were the kind of performances I was expecting all weekend. Thirty people on stage, all wearing great bright coloured costumes and performing with vigour and a togetherness that i’d not seen on the previous evenings. Maybe this was the kind of performance I’d thought about on the plane over, or at least this was ticking the hypothetical boxes i’d set out in my head before the festival, which on the whole felt a little flat.
I thought the dynamic of night and day could help this a little as the festival doesn’t actually begin until 7pm, which means it’s already dark and when the site is set in the picturesque harbour of Port Louis – it’s a real shame not to be able to use that to help with the atmosphere. With the sunset as a backdrop, it would get the crowds in earlier, loosening up a little before the sun goes down and then the ‘real’ party can begin, i’m sure. With a new festival comes a teething period and I hope the Pure Grenada Music Festival uses this to develop and improve in areas which they see fit as the potential is there. The audience is there too – Saturday was sold out – so from my perspective they have the foundations of something for the Eastern Caribbean islands to be proud of, it’s just not quite there yet.