Country and Lucian Music / by Alan Strathman

I awoke this morning, as I do most mornings, to the sweet sounds of the Caribbean flowing out of the radio in the living room. This particular morning it was Tammy Wynette.  Errrg! Screeeech!  Stop!  What? Are you wondering if, when I wrote Tammy Wynette, I meant to write Bob Marley? Well I didn't.  I am pretty sure it was Tammy Wynette (sans George Jones).

We get Johnny Cash, some Patsy Cline, a little Merle Haggard, a bit of George Jones.  As someone who was looking forward to reggae, calypso, and steel bands this has been a disappointment.  You certainly hear Caribbean music, particularly soca and zouk (The St. Lucia team in the Caribbean Professional Cricket League is named the Zouks), but at least on St. Lucia, Country and Western music rules.

Initially I thought I just had bad luck coming at a time when this kind of music was popular. And popular is an understatement--bars have country and western nights where they do line dancing and people flock to them. In a recent training session though, on Caribbean culture, we learned that country and western music has been popular here for decades.

Our speaker that day suggested that there is much about country music that appeals to Caribbean people. Caribbean cultures have very strong oral traditions so the story-telling element of country music resonates very strongly with them.  Country and western ballads, then, are especially popular.  Also popular are country songs that might be described as country blues.  Like with African-Americans, the blues rings true and feels familiar to Afro-Caribbeans.

As I mentioned, oral traditions are very important in the Caribbean.  One place where this is very true is with the language.  I will write later in more detail about the Creole that is spoken here, but let me say that the language is heavily spoken and rarely written.  It is the language that kids learn at home and that process is entirely oral. 

I have seen much evidence of this oral only nature of Creole in conversations I have had with my host families when I have asked how words are spelled and what grammatical rules apply.  That is, Lucians don't know how Creole words are spelled. Though it is more accurate to say that there is no agreed upon spelling of words because they never need to be spelled. 

It is only now that the Ministry of Education (I think) is making a push for standardizing written Creole.  But this will be an uphill battle.  English is the language of instruction and, with even the youngest generation of Lucians, English will be the only language they will know how to write.  Again, more on language later. 

Did you ever hear this joke:

What do you get when you play a country song backwards?  You get your house back, your wife back, your dog back, your truck back, and your momma gets out of jail.

I have been trying to decide what happens if you play a Lucian country song backwards, but I can't come up with anything clever.  But it would definitely involve a mango, a breadfruit, a cricket match, and a bottle of rum.