Words by Jesse Serwer
Photos by Nicole Sweet
Soufrière, Saint Lucia has everything you could want in a Caribbean town — nice beaches, a picturesque harbor, lively bars, colorful history, waterfalls, epic hikes, and even a hot sulphur spring known for its healing qualities. Some of the Caribbean’s best and priciest resorts — Ladera, Jade Mountain, Anse Chastanet — are a stone’s throw away, up in the hills above town, but it’s anything but a stush place. With its faded wooden buildings, this town of 7,000 has that nostalgic, old Caribbean feel familiar to anyone who’s visited Port Antonio, Jamaica. Then there’s the giants in the room: Gros Piton and Petit Piton, among the most distinctive and striking geological features found in the Caribbean. These iconic landmarks lord over Soufrière from almost every angle, welcoming visitors in awe-inspiring fashion.
On Easter Sunday, Soufrière was the site of the first-annual Rise Up Reggae Festival, headlined by reggae stars Jah Cure and Sizzla Kalonji — and co-starring the Pitons. The concert, which also featured performances from local Saint Lucian acts such as Meshach, Rob Zii Taylor and Phyness, was one element of Rise Up, a festival emphasizing community outreach. In conjunction with the show, organizers hosted a development workshop session for teenage students at the Upton Gardens Girls Centre, and arranged a visit to Bordelais Correctional Facility to discuss educational opportunities with prisoners. In the days before the show, Sizzla made the rounds across Saint Lucia, hitting local communities across the island.
“We wanted to elevate communities and to demonstrate what was possible if we put our best resources forward,” says Jeanille Bonterre of Nexus Networks, one of the concert’s organizers. “As reggae music lovers we also wanted to see our Caribbean entertainment industry evolve to the next level to become a platform for social change and leadership for our youth.”
LargeUp arrived in Saint Lucia on the Saturday before Easter and, after a day of relaxation at the Royalton Saint Lucia Hotel, on the north of the island, we caught a catamaran from Rodney Bay to Soufrière for the fest. After a few hours’ lime on the seas, the Pitons came into view, letting us know we’d arrived at our destination, while offering some fantastic photo-ops.
Inside the Soufriere Mini Stadium, vendors selling everything from pizza to ital roots tonic were still setting up, in preparation for an expected crowd of 10,000. As night fell, the Nyabinghi Order of Saint Lucia opened the show with a rendition of “By the Rivers of Babylon.” A slew of local acts took the stage, backed by the Derek Yarde Project (or DYP Band, for short) culminating in a strong performance from local reggae star Meshach. The stage was set for Jah Cure, who had the females in the crowd clamoring from the moment he touched the stage. Cure came out swinging, performing some of the biggest hits in his catalog — “Call on Me,” “That Girl,” “Life We Live,” and his cover of John Legend’s “All of Me” — to start out his set. It wasn’t long before the inevitable happened, and Jah Cure’s shirt came off, leading to a scrum as said shirt made its way out to the crowd.
Following Jah Cure was Sizzla Kalonji, backed by his long-time band, the Firehouse Crew. This was Sizzla’s first show in Saint Lucia in a decade, and he definitely came to make the fiyah bun. “I’m always excited to come to Saint Lucia,” he told the crowd. “My father used to live here.” Leaving few stones unturned, he ran through some his most iconic tunes — “Dry Cry,” “Just One of Those Days,” “Give Me a Try,” in an hour-plus set. After midnight it was revealed that it was Sizzla’s Earthstrong, and he was serenaded by Jah Cure; the artists are long-time friends and colleagues. A birthday cake was presented to Sizzla, as was a portrait by local artist Aneurin Edward. The show ended promptly at 2a.m. – perhaps early by reggae concert standards, but just the right time.
LargeUp the Rise Up team on a successful first edition — we’re looking forward to seeing what they have in store for next year.