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Luther Francois Recognised as National Hero

Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival Continues with Mega Performances This Weekend

Luther Francois
Luther Francois

This week has been one of unforgettable experiences, musically speaking, for locals and visitors alike, who attended one or more shows of this year’s Soliel Summer Jazz Festival, or what has come to be known as the Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival.

Held in 1992, for the first time, as an initiative to extend the tourist season and increase foreign exchange in Saint Lucia into May which had previously been a relatively quiet period, the Festival was inspired by the launching of the October Jazz Festival in 1991 spearheaded by Luther Francois as Musical Director.

Back then four locations were used; however today locations are countless, testimony not only to the expansion of the Festival but its popularity locally, regionally and internationally.

At first, the Festival attendances were small. But as the years passed, word spread, helped by coverage on the BET J television network, the Festival is now a well-established fixture on the Jazz festival calendar of the region and the world.

The Festival this year will be in its 31st year, quite an achievement, producing record breaking attendances the older it gets, with this year being no exception.

Rebranded in 2013 as the Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival, which included a fashion show branded as Saint Lucia HOT Couture, the Cultural Explosion, Saint Lucia Sound Stage, and Blu Session – Word in an Altered Scale. Dance, art, theatre and culinary arts, the Festival has taken on a life of its own which has transcended far beyond what its authors envisioned in 1992.

This year, this potpourri of music genres has delivered. From its Mindoo Phillip Park opening, through its fringe shows all the way to its main stage acts, venues were bursting at the seams, the same expected for today and tomorrow’s shows at the Pigeon Island National Landmark.

While space does not allow for the listing of all the shows, including the fringe events, special mention must be made of Wednesday night’s unforgettable experience at the national landmark. Dubbed ‘Kingdom Night’ to reflect the event’s gospel theme, the event lived up to its billing as the audience received a spiritual uplifting delivered by Sinach, Cece Winans and our very own Emrand Henry and Special Blend.

The performances were rich and heartfelt. Many attendees were overcome with emotion, praising and worshipping throughout the event. Kingdom Night came to a prayerful end, as it should have been, given its theme; a job wonderfully done by Winans who directed hearts and minds to God, the Creator of all things.

Thursday night was all about Saint Lucia’s jazz maestro, Luther Francois. Recognized as a national hero that night, the musical icon presented a superlative production of some of the best young and seasoned musicians from across the globe. It was the pure jazz segment of the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival 2023. The quintessential multi-talented artist had no knowledge of how things would unfurl that evening.

And as the show winded down, to the delight of the many ‘hard core’ jazz lovers at The Pavilion, Rodney Bay—Luther was recognized as a National Hero.

The Luther Francois troupe included players from as far as Africa, the USA and closer home in the region from Venezuela, Barbados, Dominica, and Martinique; while the local contingent of artists was well represented with instrumentalists from the School of Music, St Lucia Royal Police Band and accompanied by top artists such as Emerson Nurse, Barbara Cadet, Jab Du Plessis and Ricardo Francois.

Aptly described as a ‘Personification of Thought’ the set opened with a piece of ‘Bee Bop’ jazz, before the band served up a classy culturally infused number, and in between Luther highlighted the original selection – ‘Portrait of a People.’

The cheerful audience was thoroughly entertained and captivated with the delivery of tune after tune as the musicians’ weaved their way meticulously through tantalizing notes and rhythmic melodies.

In between performances, Luther interacted with the audience, describing his stints with the West Indies Jazz Ensemble among other notable achievements and briefly explaining the different themes and production of the selections.

And then the band served up a ‘special treat’ as Luther described it, with a French female jazz singer closing the set, complemented by a crescendo of rhythmic Caribbean and World Music jazzy beats.

A special moment was reserved for the final moments of the show – as Luther was duly recognized with accolades and was bestowed with the ‘National Hero’ title, henceforth, to be recognized as Hon. Luther Francois.

Chairman of the Cultural Development Foundation (CDF), Darwin Guard acknowledged the invaluable imprint and contribution that Hon. Francois has embedded, not only into the Saint Lucian musical landscape, but regionally and globally as well…

Commenting on Luther’s amazing and outstanding musical sojourn, Guard declared: “Religion has its apostles, culture has its theories…and so, for Saint Lucians and Caribbean people Luther Francois is that ‘Trinity’.”

He added: “As part of the Antilles we recognize the importance of Luther Francois – a genius at this time in our collective history creating a distinct space within the genre of jazz for the attainment- Archipelago.

“Moreover, in Luther doing so, he doesn’t do it selfishly but with grace and humility, anointing many a disciple to bravely take the work forward. You cannot deny his music’s indelible mark on Caribbean culture …of great significance.

“His works are priceless artifacts of Caribbean culture and with that stirring impact we confirm the designation of National Hero!”

Friday night’s Caribbean Fusion event was another major production featuring Buju Banton, Bunji Garlin, Fay Ann Lyon and local band based in the USA called The Ark Band. More on that event in our next issue.

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