Performing and Visual Arts

Gordon Henderson

Zouk, Cadence-lypso, Soca. All these are musical forms in the present day Caribbean musical scene with which we are all familiar. Unfortunately, we are not all familiar with the person who has done more than any other individual to bring these forms into prominence -- GORDON HENDERSON.

Gordon was born in Portsmouth some fifty-one years or so ago and attended the St. John's government School there. In the early sixties there were no secondary schools outside of Roseau and so Gordon, like most of us, had to journey to Roseau to the St. Mary's Academy to his secondary schooling.

It was at St. Mary's Academy that Gordon began to show musical aptitude, first in the glee club (school choir) and then in various small bands with other school mates like Randy Aaron, Julie Martin and Anison Rabess. Gordon at that time played guitar and sang. Those of us old enough will remember the many talent shows at St. Gerard's hall where groups like the Gaylords made their debut. Gordon was a regular performer at these events. Because of the great popularity of American soul musicians at the time such as James Brown, Wilson Picket, Otis Redding, Etta James etc, imitation of soul singers was greatly in vogue and Gordon was one of the better exponents of local soul.

Towards the middle to the late sixties, local calypso was gaining in popularity and Gordon, still at school, threw his hat into the ring under the name "MIGHT BEE". Yes folks, Gordon was indeed a calypsonian! Though Gordon never won the competition, he managed to inject into the calypso a measure of maturity that took it beyond the level of trite rhymes on 'bacchanal, carnival, festival, wine and grind'. By this time of course, Gordon had moved seriously into song-writing and arranging, and he had also begun to play keyboards.

Having successfully completed his schooling at St. Mary's Academy, Gordon got a job as an insurance salesman and settled down to take his music seriously. He organised a band "VOLTAGE 4" with the following line-up: Gordon Henderson on Keyboards and Vocals; Chris Francis on Guitar and Vocals; Randy Aaron on Drums and AnisonRabess on Bass Guitar. In no time at all they became the most popular band on the island. Gordon sang most of the Caribbean style songs while Chris Francis was the soul-man though Gordon also sang some ballads. It was in Voltage 4 that his break came and he was astute enough to seize it.

In 1970 an offer came to do a short tour in Martinique. While some members of the group hesitated about taking up that venture for fear of the unknown, not to mention concerns about their day jobs, Gordon had no hesitation deciding to go. Eventually on this tour, Julie Martin replaced Chris Francis on Guitar. The tour was deemed a success and whetted Gordon's appetite for more of the star treatment they had received in Martinique.

Towards the end of the same year another offer came, this time to do a long series of engagements as the house band for a Club in Guadeloupe. The offer was immediately accepted which necessitated the band quitting their day jobs. By this time Oliver Cruickshank had replaced Randy Aaron on drums after Randy had suffered serious injury in a car accident. This foray was quite successful and VOLTAGE 4 stayed in Guadeloupe for a little more than a year after which the band returned to Dominica.

Gordon however had recognized that there was a gaping need in Guadeloupe for a band that could deliver not only the usual dance music, but could couple this with a good stage performance and performance was his forte. He therefore returned to Guadeloupe on his own since he was unable to convince the other members of the band that they could risk going to Guadeloupe without firm contracts. On his arrival in Guadeloupe he teamed up with LES VIKINGS as lead singer. The leader of LES VIKINGS was PIERRE EDOUARD DECIMUS who would eventually form KASSAV. With Gordon at the front, LES VIKINGS rapidly established their dominance in Guadeloupe, and the band eventually made a tour of Dominica.

Although LES VIKINGS was at the top of the heap in Guadeloupe, Gordon still felt that the band did not deliver what he wanted - solid rock and soul convert type performances. He felt that if he had a group of Dominicans who were more in tune with concert performances as was popular in St. Gerard's Hall in the sixties that they could tear the place open! On his tour to Dominica with LES VIKINGS he therefore took the opportunity to discuss the idea of a band with several Dominican musicians: Kremlin Fingal, Oliver Cruickshank, Julie Mourillon, Vivian Wallace and Fitzroy Williams who were to form the band that revolutionized Caribbean music in the seventies and whose influence is felt till now.

When the band got to Guadeloupe they played calypsos and American style ballads which had a fair amount of success. Gordon realized that it was not exactly a brilliant idea to sing entirely a language that his audience had difficulty understanding and he therefore resolved to write more creole songs in essentially a calypso style, but more up-tempo, with more drive and swing. He christened the music Cadence-lypso, a marketing device designed to distinguish what EXILE ONE played from the Haitian cadence Rampa which was the dominant variety of creole popular music in the French West Indies at the time.

Gordon also rapidly realized that they needed to learn about the business of music and how to operate with the media. One of the first things he did was to learn to read, write and speak French properly for it was essential to be a French speaker as opposed to creole to be invited on the radio or TV. This was around 1973/74 and his assault, with the aid of his Producer Henri DEBS was so successful that in no time the public in Martinique and Guadeloupe abandoned Haitian music in favour of Dominican music with record producers and concert promoters falling over each other to sign up Dominican bands. This gave rise to Grammacks, Liquid Ice and others. In the meantime EXILE ONE had moved to Paris and was signed to Barclay Records, the first West Indian Group performing in CREOLE to be signed by a major record company.

The reaction of Haitian musicians to the dominance of Dominican music was to revitalize their style, copy Exile One by adding a real horn section to replace the single saxophone, coming back with COMPA in the early to mid eighties and recapturing the market.

So what of Zouk and Soca? As we all know or should know by now, in the mid-seventies all the practitioners of calypso in Trinidad had concluded that calypso, as it was then, was stagnant and moribund and they were all searching for new ideas to revitalize its commercial appeal. Luckily for Lord Shorty, he made a tour to Dominica at the same time as EXILE ONE were making one of their rare appearances here. He realized immediately that he could introduce this new and exciting music to Trinidad with a new name. He had some people here write him some lyrics in creole and he launched a song called "I PETIT" and announced that he had discovered a new beat, Soul Calypso (SOCA for short). This was of course more or less a badly played Cadence-Lypso. The Soca idea caught on in Trinidad and developed its own style as we know it today. As for Zouk, the founder of Kassav, PIERRE EDOUARD DECIMUS always maintains that what his band plays is nothing new, just that same old Cadence-lypso married to the very highest recording technology.


Extracted from: Dominica's Arts & Culture Magazine, Division of Culture, 1994
by Mc. Carthy Marie