|Volume No. 1 Issue No. 38 - Sunday March 02, 2003
| Tribute to Midnight Groovers |
by Dr Emanue Finn
The Midnite Groovers of South City (Grand Bay) burst on the musical scene in the early 70s led by Chubby and his brother Coe. Although most of the names and faces of the band have changed since its inception, the strong impression of Groovers’ signature music has not.
The musical themes and beat quickly reminds everyone that the message is not simply about the identity, dignity and militant nature of the Grand Bay community, but about Dominica, and the struggles, trials and triumphs of African people all over the world.
The reality has been that Dominican music bands come and go (with the exception of Swinging Stars) at an alarming rate. The ultimate test of a band is in its staying power, message, lyrics and melody.
The songs of Groovers have always been concentrated, honest and uncontaminated. Today, Groovers is much more than a music band, it is a venerable Dominican institution.
Chubby and the boys are from a different genre of die-hard musicians who do things the old fashion way. Because of their grass roots and rugged style, it can be easy to dismiss and characterize the groovers as a one-dimensional band catering only to country folks.
Despite the fact that Dominicans have fallen in love with the more effervescent ‘bouyan’ music, the thought provoking songs of Groovers still resonates with the island and its people at home and abroad.
The band is a beacon of authenticity that defies questioning or critique, and deserves only admiration. In a time when our youth prefer and appreciate gangster rap artists over local musicians, Groovers can be described as an artifact from a lost time and place.
I last saw the Midnite Groovers in 1999 perform live at a Labor Day weekend dance in Brooklyn. During that time, Grand Bay’s parliamentary representative and opposition Member of Parliament, Pierre Charles who is now Dominica’s Prime Minister, managed the band.
At that live performance, the Groovers demonstrated an impressive and convincing style, which underscored their ability to continue to play serious music. Before the night was over, they had won and recaptured the admiration of many in the audience.
They have thrilled audiences all over with pure, undiluted and uncontaminated music of the Dominican countryside. This compares similarly to the magnitude of the cultural contributions that Taboo Combo has made to Haiti.
From their onset as a band about three decades ago, Groovers has mounted a relentless crusade through their explosive cadence songs on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised in Dominica. They have taken the lead in the fight to uphold the dignity of the peasantry (Malaway). Hits such as ‘Pou Yon Coco’ (for one coconut) and ‘Toute homme se homme aba soliel la’ (all men are equal under the sun) speak volumes of their powerful message.
In 1974, Roseau based Lebanese-Dominican businessman and owner of Geneva estate, Elias Nassief, was kicked off the estate by the Grand Bay youth. The youths felt that it was unfair for a non-local to own such a fertile estate in the middle of the community and they were not allowed to farm or even ‘set foot’ on the land.
During the ensuring disturbances (revolution as the Grand Bay folks call the Geneva estate events), ‘Colonel’ John declared a state of emergency in the southern part of the Island.
The Dominica Defense Force troops were deployed to Geneva to put down the rebellion, arrest the leaders and maintain calm. Once the situation was contained, the government tuned over the stewardship of the estate to the Land Management Authority.
Two years after the Dame Eugenia Charles Freedom party government assumed the reins of power, the estate was divided into small plots and land titles were given to villagers for farming. This was a landmark political and historical victory for the Grand bay peasants (malaway), and signaled much needed land reform in Dominica.
The song ‘Pou yon coco’ from the ‘Cocosec’ album in 1975 indicted the judicial system for the degrading and deplorable manner in which it treated its poorer citizens. That year Chubby was harshly and unfairly convicted (under the Predial Larceny Act) for stealing a few coconuts from the 1300 acre Geneva Estate in Grand Bay.
In the mid-seventies, at the height of the Rasta/government conflict, Groovers stood tall by fighting back and resisting Premier Patrick John, his government and security apparatus (Dominica Defense Force, Special Secret Police and units of the Dominica Police Force) the only way their knew; with melodious, vibrant, thought provoking and vivacious popular cadence songs.
These songs appealed to a troubled nation, which was ruled and dominated by ‘Colonel, the Honorable Patrick R. John’ and his arrogant, corrupt political henchmen and operatives. When all the history books have been written about this sad and shameful era of Dominica’s journey, Groovers should be featured prominently as one of these social forces which stood up to bad government and governance.
The task to analyze, dissect and explain the body of work that the Midnight Groovers have produced over these many years requires full and separate study papers of the caliber of doctorate (PhD) dissertations. Groover’s songs deal with politics, policy, violence, social and economic inequities, humor, love, injustice, police brutality, and community identity and pride.
The lyrics of the songs also concentrate on emancipation, slavery, illegal drugs, cultural awareness, every day struggles and challenges of common folk. This past year groovers received a major (deservingly) cultural recognition in the form of the Golden Drums award, for their invaluable cultural contribution to our society.
Groover’s songs of expression of coherence, identity connection and self-determination have been more than enough to absorb elements of Dominican history. Their songs embrace the realities, beauty and uniqueness of Grand Bay and the hills, valleys, villages and towns of Dominica. It also reminds us of our painful history and colorful culture. The poignant lyrics reach back to our roots in unrivaled and compelling ways.
Their highly conscious and politically aware songs always dealt with attempting to restore and shape civil society. The accepted roles and responsibilities of the band have been to inform, sensitize and educate our people. The band’s timely response to the cry of injustice of the peasantry is found in their timeless and precious collection of songs.
Groover’s delicious brand of music especially made to party proves to be a healing remedy for many of Dominica’s current and past problems. The heated soul searching and awakening dance music releases immediate, therapeutic flows of energy. These bursts of joy have certainly inspired, kept hope alive, and helped bring about a kinder, gentler love of self and country. To Chubby and the boys, this writer says please continue playing the music.