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Fun in the sun (and rain)

CARIBBEAN FEVER: (l-r) Damian Marley performed an energetic set; Toni Braxton saved her set from being ruined by rainfall; and UK jazz star Courtney Pine said he was “honoured” to perform at the festival

THEY SAY you fall in love once in your lifetime. If this adage is true, my recent stay in the Caribbean island of St Kitts and a visit to its sister island Nevis has stumped any other chance I have of finding love. Gulp!

My mother is from Jamaica and my father from Barbados, both beautiful islands in their own right.

But there was something about St Kitts and Nevis, which I visited for the first time ahead of the 16th annual St Kitts Music Festival that had me longing to return before I had even left.

My whirlwind romance started the moment I landed on the soft, hot tarmac at Robert L. Bradshaw International airport. As passengers, which included MOBO award-winning jazz musician, Courtney Pine – whose wife is from the island – poured from the BA aircraft, I realised I was sharing my new lover with about 300 other people.

A lone steel pan and glasses of fruit punch greeted us on arrival, before we were whisked away to the island’s luxurious Marriott Hotel; our home, and indeed the resting place of a number of celebrities, who were in town to perform at the famed festival.

The next day, we took a 30-minute trip on the Caribe Breeze, a ferry service, which operates between St Kitts and the ‘sweet island’ of Nevis, to relax our bodies and minds ahead of the three-day festival.

Nevis – once referred to as the ‘Queen of the Caribbees’ because of its reputation of providing the richest sugar in the region – we later found, is the perfect antidote for the sufferers of jet lag.

I’ve never felt more at peace than when I was there, which is probably why it’s such a popular destination for celebrities. Oprah Winfrey is believed to have a home on the island.

Situated just two miles from St Kitts, Nevis is the birthplace of the first Secretary of the United States, Alexander Hamilton and later became home to Horatio Lord Nelson, a British Admiral who was posted and later married on the island, which now boasts a population of almost 11,200.


WOW FACTOR: A stunning beach view

It is also home to the Bath Hotel, the first hotel to be built in the Caribbean in 1778, as well as the more modern variant in the form of the Four Seasons – a popular celebrity hideaway.

We later found out when visiting the famous Sunshine’s Bar and Grill, (by the way, you haven’t been to Nevis if you haven’t been to Sunshine’s), that most celebrities at some point have passed through its famous doors.

Plastered over the walls in the Mahogany-stained wood interior are hundreds of pictures of famous faces from around the world, with the proprietor Sunshine, strategically placed in all photos.

A picture of a baby-faced Beyoncé and an equally youthful Jay-Z – with Sunshine smiling happily in the centre – hangs above the bar. It’s clear the picture was taken in the early stages of Bey and Jay’s romance and judging by Bey’s braided hair, possibly before the world knew that Jigga had “the hottest chick in the game wearing my chain.”


THE FUTURE'S BRIGHT: Famed bar Sunshine’s


FAMOUS FRIENDS: Proprieter Sunshine (third from left) poses with Beyonce and Jay-Z in his bar

We couldn’t leave Sunshine’s without tasting the famous Killer Bee cocktail – people come from far and wide to sample its fatal sting. We’re told that a Brit currently holds the record for consuming 16 glasses of the lethal cocktail, the ingredients of which, Sunshine refused to divulge.

We grabbed lunch at Peak Haven, a family-run business situated in the historic village of Rawlins, which is elevated a stunning 1,200 ft above sea-level.

The 4.9 acres of land, which is affectionately called Herbert Heights – I gather, after the proprietor, Edward Herbert – includes an eco-friendly playground; Heritage House, where visitors can be educated about the island’s history; and the Coal Pot restaurant. The taste of my fresh fish burger, beautifully marinated in coconut, will remain in my memory for a long while to come. Mr Herbert, thank you for our talk. You are truly inspirational.

After a brief stop at a beauty spot outside of Cottle Church, a place where slaves would once worship with their masters, we headed back to the port to catch our returning ferry to St Kitts.
On the morning of the first day of the festival, dubbed locally as ‘soca night,’ the press were greeted by St Kitts Minister of tourism Ricky Skerritt, who, although dressed in a suit, warned us that he is a “carnival animal” and would be appropriately dressed for the occasion later.

He also revealed that the “soca night is losing steam and local support” and urged “local soca warriors to come out and show us how you party.”

He was later joined by the night’s performers, including local acts Ali Dee, Shakki Starfire and Nicha B, as well as more internationally noted stars such as Bajan duo Krosfyah.

"Let me just be clear, soca music isn't dying,” said a defiant Edwin from Krosfyah when questioned about the minister’s earlier statement.

"What it is suffering from is a lack of support from local radio stations," he added.

And judging from the size of the crowd gathered at the island’s Warner Park in the capital, Basseterre later that evening, the genre is a long way from taking its last breath.

“I wonder where those statistics are coming from,” soca king Machel Montano said to us backstage after his two-hour (yes, two hour) set. “I think soca music is becoming more popular. I’ve been looking at this from the beginning when nobody liked soca and I have seen it come into fruition,” he added.

Thanks to the lovely Mr Montano, who kept us partying until 5am, we were afforded only a couple hours of sleep before we were due at the press conference the following morning ahead of the reggae, dancehall and jazz night.

I grabbed a quick chat with UK jazz musician, Courtney Pine and the self-confessed “adopted Kittitian” told me that after attending the festival almost every summer, he felt “extremely honoured” to have been asked to perform.

He was later joined on the panel by reggae stars, Eric Donaldson, Lovindeer and Lukes of Morgan Heritage, as well as dancehall stars Popcaan and I Octane.

It has to be said that despite my Bajan roots and strong affiliation to the soca genre, the reggae and dancehall night had to be my favourite of the three. I’m sure the sold out night, which attracted more than 5,000 people, is the reason I still can’t wear heels.


FUNNY FORECAST: a comical weather report outside the Marriott Hotel

Headline act, Damian Marley, took to the stage at about 12.30am, performing hits including Welcome To Jamrock and Beautiful. He ended his 75-minute set with a fitting tribute to his late father, reggae legend Bob Marley, who he later described as “the best,” with a rendition of Could You Be Loved.

The next morning, with my feet well and truly resembling hot air balloons, I made my way to the third and final press conference of our stay. I could have been on crutches, but nothing was going to stop me getting up close and personal with my former teenage heartthrob, Omarion, who headlined the closing night.

As well as demonstrating the Migrane Skank – a popular UK funky house dance craze – to the world’s press, the 27-year-old also spoke about his new signing to rapper Rick Ross’ Maybach Music label, as well as opening up about the peaks and troths of fame.

Famed jazz singer, Roberta Flack, got the night’s proceedings off to a show-stopping start with beautiful renditions of Killing Me Softly With His Song, The Closer I Get To You and a cover of The Beatles’ Hey Jude, which features on her new album Let It Be Roberta.

Later in the night, US singer Toni Braxton was forced to stop mid-song and ask, “where are you all going?” when the skies opened and the crowd ran for cover from the rain!

However, Braxton was ever the professional, opting to soldier on with her set despite the glitches brought on by the showers. Her sultry vocals on renditions of hits such as He Wasn’t Man Enough and Unbreak My Heart soon brought fans back towards the stage, despite the temperamental weather.

"Thank you guys for staying in the rain for me. I love you,” Braxton told the dedicated crowd.
Omarion ended the night with a bang, performing hits including O, Icebox and Speedin’.

When the rain threatened to bring his set to a premature end, the former B2K singer, who’d cleverly walked on stage brandishing a St Kitts flag, picked 10 screaming fans to join him onstage and partake in an impromptu dance battle.

It made for some entertaining viewing and more importantly, it ensured that the crowd, who have a very strong aversion to rain, stayed put. Genius!

After three-days of partying and limited sleep on the beautiful and action-packed island of St Kitts, it was an opportune time to call time on this year’s proceedings.

Well, they did say the course of true love never did run smooth. Trip to Nevis, anyone?

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For more information about St Kitts and Nevis, visit www.stkittstourism.kn www.nevizisland.com
St Kitts is served twice-weekly by British Airways from London

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