The Sixth Form Sisserou Singers (SFSS), a cultural institution in its 27th year, is showing signs of reinvention and growth.
The Sisserous staged ‘Choral Harvest‘ from July 16-18 at the Goodwill Primary School Auditorium under the patronage of His Excellency Charles Savarin and Mrs. Savarin, Dominica’s President and First Lady. The first night’s production attracted the likes of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, cultural icon Alwyn Bully, Bishop of Roseau, His Lordship Gabriel Malzaire and other distinguished guests, many of whom turn up every year to witness choral music at its most entertaining.
This year’s production, directed by the Cameroonian, Marie Pascale Affana, delivered high entertainment value and owing to the commitment of the talented ensemble and the strength of its narrative, transcended the formulaic nature of the typical SFSS showing.
Anchored by a strong Caribbean Folk Section written by Marie Pascale, her sister, Clementine Affana and former SFSS Director Leandra Lander, ‘Choral Harvest’ offered hope for the future of the group that has given hundreds of young Dominican men and women an outlet for creative expression. Pascale Affana’s steady hand was clear as she flitted effortlessly through her roles- choir director, stage manager and backup musician on flute. Her efforts were richly rewarded by a cast of vibrant, engaging stage actors and singers. Clad in the standard, brightly-coloured flirty skirts, flowing shirts, dramatic headpieces and with winning smiles plastered across their faces, the Sisserou Singers took the audience on an enthralling two-hour long musical journey. The production stayed true to the form perfected by founder, Pearle Christian, but was infused with a tinge of the whimsical and a heightened awareness of the times. There were references to popular local places and characters- One Pot Restaurant and social media personality, Sheba, found a place in the storyline- and at the end of the narrative, a fictional Eastern community in Dominica is threatened by a fast-spreading flu-like virus.
Exploring familiar themes of unrequited love and magic, the folk section told the tale of ‘Boyush’, played by the believable Ricardo Cognet, deceived by the feminine wiles of ‘Jestina’, the striking Tiffany Johnson. When she left him with a curse that jeopardized any future romantic entanglement, the entire village rallied to his side, hinting at the underlying theme of strength in community in trying times. Cognet’s interpretation of ‘Why Woman Grumble So,’ an overly familiar piece to the audience, was forceful. ‘Pa Embete Moi,’ which pitted the guys against the gals in a battle of wills, and the ever-popular ‘Coconut Woman,’ by the excellent Janae Jackson, also need retiring from the SFSS repertoire. Yet, Jackson made the well-loved tune all her own as her clear tones rang out across the packed hall, eliciting appreciative applause from die-hard SFSS fans.
The breakout performance of the folk section belonged to Chelsea Lee, who delivered a lively interpretation of ‘Ah you mudda’ of Jamaican origin. It was a commanding turn on stage, full of charm and style, and at times imperious.
The Tribute to Singing Sandra earlier in the programme starred the talented powerhouse that is Shanice Langford. Langford, a long-time Sisserou, has an imposing stage presence. When she takes the mic, eyes remain glued to her every move, and ears are trained to every inflection of her powerful voice. Her version of the well-known ‘Voices from the Ghetto’ was the solo performance of the night.
‘Oh Happy Day’, led by Don Pious Jno Baptiste, ‘Baba Yetu’ a beautifully rendered nod to the ancestral home, ‘Spirit’ from Disney’s Lion King, and ‘Endless Love,’ a duet featuring Blessing Jno Baptiste and Carsim Birmingham were notable highlights.
SFSS productions continue to be strengthened by an impressive supporting cast of Dominican musicians, this time led by founder Pearle Christian and featuring household names, Michele Henderson and Fred Nicholas. Performances by Noah Riviere, the 2021 DOMFESTA Song Contest winner and Kai-Lan Delsol, rounded up the night’s presentations.
In her notes on the production, Marie Pascale Affana wrote that 27 years ago, seeds of commitment, determination and hard work were planted by the founding members of the choir, under the direction of Pearle Christian. Dominica continues to reap the harvest. The hope is that Choral Harvest, a triumphant showcase of local talent, will serve as a clarion call for more young Dominicans to join in the preservation and advancement of choral music.
Photos Courtesy: MediaLinx, Lincoln Riviere