Alliance Francaise Barbados – Blak Kla Soyl at Mt Gay Visitor Centre: Continuing Tradition of French Cosmopolitan “Savoir Faire”

Christmas day last year, Eartha Kitt passed away, best known for her “Santa Baby” she was also famed for her role as Catwoman in the TV series of Batman during the 60’s and in the Eddie Murphy film “Boomerang” in the late 90’s.

During the 50’s, she was the toast of France, this is where she returned after the singer spoke out against the USA for its involvement in Vietnam, and perhaps that is why I recall her other hit “C’est Si Bon.”

This was not the first time France showed an open attitude for ladies of African descent, Josephine Baker was famous in Paris for her balloon dance (she had nothing on but strategically placed balloons and a needle to pop them as punctuation to a song) shortly before World War 2. Intensely grateful for being allowed to express her creativity there, she became a part of the Underground Resistance and almost was poisoned by Germans during WW2.

Luckily in Barbados, our performers do not have to go through similar rigours as either Eartha nor Josephine, but French here still appreciate Afro-Caribbean talent. This was surely the case just the other night at the Mount Gay Visitor Centre when Bastille Day was observed with the help of none other than Blak Kla Soyl (say: black clay soil), the daughter of that late great Vern Best -aka- Verno Del Congo.

She is a jazz singer and plays her father’s own very drums, her timbre is redolent of the sultry playfulness of Nancy Wilson and perhaps a dollop of the late Dinah Washington. Jamaal is on the regular drums while Ignatius Springer handles rythm guitar.

The most innocent things can spur her songwriting muse – such as during a trip on a van travelling to St Peter she was inspired by the breeze. She also did “Life Has Taught Me,” another original where she discovers she can love and hate a man simultaneously.

She’s proud of her African heritage yet she does not ram it down your throat, it’s simply part of her audience patter as she totally enthralled the crowd. Mostly French or from Guadeloupe or Martinique, there were also representatives from the US Embassy. As well as attorney Lalu Hanuman.

Blak Kla Soyl played mostly originals that night such as “Spoonfeed Me” and “40’s are the new 20’s.” Exceptions included her own husband’s tribute to her father (Verno wrote the Bajan classicWelcome The Morning Sun“) which was simply called “Verno Del Congo” with some zouk and cadence rythms blended in the tune; she also assayed “House Of The Rising Sun,” which she wants to eventually try and perform en francaise

During intermission I discovered a cousin, her maiden name is Gillian Bourne from St Andrew – both of us have Julian Bourne in our family tree. An old Bajan who could not be ordered about (translation – a white Bajan who loved where his heart and not where his family dictated), as we both confirmed to each other – her hubby Jacques was hilarious in regaling his own family tree investigations.

In the second half of Blak Kla Soyl’s show she kept hinting she’ll be singing in French and it was not revealed until her very last song… Which turned out to be the signature tune of La Mome or Little Bird – Edith Piaf – yes, Blak Kla Soyl took on “La Vie En Rose” and she had the whole audience in the palms of her drum-beating hands!

Ophelie Bernard of Alliance Francaise indicated there are plans to revive Bastille Day celebrations in Barbados, and AF also have other activities planned for both September and October.

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