St. Croix, a US Virgin Island in the Caribbean, is home to my most treasured artists in the music industry. Relatively obscure, I came to know about the island from the most enchanting and intellectually engaging roots reggae producers and artists I have ever listened to. Lyrically led by Vaughn Benjamin, the roots reggae band, Midnite, now known as Akae Beka, is the musical representative of the island – and to be featured in the coming Spotlight articles.
But working closely with Midnite is a beautiful and gifted woman known as Dezarie. She has an unusual beauty I fail to capture and express in words. She is one of those black women one cannot box nor generalise. But her style is unique and iconic, although underrated if not for the fact that she is never seen in mainstream media. Perhaps it is her very private lifestyle that obscures her from global recognition and appreciation for her uncontested musical and iconic terrain. She is a beautiful mystery that only reveals itself through her music.
Her voice neither unaltered nor manipulated all her songs from her five albums: Fya, Gracious Mama Africa, Eaze the Pain, The Fourth Book and Love in Your Meditation will leave your spirit yearning for and anticipating African liberation. Like the godfathers of reggae music, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and the Burning Spear, the freedom of Mama Africa means freedom to her. And her music is a reflection of this yearning and anticipation. To me, it is a work of an ancestrally ordained healer to have the consistency and care she has over the African cause in her music.
The black population of St. Croix, like the rest of the black population in the Americas, are the descendants of the enslaved Africans who were shipped out of Africa to the American plantations. Writing about the experience in her historical and social analysis of black America; in the Post-traumatic Slave Syndrome, Dr Joy DeGruy explains that the transatlantic slave trade was a gross human rights violation experience for the enslaved Africans so much so its impact is still felt today by black America. Its legacy manifests as an intergenerational experience of maladaptive behaviours in black America.
As one of the US Virgin Islands territories, the generational experience of the black population in St. Croix is no different from that captured by Dr DeGruy. And Dezarie’s music imparts this knowledge with the history of Africa. To listen to her is to be given historical lessons on the African-American experience of the Maafa, and the glittering promise of the future should Mama Africa be fully liberated from colonial oppression.
My first encounter with Dezarie’s music was after my friend introduced me to Midnite’s equally liberating music. Until then, I was a fan of Habib Koite’s instrumentally elevating music. Enchanted and intellectually stimulated, I began researching and analysing Midnite’s music until I read that the band works with Dezarie. After searching for her music, the first album I listened to is the Fourth Book and she stole my heart. Every time I listen to and watch her live performances I cannot help but think how come such a beautiful gem and thinker is hidden in the depths of the waters of St. Croix.
In her St. Croix reggae circles she is known as the empress of roots reggae and she produces the most beautiful and historically conscious music for her fans. In a rare interview with a TV show host, she tells the host that she reads a lot of books including the bible. And that is where she finds inspiration for her music. The show host also notes to her that she lives a very private life. In response, Dezarie explains that it is important to protect yourself as a person. To be private about her life is to avoid unnecessary experiences. And this is how she remains a beautiful mystery that only communicates through her music.
With my introduction to the St. Croix roots reggae crew, and my dear heart for Dezarie and Midnite, I fell in love with the idea of knowing more about the island. To be updated on events on the island, I began following some institutions, reggae bands and artists. One of the institutions I follow is the University of the Virgin Islands. With the recent waves of hurricane Irma and Maria, I learned that they left the US Virgin Islands with serious damages including the island of St. Croix. From campus announcements made by the university, I learned that St. Croix is also battling with the aftermath of the hurricanes with the university frequently announcing on its daily arrangements in order for campus life to return to normal.
With the announcements on the debris-filled condition of the university’s campuses, I keep wondering how far the damage is with the rest of the people in St. Croix. With an inherent humanity, the diehard Dezarie and Midnite fan in me has been wondering about their well-being on the island.
This spotlight feature is partly my way of sending my thoughts and well-meaning spirit to Dezarie, the Midnite band and the rest of the people of St. Croix. With their beautiful music and treasured African heritage, they have touched African souls across the globe –including mine. Their music comforts those of us who enjoy its beauty and imbedded African historical lessons in it. It is its beauty and power that has not only touched me in South Africa but other fans the world over that I am writing about them. Whatever conditions they might be in with the people of St. Croix, I want them to know that there are people out here and there who love and appreciate them so much.
When they get back to normal after cleaning up, I wish they think about and plan to visit South Africa. Their visit to Mama Africa would be such a beautiful experience for their fans and those who know them not. And I wish everyone in St. Croix and the rest of the islands a speedy recovery from the devastation of the hurricanes.