Singing hallelujah in Barbados

By Jennifer Grimwade

The Barbados Massed Choir  soon has everyone on their feet, singing, clapping and jiving. Photo / Peter Scott
The Barbados Massed Choir soon has everyone on their feet, singing, clapping and jiving. Photo / Peter Scott

I've seen some pretty over-excited crowds at big rock 'n' roll concerts in London, reggae concerts in Accra and blues concerts in San Francisco, but I've never been to anything like the Gospelfest in Barbados.

The entire audience at Bridgetown's annual Gospelfest are absolutely beside themselves.

The concert kicks off with the Barbados Mass Choir. Seventy singers open the proceedings with Our God is an Awesome God, and within five minutes everyone is on their feet, singing, clapping and jiving.

Choir conductor Lester Welsh wears a black silk satin shirt that shimmers under the hot pink and brilliant purple stage lights. He is dancing enthusiastically, sweat flicking off his shaved head.

One guy in the audience leaps out of his seat and jumps up and down like a kid at Christmas in pure elation.

However, most in the audience are female and dressed to the nines. I'm wearing a heavily embroidered bright pink Mexican dress, but it's not classy enough - it's not evening attire.

The woman sitting next to me has a luminous black, skin-tight dress and gold satin shoes with sparkling gold heels. Like all the other women, she doesn't have a hair out of place.

Many young women have heavily braided hair, some have straightened shiny black locks, others elaborate buns. But the really fancy dressers are sporting hairpieces sculpted into intricate shapes, like works of art.

I wish I'd at least worn a fancy hat and I regret having only a tissue, for I soon learn that if I want to follow the old adage "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," I need a hanky to wave enthusiastically above my head.

The Miraclettes are immaculately groomed as well. This group of 16 to 30-year-olds sing gospel songs, with the women dressed in persimmon full-length suits and the men in purple shirts. It's a sight to be seen.

At the end of songs, no one wolf-whistles or stomps their feet. They all chant "God is Awesome," or sing "Hallelujah." As the night really begins to warm up, people begin to yell out their good Lord's name, letter by letter - J-E-S-U-S!

Choir members have joined the crowd and, dressed in black - with not a hair out of place - they stand at the front of the stage and dance like crazy.

Mel Holder from New York takes centre stage, looking a picture in a chartreuse suit, matching shoes and a white shirt. He plays the saxophone so beautifully that Frank Stewart, the BBC disc jockey from London, abandons his headphones, leaps to his feet and starts grooving.

The middle-aged lady next to me kicks off her gold satin shoes with sparkling gold heels.

By now, the only people sitting down are half a dozen middle-aged whites, and a father clutching his black frizzy-haired newborn, who is learning to love gospel right from the start.

Everyone sits and listens carefully when The Mover from Jamaica comes on stage, holding a white Bible from which she reads. But within seconds of her beginning to sing, we are all back on our feet again. There's no denying it, The Mover is a little sexpot singing Praise the Lord and Amazing Grace. Carlene Davis may be wearing a conservative navy blue suit, but look at the way she moves.

And you should hear her band. The lead guitar, drummer, keyboards and synthesiser are playing funk. Three back-up singers float around like angels in white. It is so loud, I'm glad I have earplugs.

But it's not worrying the grannies. They, too, are jiving like lunatics to the funk band.

It's a good thing this concert is in the Sir Garfield Sobers Sports Complex and the floors are built for sporting events - there are so many big women shaking their well-endowed behinds.

Oops, now the father is on his feet dancing with the newborn, who I hope is hanging on tight.

I've spent the day at the Oval in London watching a test match, but this gospel crowd makes West Indies cricket fans, celebrating when Brian Lara hits a spectacular six, look tame.

Perhaps everyone is in a good mood because the West Indies cricketers are in a strong position to beat Pakistan, but I doubt it. I suspect they have this much fun at the Gospelfest every year.

CHECKLIST

When: The Gospelfest is held each May.

Getting there: Qantas flies to Los Angeles and return fares from Los Angeles to Barbados are available from American Airlines. American Airlines also has airpasses available, which will also let you travel around the Caribbean. Contact your travel agent for details.

Getting around: For sight-seeing: Emerson Clarke, taxi service, ph (246) 228 6192, mobile 230 1986.

- NZ Herald

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