“No one dances in Barbados!”
At least, that’s what the local house and techno DJs tell me. During their four-on-the-floor sets at local haunts—in the land of soca, calypso, dancehall, and reggae—the dance floor is filled with chatting people, but little movement.
I suppose it’s a more accurate statement to say that no one dances to house music in Barbados.
And there’s no crime in that. House and techno take some getting used to. Not everyone vibes with the rhythmic language they speak—its repetitious cadence, slapping bass and lilting melodies often translate to “just a bunch of noise” to the untrained ear. Still, believing that the more (musical influences) the merrier, the island’s Vujaday Music Festival is aiming to flip that perception.
And after a successful inaugural event in early April, they’re making progress.
“The Barbadian’s initial response to house music was hilarious…they kind of look at you like you have three heads,” jokes Dionna Goodman, a Vujaday performer and Chicago-raised, Barbados-based DJ who goes by D.Luxe. “I’ll be playing a gig and not really getting people on the dance-floor moving—some people will get into it but others will just be looking perplexed. Then, at the end of the set, they’re like, ‘That was amazing, when’s your next gig?’”
Perhaps this response—not really dancing but connecting to the atmosphere—is due to the fact that house music isn’t just a genre, it’s a vibe. The sparkling and diverse crowd it attracts build an environment of radical self-expression where people communicate through dance and connect through shared experience. While patrons weren’t dancing to Goodman’s grooves in a way she’s accustomed to (growing up in the birthplace of house music sets the bar high), they were obviously still absorbing and processing.
This is a worthy lesson to the traveling music diplomat: starting a new scene takes time. It’s a process of sharing and slowly earning ears.