DOMINICA: Michele Henderson - Michele Henderson
Henderson's debut album introduces the world to her impressive vocal talent
As an internationalist with a keen sense of global identity, from a young age I took great pride in my rather abnormal interest in countries other than my own. Whilst most toddlers at nursery would be playing with dolls and fire trucks, my toy of choice that I wouldn’t let out of sight was my atlas. I had almost an encyclopaedic knowledge of the world’s countries, capital cities and their flags. I have a distinct memory of blowing away my fellow classmates aged 6 as they tested me on the globe during a rainy lunchtime, in which I shocked them by answering correctly that Ouagadougou was the capital of Burkina Faso and when quizzed I accurately drew the flag of Uzbekistan. With this in mind it is no surprise that years later I have ended up on a conquest trying to discover more about each country.
“She has clearly harnessed and developed her vocal talents over the years and that is evident throughout the album.”
Rather embarrassingly, last year, it came as a total shock to me that there was a gaping hole in my ‘on the surface level’ knowledge of the world’s nations – Dominica. Yes, for some reason I completely failed to retain the memory or knowledge that ‘The Nature Island’ (as it is affectionately known) exists, which is especially disconcerting when one considers that they are one of only two countries to feature my favourite colour (purple) on the flag on the feathers of the sisserou parrot. Due to this mishap, I thought it might be nice before the review of Michele Henderson’s self-titled record to lay down some rather fascinating facts about the country for you, perhaps to overcompensate for this error and to give the island nation its fair due:
Dominica is home to the Kalinago People, some of the only indigenous-Caribbean people left in the world and the only ones left in the Eastern Caribbean. This is rather spectacular when one considers that the nation endured centuries of both French and British colonisation, disease and conflict; it is thought they spent much time hiding in the countries incredibly mountainous terrain. What’s more, it has both the highest concentration of volcanoes per land area and even more amazingly has the highest concentration of centenarians.
Anyway, for those of you here for the music rather than the geography report, let’s move onto the album. Henderson’s album shines for one major reason – her voice. Her vocals are simply stunning, she manages to adjust them perfectly to many different musical styles. She shows off her smooth and alluring voice on tracks like Code Red and Why, but almost contrasts this totally on songs like A River and Where Are You Now, both of which have a dreamy sound that could allow them both to fit in perfectly to the forlorn section of a typical piece of musical theatre one might see in London’s West End. On both Help Me and Rose Street she demonstrates a vocal range that has echoes of Shania Twain’s From This Moment On – high praise indeed.
It is therefore no surprise to learn that in Henderson’s early years she performed in a choir and in a jazz band. She has clearly harnessed and developed her vocal talents over the years and that is evident throughout the album. It is worth checking out her cover of my favourite song of all time (Stevie Wonder’s Do I Do) on YouTube, where she really commands the stage with her incredible singing. Yet, for me whilst her voice is of course most impressive, I enjoyed this album most when it incorporated an upbeat party vibe. Songs like The Beat Goes On and my favourite Déjà Vu are particularly memorable. The Beat Goes On features a rap on the backing vocals and a great percussive rhythm whilst Déjà Vu includes a great keyboard solo and has a tune that bridges the carnival culture her country is famous for whilst still maintaining a soulful spirit. I like the fact that the album doesn’t pigeonhole itself as a jazz, soul, pop or R&B album as it flirts with all these genres, however, I definitely find Henderson to be in her element in the tracks that make you want to put your dancing shoes on.