Department of Culture in St. Kitts revives traditional fife playing
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – Folklore groups and music play a very important role in St. Kitts and Nevis – they advance and develop the islands through culture. Against this backdrop, the Department of Culture is working to revive one specific aspect of culture: the playing of the fife.
Appearing on the third edition of “Working for You” for 2018, music specialist in the Department of Culture Nigel Williams said that people are being trained to use the fife as a way of reintroducing the instrument back into the culture of the islands.
“From the Jan. 25-27, we had a workshop based on fife playing because we recognized over the years that our folklore music is losing its sweetness,” he said. “We had 11 [people] who came on a regular [bases,]while others called and made their interest known to which we will capitalize on in the future,” said the music specialist, adding that it was heartwarming to see females attend the workshop, as that signified that they are interested in the folklore aspect of St. Kitts and Nevis’ culture.
He added that officials in the Department of Culture were very happy with the results of the workshop, as it provided an avenue for people to showcase their talents and express their interests in playing the fife.
“Not only were [people] able to make a proper song on the fife at the end of the workshop, but they were able to play two major scales and also play about three of the regular masquerade and clown songs like ‘Fan me Chinaman,’” he said. “As a result of that, we are now encouraged to have weekly classes so that those [people] who attended the workshop will continue playing… because we want to make sure that for carnival this year, we are going to see more fifers playing with the folklore to enhance the entire carnival.”
The music specialist further added that the department will also be working with these people for community festivals as well, so as to see an increased presence in the different folklore groups. He noted that he will work closely with the fife players to play well-known songs from as far back as the 60s. This, he said, will be undertaken so that St. Kitts and Nevis’ folklore music will be “what we know it to be so that our visitors and locals alike will appreciate the music more.”
In giving a brief history of the fife, Williams described the instrument as one of the oldest next to the drum. It is, historically, a small, keyless, transverse flute with a narrow, completely cylindrical bore and six finger holes. It was first introduced in the 16th century and originated in Europe. Fifes are made mostly of wood, however, some Caribbean musicians make use of bamboo fifes.