Formed out of a desire to bring Caribbean music to the forefront of the world music stage, Island Wave — a Caribbean collective of artists — aims not only to highlight and support Caribbean music and the artists who create it, but also make impactful strides toward better mental health care and awareness within the Caribbean community.
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The seed for Island Wave was planted in 2019 when its founder, Trinidad and Tobago musician Kalpee attended SXSW and envisioned himself not just a spectator but performing onstage. He thought he’d received his chance when he was asked to perform SXSW in 2020, but unfortunately because of covid-19 lockdowns, the entire festival was canceled.
In 2021, the festival asked him to participate in a series of SXSW livestream performances, performing on the Russian House Stage that was also housing World Music that year. Kalpee asked if the festival had a Caribbean Stage, and when he found out they did not, he suggested creating one. Together, with help from his management team, Kalpee brought together Caribbean artists to perform in a livestream event in Kingston, Jamaica — their performance was listed as a “recommended watch” by SXSW and ranked in the top five showcases of the festival.
Thus, Island Wave was formed, and the collective of Caribbean artists played their first physical SXSW performance this year and are slated to come back again in 2023, further sharing their music with the world.
In a unified commitment to support Caribbean artists, Island Wave also pairs their efforts with a push for better conversations and access to resources pertaining to mental health. This lack of understanding, especially when it comes to men and their mental health relationship (or often lackthereof), is something that is heavily intertwined into Island Wave’s mission of support and growth; a message that aptly comes from one Caribbean man directly to another.
Island Wave consists of Kalpee, Grammy Award Winning artists and producers Walshy Fire and IzyBeats; Freetown Collective from Trinidad & Tobago; Oritse Williams, founding member of UK group JLS; Popeye Caution; Colombian Afro-Latin group High Connection; Haitian singer J-Perry; and Jamaican dancehall artists, Bling-Dawg and Vyzadon. Kalpee and some of his fellow Island Wave artists took the time to answer a few questions about their overall mission and drive for better mental health awareness.
GG: What are your goals in aligning together through Island Wave?
Kalpee(Trinidad and Tobago): Island Wave is a platform dedicated to bringing music of the Caribbean to the forefront of the international music scene. The aim was to create a platform for Caribbean artists to come together, showcase, celebrate and support each other. Island Wave is giving Caribbean artists and musicians a voice and by playing side by side it’s also easier for international audiences to recognize the different musical genres within the Islands.
Island Wave is so important as it’s a united group of same minded creatives, not just one artist trying to break through but a collective of artists, musicians, managers, stylists, videographers, FPV operatives from across the West Indies looking to be recognized, seen, heard and employed.
Unlike other countries who have a much more advanced creative industry set up, grants are not readily available in the Caribbean, so Island Wave not only seeks to provide the opportunities but also provides the funding through sponsorship for Caribbean artists to travel internationally so as to export their music. This includes facilitating and funding Visa applications which is a huge challenge to gain and 1000 percent a necessity in bridging the gap between the Caribbean diaspora and the rest of the world.
GG: Tell me about Island Wave’s initiative to talk about mental health? How does the collective lend itself to the push for better mental health among Black Caribbean men?
Kalpee(Trinidad and Tobago): In late 2019 I had a very serious accident in Trinidad that nearly cost me my life. The most difficult part of recovering from the accident was not the physical injuries that were evident to all, but my mental state of mind. As mental health amongst men is not spoken about in the Caribbean, I didn’t even realize that I needed support which made my days challenging. I was honestly so depressed, my anxiety was through the roof, but I didn’t know how to express that. Through my travels I was lucky to find this support that I needed. Talking about my own experience actually helped the healing process. Being able to share this knowledge with the Caribbean community was important to me and by uniting as a group of like minded prolific Caribbean men, we hope to be able take the stigma out of being seen as weak for asking for help and we are hopeful that by standing together we can start to normalize such conversations moving forwards. With Island Wave being a platform that supports and celebrates each other it was the perfect opportunity for us all to stand together to deliver this important message.
GG: As a musician and creative, how do you feel you are uniquely able to carry this message and help others to find their own road to better mental health?
High Connection’s Frank Design (Colombia): Music is of great importance. It’s an instrument to guide people to have other alternatives to overcome or move past events that hinder their mental health. Since we started doing so, we stopped paying attention to things that are emotionally heavy on us, we concentrated our energy on one purpose, happiness, and that has been the key to full mental health. We rely very much on my experience – we sing about things that we live and from time-to-time things that happen to our close circle. When I write a song, I try to interpret it in such a way that when you hear it, you feel every word and rhyme.
GG: What do you think is a valuable first step anyone can do, regardless of their situation or resources, to take care of themselves mentally and emotionally?
Vyzadon (Jamaica): The first step is to separate yourself from toxic people and maintain a positive mindset which can be achieved through meditation as well as surrounding yourself with like-minded people who also have a positive mindset.
Walshy Fire (Jamaica): I’m not a therapist, but mental health is surrounding yourself in proximity to things that only lift your frequency and energy. When you find people that are struggling, usually they’re in proximity to things that aren’t helpful. It’s all about putting yourself in the right place with the right people, or with no people. Whatever you do, it’s all about proximity.
Bling Dawg (Jamaica): Mental health is very serious in the Caribbean community. We live by that each day. It’s something serious that our community should look into. Mental health [doesn’t] always show from the outside – it’s nice to have conversations with people that you trust, that you can share personal things with. Most of the time it’s things that you store inside of you that become overbearing. We need to talk more, communicate more, look at the simple things and appreciate them. For my mental health I work out, focus on the things in my reach, and take it step by step to progress in life each day. We need to communicate more with each other to help each other.
GG: What is one thing you’d like any young man to know about the importance of good mental health or taking care of oneself?
Lou Lyons from Freetown Collective (Trinidad & Tobago): In the book “Iron John” by Robert Bly (a must read book for any young man coming of age), there are three lessons that every young man should learn: the importance of healing, the importance of seeing oneself [and] the importance of understanding and embracing one’s sexuality. I would like every young man to know that big men are also struggling with these things. There isn’t an age where we get it right and never have to worry about it again, but there is no moving forward if we cannot heal the wounds that life will inflict on us, if we can’t have a healthy image of who we would like to be, and if we cannot embrace what we discover about ourselves. Good mental health begins with knowing that this journey will be a lifelong one and we get through it by doing our best everyday and asking for help when we no longer know what our best is.
Recent work and performances from Island Wave artists include a remix release of Kalpee’s catchy single “Island Gyal” released last month, new single “Aurora” from High Connection, and a performance from Freetown Collective at the Haitian Film festival in Miami.
Words: Patti Sanchez