In this article our lead interviewer Zoe Reeve had the chance to Interview Melinda Chevon Ulysses (Mel for short) of Dominican Band To-Orkest Melinda has been nick-named the Rhianna of the French Caribbean.
Zoe: When was the band born and what motivated its birth?
Mel: Ti Orkest was established in December of 2010, following multiple dialogues among family members, friends and co-workers, on starting a group that would impact people's lives. We as aspiring musicians felt passionate in making a difference in our society and the world by extension.
Zoe: Did you all know each other for a while prior to starting the band?
Mel: Many of us in the band are related, or our parents come from the same village. Our island is populated with about 50 thousand inhabitants, and so it's hard to not know, or know of almost everyone.
We have changed members quite a few times, but time shaped the band into this wonderful group of individuals that we currently present. Since the beginning however, the common interest of just making people feel good, has been one of the major factors fueling our inspiration and dedication to the set cause.
Zoe: Can you tell us a little bit about the other members of Ti-Orkest?
Mel: The band comprises of seven members, Creig Henry who is the band manager and live performance sound engineer, is also a drummer and has worked as a musician with Carnival Cruise Lines.
Dexter Ulysses is the bass guitarist and band leader. Dexter also plays keys in his community Church. He has been involved in music for almost 25 years, having been part of one other band before Ti Orkest. He is also actively involved in Spanish Dancing. Dexter is one of the main composers and producers of Ti Orkest's Music.
Carlos Williams is our male vocalist and one of our songwriters. He has worked with Dexter in the previous band as well. Bi-lingual, he writes and sings in English and French Creole. He is also now starting to cater to a career as a solo artist.
Bernett Serrant, and Gerrant Guiste are our Keyboardists. Of totally different playing styles, they compliment each other perfectly during our studio recordings and live performances. Both are also behind the composition and production of the band's music. Gerrant, like Dexter, started off in church. Though he is still actively a member, he works on Cruise ships as a soloist. Bernett is also the one who records and pre-mixes our original compositions.
Melinda Ulysses and Shalina Samuel, our female vocalists are both public figures. They are solo artists besides being in the band, models, partook in the National Queen Beauty Pageant in 2013 and 2014 respectively and have worked with other bands, both in Dominica and overseas. Shalina still performs and records with the "Red Hot Flames" on the island of Antigua and sometimes in the USA, and Melinda performed with two bands when she worked on Cruise ships, and has her own backing band for live performances (of which Dexter is the bassist and Carlos, a back up vocalist) in the French territories where her solo career is exploding. Mel has travelled to Martinique, Guadeloupe, St.Martin, France, Réunion Island, and French Guyana to perform her hit single "Touch Me Remix" now on 10 million YouTube views.
Zoe: Why the name "Ti-Orkest"? What does it mean?
Mel: The band was looking for a description of itself to use as a name, to present to the public. At any given point in time, we are at least nine members strong on a stage, though the core membership stands at seven. A jiving Caribbean orchestra is what we feel like.
Ti Orkest translates to"Little Orchestra" in English. The name was left in our native Creole language. It resonates with our French and English audiences and with the genres of music that we play, inclusive of our original compositions.
Zoe: Whats is the Genre of music you sing? Tell us a bit about your local Dominican genres.
Mel: We are a Caribbean Band for Creole/Island/Caribbean Music lovers. We are mostly known for Cadence Lypso which is native to Dominica. It's usually in the Creole language as well. People who are unfamiliar with the genre, usually mistake it for "Compas" music out of Haiti, which is also performed in Creole. The band won the Cadence-Lypso competition on island two years in a row, in 2015 and 2016. A Local annual competition aimed at promoting the style of music. Cadence Music started in the early 1970's by a popular group from Dominica (Exile One) lead by Gordon Henderson, which paved the way for many other artists like Ophelia Marie and Jeff Joe. Bouyon music is also native and dominant in Dominica. Fast paced and rhythm driven, it's classified widely as "Carnival music" due to the drum pattern, use of conch shells and horns, and chanting manner of lyrical delivery.
We also dabble in Zouk, Kompa, and Kizomba, seeing that we are situated in between two French Caribbean islands. Afrobeat, Soca, Reggae, Dance-hall, Jazz, Hip-hop, House, our local Bouyon and anything that gets our fans and supporters moving.
Zoe: Who are your musical influences?
Mel: Each individual member,, is influenced by different people and bands. We have very different personal styles, however as a band, we are strongly influenced by many groups from our island who helped establish and promote our native music. Just to name a few: Grammacks, Midnight Groovers, and Belles Combo. No doubt, as well as by bands like The Wailers and Steele Pulse, and artists like Stevie Wonder, James Brown and Aretha Franklin. It’s amazing to see where inspiration can come from.
Zoe: How does your attachment to traditions affect your music?
Mel: Tradition plays a significant role in our way of life, though some of it is being lost to outside influence, but it most definitely lives on in the music. Since our music originated from the drums of our African ancestors, we have a strong desire to bring out what was planted within us, and this rings true throughout the region. On the other hand, we share a keen interest in the evolution of various styles of music and fusion of different cultures. Musicians and singers are naturally creative people, and so we see connections that can be made.
Zoe: Do you travel to other countries to perform?
Mel: While we are still awaiting the opportunity to perform overseas as the entire group, the majority of our individual members have ventured all over the world, either with each other or with other groups to perform. We take that as means to share individual experiences to help discover possible markets, and to recant how infectious Dominica’s music is and how it invokes a feeling of joy and excitement.
Zoe: Can you like to tell us about Undercover Wine, your last single?
Mel: Undercover Wine is one of our latest released singles, and the only one with a video. With this song, we wanted to test the waters to determine the next step. We have received great feedback for many different, established people in the music business, and taking their advice and constructive criticism, we are currently working on the next few. It is Groovy Soca fused with Bouyon and Cadence. The song tells a story of two young individuals who like each other, but don’t want to show that to the public. As is tradition in the Caribbean, people casually dance at events, but it often brings about speculation. They embraced the moment by avoiding attention from others. That scenario is depicted in the video which also features the natural beauty of Dominica where the video was shot.
Zoe: How can fans gain access to your music?
Mel: The band's website is Tiorkest.com. There you will find the biography and information about our past, present and future performances. The band's music is also available for viewing and listening, and on special promotions as a free download.
Instagram, and Twitter: @Tiorkest