The Mighty Dow, aka Isidore York, has given the island many gifts. His obvious talent and genius have won him many awards, including Premio Lo Nuestro. One of his best loved creations is the St. Maarten Rhumba. The infectiously happy party song is irresistible and feels like it has always been there, as if it sprung up from the soil fully formed.
“Rhumba, rhumba, St. Maarten rhumba rhumba hey he-hey! Rhumba, rhumba, St. Maarten rhumba rhumba hey he-hey! Shake it down, shake it down, and shake it down to the ground!”
When Dow dreamed up the melody, rhythm and lyrics that we know as the St. Maarten Rhumba, his musical expertise reached a new level, it became magic. Instantly the tune became an anthem for the island’s culture and a popular tune around the world.
St. Maarten Rhumba was first recorded in the 1980s and quickly became an international hit. It has been recorded by Puerto Rican signer Wilkins and Jose Louis Rodriquez, the Venezuelan singer known as “El Puma.” This is how the song was promoted for the Latin Pop Market, and it had good success back a couple of decades ago.
Since then, it has continued to be played and up to now the song has evolved from a contemporary Caribbean hit to what is now essentially the unofficial Folkloric Dance Song of the island. This is the opinion of Clara Reyes, who choreographed dance moves to accompany the song for a music video back in the 80s and has also incorporated the dance into many shows performed at National Institute of the Arts (NIA) throughout the years.
Reyes points out that the St. Maarten Rhumba is not a classic Latin Rumba, but is a fusion of the Technical Cuban Rumba with influences from Soca, Salsa, and Calypso. The choreography she designed didn’t lend itself easily to a vocabulary, because the music was essentially a hybrid of styles. Even the lyrics of the song switch from English to Spanish to ‘S’maarten English’ and back. So she let the music organically suggest the choreography and also she watched how Dow moved when he played the music. “I saw he would take these little side steps, like a very staccato shuffle, to the right and then to the left.” That became the iconic step of the dance, along with a switching hip-shake pivoting on one foot around in a half circle.”
“This is time for all o’ we to groove to the party! So turn up the base so we can wind up our waist!”
“This is one of the first songs that celebrated St. Maarten, not as a political anthem or patriotic tribute but as a joyful, youthful, unique and fun song.” The St. Maarten Rhumba is a song much loved, easily learned, and irresistible to join in.
Want to learn to dance the St. Maarten Rhumba? Check out the new video with NIA students demonstrating the steps. How awesome would it be to have the whole island taking part in this choreography? Make it so!
Let there be dance! Let there be music! Let’s see couples, young and old, moving to the happy beat. “Baile! Baile-baile!”