For many St. Lucian youths who grow up yearning to be musicians, nothing gives them greater pleasure than the thought of devoting their lives totally to doing what they love.
Resentful of the idea of wasting their talent, they’re convinced that there’s more to life than holding down an eight-to-four job and staring at a computer screen. Their ultimate dream is getting discovered by one of the world’s leading record labels, performing at shows before thousands of adoring fans, and becoming rich and famous. Nothing seems to deter them, least of all the views of friends and family warning them against giving up a steady job for what seems like a pipe dream.
O’Neal “O’Jay” Joseph, popularly known as O’Jay, is a young St. Lucian musician who is living his dream and proving that if you want something badly enough and work at it hard enough, ultimately your dreams will come true.
O’Jay – like numerous other Caribbean musicians – has discovered that there are other ways to make a good living from playing music besides becoming a world-famous, super rich musical superstar.
One way is by playing for tourists aboard a cruise ship. An accomplished keyboard player who is passionate about music, O’Jay is also the leader of the four-member band, Protégé, which he put together. They perform on the TUI Discovery cruise line.
With dozens of cruise lines to choose from, many of them expanding their fleets and considering that the Caribbean remains the top destination for cruise ships, there is no shortage of opportunities for talented Caribbean musicians looking to get signed up by one of them.
O’Jay feels quite proud to be part of the TUI Discovery crew. In addition to him and his band being part of the ships’ outstanding cast of performers, he enjoys the distinction of serving as the Musical Director onboard the TUI Discovery. The Musical Director is in charge of the ship’s entire music department, serving as a liaison between the cruise director and all the other musicians. He/she oversees the scheduling of all onboard musical activities. O’Jay is the only person from the Eastern Caribbean to have held this position. Happily married and the father of a three-year-old son, O’Jay looks forward to joining his family in St. Lucia whenever he’s away from the ship.
In a chat with Dazzle Magazine, he raised the curtain on the spectacular entertainment world of the TUI Discovery and its aim of delivering amazing productions and creating an atmosphere of fun and excitement for the guests. He also spoke about his evolution as an artiste and the challenges he has had to overcome in order to get where he is today.
First off, tell us a bit about your background.
O’Jay: I attended the Bocage Combined School, the Leon Hess Comprehensive and thereafter the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College Division of Technical Educations Management Studies where I did business studies. On leaving school I worked at Cable & Wireless
as a customer service representative. During that time I became interested in music. Subsequently, I worked at Home Depot as an accountant. After that I took up music full time.
I started music quite late – when I was 21. I grew up in church and was exposed to lots of gospel music. My family has a musical background. My Dad plays the bass guitar and he’s also a pastor. I used to be just a regular kid playing tennis and taking part in sports. However, I did have an ear for music. I could usually tell when someone was singing off key or the chords were not quite right. But at that time I never really pursued music, in terms of deciding this is what I want to do.
When and how was your band formed?
O’Jay: I started Protégé about three years ago with a group of St. Lucians – Tevin Bailey. Lerris Marius, the drummer and Shawn Lamontagne, the vocalist. I then submitted a proposal to the cruise ship company and we got accepted for the gig. We’re a party band and because of that we have to be as versatile as possible. You can’t just play reggae or calypso, your music has to be more diverse and you have to perform other genres like disco and Latin, among others. As a musician, if you don’t do this you get left behind.
What’s it like working on the cruise ship?
O’Jay: I’m the Musical Director of the theatre onboard the TUI Discovery Cruise Ship owned by Thompson Cruises. I’m the first person from the Caribbean to hold this position. There are two new TUI ships in the fleet of 6 – TUI Discovery 1 and TUI Discovery 2. As Musical Director, I was involved in the launching of both ships which were rebranded during the past two years.
Normally, if we have a show in the theatre we have sound checks to ensure that the tracks and equipment are working properly for all the musicians, and everything goes well during the show. The production manager and I have to be constantly communicating with each other.Afterwards, we have a tech run.That’s when all the dancers and the singers come together. Although it’s not the actual show, it has to feel like it. So any adjustments required have to be made at the tech run. We have two shows during the night. From 8:15 to 9:00 and at 10:15. We do that three times a week. On regular days we have to schedule the bands for regular pool sets and sets at other lounges around the ship. It’s a very easy gig to be honest, not like on other ships.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment to date?
O’Jay: For me it’s being the Musical Director and Band Leader for a multi-million-dollar organization. I think for me, and for my country, that’s a big accomplishment. There’s nothing more satisfying than when the Cruise Director introduces you on stage to
the guests as the MD. You feel good getting that kind of acknowledgement, especially coming from a tiny island in the Caribbean and working with people from the bigger countries, like Jamaica. UK, Russia,Croatia. And sometimes I’m responsible for all these people musically. You learn to respect different cultures because, as much as music is a universal language, every country has its own musical culture. If you’re open, you embrace it and appreciate it for what it is.
When you’re back home in St. Lucia, how involved are you in the local music scene?
O’Jay: Before I became the Musical Director with the TUI cruise line I worked with Teddyson John. We started a band called TJ Project. I helped in the production of some tracks for him as well when he just started. I’m also the current Musical Director for Michael Robinson. I produce and write for him. Living Life, I produced that, and co-wrote it as well. I also work with a bunch of local artistes like Barbra Cadet, Ronald ‘Boo’ Hinkson, Sherwinn ‘Dupes’ Brice. I try to keep in the loop whenever I’m on island.
What would you consider your most memorable experience on stage?
O’Jay: My first mainstage gig with Rob Zi Taylor. He actually gave me my first break as a musician. I assume he saw in me something that others didn’t. I started playing in 2007 and turned professional in 2008. We [SOULFOOD] managed to pull it off and I remember
feeling so important when they called us out onto the stage. That was my most memorable moment. And when I got on that stage, I got hungry for more.
What challenges do young musicians face in St. Lucia?
O’Jay: People assuming that being a musician is not a career. The way the industry is going right now, it’s the easiest way to make fast money legitimately. But it’s a very difficult industry to work in. When I decided I wanted to be a fulltime musician, people said to me,
‘Do you really want to do that? Why would you want to leave a steady job to become a musician? There’s no future in that.’ People assume that when you work in the hotels, especially coming from a Christian background, you’re ‘in the world.’ You know that religious mentality of ignorance – uneducated people making statements they don’t even know [anything about.] So I got a lot of that. And then, of course, you have the attitudes of some of the musicians as well. In the music environment every band that you enter is a different culture and you have to learn to adapt to whichever one that you’re in.
What is your key to success and how do you stay at peak performance?
O’Jay: Self acceptance. Accepting me with all my imperfections and knowing that even though I’m not perfect at what i do, I will do it to the best of my abilities; regardless of what situation I’m in musically. No matter where I go, I know how to represent myself
the best way that I can. So for me the key to success is self acceptance and knowing what you’re worth as a musician and an individual.
What professional advice would you give to aspiring local musicians?
O’Jay: Practice. Practice. Practice. Don’t allow negative energies to deter you from where you want to go or to determine how you see yourself. No matter what field you’re in, as long as you know what you want and you see the way forward, sometimes it’s best that you swim without even putting your head above water. Do so only when you know that you’re close to where you want to be. That way you’re not distracted by anything around you. Just keep focussed on your goal and know what direction you’re swimming, and just go for it. Another thing is don’t just think locally. St Lucia is like a pebble in a huge ocean. Think globally. If you could move the world then you will be surprised how people will recognise you.