OISTINS, Barbados – The fish are frying, the local Banks beer is flowing and an early Saturday-night crowd at Oistins' fish-market-cum-street-party is clapping enthusiastically. Oscar Dion, the brother of Canadian chanteuse Celine Dion, is about to take the stage. At least that's what the wisecracking DJ in charge of the karaoke machine would have us believe.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he announces as the first notes of the love theme from the movie Titanic float across the warm evening air, "just back from visitin' sister Celine in Las Vegas, it's Oscar Dion."
A tall fellow with nut-brown skin, curly grey hair and a slight lean that suggests he's enjoyed a glass of rum or three lurches for the microphone and begins a fantastically screeching rendition of "My Heart Will Go On." The crowd hoots and claps. The music builds and Oscar reaches—unsuccessfully—for the high notes. A six-year-old girl with cornrow braids sitting beside me at one of the market's long white picnic tables sticks her fingers in her ears.
For a fun night of hanging with the locals, nothing beats Friday or Saturday at Oistins (pronounced "Oye-stins") seaside fish market in the parish of Christ Church on the south coast of this eastern Caribbean island.
By day, Oistins is a bustling harbour and market where local fishermen unload their catches and sit in the shade repairing their nets. On weekend nights the market is transformed into the island's best down-home party scene.
Locals and tourists come together (the split is about 80/20) to enjoy heaping plates of traditional Bajan fare prepared at beachside stalls, to drink, to shop for household goods and local crafts, and to dance. And dance we do, to a mix of soca (a blend of soul and calypso), reggae, country and popular music.
When our stomachs grumble, we wander through rows of stalls selling flying fish, tuna, marlin, chicken, macaroni pie, potatoes, creole breadfruit, peas and rice. We spy eight people waiting to order at Mo's Grill & Bajan Cooking—a sign that this stand is a good bet—and so join the line.
Mo (Maureen) is working the grill and we chat as she dips fish and potatoes in an olive oil, garlic and ginger marinade, and puts them on the cooking surface. "Been cooking here eight years," she tells me. "No better place."
Over the course of the night a steady stream of the good, the bad and the ugly of amateur singers (local and tourists) entertain us. Just before the karaoke machine is turned off and the dance music turned up, the DJ introduces one last singer, Kunta Kinte.
If the name sounds familiar, Kinte was the lead character in Arthur Hailey's epic novel and television series from the 1970s, Roots. The singer does an impressive job of handling both the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers parts of the duet "Islands in the Stream." When he belts out the line about feeling no pain, the crowd cheers. I get the distinct impression he's not the only one.