Musician Lili Forbes can’t shake the Caribbean from her bones. Hailing from St. Maarten, Dutch Antilles, she longs for home where she says rhythm, movement and storytelling comingle in every imaginable way.
For her, that meant waking up every morning to music, whether it was Bob Marley or her mother’s favorite gospel tunes. As an independent artist, it means writing and playing songs that bring the ocean’s whispering waves and world flavors to Tallahassee.
In January, Forbes traveled to the 35th edition of the International Jazz Plaza Festival in Havana, Cuba, with The Common 'Taters Southern Funk Band. Horns and guitars kept a steady triple meter, while Forbes said the crowds — who had a hard time sitting still—jumped to their feet as the music moved them.
The band was looking forward to an upcoming show at The Moon, which had to be cancelled due to spread of the coronavirus.
“I’m looking forward to bringing that life onstage locally,” says Forbes. “When I first hear funk, my feet are already tapping. I love that it has an element of storytelling to it too with a rhythm that just pushes. People should come ready to dance”
The group is comprised of musicians Michael Lewis, Jan DeCosmo, Israel Campbell, Kirk Gavin, Jordan Green, Joel Johnson, Sam Johnson, Aaron Watson, Baba Olusegun “Segun” Williams, as well as Forbes’ husband, pianist Andre Forbes, and twin sister Ilismo Johnson.
Forbes first met Jan DeCosmo through the Cross Cultural Coalition, an organization whose mission is to share Caribbean and Afro-American music and culture. She jumped at the opportunity to perform with the group given their funky style and high energy set. However, she wasn’t always eager to be onstage.
Forbes’ mother encouraged her and her sister to sing by bringing them to church choir rehearsals. They were eventually hooked, memorizing every song and participating in competitions. Eventually, they formed a quintet with a few friends and won a trip to South America. Soon after, she released her first album at age 15.
“We toured the Caribbean for many years after that,” says Forbes. “We won a Caribbean Gospel Music Award for our second album which was a huge accomplishment as a teen.”
Though she has traveled and sung across the U.S. and America, the Bahamas and Trinidad remain her favorite places to perform. The musicians from St. Maarten still influence her style as well. In elementary school she shadowed a steel pan orchestra and she credits her elementary school music educators for encouraging her talents.
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