It was 1:30 a.m. on a Saturday night. The competition started at 9:45 p.m. and the judges at the Virgin Islands Idol had already seen 19 competitors vying for the finals. The crowd at Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School was restless.
And then entered Derek Tavernier and Salvation Soundz.
Tavernier, a 22-year-old singer, songwriter, musician and aspiring rapper, and Salvation Soundz, a live band, performed “I’m Free,” a song Tavernier dedicated to his late wife who passed three weeks before the July 20 performance.
The crowd gave them a standing ovation, two judges gave them a perfect score and Reichhold Center for the Arts director Nissa Copemann vowed to find a way for the band to perform at the Reichhold Center this upcoming season. The group is on their way to the grand finale on Aug. 24.
“I enjoyed that from top to bottom,” said V.I. Idol judge Mike Love. “The music, the singers, the band was on point. Derek was amazing.”
Tavernier and the eight-piece band Salvation Soundz are members of the larger entertainment collective known as Salvation Soundz Ministry. The group, which was founded by Heath “DJ Heat” George, includes rappers, reggae artists, singers, musicians, DJs, photographers and graphic artists.
George hopes Salvation Soundz can use this momentum to win the V.I. Idol competition as well as increase the visibility of their hip-hop-influenced gospel sound.
Tavernier, who is promoting his own gospel graphic designs, is using this platform to speak about his faith and how it brought him through recent tragedy.
“We want to change the genre of gospel music. Make it interesting for young people,” said Samuel “Sam I Am” Williams, a musician who plays the piano, keyboards and bass while also DJing. “We want to teach the youth in St. Thomas through music they actually like instead of traditional type of music.”
Tavernier and Salvation Soundz are teaming up again to perform at the “Jesus Party V.I.” Aug. 30 at Kingdom Life International Christian Center. Tickets are $5 for kids under 12, $15 for adults for prepaid tickets and $20 for tickets the day of the event. Performers include Tavernier, Mr. Lynx, Owen Ewen, DJ Heat, Muzikman, Church Boy and Mosiac with music by Williams.
Tavernier’s late wife Eligia is the inspiration behind “I’m Free.” She died July 1 from complications from leukemia among other things, Tavernier said. Before she passed, she had a stroke and was paralyzed on the left side of her body. Tavernier said she was also battling spinal problems and an infection. Despite her condition, she implored Tavernier to pursue his dream.
“I lost my wife. But God is helping me through that. What Christ did for me is what he could do for you,” said Tavernier, who also plays bass, drums and the keyboards. “The song is an encouragement to not take life for granted. It’s also to acknowledge to my wife like, ‘Hey babe I got the message.’”
Eligia and Tavernier were together for three years and married for 17 months, he said, adding that their relationship began as a “friends with benefits” arrangement but progressed to something deeper. She was also the assistant secretary for Salvation Soundz.
“She brought me to Christ,” Tavernier said. “She told me you can’t keep playing bass, sleeping around, singing about Christ. Either stop singing or stop sleeping.”
Tavernier is also the main artist behind Kingdom Takeover, which uses media marketing and graphic designs to spread a positive message with a contemporary edge.
Williams and Tavernier encourage Christians to choose a relationship with Christ over traditional rules and stagnant religious dogma. Tavernier wants his music and his art to reach the “guys on the block.” Salvation Soundz’ recent promotional material features Tavernier’s graphics.
“It’s all about having a relationship with Christ instead of saying people can’t wear that or shouldn’t say that,” Tavernier said.
Salvation Soundz Ministry’s goal is to lead young people to embrace the path God has set out for them through example. Williams said this is more important than the thrill of playing the gig.
“Basically we want to change people’s minds. People know Christianity is a religion but they think it means to follow rules and do what your pastor says,” Williams said. “Our message is: It’s not about rules or tradition but what’s in your heart.”
Tavernier said his style is a mix of hip-hop, contemporary R&B, dancehall and reggae. He attributes his dancehall and reggae influences to his upbringing in Dominica. He was born in Roseau but grew up in Soufrière. He also spent time in Antigua.
Tavernier said it was his idea to sign up for V.I. Idol and he asked Salvation Soundz to accompany him. Tavernier said it took 30 minutes to write the song. He collaborated with Williams and members of the band to create the music behind it.
“You can imagine what the finals will be like when we finally have time to practice,” George said.
Tavernier said he’s been playing with the band since December but he’s known individual members of the group for three years. Tavernier attends Living Hope Cathedral where he also performs.
George said the band features eight people although the group collaborates with other members of the collective frequently. The larger group as a whole features 23 individual members, George said. The ministry’s mission is to “create social opportunities and empower young people through music while embracing the path that God has set in place for them.”
The ministry is based in gospel music but with a contemporary and hard-hitting edge that includes dancehall, reggae, soca and hip-hop influences. This is similar to George’s radio show which he hosts every Sunday on WVJZ 105 Jamz from 5 to 9 p.m.
George’s show is primarily a gospel show although not “a traditional one,” he said. George has been with the radio station for a couple years but he’s only had the show for six months.
“We don’t come to preach but share a positive message,” George said. “It’s better than kill-this-kill-that-gunshot.”
The group recently performed at a youth rally at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School. Tavernier and Muzikman will be performing Aug. 16 at Kingdom Life International Christian Center. The event starts at 6:30 p.m.
Salvation Soundz Ministry includes Tavernier,Williams, Keithroy “Muzikman” George, Julian “Church Boy” Jackson Jr., Elisha Turnbull, David Turnbull, Alvin “Al Smilez” Nisbett, Cleon Otto, Lydia Williams, Gregory Greaux, Miguel Quirindongo, Merle Fenton, Kyla Halliday, David Gooden, Sandie Hilton, Hubert Johnson, Laurika Jude, Aquila Dorsey, Jermima Carbon and Andrea Bridgewater-McCarthy.
The band includes David and Elisha “ET” Turnbull on drums, Williams on the keyboards, Nisbett on second keyboards, Tavernier on vocals, and backup singers Fenton, Hilton and Halliday. Hilton was unable to attend the July 20 performance.
The ministry formed Nov. 20, 2012, and in January the group started performing at events at different schools and churches. George estimates the group has performed at more than 30 churches and schools, including First Wesleyan Holiness Church, Church of God of Prophecy, Charlotte Amalie High School, BCB, Joseph Gomez Elementary School and Gladys Abraham Elementary School.
“It’s been a blessing. It’s been amazing,” George said. “We plan to go to greater heights in Jesus’ name.”