CD Reviews (November/December 2011)

The new music that is reflecting the region right now



Etienne Charles

He may call America home, but no one can accuse trumpeter Etienne Charles of running away from his roots in Trinidad & Tobago. In fact, the 28-year old musician embraces those roots, and takes pleasure in giving old kaiso classics new life via a musical mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Born in Trinidad, Charles made his debut in 2006 with the album Culture Shock. Since then he has cleverly incorporated kaiso (calypso) music into his jazz arrangements and has been refreshingly consistent.

The term “kaiso” originated in Nigeria, and literally means “go on”, “continue” or “play on”, as Caribbean audiences have been known to use it.

Charles’s latest work, this third album, features cameos from award-winning musician Ralph McDonald (known best for writing Grover Washington’s “Just the Two of Us”), Jamaican jazz musician Monty Alexander on piano, and calypsonian Lord Superior on vocals and guitar.

The album will be nostalgic for the older heads, since it contains well-known songs like “Congo Barra” (Netty Netty) by Roaring Lion, “J’Ouvert Barrio”, and Kitchener’s “Margie”. But it is Charles’s unapologetic jazzy setting that will win these oldies a new fanbase.

Listeners will love the lush orchestral arrangement of “Margie” and Sparrow’s “Rose”.

This disc is a keeper.

Essiba Small 



The Creole Choir of Cuba

Well, they’re no Buena Vista Social Club, so if that’s the sound you’re expecting from the Creole Choir of Cuba, then think again.

Instead, the group known in Cuba as the desandann (descendants) pays homage in song and sound to their Haitian ancestors, who migrated to Cuba in the nineteenth century and took their acapella vocal tradition with them. The Creole choir features six women and four men between the ages of 27 and 61, all from Camaguey in central Cuba.

Instrumentation here is minimal, but the songs don’t suffer for the lack of it. Voices are full, the women’s anchored by the bass of the men. Harmonies are tight and the delivery honest and soulful, at times soaring in defiance or triumph (as heard on “Edem Chante” and “Chen Nan Ren”) and at other times wailing in despair (as on “Maroule” and “Se Lavi”).

Impressive tracks include “Tande-La”, the title track, which translates to “Listen”; “Lumane Casimir”; and “Dulce Embelezo”, a romantic song that speaks to the possibilities and illusions symbolised by a tempting kiss. Even if you’re unfamiliar with Kweyol, the language in which the choir sings, it won’t be lost on you that this is in fact a love song.

The group has just undertaken its first major US tour, and this CD has been garnering great reviews across Europe.

Essiba Small 


The Darker Side of Me

Nigel Ferreira

The first time I saw Nigel Ferreira, singer-songwriter of this 13-song classic-rock debut CD, The Darker Side of Me, he had just tossed his long, wet hair halfway down his back. He looked, to my 15-year-old eyes, not like your average Trini white boy swimming at Pigeon Point, Tobago, but like my then musical idol, the creator of shock rock, Alice Cooper; and I told him so. “That,” he said, “is the nicest thing anyone ever said to me.”

Forty years later, still rocking out as a grandfather (the CD is dedicated to his granddaughter), my pardner Nigel’s debut CD stands up with or against any of the rock music I grew up on (except the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix – none of which it sounds like). Many of these songs could have come off or got on to any album by Yes or Genesis, and several by Journey.

The music is played by Trinidad’s most experienced rockers (Arthur Reid and Gerard “Jiggs” Edghill on drums, guitars by the amazing Peter Shim, the late Andre Tanker’s brother, and others, including Joey Ng Wai, Scott Johnston, Dion Howe and Neil Payne) but it is the songs that matter. The man who was delighted to be mistaken for Alice Cooper is bold enough – and, truth be told, also old enough – to put “out there”, for all to respond to, heartfelt songs that, occasionally, include lyrics like, “I’m white and play rock and roll/ Like it or not, I’m Trini, just like you/ I hate soca/ Because of you”. There is likely to be comment.

Before the music can be responded to, though, it deserves to be listened to, perhaps following the advice on the back cover, “It is recommended that when playing this CD…..PLAY IT LOUD!!!!!!!”

BC Pires