Upbeat (November/December 1998)

New Caribbean Music


Dancing Time

Mac Fingall (Bayfield Records Ltd)

Twelve spunky tunes grace this, Mac’s tenth album. Again his versatility shines through in this self-composed body of nine cuts and three remixes. Mac covers the range of calypso, from traditional kaiso to soca. Backed by a formidable team of Barbadian talent, the album is musically solid and clean. Mac has a habit of tackling difficult and ticklish social topics with merriment and humour: in Jump Around and Party, Mac slaps racism in favour of partying in unity; Fighting Back addresses controversial issues surrounding the West Indies cricket team. We got de Power is a personal favourite, an African tang laced with lyrical truths about the West Indian mindset. One of the more popular songs of the album, No Lovin’ Tonight, addresses fidelity and self-restraint. With lines like “My body says go but my brain says no”, Mac conveys another important social message in a humourously palatable form. As usual, Mac uses his voice to create sounds outside of the realm of speech, to emphasise his zeal for his music. His unique vocalisations are most evident in the party tune Go Home, a popular song crooned in true Mac Fingall style. The remix version shows Mac’s bizarre range of vocalisations and makes for a comical toe-tapping feel too. (RK)

Message From Beyond

John King (CRS Music/Steel Donkey Records)

John King’s latest solo release, Message From Beyond, presents a mix of exciting music, from contemplative calypso to soca with a twist. The 13-cut self-penned LP is John’s eighth solo work and this one certainly meets the high standard of his last album of two years ago, Jegna. The new release shows this Barbadian’s musical versatility, with a tantalising medley of styles and tempos that extend far beyond standard calypso fare. Contradictions has a folksy feel with blues undertones that together make for fascinating listening. Dance offers an intriguing melody line and rhythm. Rock Somebody kicks with its zouk (French island) feel in a hot, swinging rhythm, and Gal Wine fuses calypso with a rock tempo and a nice double-time chant by Ronnie Clarke. While King is known for his witty social commentary, his conscientious lyrics offer a more personal glimpse of this musician. In Song Fuh Me Woman he makes a poignant commentary on women in society and his respect for them. My Prayer not only brings out the true beauty of John’s voice in a lilting, ballad style, but it also conveys a very personal message. John, whose famed Jump and Wave carried his name all the way to the United States and beyond, has not abandoned soca. In fact this CD contains three tempting party tunes; My Time; Wine and go Down and Get on Bad, which has a spirited and contagious tempo. Message From Beyond may well be his best collection to date. (RK)


Peter Was a Fisherman

The 1939 Trinidad Field Recordings of Melville and Frances Herskovits, Vol. 1(Rounder Records)

This is a classic of Caribbean indigenous music, a selection of 34 of the 352 songs recorded by the American anthropologists Melville and Frances Herskovits in Trinidad in 1939. These field recordings were an integral part of the Herskovits’ ground-breaking studies of West African retentions in the Americas, among the first to challenge long held racist attitudes about “barbarous African culture” submitting to the “superior” culture of the white man. Most of the recordings were made in the north-eastern fishing village of Toco, although several were made among the Yoruba community of Laventille on the outskirts of Port of Spain. Among these is the invocation to Shango sung by Orisha master drummer Andrew Beddoe who had a seminal influence on the development of modern Trinidadian music. Previously only available to scholars, this CD presents the spectrum of Trinidad’s Afro-French Creole music to a world audience. There are carnival songs like the melodic We Don’t Want No Rice which made its way to Trinidad via the Bahamas and Barbados; bongo songs sung at wakes; kalindas or stick fighting songs; quadrille and reel dance songs; Belair topical songs; Spiritual Baptist, Yoruba and Orisha religious songs .

Sung in French patois, the popular language of nineteenth century Trinidad, English creole and Yoruba to the accompaniment of drums, qua qua sticks, chac chac (maracas), guitar and cuatro (small four stringed guitar) these songs are a potent reminder of Trinidad’s rich and complex history and of its Orisha links with Brazil, Cuba, Grenada and St Lucia, where this West African spirit and ancestor worship is also practised. (SL)

Reviews by Roxan Kinas and Simon Lee