San José Suite — Etienne Charles
(Culture Shock Music)
Jazz in the wider Americas is more than improvisation that engages the blues and swing, but an evolving exploration of sounds, rhythms, and cultural tendencies informing the music that is the definition of freedom. San José Suite, Etienne Charles’s sixth album, is a mature contemplation of this Trinidadian trumpeter’s wider encounters with the elements of creole music in the New World. Drawing inspiration from three San José cities in the Americas — in Costa Rica, California, and Trinidad — Charles re-tells the stories and histories of those communities, their people and their commonalities, with jazz that is both rhythmically diverse and harmonically expressive enough to never be clichéd. “Cahuita”, “Boruca”, “Revolt”, and “Speed City” are musical statements of keen observation, celebratory reflection, and musical adroitness. This album is also a signal to the listener that jazz in the twenty-first century is in the hands of a burgeoning trumpet pioneer charting modern directions much like Armstrong, Davis, and Marsalis before him.
Lifted by Love — Samantha Gooden
Praise and worship songs with lyrics that focus on Christian faith, and music that follows modern popular genre trends (pop, R&B, and reggae, in this case), are the focus of contemporary Caribbean gospel music. Samantha Gooden — born in the UK, raised in Jamaica, now living in Barbados — is in a phase of her life where she recognises that her voice is a gift from God, and she wants to freely share that gift with the world, “to reach out.” As such, on her debut five-song EP Lifted By Love, precursor to a full-length album to be released later this year, Gooden relates personal truths and shares testimonies that inspire, that exalt, that spur reflection from a listener willing to listen. She sings: “I am a child of the King / I am a child of the One who made everything,” in a voice that glorifies and honours her faith. Celebrating with her is easy to do.
Queen — Destra
If ever an album title was apt, this is it. Queen, Destra Garcia’s new album, her eleventh, is both deserved and ironic. In an industry where soca accolades are still measured by competition wins instead of concert ticket and album sales, Destra stands out as the most popular female soca artist in the islands and diaspora, without the added marketing push of that ever-elusive title, never having won either Road March or Soca Monarch. This album compilation of recent Trinidad Carnival songs, including her recent hits “Dip and Ride” and “Normal”, also rounds up three duets featuring Jamaicans Peetah Morgan and Tanya Stephens and Trini chutney queen Drupatee Ramgoonai, challenging norms. Racy, ribald, and risqué, the album and the artist continue to push all the right buttons — tight productions, varied tempos and rhythms, sonorous voice — to still keep crowds dancing in a career approaching twenty years, further reinforcing her earned moniker of queen of bacchanal.
Sigui Stima — Levi Silvanie
Levi (pronounced LAY-vee) Silvanie is a Curaçaoan singer-songwriter and one of his country’s most popular artists. His new single “Sigui Stima”, which in Papiamentu loosely translates to “follow love,” is a clarion call for a kind of selflessness that recognises material things alone can’t give satisfaction, but enveloping love in one’s life is necessary: “Smile / Pursue your happiness / Have no fear, don’t wait too late, / ’cause you got one life to live.” Silvanie collaborated with Curaçaoan guitarist Willem Blankenburgh to create this song that sat on a shelf for nearly a decade only to be reborn after a recent tragedy at home. “Music gives me the strength to cope with these things,” Silvanie notes. Floating between EDM, pop, and his native ritmo kombina, and sung in both English and Papiamentu, this tune percolates with a positive message that grooves along to keep it on high rotation in your head and heart.
Reviews by Nigel A. Campbell