Calypso and Soca
The Gilded Collection 2: 1990–93
David Rudder (Lypsoland CRO24)
Here is a bittersweet journey through the streets of Sarajevo and Soweto, Los Angeles and Port of Spain to a new world order run by the Ministry of Rhythm where each of these 12 tracks has a file. Party is the key word here, whether political or social. 1990, a chilling musical portrait of history repeating itself, has Rudder begging for proof that life is not controlled simply by fate. The track begins with a single sitar and keeps adding instruments to thicken the sense of conflict. Long Time Band looks back at old-time Trinidad Carnivals, with American jazzman Andy Narell playing an old-time tenor pan. Stiff Waist Man is a parody of love and a re-interpretation of Don Quixote: Rudder’s Stiff Waist Man declares war on the woman who jilts him, in order to preserve his inflated sense of honour. Dus’ in Dey Face revisits the old steelband street battles in celebrating an upset victory at 1992’s Panorama, Trinidad and Tobago’s annual steelband competition, when Exodus — from the east— beat the Port of Spain steelbands against very heavy odds. L.A. Burning and Knock Them Down both offer political commentary; Carnival Ooman (Woman) comments wryly on wife abuse. Caribbean Party is flavoured with Jamaican dance hall, with bubbling old-time calypso horns. A new “discofied” version of Dark Secrets, written for the soundtrack of the movie Wild Orchid, is also included. The title track is Rudder’s surrealistic interpretation of Utopia.
Message to Sundar
Black Stalin (Ice Records 951404)
Leroy Calliste (aka Black Stalin) is held by many calypso connoisseurs to be the Bob Marley of soca. This album shows why. Over the years Stalin has earned a reputation for pointed, constructive social and political commentary. His1994 album was hailed by Rolling Stone magazine as his best yet. This album follows closely on the heels of that success. Stalin’s highly rhythmic music relies heavily on percussion and horn lines, usually provided by ace saxophonist Roy Cape, his close friend. It is fertile musical ground for musician/producer Eddy Grant. Like Barbados’s Gabby and Grynner, Stalin’s music lends itself well to Grant’s “Ringbang” concept, a simple, basic Caribbean rhythm which calypso expert Gordon Rohlehr claims came out of Grant’s experience with many musical influences including the tuk bands of Barbados. Stalin plays with the ringbang rhythm in his tribute to Grant’s musical genius in Ringbang Time. Stalin’s two 1995 Calypso Monarch winners are included on the album: Better Days and Sundar. Together they show Stalin’s genius for interpreting the mood of Trinidadians and offering them the vision and advice they need. In Better Days, sensing popular distaste with endlessly negative reportage, he dissociates himself from the traditional image of the calypsonian as the people’s newspaper to offer hope in the face of despair. He also cleverly bridges the racial gap with a hybrid chutney/soca track, using peppery soca-influenced Indian rhythms to drive home the point that there is no room for ethnic discrimination in music.
Trinidad World Music; De Trini Party
Various artists (Rituals, Trinidad; 2 vols.)
These two CDs are a sampler of the dizzying world of Trinidad and Tobago music: the first focuses mainly on the calypso tradition, the second on the party industry. The veteran calypsonian Pretender features on Trinidad World Music, surrounded by some of the big contemporary names — David Rudder, Shadow, Tambu, Ras Shorty I; the scope is broadened by the inclusion of some pan-jazz fusion (Clive Zanda and Annise Hadeed with Mauby Bach) plus some “world music” from André Tanker and Ella Andell, pan music from Phase II Pan Groove and Tropical Angel Harps, and rapso from Brother Resistance and Homefront. The second album is party-time, soca and all its variations — ragga soca (from General Grant and others), dancehall soca (Daddy Devo), Caribbean Latin Soca (André Tanker), and more rapso from Brother Resistance. Shadow, David Rudder, Colin Lucas, Steve Sealey, Anslem Douglas and Chris “Tambu” Herbert carry the soca banner. If you want a two-album overview of what’s happening in T&T music, here it is.
A Panorama Saga: Tribute to Jit Samaroo
Amoco Renegades (Delos 4026)
This album celebrates one of the most successful partnerships in pan history. Jit Samaroo is a towering arranger in the steelband world — musically towering, that is, since his slight, unassuming figure says little about his talents. Samaroo comes from an Indian family in Lopinot, outside Port of Spain, and was recruited to arrange for the legendary Renegades steel orchestra in 1970, soon after the Amoco Trinidad Oil Company became the band’s sponsor. It was a brave choice — Jit was only 19, and was plunged in at the deep end with one of the country’s oldest and toughest groups. But it paid off. There was a long apprenticeship during which both sides stuck to each other with admirable loyalty. But by 1980, Renegades were clearly a formidable threat in the fierce competition of the annual Panorama, and they won their first title there in 1982 with Jit’s arrangement of Pan Explosion — he has always favoured tunes by Kitchener. Since then, Renegades have won the championship six times more under Jit’s direction. Jit himself is a virtuoso player himself, leader of a small family-based ensemble (the Samaroo Jets), and no mean composer either, in demand especially for competition test pieces. This tribute album features Renegades playing some of his most memorable arrangements: Winston DeVines’s Somebody, plus six Kitchener tunes — Pan Earthquake, Mystery Band, The Bees’ Melody, Iron Man, The Pan In Me, and Pan In A Minor. No pan fan will want to miss this one.
Buju Banton (Loose Cannon 314-524-119-1)
Strange this feeling I’m feeling/But Jah love we will always believe in /I know you may think my faith is in vain/Til Shiloh we’ll chant Rastafari’s name . . . Gangsterdom has at last been laid to rest: all hail the new Buju, prince of sleaze turned prophet. In the words of the man himself: “It’s written in the scriptures what the Lord God requires of this generation, so at some point in time we had to put down all the rubbish and stupidness y’know.” In this latest album, Banton has laid down his arms and taken up the sword of the Spirit. Gone are the calls of the “boom bye bye in a batty bwoy’s head”, to be replaced by pithy sentiments from a man who has discovered his Maker and a greater purpose to life. It’s not really an about-turn, as he maintains: despite his public profession of Rasta, he is still unable to resist a little bedroom banter (Hush Baby Hush, It’s All Over, Only Man). Perhaps Banton is simply showing us that, irrespective of new and deep insights, he is at heart “only man”. But this is basically a good album, diverse and uncompromising. Til I’m Laid to Rest with its haunting African drums and soulful mourning is far removed from the Banton of tracks like Champion and How Could You. Untold Stories is so untypical as to be Marleyesque in both its lyrics and rhythms. No drums or bass in this melancholy piece of music — just a guitar and some congoes. And it’s beautiful, one of Banton’s best. He has even thrown in a love song: “Wanna be loved/not for who you think I am/nor what you want me to be/could you love me for me/real love with no strings attached/I wanna give you my heart/I don’t want to take it back . . . ” If that does not shock you, not much else will.
Free As We Want 2B
Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers (Elektra Records)
Since releasing Jahmekya on the Virgin label, the Melody Makers, in upbeat mood, have switched to Elektra Records to deliver their smoothest album to date. The production is excellent, which suggests that Ziggy is catching on fast as a producer/songwriter/singer. The current argument as to whether reggae should blend with R&B has been answered in the affirmative. This album shows that blending does not have to mean loss of integrity. As a group of young performers, faced with the challenge of getting through to their audience, the Melody Makers understand that successful pop music is mostly a mix of seasoned flavours which reaches the mainstream, while reggae — outside of their father’s music — has yet to find a sustained mainstream presence. The opening track The Power To Move Ya sets the mood — it’s a funky dance-oriented groove with punchy lyrics. The title track and songs like Water and Oil, Hand To Mouth and In the Flow follow suit. The female voices (Sharon, Codella and Erica) have a strong presence: great care has been taken to mix the harmonies effectively, and Ziggy even concedes them a song of their own, Today. Based on how it is handled, more lead work by them could add broader appeal. Stevie Marley continues to bring another dimension to the group with his DJ-ing and his lead on Topsy Turvy, making it one of the best tracks on the album. Ziggy’s treatment of Don’t Go Nowhere shows that he is not only listening to his own inner voices, but understands that the creative artist must continually refine his product.
Missing You Baby
Pam Hall (VP Records)
This album of 16 songs by Pam Hall shows what a first-rate singer she is, at ease with any kind of material. It’s a collection of lovers’ rock, with a mix of originals and cover versions. The cover songs are Jamaicanised rhythmically, but whatever the musical attitude, Hall handles the songs effortlessly. This is possibly her most complete album, and a pleasant surprise is that some of the Jamaican originals like Alton Ellis’s Never Love Again and Larry Marshall’s I Admire You compare favourably with some of the better-known material. This is a sexy, romantic album, down to the sultry photo of the singer on the insert card.
Space & Time
Mystic Revealers (RAS Records)
This traditional roots reggae group is getting better at it, particularly the knack of sounding fresh and musically interesting while finding new ways to deliver a familiar message. Their third album succeeds because Anthony Wilmot is maturing into a convincing writer who is flexible in the themes the group explores. His singing is becoming more self-assured and relaxed, though he needs to work on his range in order to vary the delivery from song to song. The Rastafarian spirituality is stronger than ever; in lyric after lyric, the artists recommit themselves to the ideals they never compromised. The musical accompaniment is tight and professional, with many “names” guesting to add weight. As redemptive times continue to sweep the dancehall, and many of the long-standing groups are in need of a second wind, forward Revealers.
Forever My Love
Freddie McGregor (RAS Records)
Freddie McGregor’s Rastafarian beliefs inspire him to reaffirm his faith in song, and he is very effective at delivering message songs which espouse the simple values for which reggae is celebrated. But as a singer he is at his most penetrating on a good lovers’ rock or soul song, either an original or a cover version. Listen to Sweet Child, or Magic In The Air, which features the next generation, with an able lead by Yeshemabeth. Freddie has also contributed some good message songs: Love Inna Dem Hear?, Pain and Misery, the sweet chant I Thank You Lord, and the cautionary Food Basket. Main Street Studios/Studio 2000, owned and operated by the Browne Brothers, is responsible for some of the best music production on the current Jamaican scene. They ensure that all the songs are tastefully produced and crisply edited.
General Grant (Kisskidee)
General Grant is Trinidad’s answer to Shabba Ranks. He has his own version of dub, known as “binghi” music. In this album he experiments with rap sandwiched between light pop love ballads sung by soca sensation Anslem Douglas. The tracks seem tailored for first-time listeners, but there’s a lot to praise here anyway. Grant offers an attractive alternative to the violence and crudity of much current dub music: he’s brave enough to challenge the “rude boy” image by addressing religious themes. “We don’t need no shotgun,” he sings, “we need words from the Bible.” Grant first made his way into the Billboard charts with Shot Call and later My Chunkalunks, defying the misogyny of the genre by singing pro-women songs. He advocates taking your girl dancing. Grant pounds “the system”, but he offers alternatives. The title track, a defence of his musical identity as a Trinidadian, is a powerful autobiographical piece filled with hope and spirit. There’s more than a basic bassline to these songs: there are good solid rhythm tracks with strong guitar lines and sensational vocals by Anslem Douglas and Natalie York. If you haven’t yet tried rap or dub, this may be the place to start.
Arturo Tappin (SaxRoots)
The title certainly suits this second CD from a top regional jazz and reggae sax man, Arturo Tappin of Barbados. Arturo’s lively mix of guest reggae singers, Jamaican artists Papa San and Mutabaruka, the UK’s Sandra Cross and Barbadian Carol George, helps him breathe new life into such standards as Hello Africa, Kenny G’s Songbird and Light My Fire. Six of the 12 cuts are Tappin originals or collaborations, and they easily hold their own among the old hits. Throughout the album, Arturo’s sax conversations with featured instruments and singers underlines his mastery of his own jazz-and-reggae weave.