Gary Hector (self-released)
On rock-n’-roller Gary Hector’s solo debut album, away from his legendary band jointpop, one hears in the songs the timbres of Mick Jagger and Johnny Cash and the aesthetic spirits of Dylan and Elvis Presley, coalescing to present a standout musical declaration of an independent spirit in an island space that time and again demands much cultural allegiance. The simple juxtaposition of the strum of an acoustic guitar and the twang of a pedal steel guitar — masterfully performed by Nashville ace John Heinrich — as lead instrumental sounds leaves sonic space for lyrics to plot a storyline that acknowledges shortcomings and dreams, and reveals love and regret. A mature self-reckoning of his place in Trinidad and Tobago serves to reinforce Hector’s compact songs with a sense of ironic pathos and a kind of mordant wit that gives the album a feeling of triumph — not the victory often awarded to island émigrés, but a win for staying true. Golden.
Oswald Clerveus from Saint-Martin — the French side of the island — is a hitmaker who croons kompa and zouk incorporating modern R&B and pop that is a fan favourite for many. His latest album, Option, has fifteen tracks sung in both Kwéyòl and English, creating a pleasurable exercise for non-native ears, dancing between lyrics that bring universality to the Caribbean language and music that plays with our idea of modernity. Sensuality drips from songs like “First Night” — “This is only between you and me / No need to hold back / You don’t have to worry / I won’t tell nobody if we do it on the first night.” That sonic aesthetic continues throughout the album, suggesting that the chill vibe is a preferred normal in a locked-down Caribbean. There is an easy familiarity to some of the harmonies and melodies, assuring popular uptake after a first listen. Dancing close is guaranteed.
Jamaica to India
Emiway Bantai and Chris Gayle (Bantai Studio)
We are told that cricket “has always been more than a game in Trinidad.” In the rest of the West Indies, too, for that matter. We know that is also the case in India. That similarity provides a connection for collaboration beyond the boundary. Popular Indian rapper Emiway Bantai has teamed up with Jamaican cricket superstar Chris Gayle to give the world a dancehall-infused jam with hints of Bollywood that is sung in both in English and Hindi. Hedonistic, braggadocious, fun. Who’s complaining? “Remember the days when we never had nothing / Now a three course meals (yeah) steak and mutton (rich).” One gets the sense that the Indian market is a magnet for our cricketers from the Caribbean. DJ Bravo from Trinidad has a hit record there, “Champion”, that could easily be matched by this tune. Maybe Gayle is paving a path for a post-cricket life. Songs as earworms and a vast Indian market are a great place to begin. Six runs!
Mista Savona feat. Beatriz Márquez (Cumbancha)
“Lágrimas Negras” is an iconic Cuban song lamenting a jilted love. It’s been described as the “perfect fusion of the son with the bolero,” and represents a proud cultural heritage. From the forthcoming album Havana Meets Kingston — Part 2, Australian producer Mista Savona has once again — the first time was in 2017 — tapped into the meaningful connections between Jamaica and Cuba to plant the seeds for a new synergy that tingles with the idea of uplifting dub rhythms giving hope to the lyrics of melancholy. Here is a cast of icons: Jamaican drummer and riddim king Sly Dunbar matches Cuban avant-garde jazz bassist Gáston Joya to provide a rhythmic base upon which Beatriz Márquez’s vocals give credence to her repuation as one of the very greats. Sublime solos from pianist Rolando Luna and trumpeter Julito Padrón make this single a welcome sign of another great recorded meeting of island cultures.