Music buzz | Reviews (May/Jun 2024)

This month’s listening picks from the Caribbean — featuring reviews by Nigel Campbell of new music by Bunji Garlin; Romain Virgo; Toni Sancho; and Gary Hector

  • Bunji Garlin: AYL'IAN
  • Romain Virgo_The Gentle Man
  • Everybody Leaves: Toni Sancho
  • Gray Hector: Waitin' Around To Go Viral

Bunji Garlin

Ayl’Ian (Bad Beagle)

Bunji Garlin is a soca music wordsmith who has no equal. The music — relegated almost exclusively to accompanying Caribbean carnivals — gets a major lift when Bunji uses his broad vocabulary and the rhythm of those words to make prosodic magic in a genre that has normalised repetitious exhortations to jump up. He gets high marks rhyming the word “mitochondria” with “conqueror”. Polysyllables work cleverly, riding eighth notes at 130 BPM. Be assured, though, that this album has a compilation of road march and fete favourites from Trinidad Carnival 2024 melding seamlessly with the tempo and heat of a slew of new songs — produced by regional and international producers — that create the possibility of breaking the silo-effect of soca as carnival music. His use of metaphor and similes that make one smile, and impressive descriptive writing (“CLASSIC LIKE”) and narrative writing (“Looking Over”) are what make Bunji one of the best ever.

Romain Virgo

The Gentle Man (VP Records)

The record label describes Romain Virgo as a singer with “one of reggae’s most soul-stirring voices”, and a recording career oeuvre that spans classic reggae to modern innovations. This album captures that whole range adequately. Reggae — at one time considered by some as a circumscribed mono-culture and mono-genre — has grown branches that have critically moved the music and songs to new places (literal and digital). Album opener, “Been There Before”, straddles modern reggae and soul music, signalling that what listeners are in for is an evolution of the sound of Jamaica, as a whole. Virgo is in a revealing mode, singing about relationships (good and bad; past, present and wished-for), celebrating women (a public appreciation to every mother, and Like I won a hundred million / I got a good woman), and reflecting on his life to find teachable moments. Collaboration tracks with Masicka and Patoranking are winners.

Toni Sancho

Everybody Leaves! (Blue Daisy Records) • Single

Tabanca is a hell of a thing. That word describes the jilted feeling one gets after a breakup and — according to Trinidad-born, UK-based singer Toni Sancho — that was the catalyst for a series of songs. This one is the fourth to be released, eventually leading to an EP. Loss and depression are topics that litter the landscape of sad songs (Cross my heart and hope to die / I’d swore by now I’d be alright, but / Everybody leaves). But what counters that down feeling here is a smart melody, and hip nearly minimalist accompaniment that sparkles with harmonies that resolve from minor to major. Sancho has described her music as “heartbreaking, vulnerable and liberating” — a progression that leads to hope. Sadness leads to acknowledgement that not all relationships are eternal. The Guardian (UK) described Sancho’s voice as “unshowy yet fabulously expressive, with a velvet dagger for a tongue”. And that allows her honesty to shine through here, uncluttered.

Gary Hector

Waitin’ Around To Go Viral (self-released) • Single

This new single from the Trinidadian rock ‘n’ roll outlaw precedes his upcoming second solo album Memphis Medicine, and Hector continues mining influence and inspiration from country music styles, and broader Americana genres. This little ditty takes us on a journey of a restless soul, Johnny, who we sense is dissatisfied in his relationship with his partner, Venus. Ennui gives way to defeat as listeners get an elucidation of the emotional arc from the cast of characters he interacts with — disinterest, dismissal, and his ultimate disappointment. An odyssey in four verses, such is the compact nature of country music songcraft, and Hector has it down pat. The trope of the cellphone content virality as a measure of a distorted reality is enlightening, as is his use of droll commentary, simple melody, and a nod to the sonics of southern music without veering into mimicry. Hector’s continued movement into this genre works well here.

Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
The views expressed on this website are those of the the authors and do not reflect those of the Direct Support Grants Programme.