Music buzz | Reviews (Jul/Aug 2024)

This month’s listening picks from the Caribbean — featuring reviews by Nigel Campbell of new music by Monty Alexander; Etienne Charles; John Sqweird; and Rai Hana

  • D-Day — Monty Alexander
  • Etienne Charles, Creole Orchestra feat. René Marie
  • Beautiful Dream — John Skweird
  • Love Me — Rai Hana

Monty Alexander

D-Day! (Peewee!)

One could argue that, when making new music, an artist of legendary Jamaican jazz pianist Monty Alexander’s calibre — with more than 70 albums over a six decade career — is “making events, not just records”. A grander vision than a collection of songs, a thematic story woven into a sequence, makes D-Day brilliantly showcases the grandeur of Commander Alexander. The 80th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, D-Day (6 June), was also Alexander’s 80th birthday. Coincidence allows for a musical celebration that takes the listener on a sonic journey of moods, from pre-war France to “Aggression”, to a contemplation in the midst of war (“Oh Why”), and the subsequent “Restoration” of a nation with the celebration of victory and the joy of peace. Spoken by Alexander as a call for peace, Bob Marley’s classic reggae transcription of Haile Selassie’s 1963 UN speech, “War”, bookends this epic tribute to the idea of war and peace.

Etienne Charles

Creole Orchestra (Culture Shock Records)

The history of Creole big bands in the Caribbean harkens back to a golden age in the French Antilles before WWII, and a post-war, counter-evolution in the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking islands. Early island migrants saw success in pre-war orchestras in the UK. Trinidadian Etienne brings a new recognition of the Creole aesthetic to jazz music and calypso in his big band arrangements. The blend of trumpet, trombone and saxes is angular, yet the rhythm never escapes into any academic dissonance. The music on this album — a blend of jazz song, swing and calypso, enhanced in a few cases by the sublime voice of Grammy nominee René Marie — swings with a tempo that never accelerates beyond the danceable human heartbeat. The US footprint in the Caribbean, enhanced by the presence of naval bases during the war, had an impact that resonates in music heard here. Charles nobly captures that ethos, returning the gaze magnificently.

John Sqweird

Beautiful Dream (Self-released) • Single

Soul music is back in vogue. John Sqweird — formerly John John, get it? — has penned a heartfelt expression of love and yearning, a powerful serenade to a love out of his reach. “Beautiful Dream” continues his lyrical exploration of metaphor and allegory — often seen in his previous work going back to 2013 — to mine emotions and find another path for Caribbean romance from the male perspective. A series of descending chord couplets define the music and lay a bed for lyrics that, in their simplicity, deliver a message of desire without being overtly sensual. I wish I can fall, Asleep for so long / You wake me up, My dead heart / This is a nightmare, Wish you were right there / So I can wake up [to] my Beautiful Dream. Soul music is — or should be, at least — internal and cerebral, not external and carnal. The contrast of verse and chorus, calm and majestic, with touches of hip-hop’s essence and modern soul music’s vocal vulnerability, make this song soar.

Rai Hana

Love Me (Self-released) • Single

Trinidadian rocker Rai Hana describes her new single, “Love Me”, as an “energetic, vibrant, and love driven pop punk/pop rock song”. It is all of that and more. Pop music that does not irritate and echoes obvious influences is an easy sell in the Caribbean, and here Rai delivers a ditty that has a hint of “sin” written all over it, but bathes it in a familiar sheen that camouflages what’s inside. That is good songcraft: subtle yet obvious lyrics that don’t whack the listener over the head. The singer is in love and needs it … now! The current popularity of this song style — delivered à la Olivia Rodrigo, and by a slew of former Disney teen stars turned pop princesses — was perfect to piggyback on. The modern music business demands a kind of familiarity before it seeks any uniqueness, so Rai Hana is on course for a win if all her marketing ideas are in place: tropical songbird, familiar tropes, sly singable lyrics on a catchy beat. Yup, that works!

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.