New music from the Caribbean (July/August 2002)

A roundup of new CDs from around the Caribbean

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A Thread of Hope

Chalkdust (Juba)

Chalkdust (real name: Hollis Liverpool, Ph.D.) and Black Stalin (real name: Leroy Calliste, no Ph.D. except in the University of Black Man Music) are currently tied at five Calypso Monarch crowns each. No one has ever won more. Of course Chalkie would be the undisputed champ if he’d won the 2002 Dimanche Gras show — which he should have won, and would have won, if not for Sugar Aloes. This gets a little complicated: Sugar might have nailed at least one, and maybe two Monarch victories during the UNC era, if not for his relentless teasing of PM Basdeo Panday and his wife Oma. This year, with Sugar’s beloved PNM party (sort of) back in power, it was a given that he would win, even though his tunes this year were not his best. In any case, Chalkie came with two classic calypsos: From Naipaul With Shame and Ah Lost Roy. Both can be found on this excellent collection, which is Chalkie’s best in years. Kaiso! (MG)




Brother Valentino, the author of classics like Life Is A Stage, Barking Dogs, and Stay Up Zimbabwe, has been a master calypsonian since the 70s — one who’s been consistently under-rated by judges who may have been frightened by his radical politics and dialectical analysis. In fact, one of the most inexplicable disconnections of the 2002 Dimanche Gras show was the absence of Valentino’s brilliant composition Who’s Who In Calypso, which challenged a system that allows singers who buy calypsos to compete with calypsonians (like Valentino) who not only sing calypsos but compose them too. This CD, a splendid collection of original calypsos caught live in the tents, came out too soon to include Who’s Who, but it offers an impressive survey of Valentino’s tent songs from 1987 to 2000, including his 1998 masterwork Radio, with its heartbreaking line: “We lost in we own masquerade.” This is an essential collection. (MG)


Under My Spell

Shurwayne Winchester (SW-CD001)

If you were on the street for 2002 Carnival you will surely remember hearing a tune that started with a habit-forming hook, a bebop scat that went, “Don’t-baby-baby ba-baby, don’t-baby-baby ba-baby,” before swinging into an easy-rocking dance number called Take Your Time. That was singer-songwriter Shurwayne Winchester, and even if none of the other songs on Under My Spell come close to that level of excellence, this CD is a pleasant collection of dance grooves and musical celebrations. (MG)


Strictly Soca 7

Various Artists (JWCM130CD)

For several years there’s been an informal battle of the carnival collections between Crosby’s (the famous record store in St James, immortalised in Bally’s calypso line, “If I sing on Robbie do you stop by Crosby?”), and the Rituals record label. This year Rituals was a bit late getting copies of its Caribbean Party Rhythms 8 on the street, which gave the race to Crosby’s Strictly Soca collection. Crosby’s might have won anyway, given this powerhouse anthology featuring Preacher’s Dulahin, Blackie’s risqué Wark Easy, Strongy’s amiable addition to the long hit parade in appreciation of women’s bottoms, Bum Bum Party, Oscar B’s irresistible, ragga-soca Maccoing, and DeFosto’s panyard hit Firestorm. The other 13 tracks range from tedious to amusing, but even the least amusing will remind you what a great time you had (or could have had) at Trinidad Carnival 2002. (MG)



Echoes of Praise

Arima Seventh-Day Adventist Steel Orchestra (Sanch, CD 0105)

Gospel on steel — why not? ASDASO offers 14 competently-performed renderings of sacred and religious standards, including Joyful, Joyful (Ode to Joy), Amazing Grace, the Hallelujah Chorus, and How Great Thou Art. A nice addition to the music library of any Christian pan fan, this recording could also provide good background for a wedding. (GP)



Hardcore Dancehall

Various Artists (Victory World, VR 171)

Like it or not, this is the voice of Jamaica’s urban ghettos — feminists, pacifists, anti-drugs activists and the generally faint-of-heart, beware. Maybe I’m jaded, or have particular expectations of the dancehall form (let’s just say it’s hardly the place I’d look for moral guidance), but for all the touted hard-coreness of this compilation, I didn’t find the material that much rawer than some of the stuff played regularly on the radio (at least on Trinidad’s urban-format stations). With 15 tracks by the likes of Cutty Ranks, Red Rat, Elephant Man and Merciless. (GP)



Calle 54 [Soundtrack]

Various Artists (Blue Note, 32000 )

A friend of mine suggested that Calle 54, Spanish director Fernando Trueba’s loving but awkward cinematic tribute to Latin jazz, might have been more aptly titled Saved By The Music. Well, here are the 12 musical moments that were indeed the film’s salvation and great delight. Calle isn’t of course a survey of every single tendency in Latin jazz, but it’s a pretty good representation nonetheless. A wide spectrum of styles is presented — from Afro-Cuban to the not-commonly-considered flamenco, brilliantly interpreted by Spanish jazzman Chano Dominguez — performed by some of the biggest names in the business, including epic numbers from pantheon-dwellers like the late, great Tito Puente, Gato Barbieri, Chico O’Farrill, Bebo and Chucho Valdés, and Paquito D’Rivera. Artists such as Brazilian pianist Eliane Elias and Dominican pianist Michel Camilo, major figures in their own right, seem like lesser lights in this illustrious company. Recorded at Sony’s state-of-the-art studios, the sound quality on this album is breathtaking. (GP)



Se Pa Pou Dat

Alan Cavé

Alan Cavé, front man for the popular Haitian band Zin and one of the icons of Haitian music’s nouvelle generation, serves up a solo debut filled with smooth grooves. Seamlessly blending Haitian compas, zouk and R&B, with some merengue thrown in for good measure, Cavé croons silkily in Creole, French and English (often mixing lingoes over the course of one song for cross-market appeal). The splendidly melancholy title track, a phenomenal success throughout the French Caribbean, features a tender troubadour-style acoustic guitar, and I did prefer hearing Cavé’s voice without the overdubbing some French Caribbean music producers can’t seem to live without. Among the album’s 13 numbers are four remixes, all of which prove to be genuinely enlightening re-interpretations, including a more upbeat version of the title track. All in all, a more than promising solo release from one of Haiti’s acknowledged young stars. (GP)


Bimini Nights

Nathaniel Saunders (Victory World, VR168)

Banjo-strumming Bahamian folk treasure Nathaniel Saunders was 89 when he and a bunch of grizzled cohorts got together at his bar in Bimini for this recording, and he has the vocal chords and the corresponding diction and voice control of a near-nonagenarian (he sounds at times like a very drunk Jimmy Buffett). The appeal of this CD, therefore, is likely to be fairly limited. Collectors of folk music (some of these songs are said to be over 70 years old) and ethnography buffs will probably be quite tickled; the average listener looking for something to slip into the car CD player will very possibly feel gypped. It’s a shame, however, that we can’t understand the lyrics too well, since the songs do appear to recount interesting local anecdotes, including one (entitled Big Fat Slob) about Ernest Hemingway, who frequented the little Bahamian out-island in his day. (According to the liner notes, Mr Saunders was Papa H’s fishing guide, and also contributed “key sections” to The Old Man and the Sea, which seems a bit less likely.) Apparently there’s also a DVD version of this recording with interviews, Bimini info and the like: with visuals attached, one can imagine this becoming a far more interesting proposition with a much wider appeal. (GP)


Greatest Hitz

Maestro (Charlie’s SCR IO15)

There was a brief moment in the 70s when soca reached a peak of perfection, with tight horn charts, clever arrangements, great lyrics, and that driving, high-ringing iron beating sweet in the rhythm section. This awesome collection of hits by calypsonian Maestro captures that era with 14 marvellous tracks. Some are highly produced studio performances, like the charming Bionic Man, in which our hero’s greatest boast after being reinvented as half-man, half-machine is that “No woman would dare tell me ah foolin’.” Others, like Mr Trinidadian, are brilliant political commentaries captured live in the tent. This CD makes a strong case for Maestro as a vastly under-appreciated treasure. It may also induce serious nostalgia for those great, early soca tunes that are starting to sound almost as primeval as the Trinidadian string bands of the 1920s. (MG)


Trinidadian pop vocalist Tricia Lee Kelshall (formerly of Second Imij) has been doing her thing in the UK for the past couple of years. This past March she performed the lead vocal on Mindcircus, an atmospheric dance track by Way Out West, a duo out of Bristol, the birthplace of trip-hop and the city that spawned Portishead and Massive Attack. According to the reviews, the track is the standout on WOW’s album Intensify; the sheaf of promo accompanying the single includes reviews which call Tricia Lee’s vocals “irresistible”, “delicious”, and “beautifully done with power and poise”. One writer went as far as to say that “the emotion in her voice will melt the strongest of hearts”. But the most colourful comment comes from a reviewer in the clubbing magazine mixmag, who compared the song to a Wonderbra: “it shimmers,” says reviewer PF, “and it uplifts.” (GP)


Reviews by Michael Goodwin and Georgia Popplewell. Music editor: Georgia Popplewell


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