Reviews (July/August 2009)

The new music and books that are reflecting the region right now

  • Calypso Rose. Photograph by Andrea De Silva
  • From left, Riad Boochoon, Hans Dieffenthaller, Kees Dieffenthaller and Jon Dieffenthaller from Kes the band. Photograph courtesy Question Mark Entertainment/Eric Curtis
  • Idris Rahman (sax/writer/producer), Johnny Clarke (vocals) and Robin Hopcraft (trumpet/writer/producer) outside their studio. Photograph courtesy Soothsayers
  • Anse la Raye, taken from Saint Lucia: Portrait of an Island © Jenny Palmer. Photograph courtesy Macmillan Caribbean


A piecemeal portrayal

Lisa Allen-Agostini

A mere ten years ago, photography was discussed in terms of shutter speed, aperture, exposure, composition. Today, it’s discussed in terms of pixels, cropping and Photoshop. The art itself has changed, and so it’s no wonder that there is a clear delineation between the photos in the second edition of Jenny Palmer’s picture book Saint Lucia: Portrait of an Island. Without being familiar with the 1996 first edition of the book, one relies on the quality of the reproduction of each photo, and contextual clues in the pictures themselves, to guess whether they were from the first edition of the book or whether they’ve been added in the second one; with some exceptions, however, the grainier the photo, the better it is.

Palmer, a photographer and stylist whose resumé includes work for Vogue, Harpers and Queen, Marie Claire, and the Sunday Times, lives part-time in the Caribbean and part-time in London. She says in her preface that the original photos were shot in a two-week trip, while the new photos were shot on twice-annual visits since 2004 and a six-month stay in 2007.

They are sprinkled with lines from the poetry of Derek Walcott, St Lucia’s Nobel laureate in poetry. Walcott posed for Palmer’s book, as did other St Lucians of note, including the Governor General and the former prime minister. Palmer’s own children star in some of the pictures, sometimes giving the book the feel of a snapshot album rather than an artistic coffee-table book.

There are some stunning photos. One, of Anse la Raye, shows a young boy running past an old shop at a corner. The boy is a blur of speed, the shop a decrepit, weathered wooden structure. It is a photograph that speaks of change, modernity, history, poverty, commerce, youth, all with a single image. On the other hand, there are also photos of gorgeously decorated empty restaurants. What was Palmer’s intention with such shots? They aren’t art, and would fit better into a brochure than a hard-cover picture book. That’s the book’s main challenge: that it vacillates between being an artsy book of serious photography and, well, something else.

Saint Lucia: Portrait of an Island (2nd Edition) Jenny Palmer, with an introduction by John Robert Lee
(Macmillan Caribbean, ISBN: 978-0-230-02226-3, 194pp)



Calypso Rose

Essiba Small

She is known throughout the Caribbean as the Calypso Queen of the World. And after hearing the CD Calypso Rose, anyone would acknowledge the talent of this musical majesty.

The disc opens with “Back to Africa”, in which the wail of the calypso veteran to go back to the land of her ancestors is belly-deep and authentic. We are then taken to Marley-land for the reggae “Calypso Blues” and “Israel by Bus”, the latter of which the Tobago-born singer punctuates with cries of “Jah Rastafari”. Rose offers a pleasurable treatment of the classic “Say a Little Prayer” and you can feel the tropical breeze when the folksy “Underneath the Mango Tree” comes on. Rose also gives her own spin to the classic calypso “Rum and Coca-Cola”.

The overall feel of the CD is warm and very Caribbean.



On in Five

Essiba Small

I wish artistes would consider their listeners more and limit the tracks on their discs to about eight, or a maximum of ten. Current trends point in that direction, but a few Caribbean singers have yet to get the point. On in Five, the latest release from Kes the band, has committed said crime with a 15- track-deep disc. By the time you get to song 15, the disc is no more than musical accompaniment to your daily life rather than musical enjoyment.

But that’s the bad news. The good news is that the disc contains a healthy mix of groovy soca and rock. The group is in a league of its own with this flavourful hybrid.

Impressive tracks in the set include “Thunder”, a melodic jam that peaked early for the band at the 2009 Trinidad Carnival celebrations, “Till the Morning”, and “Right Dey”.

The rock-like “Come a Little Closer” is also here. The song is the theme for the TV soap opera The Reef, in which the band’s leader, singer Kees Dieffenthaller, is an actor. Given his heartthrob status, his followers will also enjoy the song “Stalker (More of Me)”, in which he addresses an obsessed female fan.

On in Five is a great listen. But guys, ten songs is the max next time.

CDs courtesy Cleve’s One Stop Shop. Frederick Street, Port of Spain, Trinidad



One More Reason: Soothsayers Meet the Red Earth Collective

David Katz

One of the more captivating acts to emerge from London’s instrumental underground, Soothsayers are a Brixton-based musical collective that has been injecting some badly-needed new life into Britain’s stagnant music scene over the past few years. They present an invigorating hybrid that melds elements of dub, jazz and Afrobeat to yield an intriguing new form.

As befits their Brixton base, the band’s shifting line-up has always been a multicultural one, with trumpeter Robin Hopcraft and saxophonist Idris Rahman, the group’s founders, making use of mainstays such as Benin-born bassist, Kodjovi Kush, Nigerian percussionist Adesose Wallace, and British guitarists of Jamaican origin, such as Derek Johnson and Alan Weeks, along with the noted jazz keyboardist Zoe Rahman and award-winning vocalist Julia Biel. The band’s first album, Lost City, was deeply rooted in jazz, while the next, Tangled Roots, was heavily weighted towards the Afrobeat pioneered by Fela Kuti.

Because the line-up changes frequently, the group always make a strong impression live, the variations in personnel resulting in perpetual freshness. Soothsayers’ previous studio albums have been rightly well-received, because they are skilled, professional musicians with a great deal of experience between them, and maintaining their own recording facility and record label allows the kind of creative freedom that has sometimes been quashed by established labels. Such elements all work in their favour, resulting in a challenging and unique sound.

As the core of the band has backed reggae greats such as U Roy, Earl Sixteen, Junior Delgado and Rico Rodriguez, it is no surprise that this latest set, One More Reason, sees the group moving more strongly into reggae territory, aided and abetted by high-calibre guest artists from Jamaica’s roots-reggae heyday. Thus, on “Bad Boys”, Johnny Clarke decries the rampant gun crime that currently blights both British and Caribbean cityscapes, while Michael Prophet cries “Tears of Sorrow” for a similar reason, and Linval Thompson’s distinctive tenor graces the symbolic “History”. There are also fine efforts from London-based vocalists of Caribbean origin, such as Bob Skeng’s moving “Mama Said”, while the upbeat groove of “Irie” features toaster Michie One and her sister Mellow Baku.

There are also fine moments without any guests, such as the stunning “We Better Learn”, an atmospheric number that features fine horn interplay between Hopcraft and Rahman, while the brightly optimistic “Music” reworks the melody of Johnny Clarke’s 1970s anthem “Peace And Love in the Ghetto” to fine effect, and “River Effra” turns the classic reggae instrumental “Rockfort Rock” into their own. The whole thing is given an echo-heavy mix by Nick Manasseh, one of the biggest names on the UK dub scene, and there is a fine bonus dub courtesy of the Guyanese mix-master Mad Professor, one of the true pioneers of British dub.

One More Reason succeeds because the quality of the musicianship is consistently high, and the guest appearances woven in with care. It represents the best of London’s diverse musical possibilities, and comes highly recommended.

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