Thursday, 8 March 2018

Let the truth be told: How Shorty deceived the status quo to create Sokah.

Garfield Blackman
(Photo Winston Peters)
He confessed that he thought he was going mad.
What he did not know at the time was that it would be his next musical step.
Going down by “the line” in Marabella for a sea bath, sometimes three times day, was the meditation that brought Jamoo the musical upgrade to Sokah which he invented  and for which he lost many friends along the way. Africans and Indians alike chastised him for blending their rhythms.
And while he  seeded 14 children with Claudette time has proven the late Garfield Blackman, Ras Shorty I, gave an entire nation a formula for love and unity which was largely ignored.
“What they condemn me for is what they are using now,” he said, three years before he died.
 With a grieving heart, just a few years  after Sokah descended, by and large, into vulgarity he admitted that he felt like he was a voice in the wilderness when  he changed the formula, again.
 “The hardest part of my life was the transition and the way people dealt with me and I had to maintain my integrity. But I am doing something, regardless of what anybody says about me I am pressing on because I am guided,” he said in an interview which I recorded on a cassette in 1997 and which  I have transcribed simply to bring the truth.
Herein lies the unedited transcript in which Blackman, who died  three years  later on July 12th 2000, gives in details the raw truth about that woman Indrani, how he beat a charge of indecency for The Art of Making Love, how he was forced to deceive the status quo to make the Dougla rhythms  to create a sound for a people for all time.
In between there is the story of how  Trinidad and Tobago’s  iconic songbirds Ella Andall and Carol Addison came into the spotlight and  the  subtle changes from Dholak to Tabla that made the  Jamoo music.
And he speaks about what grieves his heart.

Making a Dougla in the 70's.

 It was  early in the 70’s in Trinidad and Tobago when  there was an undercurrent of  uniting the two major races politically. A Trinidadian  of African descent growing up in Lengua, Barrackpore, Garfield Blackman was witness to the real deal in his daily life. It became his musical mission  and he was pushed forward when it seemed, in those days that calypso was dying and reggae music was on the rise.
  “Someone told me “people like you and Joey Lewis should be able to bring something together to touch people. To make calypso come alive.
  “I was angry and I left there with that anger and I went home in search of something and then I started to put things together and this is how I came up with the Indian and the African rhythms, with Indrani in 1972.
 “The idea is to unite Indians and Africans. It was first an idea. How could I do that? 
  “Let me put Indian music and African music together, make a Dougla rhythm. 
  “I start with the Dholak and the calypso rhythm.  “The Dholak has a kind of downbeat. 

The Dholak

Calypso in those days was not so much down.“ Calypso in those days wasn’t the kind of music that you could sing a love song. And I, in my youth  had a desire to be able to sing a love song that the young people could be a part of. So it was the combination of both.Unite the Indians and the Africans with the music, make a Dougla rhythm and make a rhythm that the youths could be a part of. 

  “Like now, in those days it was still a situation with the radio stations propagating American music and the young people would go for whatever was the music played  at that time.
  “I am a stickler for my own and I feel that we ought to have a music that our young people could be a part of.  
  “That is where the whole thought began. Now I need a song to sing and then the idea of Indrani came into being.
  “Her name wasn’t Indrani. Meh brother had a woman and  we used to call she  Bhowgee. "And when he and she come from the garden and drink their Puncheon rum, she used to sing like  tingy tingy (high pitched voice) and dance around him and thing and everybody know that they going inside and have sex in a few moments.
“So I take the thought from that and made as though this Indian woman is my woman.describing her “she skinny and bony like a whip”, the exact description. But she wasn’t sixty years old.
“When I went into the studio to do that song it was actually my own first production  because I used to work with other production companies in those days, I went to Mac Serrao studio in Woodbrook.  "The label was Shorty Records.
“In those days it was only four tracks they had -no overdubs and things like that. Everybody sing and do their thing one time.
“Robin Dindial played the Dholak, Tatsil  played the mandolin. They were both from the ACME Dil E Nadan Orchestra.
Shorty(left) with guitar working on Indrani
(Photo Winston Peters)
“I used the Dholak, Mandolin and the Dhantal. what I did was  first I put down the calypso with Ed Watson and his  band. He was totally against what I was doing. When he finished do his work and they get paid I bring in the Indian musicians and I used two tracks for the band, one for the Indian musicians  and one for me and the choruses.
“That kind of work was unheard of in that time. Nobody was doing that. Max Serrao said you could do that if you want and I said yes, I am going for that because I have options and I want to try it.
 “The combination of the Indian rhythm and the African rhythm, which was calypso blended so nicely in Indrani, it was a big hit for me. It buy meh house, car everything for the first time. 
“Previous to that I could not even buy a bicycle.
 “Sat Maharaj started to complain right away that I was degrading Indian women and all that. "I fought them in the sense that I find that was ridiculous because Indian women were like anybody else. 
“In those days all things about the Indian woman and their culture was a hidden thing only for Indians. And here I was as an African, breaking into something that was totally traditional East Indian and Sat Maharaj was one of the first fellas  to start talking.

   Outsmarting Dr Eric Williams 

“ That very year I had  Art of Making Love and the Prime Minister  (Dr Eric Williams) had me charged with indecency. 
  “It was a whole big publicity thing. It was two 45’s. One was Indrani and  the flip side was Calypso is Ours and then there was Art of Making Love Parts One and Two.
 “I had two hit songs and I really sold out.

 “The Attorney General Karl Hudson Phillips dropped the charges eventually because I was making too much of a big thing out of it.
“ You ever see anybody go to look for a Summons?
  “I take my lawyer and said allyuh have a summons for me, I want it.
   I carried a photographer and made a big splash of it. 
  “Every day my picture on the papers and people was buying records.

 Before Indrani

My first album was recorded in 1963, Cloak and Dagger  and then there was The Follower, Fish is Fish and Female Opposition where  I decided to take all the prostitutes and make a political party and then "Indian Singers" before Indrani.  I was speaking about the Indian singers coming into nice melodies and lively music. The song started by saying 
 “Them Indian singers bound to hire/ day by day they getting better/ long time when ah Indian come to sing/ he use to start off as if he groaning. But now that change entirely/ if you hear them with a sweet sweet melody.
 “I Sang it on calypso rhythm, but the whole mood of the song was that.  That was in 1966
 “In 1970, Don't Chook Yuh Mouth in Woman Business, that was a big one.
 “And then in 1971, the big song as not one that I sang but it was a song that I wrote and gave to Baron Severe Licking, they used to call it Ah Lick She. 

  Deceiving the status quo 

“I decided that I would make my first album. In those days nobody made albums but Kitchener and Sparrow. Another artist with an album was unheard of. 
“It was a great challenge because people would say you playing Sparrow, yuh playing Kitchener. And I was financing it. I produced an album called The Love Man with ten tracks. I used the dholak in every track, the mandolin and the dhantal.
 “I was condemned for it. Everybody say I was playing Indian, spoiling the music.
“ All that time everybody was doing their traditional thing. Nobody was doing anything different. And I was sure I had something. 
“So what I did in my next recording which was Endless Vibration , I transferred the Dholak rhythm to the drum set so nobody could say ah playing Indian anymore.
 “That is how the drum rhythm changed from what it used to be to what it is now. And then I gave it a name SOKAH. That is to represent the soul of calypso. Kah was the East Indian influence (the first letter in the Sanskrit alphabet).
“Endless Vibration was recorded in 1974 and released in 1975. It was the turning point of the music., “Everybody accepted it because it didn’t have any Indian drum on it. They didn’t understand what was happening there was the same thing they were listening to, but it was a different format.
“What it did  was that it allowed the music to flow more. it was a freer flowing song. I was able to use shorter lines, sweeter melody patterns,].  I was able to swing my voice in a totally different way.
“ I expressed what I meant by that in 1975 when I made another album called Shorty and Friends, Love in the Caribbean and I presented Ella Andall, Ricky Gibson and the Grooving Millers. We did basically songs with the Sokah rhythm
“Second Fiddle, Love in the Caribbean and Who is she, which I sang were the most successful of the ten tracks. When you make an album is ten tracks in those days. 
“In 1976 with Sweet Music  I was able to go in deeper into what I was experiencing, what was the movement.I began to hear now and what it enabled me to do.
“I did not hire a band. Not Ed Watson nor Art de Coteau. I picked up musicians to get a particular sound. It was rare at that time. In those days you look for a band. They were the two big bands.
 “I wanted a different sound and I also did something that nobody else did. I used females in my chorus for the first time. 
 The chorus group in those days was the Sparks, that eventually became Wildfire. I took Carol Addison and her sisters. She had two sisters who used to work with her and I hired them.
Carol and her sisters had an American attitude about them and changed the color of the whole musical thing.
On that sweet music I had  Angus Nunes on bass,  On keyboard was Junior Brown, Toby Tobias was on the drums. I transferred everything into the drums, it’s still the same thing they are playing up to this day and nobody wants to recognize that is where it came from. 
They calling it crossover chutney and all kinds of things but it’s Sokah music.
“I had my band called Vibrations International and I run my first calypso tent, the Professionals. Upper Frederick Street, we only did one season. We had  The Mighty  Duke and a lot of new  fellas like  Mba who started and got their break there.

Sokah runs into Jamoo barely six years later

 “ By 1978 I was in the sea bathing. I  used to go by the sea everyday-sometimes three times a day- on the line by the wharf. I used to walk from Vistabella and go down on the line to bathe by a place called Iron.
  “And while I was in the sea I began hearing Jamoo and I knew that God was giving me a different concept of music. Because I was hearing calypso but of a different nature.
 “I actually felt like I was going mad in the sense that so much things was going on in my mind I could not capture it. I tried putting three tape recorders together to capture the bass, the drums, to sing them out. 
 “ And then I said to myself your mind is the greatest computer man
 “I then began to develop my mind to maintain all those sorts of things. And in a short space of time, for the first time, I was able to write a song without even using a paper and pen.
“I never did that before. That song was Jamoo. It was released in 1984 along with songs that were written between 1977 and 1984.
 How is Jamoo different?
 “It remains with the East Indian side. more classical. but I have adopted the Tabla rhythm rather than the Dholak.
 “Jamoo is the next stage in the development of Sokah, what I see with  Jamoo is what I was seeing with  Sokah. I wanted a music that young people could relate to. Jamoo is still that. 
“As a matter of fact, most of my fans right now are young people, they appreciate what I am doing. The music has changed from the carnal to the spiritual. 
“Sokah  make you feel to wine, whereas Jamoo does not. It moves your whole body. It moves your mind even when we play it uptempo, because Jamoo had two aspects male and female. 
“The male is the aggressive, dominant  and authoritative. The female is the more passive ,mellow and smoother reflection of the music. The male resembles Sokah more because the music comes out of Sokah 
“It is still calypso music. I call it born again Sokah or Caribbean Gospel Music.
 “It is not the kind of classical music like what you hear in  Black American churches. This is the kind of music that relates to the rich and poor alike. Not something that you could run from because it relates directly to your spirit.
Shorty I , Claudette Blackman and the Love Circle.
 Photo Discogs
Watch Out My Children is the most successful Jamoo song that I had.
“I have been doing it since 1977, 18 years ago. People now begin to understand Sokah and probably appreciate  the crossover of the East Indian and the African rhythms. 
“What they condemn me for is what they are using now.


Quest for Indian and African Unity  revived in the 90’s 

 “My mind is working in the same direction with  (Basdeo) Panday’s call for national unity and I had been fighting for national unity for years. There has always been this deep-rooted thing between the African and the Indian. When you and an Indian fella is good,good partner and you want to become his enemy, mess with his woman.
 “I had a partner and the only time we became enemies was when he heard I was going to meet his sister.  Trouble start! I found that ought not to be. 
“From as a little boy I would lime by my neighbor Narine, who was a musician and every morning I would find myself by Narine in Lengua. Sometimes I used to try my hand on the Dholak. He used to get up every morning and play his music. It was a  religion to him. He used to play his Ramayan.
 “The division in the races and the desire to bring them together because they come from basically the same area, and came to Trinidad basically on the same attitude.
 “Why then do we have this big difference? My desire was to help to make that contribution towards uniting the thing
 “I had no problem as a child with neighbors. Yes, it was natural in the sense that I had it in me from a child.  “Living in Barrackpore and I went to see an Indian movie and  one stayed in my mind until this day. I used some of the effects from Nagin in this song. The oboe flute.
“The national unity thing is so big now. this is why I decided to lift my voice I have always been fighting for that.
“This is what I chose now to make a statement musically. I chose her(Ramraji Prabhoo) because she is a full woman, beta, son and big brother bhayia. I wrote it and the Hindi was translated by a woman in Williamsville.
 "The song does not say anything about national unity but the idea that I am using a woman as a duet shows the unity on all front.
“Most of the East Indian and the crossover music that is used now there is very little or no East Indian musicians playing in it. Africans  are interpreting the Indian music.  
“In this song, Respect Woman, most of the rhythm is used from the  Tassa.“I desire to use the classical influence of the East Indian music. so I used the Timtal.. at the beginning of the song Rajkumar Krishnapersad is the voicing . 

What grieves my heart

 “What grieves my heart about the music now is the whole vulgarity of the thing as though nobody or little or no one at all is writing anything to uplift this society but only to help the society go further down into degradation by one mental thought, just party wine jam on both sides of the Africans and the Indians. 
“There was a time you would never see an Indian woman wine at the side of the road. 
“That was something if you see that you know she is a prostitute. Now in every little inn, all over the place, you see these Indian women just letting go they self. 
“But Ramraji once said in an interview they used to do it in the bedroom well now they coming into the bedroom. 
"The desire to do these things was always there but because of their religious beliefs,it was held back. "So now religion has gone to the wind and they are allowing themselves to be just drawn into this whole syndrome of immorality and vulgarity.

The future foretold for Trinidad and Tobago, sadly.

“My question is where is the nation going ? Where are we going with this kind of attitude?
 “What is going to happen to the children tomorrow?
 “They are going to be worse than us, you know.
  “And somehow the people who are voices in this society have to make their voices heard- you with your pen and me with my music.
 “Sometimes it seems like you are the voice of one crying in the wilderness. But that voice of one crying in the wilderness made its presence felt.
 “Elijah in the days of Jezebel thought he was the only prophet available. He said Lord they kill all your prophets, I am the only one remaining and they want to kill me too. 
“Then God told him don't worry I have seven thoughts prophets who have not bowed to the God of Jezebel.
 “I know that I am not the only one out there working. I know there are lots of people out there working. 
  “God is using them to put things in place because he would leave himself without witness.
 “If the religious people fail to do the work God will appoint people who may not even be considered religious and Godly.
 “I have been doing it since 1977, 18 years ago. People now begin to understand Sokah and probably appreciate  the crossover of the East Indian and the African rhythms. 
“What they condemn me for is what they are using now.
“What is the worst thing you do through as a result of fusing.
“The hardest part of my life was the transition and the way people dealt with me and I had to maintain my integrity.
“But I am doing something. This is where I am going. I am doing something. Regardless of what anybody says about me, this is the direction I am going. 
“I ain’t turning back for nobody. I conducted myself as though I saw he that is invisible. I saw Jesus, even though I did not see him. I am sure that He is guiding me. So regardless of what anybody says I am pressing on because I am guided. I know the lord is with me and He is telling me go in this direction. If God speaks then who is man?

Saturday, 10 February 2018

New World Steelband Order : Teague's minor changes make a major note

Professor Liam Teague (Photo Frederic Dubray)
 "I am a Dreamer," he declared. And he’s got ideas. But, here in Trinidad, Professor Liam  Teague  does not speak unless spoken to except when he is teaching. You would have to seek knowledge. And it is only then this humble man with an unmatched steelpan performance resume and teaching history would give some insight. Usually stoic and measured, Teague steers clear of controversy. Being in a panyard is not quite a normal experience for him anymore. The greater part of his life is now in the classrooms and the concert halls.
But it has become an annual pilgrimage, a humbling one.  And while the internationally recognised steelpan virtuoso is honoured to be among the thousands of musicians and players of instruments he hungers for more people, in Trinidad, to be able to truly appreciate what we have.
All year he works with students who sight read music. In the panyard, he adjusts his game to become a different kind of teacher.
Teague, who distinguished himself before he left Trinidad when he was just 18 years old has clear and workable ideas of how to bridge the gap between generations. He has a radically different - and very workable-take on music education in the panyard.
 Even with all the accolades attached to his name, most of which go unnoticed in Trinidad, when Teague enters the arena he explains how he is honoured to be lined up alongside the legends in what is the largest steel band music gathering in the world. 
In his own words, learn how Liam “Hands like Lightning” Teague who under the guidance of Trinidad Dr Cliff Alexis before him,  has laid  another cornerstone in the foundation for the bridge into the new world steel band order, starting with the Panorama experience.

Demystifying Panorama

"I think a big part of what can help Panorama is actually education. It’s simple. For example, a lot of people who come to the panyard just sit and they listen and many times they aren’t aware of what’s going on, like  the intricacies, the subtleties and  that’s one of the things I would actually like to do where we spend five, maybe ten minutes speaking to the audience explaining what’s going on.  
"For example, we can say listen to this particular motif that is in the original, now hear it in the cellos and while the cellos are doing that this is what the tenors are doing. In so doing we can give them a deeper appreciation of what’s happening. And I think a lot more people may be more inclined to visit panyards because what they are hearing won’t be a mystery. it’s also about packaging and marketing. "And that goes beyond Panorama.
"So many times we take this instrument for granted. It is all around us and truth be told so many people think of the steelpan as noise and  I know if I was a layman and my only experience with steelpan was Panorama then a lot of the bands may sound the same and would just sound loud. 
"And it goes back to where people are not aware of intricacies and subtleties. This is where education is important and getting to young people from early.
 "It’s not just  for young people that play the instrument but  for the masses. By educating them explaining to them what is happening so even if they don't go on to become professional musicians at least they have a love for it, a profound respect for it. 
"And they may be more inclined to attend different events.
"A lot of times people  may walk into a panyard and they start talking to the players during rehearsals and are very nonchalant about it.
 "They won’t even realize they are being disrespectful but this is a serious social experience going on here. "This is part of the education process and again, beyond Panorama for steelpan in general, education is key. You see it in the classical world and in the jazz world where people like Leonard Bernstein would have broken down the symphony orchestra  and created music for young people.
"It's all about making it more marketable and easier to appreciate, I think.
"In some ways, it is being done at the tertiary level in places like the University of the West Indies  (UWI) and the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT).
"A lot of the students that are playing with Silver Stars when they talk to me about the music it is very very profound. They are not just making general statements  to say I like that part or something. They say  I really like that whole tone part that you are using , I would not have thought to use that. 
"They are speaking very specific and that tells me you are seeing changes.
@Silver Stars Panyard (Photo Frederic Dubray)
"I really wish that adjudicators would come to the panyards routinely; they could be anonymous because this is the level of respect that is afforded to Symphonies.You know nobody is gonna fully appreciate Beethoven’s Fifth without multiple listenings so why do we treat our own like that?
"We cannot decipher every single thing about the arrangement in eight minutes.
"I always try to keep one foot in traditional and also genuflect to what’s happening in the contemporary world.
"I am just a fan of Panorama music, so outside of the competition I just love listening to the arrangements
"When it comes to music I do not believe in absolutes, to say that I have a favourite arranger.
 "But there are arrangers who have influenced me more than others.
 "Probably the biggest influence would be Jit Samaroo. With him being musically literate and very organized he did the majority of his arrangement at home and still left a bit of space to create in the panyard and  I am very similar."

Impartiality is important....for all

"It is just listening to all  Panorama arrangements as works of art, the same that you would be if Shostakovich performed next to Mozart and next to Beethoven or any piece of art for that matter be it a Van Gogh painting lined up against Salvador Dali. They are all great for different reasons.
"Obviously, it will be fantastic if I win, if Silver Stars win.
"But win lose or draw for me it’s about the music first and foremost.
"Symphony orchestras do not play the work of just one composer.
"I think it is very very educational for players to learn different styles and appreciate different arrangers and listen with impartiality because it is so important and it will help us to grow and bring us together as a fraternity.
 "I am a dreamer. One of the things that bothered me at the semi-final round (2017) I was listening to a band on the Drag and a gentleman asked me what I thought of it and I said it was brilliant and he could not believe that I said that.  
"He was expecting me to shred the arrangement and the Arranger and then he went on a diatribe.
"People don't realize how much work this is. These are symphonic movements. It doesn’t come overnight.  For you to just say an arrangement has no vibes, it is simplistic and if they really come to the panyard and really try to understand the music- I am not saying you are gonna like everything or enjoy everything, but have some respect for it.
Every steelband is a symphony orchestra at Panorama
"It should not be a rare occurrence for an arranger to say something good about another arranger or a player or a band.
"Yes, I agree that you are preparing them for going to war. "One of the reasons this instrument developed so quickly is because of the one-upmanship with people trying to outdo each other.
"However, that could break things down as well.
"We can have bands going to other bands and performing even without the competition aspect, naturally, people want to play well. When I play with the symphony orchestra, of course, I am going there to give my best, but it is not a competition.

We have to be honest with ourselves

"I go all over the world and most people if they have heard about the steelpan they know it as the steel drum. They hear it in the stereotypical way playing the classics. By the classics I mean the Yellow Birds the  Mary Anns, you know, the kind of music that is associated with the beach or tourism and that is their experience with the steelpan.
 "When they hear me or any virtuoso pannist play The Flight of The Bumble Bee which is something a little more demanding they are shocked.
 "There are pockets of people that really understand the potential of this instrument. In the US it is going to the High School and University system, no doubt about that. Every year we have had students from the university system come and play with Silver Stars and of course, the other bands have that as well.
"A lot of times I think we tend to exaggerate where we are and what the international market understands about this instrument and we have to be honest with ourselves.
"First of all, we call ourselves the mecca of the steelpan. What does that actually mean? Sometimes these terms are used because they flow off the tongue nicely.
Len Boogsie Sharpe (Photo Newsday)
"Perhaps we could have a Len Boogsie  Sharpe Monday and Ray Holman Tuesday.. .if it was actually a national instrument, the masses. would be engaged in that kind of way. That’s not happening. It may not happen in my lifetime, but I do hope it happens.
"Still, there are a lot of positive things happening especially with the young generation, not just musically but they are becoming more business savvy.
"They are starting to see there is more to life than just Panorama. It is great if you can win but two to three weeks after Panorama, that what happens with your life? 
"Can you actually make a consistent career out of this instrument?
"This is one of the things I advocate for. This is my life. It is the greatest joy in the world to do what you are absolutely passionate about. And I am very, very fortunate to be doing that and I want that for everybody who may want that."

  Reverse brain drain

"I left Trinidad when I was 18 years old to pursue a Bachelors in Music Degree with a specific emphasis on the steelpan at Northern Illinois University.  At the time it was the only institution in the world where you could specifically study steelpan and get a degree. I did my Masters and they invited me to Faculty and I went through the ranks, Assistant to Associate and now full Professor.
 "While doing that I managed a healthy performing career and also creating music and also kept one foot in Trinidad and Tobago, whether it was arranging for Panorama or coming back and speaking to students at UWI, because a number of my students are now professors at UWI and UTT : Mia Gormandy, Seon Gomez who directs the program at UTT and Akua Leith conductor for the National Steel Symphony Orchestra (NSSO) and they are all arrangers.
Akua Leith, Artistic Director/Conductor of the National Steel Symphony Orchestra.
(Photo NSSO)

"What I enjoy about that is that we are getting away from the brain drain cos so many people will go abroad to study and will stay there.
"It is very important that we do have some people that come back home and contribute.
"In my case, I always try my best to come back and contribute in different ways.
"I teach at a camp in summer in Wisconsin, Birch Creek Music and Performing Center, and it’s mainly for high school age kids.  For the past few years, I brought students from Trinidad and Tobago to attend that camp and open up new worlds for them, offer them different ways of thinking creatively. 
"They could take that new found knowledge and bring it back to Trinidad and change things.


   Virtuoso on a garbage can...
       “It is not a percussive instrument, something you can beat”

"It is discrimination in more ways than one. Again, I mean for example, when I play as a soloist with symphony orchestras many of the musicians see the steelpan as a novelty. They haven’t been exposed to it playing some of the most difficult kinds of music; profound music. 
"When I step on the stage for the rehearsals I can see many of them looking at me in a sceptical way probably thinking what is this guy doing here with this garbage can.
"I am a little cheeky.  Because I used to play the violin back in the day when I am warming up I would actually quote violin pieces while I may be standing and playing next to the violins. It’s just to get a little reaction from them.  So I see their faces change I can imagine them saying “Wait a minute , he is playing Paganini”. 
"Once I play the concerto and what have you I think it brings a new found respect to the instrument.The most important thing is that people get this new vision of the instrument.
 "When I think about the steelpan I don't necessarily think about it as a percussive instrument something that you beat. 
I think of its melodic characteristics. And truth be told ,the steelpan is one of the most beautiful instruments in the world and in the wrong hands it could be one of the ugliest because if you overplay it is very jarring.
Some of my early heroes would have been Robert Greenidge and Ray Holman who play with this degree of finesse and sometimes it is deceptive because they make it look so easy and it is some of the most virtuosic music out there. 
Ray Holman (Photo FOBA)
"So that finesse is very important. We don't always address that in the steelband world. We look at speed, but not playing with a consistent tone, coaxing the beautiful melody out of the instrument and part of that has to do with my violin background again. 
 "The difference between a mediocre artiste and the great artiste is that the mediocre artiste makes the easy look difficult and the great artistes make the difficult look easy.
"The technique is important and I see tremendous skill. I am not always a fan of how loud they play the instrument.  The mere fact that traditionally when we try to get the attention of the band we strike the instrument, is not good.  You will never do that to a piano or violin but this is something in our DNA which I want to see it stopped. I personally use the jam block or the cowbell and hopefully, that will influence change."


The difference I can make 

"Education. Going beyond the status quo. Think about future generations.
"I never set out to be a teacher. I was thinking this is consistent income, I will make it work but over the years it has been so gratifying to know that we have had a small part to do with someone else’s development and they, in turn, do the same. That’s the cycle.
"Mia, Seon and Akua are all contributing in small ways.
Dr Mia Gormandy. (Photo YouTube)


Thursday, 8 February 2018

Journey to Desperadoes : Zanda's Untold Story

A community leader redefined....

Not until he was proven to be the gift sent from Siparia to Laventille to bring the lost and wandering band from atop the Hill back to its spiritual moorings that eyes opened to Carlton Alexander.
Brother of Clive Zanda, Carlton, the lesser known of the two, was on the threshold of three score and ten when he gave the iconic Desperadoes Steel Orchestra a Panorama victory that pulled them out of a 15-year slump.
But it was not just a journey from  South to North Trinidad, via Canada and the USA and more lately  Soweto through his project with the late Hugh Masekela.
Carlton, left with Hugh Masekela and Clive.
Photo Trinidad Guardian.
Clearly, he was divinely prepared to recover the voice that was muted by the hard times (not financially) on which the band had fallen with the residue of Rudolph Charles’ leadership legacy in the dust, Desperadoes also lost its legendary arrangers Beverley Griffith and Clive Bradley.
 When  the definition of Islam for the majority of young Muslims in Trinidad is in sync with the goals of ISIS, Carlton, who embraced the religion formally in Toronto in 1975, but was introduced  to it in Trinidad might appear to be an oxymoron wearing his Taj drilling a band of musicians who are pleading in his arrangement of Voice’s  Year for Love, “Tell me what they fighting for?”
Lifting the 2016 Panorama Championship was a process that began more than 60 years ago when the sound of  Desperadoes first resonated within Carlton as a young boy growing up in Siparia, located 81 kilometers away from Laventille.
Not by radio or television or any kind of technology. as you would imagine. The mystical messenger was his cousin, Reggie Peters, who left Siparia in the 1950’s and headed to “town” where he became a ‘Rados player.
When Reggie visited the village where he grew up, he would play the songs and so Zanda revealed as a child he was in tune with Despers and even though his musical experiences took him far and wide it never left him.
Zanda's hunger for music eventually took him into the Deltones Panyard as a teenager even while he enthusiastically embraced the Combos against his father's wishes.
Today he straddles both  Desperadoes and Deltones.
It was in the 70’s  after he migrated to Port of Spain when, as if by divine order, Rudolph Charles walked into a band room on Quarry Street Port of Spain seeking the leader of Third World  Reflections. It turned out to be Zanda.
But it was a long and winding road on the journey which took  Carlton back to Desperadoes and within there is the story of the cross migration of musicians from South and North of the island.
The rivalry in music  and football was epic. 
Carlton explains his journey best.  For fear of misrepresenting what he brings to the table as a leader this interview is broken into six parts which, if you read through, will give not just an understanding of his contribution, but a significant piece of history, as well.
Zanda was born into a  family of musicians but was the teenage renegade among them and persisted when his father pulled him out of rehearsals with the Beatnix Combo for "playing devil music", Rhythm and Blues. 
A woman like Daisy Voisin was just another part of the landscape. Bertram Innis, he saw in action for the first time when, at 14 years old, he was stolen away from Siparia to Sparrow’s Hideaway to accompany a calypsonian who wanted to make it to the tent in town.
And there’s Albert Bush one of the best bass players in the  Caribbean. They bonded musically through their late teens in Fyzabad and in their  early 20’s  in Port of Spain before Zanda left for Canada. 
He explains his journey best. 
This is broken down into six parts which are meant to give a deeper understanding of the trials, tribulations, joys and bliss in the DNA of this Panorama arranger. One for the history buffs.

 Finding Despers’ Voice…

 “The challenge I have with Desperadoes?”  Carlton Alexander said, slowly repeating the question that I had asked at the start of an interview at his Siparia home, in April 2017.
 “Despers had very good orchestrators in the history of the band and here I am coming now, so my challenge is to meet that,” Zanda said putting his work into perspective.
 “By the grace of God, it was done in 2016. What I was trying to do is retain the sound of Desperadoes, as I remember them,”  he explained.
 “I thought the band was losing the sound. That was one of the things the people of Laventille and the people of Trinidad and Tobago ,who are Despers’, lovers were happy about. They heard the sound,” he said without really acknowledging the deeper effect of the music which turned jaded players into warriors.
 ‘I did not listen to ‘Rados for a long long time before I took the responsibility to arrange for them in 2016.
 “But I always liked them and I believe it is because one of my cousin Reggie Peters who left  Siparia in the 50’s and was playing with ‘Rados in town, so you know you have a cousin playing with ‘Rados and you feel happy.
 "He used to come home and play a little song for us and usually it was the song he was playing in town with Rados. So a certain tonality stays in your head, certain movements," he added.
 “That has to do with voicing; what you put where you put. Playing the piano is fine voicing, but the voicing might be different on the pan,” he said.
  As for Panorama, Zanda said it shows that “we get too busy doing a whole lot of notes all over the place and I like Desperadoes because it was never a band to be playing one set of unnecessary notes. 
 “It is more about colour and shape,” Zanda explained.
Clive Bradley
 “So if people told me I  sound like Bradley. I won’t say no.
 “Remember when Bradley had Esquires and I had  Third World Reflections,?” he asked recalling they both emerged from the  Combo era in Trinidad music.
“Bradley was a solo piano player and  I was in the  Queen’s Royal College (QRC) jazz workshop doing the same things.
 “I was about 18 years old when I met Beverley Griffith as we both used to play with Clarence Curvan and he was one of Despers’ early arrangers who laid the foundation for their sound.
 “Seeing that we came from a Western type orchestration, the way we voice will be the same. It will be different to how a pan player will voice,” Zanda noted, emphasizing their similarities which made the transition easy for him.
 Now, imagine Rudolph Charles the legendary innovator who ruled the Desperadoes with an iron hand walking up Quarry Street and hearing music,
 It was the kind that made him stop and walk upstairs to the band room where the guys from  South were rehearsing with the band Third World Reflection Revival; Zanda, Albert Bush, Patrick Drakes and Slim who had moved up to Quarry Street joined by singers.
They had come to town to play music; they were told the guys had instruments but not musicians.
“David Rudder and those guys used to pass up Quarry Street and come by our window because our building was close to the road. They would stand and listen to us.
“One day the deceased Rudolph Charles came and knocked on the door and announced himself as the captain of Desperadoes. 
 “I am always passing up here and hearing this band practice. I like this band, who is the captain of this band?” Zanda recalled Charles asking,
 “They point to me with this big Afro playing in the corner. He said it would be a nice idea for us to play together and from that, we started to play in the Hollows together every Sunday: Rados and Third World. That is where it started, between 1972-1974,” he said, speaking of the years before he migrated to Canada.
Another twenty years would pass before  Zanda made another connection with the Rados. It was when he returned in the early 90’s to arrange for Deltones and “Slam” one of Rudolph Charles’ brother took him from Siparia to Port of Spain.

        “.......Playing “devil music”

 It was a little boy’s dream.The lure of playing an electric guitar and the final pull of a “nice red Fender Strato,”  which propelled Carlton Alexander across the divide from gospel into pop music.
Daisy Voisin who was friends with his sisters, he would meet for the first time on the street on her way home.  Bertram Innis, the legendary combo bandleader whom he could not have truly understood at the age of 14 years, declared him a good guitar player on the night he has stolen away from Siparia to  Sparrow’s Hideaway in Petit Valley to accompany a  calypsonian.  
 Other nights his father pulled him out of practice with the Beatnix Combo.. and had to run to catch him too.                    
 But music is in his DNA. It is the knot  that bonded his family.
 “My mother’s maiden name is Louisa Andall coming from the roots with Ella Andall who is my first cousin. My father a was a shoemaker, a tenor vocalist, a guitarist and the choir conductor for the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Siparia and he had five girls and four boys, all of whom are musicians in some way.
"Some became vocalists some became guitarists like my father. My mother was a soprano vocalist in the choir as well as a  designer/painter who made flowers and handicraft. 
Ella Andall

 “We did not have a pan in the house but we had a guitar.  My elder sisters played the piano. My father’s sisters, the Osbournes were piano teachers in the community.
 “Where we are sitting now (under the family home in Siparia) is my father’s workshop and my mother’s flower design shop. I had a small guitar school right here when I was 16 years old and taught most of the guitarists on the SS Erin Road going right down to Palo Seco.
 “In the ’60’s I was always mingling with the musicians in Siparia who were mostly pan players. They did not play western instruments like the guitar or the piano, for example.
 “And so I started to meet other musicians in the community who were not gospel based as I was because of my father’s strong affiliation with the church. 
 “I used to carry my guitar to the Pre University High School which  I attended when I was 14 years old. It was located just a short distance from our home at the top of Mary Street. During break time  I would sit on the back step and play the guitar and on one of these occasions Aldwyn Marchand, whose family had the Beatnix Combo, said that he was amazed by my playing and asked what band I played for. 
 " And then when I said that I only played at the church he told about their band and that they had an electric guitar and that excited me because at that time I never played an electric guitar.  
"He told me they would be performing at a bazaar at Victoria Street at Dudley Commercial  School- where the late Cuthbert Joseph (Minister of Education)  was born and raised.    
"I ran away from home to go and hear them. Coming from the Adventist background I was not allowed to be around that type of music.  
"I happened to be peeping through some holes because I could not go in the bazaar and heard them playing and saw them performing with their nice red fender strata guitar.
 "So I decided one day I would go where they rehearsing and I went across the Savannah where they practised at the family home and I  got a play on the guitar which I really wanted to experience; an amplified guitar.
  "Naturally, they asked me to join the band. I was not too sure about that because my father would not want me to be in that type of environment. He did not mind me playing music but he did not like that type of environment. He preferred the gospel, and that was a struggle.
   ‘I was part of the  Siparia Better Village and was there when the Siparia SDA Church joined with other churches to go to a Music Festival.
   "I remember, too, around that time, I even got an endorsement from Daisy Voisin . One day she stopped when she saw me on the corner of Coora Road and Mary Street with two of my friends who were pan musicians.
Daisy Voison
"She always had a beautiful smile and she told me that I  looked like an Alexander. I did not even know who she was but she said she heard me playing some nice chords and that she wanted me to show her the chords.
"I ran away home to my mother who told me that it was alright because Daisy used to be home with my sisters
"The desire was there to try other things. There were things I was doing simultaneously like backing up a lot of calypsonians in the community. It went so far that Lenore Charles- whose brother, Ralson Felix, aka Smokey I used to back up helped to sneak me out of the house one night when he had to go to an audition at Sparrow’s Hideaway.
“That year he had a nice calypso called “They cyar keep me back for this carnival”. This was a good experience. So one day in the week she actually stole me. 
"She told me, Carlton, go and bring your guitar. And they put me in a car and when I went in the car I saw Ralston, Lenore and one of her other brothers who was a driver. I did not know where I was going. 
"All they told me is that I am going to back up Smokey at Sparrow Hideaway. 
 "The drive was nice and I went up in his place on Simeon Road and auditioned. 
 "I never forgot that experience because when it was Smokey's time to perform I remember Betram Innis who was with Sparrow's band came knocking to Sparrow beneath his chair and said listen to the little boy with his guitar. I will never forget that. 
 “Unfortunately the Birdie wasn’t too pleased because that boy Smokey coulda sing. When he finished singing his number Sparrow asked him, Yuh cyar sing something else, you come to compete with me or what?’ and he never got in the tent.
"I think up to this day that affected Ralson. He was really disappointed.
 "I was a little boy did not know what was going on. I came back down the road easy like that.
  “By that time I became member of the Beatniks Combo and went through a real pressure with that. "My father used to come to the rehearsal room, pull me out and run me down. 
"My older sisters who were living in the US and England at the time started to write letters telling him to go easy on Carlton. 
 “Eventually he eased away from me. I joined Beatniks in 1965 and by '67 he eased away.

Even at Deltones..
    ‘ They thought I was too outta the box”

If playing the devil music  was bad enough, Carlton took it a step further, into the panyard.
 Ellis Knight ,whose statue stands proudly as an icon on High Street Siparia, was the founder of the  Deltones. History has it that Knight, known as “Lively” packed his clothes and moved out of Laventille, taking the train from Port of Spain.
 He came out at the last stop, Siparia. There, at the end of the train line, ironically, is where the Deltones panyard is located in the historic old railway building. It was on that spot, just where he landed that Knight started the Deltones.
 It was fair exchange then, when Zanda became the gift to Laventille, for Lively was the gift to Siparia.
After two years with Beatnix, the ever-hungry “young Alexander” made the next musical mark in his village  in the Deltones panyard.
"My friends Beverly Pierre (Slabby) and  Fred Julien (Rodo) were going to Deltones practice and I was going to the  Beatnix neither of which was far from each other in terms of location.
 "When I reached my location- and they had to continue a bit- they said Zanda lets go by the panyard. "I said I doh play pan, but Fred said boy you is a musician. I liked him for that. He was always a challenger.
  “So I say you challenging me? I told the guys in the band room I am coming back just now, I am going down by the panyard.
 "When I got there the arranger was playing a song by the Beatles and I think at a certain point he was having problems to continue the bridge of the song. It  could have been  “Michele my belle” as far as I remember. 
"I was in the middle between Slabby and  Rodo and I could not see the arranger because he was in the corner but there was a second pan facing me and the captain the deceased Ellis Knight (Lively) who was friends with my brother Clive was looking on.
A statute of Ellis Knight in Siparia
"When the arranger was getting lost in the progression I saw the notes written out on the pan so I borrowed sticks from my friend and I walked to the pan and started to block out the progression and  Aldwyn King who was the arranger of Deltones, they used to call him the Hawk, was surprised.
"He did not think that anybody in the band at that time had that knowledge to complete the cycle of that progression of the bridge of the song. 
"So he asked who is that? and my two friends said that is Zanda and he told Lively that he must let "this little boy do some songs for the band". That was the year I became a member of Deltones and started doing a few songs for the band.
"Two things happened at the same time for me Beatniks Combo and Deltones. Some of the people in Beatniks were in Deltones and in the Best Village some were in both Deltones and Beatniks. 
 "But I eventually broke off with Beatniks and started doing more work with Deltones and I was searching around and then met some guys in Fyzabad. 
 "In 1967 I was in Form Four when we went to Fyzabad to play school’s football : The  Pre University High School versus Fyzabad Intermediate.
  "After the match, I saw this guy sitting on the bleachers with a four-string guitar. So I said to him you will make a good bass player boy. He watched me and laughed. It was just a casual meeting.  But that was Albert Bush one of the best bass players in the Caribbean who played with David Rudder and Charlie’s Roots .
"When the  Seventh Day Adventist Church sent my father to be the deacon at Fyzabad  he used to take me to church.  I was carrying a guitar when I met Chester the man dubbed the best guitar player in Fyzabad.
 “In those days, it was the normal Trini thing where there were two guitar players there would be a jam out.
"And with the Kitchener song  Hold On To Your Man Chester, the man considered to be the best guitar player in Fyzabad at that time got lost in the bridge and that is when  I got crowned in Fyzabad.
"I was a kind of adventurous musician, doing things differently and you will find at your own home they thought I was too out of the box, "all them kinda big chords Zanda like to use" they used to say.
"In Fyzabad I was more relaxed, however.
"Another guitar player eventually joined us and we opened a band called  The Professionals.  I was on keyboard, Bush on bass and Slim was on guitar.
I always use to pound a piano anywhere I met it. I played all the strings, bass double bass, cuatro and we used to play all over in South.
  "We did not last very long, however, and by 1969 after a stint with the Peter Vin Courtney Orchestra from Palo Seco, I would have been about 18 years old, we moved into Port of Spain.

  Rural, Raw and Uncut in Port of Spain

                                                      ....until Toronto called  

"We learnt that Port of Spain had instruments but they had nobody to play it.  So four guys, Albert Bush, Patrick Drakes, Slim and myself, went to Piccadilly Street and we had a jam session and that is how I ended up in Port of Spain.
 “I was employed at the Ministry of Works as a draughtsman at the same time, so I got a transfer. By that time Clive came back home in 1970 from England with his wife from South Africa and he worked with Winston Moore.
"So I started to live with Clive at Upper  Bournes Road in St James. One day some guys were playing ball on the road and I went and joined them and they did not mind. 
"I heard a pan playing and I ask them if there was a pan side around here and they pointed me to Pan Am North Stars. I stopped playing football one time and I walked towards the sound. 
"As I entered the yard I was amazed at the sound that was coming from those Cellos and we made friends. The leader, Anthony Williams was watching me, knowing that I was  Clive’s brother.
"Then  Bush, Slim, Drakes and myself opened a band called Third World, in 1970.  By that time I was living on Quarry Street and Prescott Alley and there were some guys from a singing group in that area called Reflection Revival namely Ellsworth James Andrew Perry and Alan Nicholas who wanted to join our band. 
"We gave them a break and called the group Third World Reflection Revival. 
 "There were other combo bands around, Needle in a  Pin Cushion  from St James,  and then the Boothmans had a band Rockerfellers. They were the guys I met in POS at the same time.  There was Esquires  which turned into  Esquires Now, all those bands in town were hitting it hard in 1973 or thereabouts.
 Steelpan was always musical territory waiting to be reconquered by Zanda.
 “At one point I went to play with Starlift just after coming into town.  But the line of people waiting to audition was too long  and I turned away even  I loved Ray Holman’s music at the time. It was exciting," he said.
But there was a turning point when his brother Clive returned from England 
“That is when I began to understand certain jazz qualities and sounds that Clive had brought and opened up our ears to and he did influence a lot of other players, as a matter of fact, all of us.
 “In 1973 I returned it Siparia for a time and arranged the first  Shadow song I orchestrated in my lifetime for  Deltones  ‘Prance” and we did it for  Panorama in South", he recalled.  
Third World dissolved and  Carlton headed to the Ontario College of Arts to study Environmental Design.
 “Since then I can say I  I have not really moved from Toronto.
He extended his musical experience and played “top 40 music all over Toronto with people’s bands.”
 By 1979  Carlton graduated and married his first wife, as well.  A few years later he moved over to  New York, to work at HTI in downtown Manhattan. 
But the music education continued and he paid his  hard earned money to study with the legend of Bebop, the Grammy Award-winning  Barry Harris.  
Barry Harris
"It was there that I started to open up." Zanda declared. 
“Intermingle” was the name of the little band which he formed with a group of friends and then while he returned to Canada in the late 80’s they had already started Pan Fantasy in NY which placed second on two occasions in the NY Panorama.
Another decade passed before he formed another band The Coal Pot which takes credit for being the first West Indian group to perform in Canada at the Bermuda Onion one of the biggest jazz shows the same week with Ahmed Jamal. That was a big thing for us,” he declared, adding “and then we played for the Montreal 350th  birthday.
"The repertoire was Caribbean music. I do not like to use the word jazz. We are not jazz people.  
"It is Caribbean folk. Jazz is a culture it is a life, it is eating cornbread and black eye peas. it is an American thing." Zanda said.

A revolution : Panorama players get paid.

"Deltones called me to arrange for them in 1992 which I did with  Kitchener’s Bees Melody. But the following year I did my own song called “Give we something.’
I was always out of the box. They did not give me much support with that in Siparia, saying Zanda coming with his own song 
   “But what motivated that song was important; When I came back and saw the pan musicians were not getting anything, I felt very bad, even though I paid lots of money in NY for my own knowledge.
 It’s hard to work with a band when the players not taken care of. I  did not think I would get out of them what was required. It is natural.
 “Working with a musician in the yard  you would hear him say Zanda I hungry boy and I would  go up to the house and ask my mother to make bake and sailfish for the players who were so hungry.
 “When I came back I saw  the truck man getting money and everybody else for that matter getting paid and knowing that before I went to Canada steelband groups used to be playing in fetes. 
 "When I came back home  I saw the DJ just taking over. No bands were playing in the fetes. So I called the song “Give we something.”
"It was done in Leston Paul's studio. Deceased Eddie Quarless did the horns for me and Albert Bush played on it. Blaxx who was living right next door to me did the vocals and it was one of the first songs he recorded.
" Blaxx’s father had the Gerry Stewart Combo, I used to teach him to play the guitar.
  "The people at Deltones were not too happy that I did my own song.
   'It was afterwards that Pan Trinbago paid the pan players  a stipend and they eventually settled on the TT$1000 fee. I will say Deltones was the forerunner in even motivating that.
  "By 1994 I told them I could not arrange for them. but I  was a judge for the national panorama competition.
 "Two years later I  returned and arranged music for them for Pan Ramajay and we started building again and doing better.
 "In 1997 we had a challenge. The social dynamics had changed. Young people were no longer coming into a panyard and just playing because of the love of it.  Young people had children by this time.
"Deltones got most of their players from Point Fortin and when  Lively and I went to Point to ask the guys to come and play they said they were getting work in Dunlop and they would play in Tornadoes.  It started a decline.
"The first national we won really was with the youths when we did  Melda and then we won in the Small Band Category," Zanda recalled.

 …as for Panorama judging?

 “O’rama means fete you know.
“It is not an environment where you sit down.
"We as orchestrators have to be very careful with that. I learnt that from this year (2017): don't get too caught up with the set of musicality. 
"I am saying what is the use of having all these criteria for reharmonisation and motif development and then throw away because you are not using that to judge anything.
 "Forget that!
 "It became a lot more clear to me that it is not necessary to do those things.
"Pan is a people’s thing and people don't care about all this motif and thing. 
"We have been doing it before they call it motif development and melodic development and all that stuff like that. 
"The judges are not using the criterion. I know what is reharmonisation.
 "I don't know if they know what it is  Most of those guys they are not doing that. 
"The next thing is you cannot tell an orchestrator that you think you should hear the verse one more time or the chorus. 
"That is your business, you should be judging music based on your criterion.
"I could tell you are not doing that.Ms Jeanine Remy is a bright lady- she actually wrote it out on the scoresheet, if you don’t write that I am not sure you hear what I am doing. 
“We need to look at that seriously.
“I really want to say what it is you are doing.  But just forget that musicality. I  would say a lot of things I done this year they are far from it. If I ask them I know they can’t tell me what I do," Zanda,speaking with the wisdom of threescore and ten, declared.