Duvonne Stewart opened the gates of hell and met them face to face; the killer and the man who killed the killer.
|Duvonne Stewart hears the results. Photo Maria Nunes|
He faced the demons, conquered them and had love to spare ..with a little bit of help from his “close friend, mentor, motivator, critic” Wayne Alleyne whom he saw lying in a pool of blood on the ground just outside his home on Queen Street in Port of Spain.
A murder statistic for the rest of Trinidad and Tobago, but this 59-year-old man was another one who was killed only to send a message to the other side in the turf war in the battle zone of East Port of Spain; the heartland of the island’s top three steelbands; Desperadoes, Renegades and All Stars.
“They made an example of Wayne. He was so close to me that it was real. It hit me hard. Every single thing that was expressed musically in the performance of Renegades, I turned around that experience and transformed it,” Duvonne said about the murder on December 11th 2017.
Yet when he cried, in front of the whole world to see, he stifled the tears in the soulful and expressive arrangement of Year For Love which ended a twenty-year-drought-long transition from its record breaking success with the late Dr Jit Samaroo.
It was more than a high for the accomplished arranger of the Single ,Small and Medium bands who ,stepped into the hallowed halls of Trinidad’s music history as a musical activist, leading a cadre of international players from the bands he has arranged for in the US, UK, France, Japan and St Vincent here in the Caribbean.
The Renegades, also, got a chance to breathe.
To manage the Charlotte Street band throughout the restless season, required more guts than the glory they achieved with the victory at Panorama Finals on February 10th.
In a community splintered by gang warfare-Nelson Street at war with Duncan Street, Prince Street at War with Queen Street and Laventille Road at War with the rest, for example- they dared to go from block to block- the band’s executive and administration- moving around inviting them to the pan yard.
And, at practice, in between sharing notes with the players through a loudspeaker. Duvonne would preach to his team and the immediate neighbourhood which included the Inter Agency Task Force (IATF) next door.
The community held it together and there was peace and love, under a watchful eye, for a season. The music triumphed.
“It was a year for a purpose. It was a mission that everybody understood and it was well executed with the passion, the true,real ,playing ethic of a song was infectious because many players in the band lost a loved one through the hands of the criminal and they played a significant part in saying This Is The Year For Love.” Duvonne said.
Never mind that ten days after Carnival the tension that was held in check overflowed when 25-year-old Akil James was shot dead at Calvary Hill, a stone’s throw away; a Rasta City top ranker who was killed in Rasta City turf.
Parts of East Port of Spain bordering the lanyard -Observatory, Bath, Oxford, Basilon Charlotte and Piccadilly Streets -erupted as they burned debris, ironically enough, smack in front of the Renegades on February 20th.
Finally, Stewart is on the international circuit and is freeing his mind as he shares the story behind his captivating arrangement to music students starting at Howard University in Washington D.C in March and extending to the University of West Virginia in June and then a recall at Howard, followed by Berklee School of Music after which he will move on to Europe to familiar ground at the University of Nantes , then on to Paris before England.
Renegades’ Year for Love was a soulful cry from the belly of Trinidad’s hell vocalized by instruments in a manner that no journalist, teacher, preacher, priest or community activist has verbalized.
It was the definitive moment of protest in Trinidad Carnival 2018. A thesis waiting for a social scientist.
“I was in hell.I see what could take place down there.In there I had a conversation with Wayne, the guy who killed Wayne and the guy who killed the guy who killed Wayne, a man with a Pump, talking to the killer. Fire will bun dem.
“For me, it was an audiovisual production for the world that came from inside. I planned it out, the pyrotechnics, everything,” the 41 year old father of one, said about the band’s statement on Final Night.
Read on for the mitigating factors, to understand how the landmark arrangement came together, spiritually, in a year when Duvonne also conquering health issues literally became fit and ready to finally grab the baton from the late Jit Samaroo and run his leg of this race to also take a new breed of arrangers into the promised land.
It all started December 11th, 2017 when “they made Wayne an example”.
“On that Sunday afternoon,I was looking to go in the panyard. I came downstairs and heard the gunshots. He had come downstairs to throw out the garbage.
“I did not see what happened but he was shot in the head. I saw him on the ground lying down in a pool of blood and I knew what the repercussions are like. I was traumatized.
“On Monday morning I was expecting to hear “Yo! Duvonne, come outside let we lime nah.”
“Me eh hear that. For four or five days I was out of it.
“It hit me like my mother dead. He was so close to me that everything was real. Every single thing that was expressed musically in the performance of Renegades I turned it around and transformed it from that experience,” Duvonne revealed on his return to Trinidad from sharing his story with the students at Howard University in Washington, D. C.
|As Loop TT reported|
“The actual gunshots that took place..another young one gone. Bram!.. and then meh boy Wayne and so I started to transform myself in telling the story," he said, giving words to the arrangement.
“In hell, I met the killer, the man who killed Wayne, we are face to face and I am asking what you kill Wayne for?
“He was about 21 years old and he died about three weeks afterwards when we were full into the carnival season.
“I heard people say yeah boy, they now kill the man, the man dead.
“But, I didn't feel relieved. The same saga continues. The man who killed the man who killed Wayne.
“I was repeating and replicating that incident musically in this arrangement,” he said.
Moving forward to the February 20th protests Stewart said “the incident sent a negative outlook to what Renegades was portraying for Carnival, and people want to know why and how these things happen.
“Well, it’s the system that causes things like that to happen,” he said, from his experience living on the frontline of the battle zone that his community has become.
“This is just how it is on the Eastern side of Port of Spain," he intoned.
"When we first advertised the song as the choice for the band we were going from Block to Block around the Eastern side of Port of Spain, the Renegades' Executive team… the administration. We were moving around inviting them all to come in the panyard. To bring back the love.
“They came into the yard, talking and liming. Everybody put down their guns.
“And then the people around told us they liked what we were doing down in the panyard.
“They told me they were hearing what I was saying.
“They knew who the song was dedicated to; what the song was a reflection of. They knew Wayne.
“From the time they heard me call Wayne’s name in explaining the arrangement to the players the phone would ring.
“They would tell me he’s a good one. We will fix that, they promise.
“But it’s not about fixing that. It's about about bringing that love and vibes.
“There was a part of the song where I was actually talking to the killer in hell and I went back into my subconscious where I ran up the stairs and knock on the door and the door opened and all I could see was the Garden of Eden, a peaceful, tranquil place where I brought in the line from the hymn Let There Be Peace On Earth,” Duvonne explained.
“I was trying to talk to the community now. Let there be peace in Trinidad, throughout the world.
“Then I brought them together, let us talk, all ah we is one family. It was all in the song. The day ended and the next day came and I tried to bring all that into the arrangement and I went back to the person who killed Wayne for him to talk with him.
"Yo! Put down your guns. ‘When you kill this is what will happen, fire go bun you. Full stop.
"From the first day I came into the pan yard on January 2nd, 2018, to distribute music I demanded the use of a microphone and a Public Address (PA) system so every line, every sentence, every statement, every passage made evident to the instrumentalists what they played.
“I had to describe and explain to them, off the bat, what it meant so the passion of executing the feeling of what I was doing in different parts of the song was fully understood by every single member.
“Because I had the opportunity to speak with everybody like it was one on one, they were very attentive, very understanding, very patient with the process. As I said I wanted to bring the story real.
‘It wasn’t something that I could have done in a Jazzy way or even with BeBop and have people think I was just doing music.
“I wanted to be clear in the arrangement. I wanted to be real. I wanted to be clearly looked at with the arrangement “Year for Love” because for the past five or six years as the Panorama Arranger for Renegades I was trying to mimic the Renegades’ style due to the legacy of Dr Jit Samaroo that we inherited from the early 70’s 80’s and 90’s.
“I wanted to make that transition, for it to become evident, where Duvonne Stewart could be heard in the entire arrangement.
“When people hear Pan Elders(the Medium Band Champions) everyone said yeah, this is a Duvonne.
“ During that time though when they came by Renegades for them it was like Duvonne was trying to do something like what Jit did.
“But then again reality did not hit the band in such a way for me to be ME in arranging for Renegades,” Stewart mused.
“And the calling came in 2017 when I arranged Voice’s Far from Finished” for the Ebony Steel band in London.
“Ebony won the UK Panorama.
“And that was the get-go. When I heard Year for Love, as I said, I wanted to be clean and clear and to be understood in all aspects of doing the arrangement.
“The lyrical content of the song was so powerful that I wanted to bring the story unto the instrument because I wanted it to be how the singer brought it over, just real.
“I wanted the people to understand what it was like being in the mind of Aaron St Louis while he was writing the song, this being an extended version of what Duvonne Stewart did with the arrangement.
“The creative minds that came together for this arrangement was a true story in which I had two friends who lost their lives through the hands of the criminals in December.
“It just naturally came to me what I wanted to say to these criminals, you know, bun dem.
“Just about 3 minutes and 40 seconds into the song there was a passage that I used ” this is my time for Bunning” a line from Black Stalin.
“That was the hell, when Judgement day comes, you are getting fired.
“I tried to incorporate it with the Year For Love theme and everybody understood what I was doing and so it became easy to articulate.
“In another part, just about five minutes into the arrangement I incorporated Let There Be Peace On Earth. I tried to bring the peace and the love- that was my story about what this place is supposed to be.
“That was an inspiration that I received from within that God did not make this world to be how it is right now.
“Everybody is supposed to be living in love, with harmony with peace; stop the killing the fighting.
“And then at about six minutes, I brought in “all ah we is one family,” using a little Nelson line to let them feel how the Year For Love was supposed to be… and at the ending let them continue during the fire.
"I was just trying to send the message clearly ,without trying to be difficult or two or three notches above the average listener, without them being misled, without them coming into the panyard and just listening to a bunch of notes, a bunch of phrases and a bunch of lines. I wanted to tell the story real and true.
“So I had to come right back down to grassroots and let them understand what I was trying to do.
"If it doesn’t start with me, it doesn’t go anywhere. It has to start with me. I had to be mentally ready to make these players feel comfortable every single night from January 2nd until the 10th of February.”
Duvonne was leading from in front.
I was very scared to take the baton, until...
"When Dr Jit Samaroo was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2006, the band wasn’t ready for the transition in terms of life after its premium arranger.
“While I received a call from the management, I declined, the reason being that I just wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready to fill that shoes .
|Duvonne and Dr Jit (Photo Duvonne Stewart)|
“ Amrit Samaroo attempted and he was very successful in his ways. He then left and started his band Supernovas.
“In 2010, they called again. I declined again. I still was not ready.
“The band did not make Panorama finals in 2011 and then there was a call that I received from BP directly saying to me "no is not the answer".
“Come and take this band and do whatever you want to do with it", they told me.
“So 2012 was my first attempt at arranging for BP Renegades. On January 7th I was doing Vibes by Mark Loquan, sung by Denyse Plummer.
“Before going to the panyard, I was very, very scared. Because as I said before it was not something that I had planned, to come and work with Renegades.
“But when the calls came I had to answer in a very professional way. Walking through the gates of the panyard I found about 100-plus people with open arms saying welcome back home. And that was the start for me accepting the fact that I was being loved, I was being appreciated; that I have been gifted from the people who made me who I am because I was also a player for Renegades in the late 80’s early 90’s.
“ I performed in the Junior Steelband Festival in 1992 where Jit Samaroo saw me and invited me to play with Renegades.
“I was here since Bees Melody…my first tears crying as a young kid playing on the frontline when we thought we won the Panorama,” he recalled.
“Due to consistent results over the years 2012- 2016, (when we placed third) a dynasty was in the making and a new legacy was coming of age, the one that Dr Jit Samaroo started.
“So they saw a promise that this guy is knocking on the door so we have to take care of this guy, try and make this fella feel comfortable in himself, That was the vibe from the band. The message did not come directly from the players to me, but I heard it through the grapevine.
"I was 430 pounds at my heaviest weight.Concerns were brewing throughout the panyard. Duvonne getting too big, Duvonne you have to take care of yourself and stuff like that.
“And being this young person in a fraternity where I had been respected by many young people, locally, regionally and internationally and working for one of the best steel bands in the world I had to make a stance to preserve me as an individual with good health.
"Renegades actually pushed me in that direction because of a feeling I got from every single player inside of here.
"We have to keep Duvonne here for long. And I tried many, many programs until I made up my mind to do the Gastric Sleeve surgery in 2016.
Nobody knew that I went to do it.
“I lost 100 lbs in 2017 and everyone looked at me and thought something was wrong. At the first gathering in the panyard we all huddled and I told everybody what I did and there was an emotional change in the band.
"Everybody greeted me with tears and the vibe of the band changed drastically.
"Now, it’s 2018 and I have lost about 230 lbs in total and the general reception was that I made them feel comfortable knowing I would be here for a long time, health-wise as long as God says yes.
“Take the baton, run with it, because you are here to build a new dynasty. you are here to stay, we want you here to stay. That gave an added confidence boost to me to deliver me to Bp Renegades.
“The management team of Mr Michael Marcano and Candace Andrews Burmunt, all endorsed me: Duvonne this is your band now. Its history is Jit’s history. This is your time, they said, ands o everything evolved into making Year for Love Duvonne Stewart’s Year for Love.
"I finally took the baton this year.
“In the years in between, I was trying to make Renegades sound like how Jit Samaroo was. Being in his shadow and thinking that I was doing something good. Yes, I was doing something good but I wasn’t really expressing who Duvonne Stewart really is.
"How could you not move out of Jit’s shadow?
“ I was a student of him. I was an understudy. Everything that he did I idolised it. Coming to the band that he made and he also groomed and made me what I am I thought that what I was doing was the right thing.
"In the five years before 2018, in that transition period I was just sending the information from my head to the players, everybody knew when a double tenor solo was coming up, cos Jit used to do it, a Cello solo coming up because Jit used to do it but that time is all gone, now.
"It just happened. It just naturally happened because I was in that frame of mind" he said.
"And people might draw reference to your middle pans?" I asked
“ …which is a trademark of the band. Letting go of these nice fluent cello lines and quadrophonic lines? That’s what I learnt him, taking it away is like taking the heart out of Renegades," he responded.
"That is how the band was built. That is how the instrument was being used inside of here.
"Telling the story of what he was doing from before. But everything else is just 100 percent Duvonne," he assured.
Sheer ecstasy was a sign of intimidation
‘I never led from in front like I did this time. If you go back to the image that I had before with Renegades, I was like a rock in front of the band. I was just like being still, being stagnant, just watching around and waving my hands.
"Losing all that 230 pounds made me more energetic. I felt more real, more athletic.. running from one side of the stage to the other.
"It made people wonder who is this man in front of the band?
'And when they were told that is Duvonne? They were saying Nah! "Everybody was like let me take a good look. Wow, Duvonne transformed this band.
"Hell yes! I was out to shock people!Everybody was gravitating to see me in front of the band this year.
"The new image, the new personality, the new energy. I was just loving every minute of this carnival season.
"It was humorous but yet still interesting and inspiring to a lot of people who saw the transformation of what I made myself to be.
And that all came to a head for a semi-final performance.
|A man possessed (Photo Gary Cardinez)|
“After the preliminary round, the word on the ground was that Renegades is the band to beat this year.
"The National Semi-Finals was four days later and we had to go out and make a statement to John and Jane Public so they would know the reason for Renegades being that band on top.
"And we had to make that statement clear from the word go.
"The draw for the semi-finals was very, very strange.It was the first time I had ever seen something like this. All the bands that played the same songs performed consecutively one after the next.
" I know that Desperadoes is a Champion band, I respect the band big time. And that performance that was given by Renegades on stage was totally spontaneous to the point where the energy, the vibe, the performing values that played a part on that said Sunday night was just sheer ecstasy.
"The players just gave me what I wanted at that point in time because everything that was said in the panyard; every stanza, every line that was articulated by me to them was well portrayed and executed on the stage.
"I had a fire torch in my hand. Nobody knew I had that.
" I did use it on the drag but I did not plan to use it on the stage because it may have sent alarms to the Fire Service, but I said to myself Duvonne if they have to lock you up tonight, they have to lock you up.
“If they have to charge you tonight, they have to charge you tonight. Tonight is the night to make that Semi-Final statement that Renegades is out for blood, is out to make that cut above the rest.
"A sign of intimidation to the rest of bands that we coming to bun people.
Turf wars erupt in cyberspace
.. as a new breed walks through the gates
There was an unease among some bands and steelband turf war went into cyberspace after the semi-final performance, with the management of All-Stars and Desperadoes and Renegades issuing statements to keep their players on chill.
“I felt that nobody expected that a new breed, a new name arranger could be on the scene so dominant that he and his band were on the verge of winning National Panorama holding the lead from the preliminary straight up.
“ Messages, comments and all these things of a certain nature were coming to me. I heard it, I saw it and I felt it.
“Again, it was a distraction to make me be less of what I am to my organization and to my band. Again, I had to come here every single night prepared to make every single player comfortable with their confidence level high above everything.
“Among the comments they said that Duvonne is a rookie arranger. "That Duvonne wasn’t ready for this war as yet.
“He now come. Another band will beat him. Renegades peak in the semi finals, they said,
"But I guess they did all they could have done and little did they know that those comments made me stronger in coming to the panyard here every night to execute and build a final night production to wow that Queen’s Park Savannah.
Again, at 41 years old, I could see the transition process of a new generation of Arrangers
Somebody had to open that door. And, being in a band like Renegades with a managing team like they have and structures as well, I was given all the tools to work with.
“It was just a matter of time to break down that door and the time was right in 2018.
"The life-changing image that I have, the music that I had embedded in me, the confidence that I got from the managing team to be me, was all integrated to what this production lent to itself on February 10th.
“No distraction. no confusion. no night-before-jumbles in the panyard. Everything was just flowing clockwise inside this panyard here from the day go.
"All the distractions, all the darts that were coming, I expected it. Now that I have achieved what I have achieved in winning National Panorama with Renegades I believe that I have opened the gates for young arrangers.
"There must be a lot of arrangers that do not have the band that I have to go forward but yet still I was still determined in opening that space, letting them know this is our generation’s time to say something, to make that statement, and that goes for Seon Gomez, Arddin Herbert, Carlon Harewood, Liam Teague, the three amigos from the US Kendall Williams Odie Franklin and Mark Brooks. and all the young arrangers who have the know-how to send their voices out through music.
"I am not taking full credit for it but this is what we have to do now, rush in the gates and make it happen.
"No disrespect to the virtuosos that existed before who paved the way for us to be where we are now. They may say Duvonne is sounding like Jit, but who you want him to sound like again?
"That was the guy I was learning under. Then again I have to find my own purpose in terms of being me and that was one of the key things that made it possible in 2018.
"Len Boogsie Sharpe, Leon Smooth Edwards Ken Professor Philmore, Ray Holman and you go on, these guys did what they had to do and I say thanks very much to them, but the generation has changed. The generation has evolved to come into this game to make a new sound for the next 10, 15, 20 30 years.
"I won’t be here forever but what I thought I did was make the new breed arrangers feel comfortable in walking through the gates now to make themselves be heard in Panorama.
"The older generation will be in the competition still; they will bring their game on and again Nuff respect to them, but now a group of young arrangers is coming at them with fresh and new music.
Straight Up, Aggressive, Unedited
My Dynasty is Now
"I could speak for ME personally. I am being myself. I am being real. Uncut. Unedited. Unplugged with the ideas that I have to bring whatever composition is being led to me. "There is no other way to be right now.
|(Photo Bp Renegades)|
"In the 80’s and 90’s the arrangements that came from the virtuosos were very technical to articulate. A new generation has evolved we have to try to make them understand what we are doing in terms of being transparent, in being straight in your face. That is what it was like arranging this said piece, this composition.
"Carlton Alexander’s approach to Year For Love and Duvonne Stewart’s approach was completely different.
"He is of the soulful, jazzy, very orchestrated type. Sometimes the young generation may not tend to gravitate to it. I am not saying that he is not doing something good. For me, he is doing something good, but then again there is a flavour and taste for people to understand.
"My version was like up in your face telling you that fire go bun yuh directly without you trying to understand three or four or five times what Duvonne really doing.
"That is just the real straight minded approach that I have. bringing everything directly to your face without going left or right. Yes, aggressive.
"I go with the lyrical content of the song and build from there. For example, the line "another young one gone, brap!", It’s like a gunshot! "There was total silence in the band.
“I was just saying that a criminal walk up to the band and killed somebody. So I explained that to the players.
“In teaching them I explained everything in detail so they understood what they were playing.
"When it's your time, it's your time. I believe my Dynasty is now. I could win come second, third, fourth, come tenth. Nobody knows what next year holds or even what song is available.
"Everybody goes in at zero, it’s up to the judges.I don't take time to critic what a man does with his own creation. "You can’t go inside his mind and tell him what to do. This is what he feels, what he does and sees fit to bring it to the table. Every single arranger did what they did best in what they brought to the table."I am not saying that Quincy Jones can’t do what we do. I see us as phenomenal musicians, exceptional musicians. All of us, the new breed, the Grand Masters who did what they had to do.
"Len Boogsie Sharpe, for me, is the greatest I have ever seen arranging and playing. To be consistently in the top three over three decades .. I can say the same thing for (Clive) Bradley, (Jit) Samaroo and Alexander. "They are all phenomenal in re-creating and repositioning music that was given to them.
A Billion Dollars waiting…
After his stint with Ebony Steelband in London, Duvonne Stewart was invited by Billy Ocean to be part of a project at the Music Arts Department at Liverpool University which involves a lecture and workshop on the steel pan.
“The instrument is growing big time in London. It is compulsory in most of the schools in the UK.
"We need to take time to pay maximum respect to this instrument. This is supposed to be compulsory in the school system. Start it from the school system, make it compulsory that every single child in Trinidad and Tobago learn this instrument. At the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary levels make this instrument a study because there is a market for steel pan outside.
|With Billy Ocean (Photo Duvonne Stewart)|
"Andy Narrell, Victor Provost, Robert Greenidge, Liam Teague Robert Foster, just to name a few are living comfortably internationally off this instrument and they are living examples to the people in Trinidad and Tobago to know there is a life out there with steelpan music.
“If we don't have the right measures, procedures, the right template back home to make a child feel encouraged to make pan an occupation it will never get from where it is right now.
“That is why Robert Greenidge lives outside, Ken Professor Philmore is more outside, Len Boogie Sharpe is here but there is nothing here for him to do after the carnival. That is why I travel a lot to make name for myself.
"Outside of that, we have University program in Trinidad at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) run by Seon Gomez ,Mia Gormandy and Leon Smooth Edwards. There is one in the University of the West Indies and one at COSTATT. Multiple students go there to get Diplomas, Certificates and stuff like that and then after there is nothing for them here. There is not a school steel band program in any of the schools in Trinidad. None.
"At some schools, there is not an instrument in the school.
“I went to Signal Hill Secondary in Scarborough and I received multiple book lists and there is a part in there which says music. So you go buy your manuscript, you buy your Trinity or Royal School of Music Grade One or Two and the instrument that you use is a Recorder.
"Why it is a Recorder when you are living in a country with an instrument that is national and indigenous.The steelpan supposed to be the instrument used to teach people music in Trinidad and Tobago. Everyone should know what is “doh ray mi fa so la ti doh” on every pan in Trinidad.
"We should take time to invest in nurturing and respecting the instrument for what it is because this instrument is a billion dollar industry.
"The connections that I built over the years working with bands internationally, So players from all the bands that I touched came back to Renegades to help with the mission.
Casym in New York, Starlift in St Vincent, Ebony UK had had over 20 players here, we had two players Calyps Atlantic in France and a couple of Japanese players I normally work with.
" And then again I have a fan base of international pannists that also love Renegades and want to play with the band, they came back, because of how I did the music.
"I wrote the Score and sent it to all the players internationally, so they had a fair idea by the time they landed in Trinidad. I score my own music using the e-pan a midi steelpan interface that is triggered with any music compatible software and I go about writing the music by actually playing pan and I am like 120 players doing the song.,
"It is easily accessible for me to do things like that. when they come two days before preliminaries. It's just to fall in and play with the band.