Upbeat (Autumn 1994)

New music from leading Caribbean recording artists

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Cool Runnings

Various artists (Chaos/Columbia)

As a movie, Cool Runnings is so engaging that it’s possible to be completely oblivious to its great soundtrack. So the CD comes as a revelation: it’s startling to realise how much good music there is in the film, even though it is mixed below the surface of the action.

The CD is a delightful compilation of reggae and dance hall music, and it is not as if the producers just went out and licensed a bunch of material. The music is carefully chosen, and most of the songs are taken from albums already released on the Chaos/Columbia label.

Wailing Souls have three songs among the pick, including the mocking humour of Picky Picky Head. Jimmy Cliffs updated I Can See Clearly Now, written by Johnny Nash, takes on a new lease on life, and made its way onto the Billboard charts for several weeks.

Newcomer Diana King also delivers an interesting update of Bob Marley’s early classic Stir It Up. Tony Rebel’s Sweet Jamaica is the best of the DJ tunes, a nationalist affirmation about the virtues of “living on the rock”, and some suggestions about how to make it a better place to live.

Strictly Roots Jazz

Arturo Tappin (Saxroots)

Popular music in the Caribbean in the last 20 years or so has undergone some significant changes, including a growing multiculturalism. The calypso, Trinidad and Tobago’s famous export, has become a dominant force throughout the Caribbean, and in Jamaica has been so influential that the country’s first popular music mento was called calypso and to this day has been unable to shake off the misnomer. Recent times have seen a colonisation in reverse with reggae and dance hall from Jamaica influencing most parts of the region.

So it should come as no surprise to find Barbadian sax player Arturo Tappin recording an album called Strictly Roots Jazz which cleverly blends some of his own jazz riffs with reggae rhythms. His rhythm section boasts a living example of multiculture, Micky Hulsemeier, whose ancestral mix of German, Venezuelan and Barbadian produces a rootsy reggae drummer.

The young sax man is a jazzman by training, but a practising reggae musician and a member of Barbados’s leading reggae group Splashband: Arturo’s nightly encounter with the Jamaican idiom has given him an empathy that eluded similar fusions attempted by other jazzmen like Oliver Lake, Sonny Rollins, Monty Alexander and Courtney Pine. Of that number, Pine is the most conversant, having been part of a reggae group in his early years, and Alexander’s excursions into reggae were primarily inspired by Marley’s music.

Tappin reaches for an early roots feel, and comes up with some originals composed on the spot in the way that bebop musicians recorded in the late forties: finding simple heads or riffs and allowing things to happen organically. Tappin achieves a spontaneous quality, and virtually every track is infectious. The intensity of his playing, especially when he doubles on the baritone sax, recalls some of the early ska recordings of one of his influences, Tommy McCook of the legendary Skatalites. Tappin is a gifted player with a great future ahead of him; with this debut album, he is off to a great start.

Pelham Goddard’s Steel Drum Soca Party

Pelham Goddard (Agra Nine)

Here are the Trinidad Carnival blockbuster hits of 1994, arranged by the most successful arranger in Road March history. Goddard has chosen the jumpy soca Janice by Cravat; Pac Pac, Shadow’s celebration of a famous Tobago J’Ouvert devil masquerader known as Abyssinia; Jump and Wave Again, Preacher’s 94 Road March; Kitchener’s Earthquake; The Iwer Dance by Iwer George; De Fosto’s Play, Mr Pannist, Play, the most played song in Panorama; This is How by Crazy; By All Means, sung by Machel Montano; Flag Party, SuperBlue’s runner-up in the Road March race; and SocaJamboree, Goddard’s composition for the Exodus Steel Orchestra. Goddard plays keyboards and drum machine, Exodus pannist Curt Edwards and Tex Salina are on tenor pan, with Marlon Charles and Ronald Clarke on second pans. This is instrumental only, no vocal tracks.

David Rudder: The Gilded Collection 1986 – 1989

David Rudder (Lypsoland CRO 1 9)

Thirteen selections hand-picked by the man who copped every possible calypso title in 1986 and has never looked back. It includes those 1986 classics The Hammer and Bahia Girl, and also Calypso Music (Rudder’s answer to calypso critics) and Permission to Mash Up the Place. Rudder includes his witty political commentary Panama and his most requested pan song, Dedication, as well as his popular cricket song dedicated to West Indian unity, Rally Round the West Indies, and Haiti, which helped dramatise the island’s plight in 1989. Also present are the rhythmic Engine Room and Rudder’s most recorded track, One More Officer. All the songs are original versions except a remix of Song-for a Lonely Soul, in which the background vocals by the Lydian Singers and Pat Bishop are much more audible. The arrangements are by Pelham Goddard. This is vintage Charlie’s Roots music, including drummer Vonrick Maynard, who is no longer with the group, the late great guitarist Junior Wharwood, Ralph McDonald on conga, Robbie Greenidge and Rudder’s brother Trevor on pan.

Caribbean Carnival: Soca Party Volume II

Various artists (Coral Sounds CSS-010)

A Carnival sampler of 1994 hits, featuring vocal tracks by soca star SuperBlue, brass band Massive Chandelier and lesser known artists like Poody who turn out Carnival hits without much pomp and circumstance. The album offers a broad look at Carnival artists and music, and includes a popular fete number, Put Your Hand (by SuperBlue, sung by Ronnie Mclntosh) and Fire Coming Down, the winning Panorama tune sung by its composer SuperBlue. There’s a special old-time version of the soca hit called Water De Road, and two other party selections by Chandelier including Love Rap. Poody sings his comical Peeping Tom. The album also includes two chutney selections by Sundar Popo: this soca style combined with Indian rhythms is now a significant part of the Carnival sound.

Caribbean Paradise

Dennis de Souza, Robert Greenidge (Coral Sounds CSS-009)

Pianist Dennis de Souza teams up with ace pannist Robbie Greenidge, who writes Panorama tunes for the Desperadoes steel orchestra, to produce 12 easy listening tracks. They include Just Another Day in Paradise; All I Ask of You, from Phantom of the Opera; a Stanley Black medley; Pan A Samba; Have I Told You Lately; Amigos Para Siempre; Michael Jackson’s Heal The World; On The Inside, the theme song from Prisoners; and Beauty and the Beast. De Souza is on acoustic piano and strings, and other players include Curtis Lewis on soprano sax and flute and percussionist Joe Brown.

Azucar

Juan Formell y Los Van Van (Artex CD059)

A nine-track album from one of Cuba’s best-known modern bands. The highly percussive music is a rare treat: all live instruments in this day of the synthesiser. Azucar blends the best of Cuba’s modern music movement with traditional sounds including songo, congason and bolero son: this highly rhythmic music is making a mark in World Music circles around the globe. There are extensive liner notes in Spanish.

Introducing The Preacher

Preacher (Ice Records)

Barnet Henry, The Preacher, swept away the 1994 Road March title in Trinidad and Tobago; his first full-fledged album shows off a big talent. Henry sings ballads, soca, reggae and ragga soca, in a production that offers original and remixed versions of the 1994 Road March Jump and Wave Again. There is a remix and a rap-remix of Preacher’s early 94 Carnival release Rattlesnake, which did well in the fetes. Also included is Preacher’s first recorded song Obeah and other early hits like Pan Revenge and One For The Road, written by Allison Ayres, in which Preacher predicted the upset of SuperBlue. Three brand new tracks are included among the ten. Background vocals are by Shades of Black, with Lambert and David Phillip and Kenny John on brass, and ace guitarist Kenny Phillips.

Kisskidee Jam II

Various artists (Caribbean Sound Basin)

Here are 15 new releases representing the young sound of Trinidad and Tobago. Binghi (dub music’s cousin) and rapso (the highly rhythmic music that combines poetry and soca) come from Kindred, Homefront, F1, Boys on the Road, and newly discovered artists like Tiba, Sparkelton and Lankui, two singers from Tobago. Clean lyrics are favoured, and the music is produced by Shellshock Benjamin and Graham Wilson, well known for their work with General Grant who made the Billboard charts. Other Kisskidee releases include Kindred’s rapso album Xango, and Rainbow Warrior by the German cabaret singer Chako who made his debut in Robert Amar’s Kisskidee Karavan calypso tent this year. Background vocals are by Shades of Black, who are making a name for themselves in Europe travelling with the zouk band Kassav.

Santiago de Cuba

Various artists (Corason (Mexico) COCD607)

Music from the 11th Festival of Caribbean Culture includes 13 highly percussive tracks of African-influenced Caribbean music. The selections include merengue, afroson, son, bolero son and Cuban calypso. There is also son, merengue, bomba and chuines from the Dominican Republic and bele from Martinique. This album from the seat of African-based music in eastern Cuba was recorded and produced by Musica Tradicional of Mexico.

Happiness

Red Plastic Bag and Mac Fingall (Rainbow Wirl 413-2)

Barbadian calypsonian Red Plastic Bag stormed the calypso charts last year at Crop Over with his runaway hit Ragga Ragga, which roared through Trinidad Carnival too and blew away many with its original sound. A whole new musical concept of ragga-soca was born, and the King of Ragga, Stedson Wiltshire, proves that he can deliver more happiness on this new CD with songs like Not Me and Dat, Oye and Jackass. Nicholas Brancker arranges and plays the keyboards and Mac Fingall is the growling dub rapper on Ragga Ragga. Fingall, a qualified PE teacher, composes and sings six of his own songs, which include the racy Ah Lick She, Ding-Dong and Jam On, and does the arranging on Ding-Dong too. Fingall is known for his calypsos at the Untouchables, but is perhaps best loved for his enthusiastic performances on drum and trumpet on the Kensington stand as he leads his band of cricket rabble-rousers.

Quintessence

The Samaroo Jets Trinidad and Tobago (Delos DE4024)

The talented Samaroo family from Lopinot in Trinidad, who comprise one of the smallest and most accomplished of all steel orchestras, score big again with a new melodic album, which as the name implies is a melodic blend of truly great songs. There is Latin American (Tico Tico), calypso (The Bee’s Melody and an old favourite, Portrait of Trinidad), as well as Unforgettable and Michael Jackson’s hit, Heal The World. Jit Samaroo is the six-man band’s leader and functions as their composer/arranger, while working for bigger bands too, the most successful of these being Amoco Renegades, who have won the Panorama competition a prestigious six times. If you’re looking for a collector’s item, quintessence fits the bill.

Branches

Raf Robertson (RDRCD-811)

Much loved and little honoured, the Lord Kitchener has been turning out quality calypso for more years than anyone can remember: comic classics, Road Marches, tunes perfect for pan. And he seems to get younger instead of older, prancing around with the best of them still. Belatedly, Trinidad and Tobago has been realising how much Kitch has been taken for granted: there’s a handsome statue of him by Pat Chu Foon in Port of Spain now. And here is a tribute from one of his greatest fans, musician Raf Robertson, who has taken eight vintage Kitchener tunes and given them a loving, warm jazz treatment. It’s a tribute to Kitchener’s music (as well as Robertson’s) that the tunes sound as if they were meant to be played like this in the first place, calypso rhythms decorated with sax and solo pan. The CD includes memorable treatments of Pan in A minor, Iron Man, Margie, Pan in Harmony, Night and Day, Panorama Night and Bad Impression. There’s some real calypso-jazz here, and for once a tribute does credit both to the master and his admirer.