Upbeat (November/December 1997)

New Caribbean Music


Unbounded

Marcia Miranda (JMC, distributed by Crosby’s)

This nine-track CD runs the gamut of contemporary Trinidadian music: chutney soca, slow groove calypso, dancehall, uptempo soca, it’s all here. The album was recorded in three Trinidadian studios: Kenny Phillips’s Music Lab, Klub Carnival Studios and GW Studios. Six tracks are produced and arranged by Phillips, best known for ragga/dancehall soca and a collaboration with former Road March winner Preacher. Two tracks are arranged by Carl “Beaver” Henderson, known for his recent work with Shadow; and one track, Wukerman, is produced and arranged by former Road March champion Nigel Lewis and Graham Wilson at GW Studios. There’s lots of good live music here, particularly the haunting horn lines of Curtis Lewis’s alto sax which help define a mesmeric groove in A Whole Lot of Loving. (DJ)

The Tide

Running Wild

This Tide rolls in derivatively. Most of these twelve tracks (eleven if you don’t count the unnamed one) sound like outtakes for established groups. From the chimes of opening Church Bells to the final slam of The Hammer, Clint Quintal and Marlon Jones dive head-first in a sea of nonsense lyrics, repetitive verses and guitar riffs. (One chorus is: “I have waited, I have waited . . .”) From the book of singing rock they take plenty. There’s some Aerosmith whining in River Running Wild and several Hootie sounds in Suburban Queen. And just when you’re not looking they sneak up a surprising mix of alternative rock and reggae in Shadow Over Mine and Old Fashioned Love Song. The Tide is not all bad though. Give them an A for originality. (ES)

Ramachez

Pan Man Pat (The Steel Pan Company SPCCDPAT01)

Jegna

John King (Steel Donkey Records/Soursop Music)

John King’s ever-clean rapturous voice shines through these eight tracks, the basis of his 1996 Crop Over repertoire. His polished, sophisticated voice brings a depth and intensity to the soca/calypso genre that is a joy to hear. How Many More is a masterpiece that ventures to the outer limits of the genre with refreshing emotion and style. There is experimental and standard soca and calypso here too, from the road march Ready For The Road and the chipping tune On De Road to Get Up, Get Busy with its finely honed boogie-style rap. A well orchestrated, tightly arranged work, this brings out the best in King’s electrifying voice. (RK)

Human Source

Roy Pascal and On Purpose (BWM CD 0412)

Trinidadian panman Roy Pascal leads his Denmark-based band on a tour of high life, reggae and soca on these nine tracks. Using the steelpan as a keyboard, the album opens with Dhouti, which Pascal swears has an authentic Shango beat (you don’t hear it though), moving to the bassy Human Source and the sleepy Guardian Of Democrazy. The mood here is laid back, and sometimes Pascal’s voice drowns in the band’s percussion and saxophones. But Pascal isn’t after singing honours here, he’s pushing the pan. A bit of Trinidad slips in for the calypso jazz Meh Lover — not to be confused with Nelson’s song of the same name — and Rosina. The album closes with the jazzy and smoky Bo’s Bass Grove. (ES)

Fyah Riddums

krosfyah (Kalinago Recordings)

This six-song mini-CD is krosfyah’s contribution to Barbados’s 1997 Crop Over season. Two of the songs carried lead singer and author Edwin Yearwood to the calypso monarch finals — Highway Robbery, the joint Road March winner, and the gospelypso Redemption Of Me. And with good reason, for the band brings to this album the lively, vibrant, toe-tapping style fans have come to love and expect. Edwin’s Road Block is in uptempo vein, while his Haunting Melodies is simple and rhythmical. Redemption Of Me is a powerful song that shows both Edwin’s versatility and his taste for consciousness-oriented lyrics. Strong backing vocals along with pan sound add an even greater depth. Lead guitarist Tony Bailey contributes De Gal Next Door, a fun, dancehall-style tune that is enjoying popularity around the region with its driving rhythm and standout guitar. Tony’s The Fact of Life is a joyous melody that takes a look at the attitudes of Caribbean men toward women. (RK)

FO’ SPITE

Max Bit U

Take the acoustic guitar, an evocative and compelling old sound made new in the hands of Colin Bell, Karissa Lewes and the collaborative that is Max; add voices that, however charmed by the country and western or protest traditions, are nevertheless of a particular “now” Trini generation. And you emerge with an album that — in spite of its name and the harshness of some of its lyrics (Do you want me for the night? or Would you be so kind?/ Would you rewind?/ Take me back! or Give me another start! No way!) — is melodious, finger-snapping, and yes, nostalgic. A generation not raised on Fleetwood Mac, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Joni Mitchell, even Chicago, may not appreciate the traditions that inform Max Bit U. Yet the members of this group, even collectively, cannot be old enough to reach back to the protest sound of the sixties. Their provocative lyrics blend with incisive contemporary influences: plangent country and western (a foot-stomping harmonica interlude that is Why), sitar-esque harmonies and strategic ambient sound effects — barking dogs, a car vrrrooming by, church bells, and the emotion-tugging pan trills of Len “Boogsie” Sharpe in Karissa Lewes’s My Island. Colin Bell’s Evening Falls, with its fiery eastern bazaar effect, establishes both the quality of his voice and his ability to conjure a mood. This is a delightful and polished effort, well worth collecting. (PG)

Face to Face

Earlyn Alexander

Trini-born, Canada-based Earlyn Alexander sizzles on this CD with his unique version of old style spiritual singing. Eleven tracks deep, Face to Face uses a secular R&B rhythm underneath the churchiest of lyrics. All of a sudden you’re in the back pew stomping, clapping and shouting as Alexander delivers Magnify The Lord — the opening track. Listen out for his treatment of Wade, the American spiritual, and his innovations — throbbing basslines, blending voices and that unmistakable hip hop beat. Alexander slows down for the swinging Praise The Lord and an earnest rendition of I Trust In God. Very properly, the album ends with Amen. (ES)

Calypso Spektakula 97

(Spektakula Promotions, Trinidad)

This videotape captures the action of one of Trinidad’s most popular calypso tents during the 1997 Carnival season. It offers two and a half hours of live tent performance (with encores), the humour of MC Tommy Joseph, and a sense of the front-row immediacy of a good night at the tent. Gypsy sings Little Black Boy, Ronnie McIntosh sings Ent, the song which made him a soca monarch; there’s popular DJ Chinese Laundry, the hard-hitting commentary of singers like Watchman, traditional humour from Trinidad Rio and Funny, and the offbeat humour of Cardinal. This isn’t just soca music, it’s a microcosm of Trinidad Carnival and a collector’s item. (DJ)

A Touch Of Class

Pantastix (The Steel Pan Company SPCCDPX01)

Pan music flourishes in all sorts of unlikely places, and Trinidad and Tobago, its original creator, is still unsure whether to be proud of the spreading gospel or threatened by it. Or both. These two well-recorded CDs come from a company based in Rexdale, Ontario, and feature the Etobicoke schools where Trinidadian “Pan Man” Pat McNeilly — described here as “the foremost steel pan player in Canada” and twice calypso monarch of Canada — teaches his students to play pan. These two albums — one featuring McNeilly as a soloist, the other featuring his Etobicoke Schools Steel Orchestra — give sweet, easy-listening treatments to a variety of numbers ranging from Rudder’s The Hammer and Kitchener’s Pan In A Minor to El Bimbo and Heal The World, though no composers are credited (naughty). There’s a rather suspect account of pan’s origins in the liner notes, and an equally suspect explanation of the Ramachez title — in Trinidad, ramajay means creative improvisation, and probably derives from the French creole ramager, used of birdsong. (JT)

1997 Calypso Compilation

Various artists (Crosby’s/Worldwide Distribution)

Trinidad record store owner Earl Crosby and calypso expert Alvin Daniell have again collaborated on a well-balanced calypso compilation which features the pan, party and traditional side of calypso. This 11-track CD features two songs by Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, one of pan’s most original and creative musicians and arrangers, with vocals by one of soca’s most flamboyant entertainers, Denyse Plummer. Leon Caldero, whose popularity is growing on the soca scene, offers two selections. Former Road March winner Nigel Lewis has a disco-ish remix of Follow De Leader and a slow groove remix of The Urge. (DJ)