Upbeat (May/June 2000)

A round up of recent Caribbean music — and a tribute to the late Lord Kitchener

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PICK OF THE MONTH

2000 Young to Soca
Machel Montano (JW Productions, JW 198 CD)

Trinidad and Tobago’s Prince of Soca announces himself with considerable fanfare on 2000 Young to Soca, his first solo album in some years. At 26, Montano is a veteran of the business (he made his calypso debut at age 10). The experience acquired over the years shows, most notably in his remarkable grasp of what it takes to create a product that is undeniably Trinidadian, but which still appeals to the young, dancehall-crazed masses. This is soca, yes, but seasoned with hip-hop, R&B, reggae, chutney, rock and jazz: the result is a rich, funky tapestry. The title track updates the song which brought Montano to pint-sized prominence back in 1985. Carnival hit Wrecker, in one of those curious, post-modern instances of pumpkin-vine re-sampling, was lifted way above the ordinary through the use, in its opening chorus, of the signature melody from Duke Ellington’s Caravan as borrowed from the dancehall performer Redman. Bollywood meets soca on Real Unity, a duet with chutney queen Drupatee. Peter Minshall’s sonorous bass voice makes a guest appearance on Jab Jab and I Was Afraid. One of the essential releases for 2000. (GP)

CALYPSO /SOCA

Zero
David Rudder (Lypsoland CR 032 CD)

No, this is not the album-to-end-all-albums awaited each year by Rudder fans who’ve forgotten that the incredible body of work put out by this man over the past 14 years didn’t occur on a single album. But even these rather ordinary Rudder offerings grow on you; expect after a few listens to be humming several of Zero’s nine tracks. Trust the man always to be clever, inventive, and to introduce styles and references which others don’t. Shake Down Time is a veritable World Music smorgasbord, incorporating rai and bhangra riffs behind images of roving tribes, singing rivers and wining Afghani boys. Rudder’s many moods are in evidence: party (Ground Troops, Shake Down Time, Wining in de Carnival), nostalgic (Smiling Eyes of Steel, Seance on the 6th and 7th Fret), and narrative (The Brand New Lucky Diamond Horse Shoe Club). (GP)

Classic Kitch
The Lord Kitchener (JW Productions, JW181 CD)

This nine-track final recording by the Grand Master Lord Kitchener is as good a sampling as any of the veteran calypsonian’s impressive range. Two political commentaries reflect both Kitchener’s support for the People’s National Movement, and the traditional role of the calypsonian as political watchdog. The celebratory Pan Birthday is the last of a long line of calypsos written especially for the steelpan, a trend begun (and perfected) by Kitchener himself in 1946 with Beat of the Steelband. Moko Jumbie marvels at Carnival’s traditional stilt-dancers, and Back Yard Party captures the spirit of aTrini-style outdoor revel – both examples of the skilful, imaginative way in which Kitchener recorded the country’s cultural aspects. As the last work recorded before his death on February 11, 2000, Classic Kitch is destined to become a collector’s item. Also includes a remix of old favourite Gimme De Ting. (VB)

Here Comes the Band
Xtatik & the Mad Bull Crew (JW 179 CD)

This heady brew of 22 numbers by Xtatik and the Mad Bull crew is something of a mixed bag – but pare the album down to the 10 or so tracks that really work, and you have one of the better offerings of the 2000 Carnival season. Xtatik’s impish, infectious sense of fun are in full effect here, complete with musical hooks purloined from far and wide and remade in the band’s image. Standout tracks: Carnival hit Water Flowing, Lord Nelson tracks Disco Grand Daddy and Play Whe, Tobago violin number Drag Yuh Bow; go- go- rapso number Shake that Business should have a life after Carnival. (GP)

Musical Healing
Traffik (CAR004TD)

Traffik was one of the best live acts in Trinidad this past Carnival. Musical Healing offers 12 solid, well-produced tracks in the soca band mode, including Carnival hits Shadowing, Musical Healing and Pressure. (GP)

2000 Pieces of KMC
KMC (VP Records, VPCD 1579)

Ken Marlon Charles broke onto the scene two years ago with the rollicking hits Soca Bashment and Bashment to Carnival. He continues the trend on 2000 Pieces of KMC, with his unique blend of reggae/dancehall-inflected soca and growling voice. (GP)

2000 Calypso Compilation: A Tribute to Pan
Various artists (JW Productions, JWMM 04CD)

Calypsos written especially for steel orchestras usually appear as minor tracks dispersed over several albums or compilations, and consequently they are often deprived of airplay and exposure. To bring them together on one album is therefore a brilliant idea. A Tribute to Pan gathers together the season’s most popular pan calypsos as rendered by their original singers. Veteran De Fosto, long destined to be the heir to Lord Kitchener, is represented, as well as Super Blue, Oba, Denyse Plummer, Hollis Wright, Sparrow and others. (GP)

20th Century Soca Gold (Millennium Edition)
Original artists (JW Productions, JW738 CD)

Soca goes millennial in this collection of 14 revamped classics from Brooklyn-based JW Records. Y2K compliance has meant updated arrangements and, in certain cases, new interpreters (e.g. Baron on Sniper’s Portrait of Trinidad). On most tracks the arrangers have simply upped the tempo and retooled the instrumentation and vocal arrangements. Kitchener’s Sugar Bum Bum (given the Tony Prescott/ Natalie Burke ragga treatment, with the late, great Grand Master hovering somewhere in the background), Lord Nelson’s Disco Daddy and Brigo’s Limbo Break (which were forward-looking even back then) are the only truly radical departures from the originals. (GP)

PAN/PAN-JAZZ

Sweet Talking
Ken Greene (Smoothtouch Records, KMG2)

Pannist Ken Greene’s first album follows the typical pan-jazz formula: several pop covers, a few original compositions, and the obligatory vocal number. With that, and the competent, though not terribly exciting, arrangements, Sweet Talking’s ten tracks come off as pleasant background music, sweet but ultimately unmemorable. At times, too, and in spite of Greene’s considerable skill, the steelpan appears to be simply another instrument in the band. (GP)

VOCAL

Family
Carol Jacobs (Lypsoland, CR031)

A former member of the legendary brass band Shandileer, Jacobs earned fame as a solo singer with Pressure and Sweet Man, both written by her husband and singing partner, Carl. Family is her first solo album, with eight tracks produced by David Rudder. The result is a provocative package that presents Carol Jacob as something between a sultry seductress and a motherly messenger. The title track, penned by Rudder, is a plea for unity and an end to domestic violence. (DJ)

REGGAE

Rare Reggae Grooves from Studio One
Various Artists (Heartbeat11661- 7725-2)

Collectors of Jamaican music will revel in this re-issue of eight tracks from the vaults of legendary recording outfit Studio One – non- specialists may be less enthused. Rare Reggae Grooves forms part of a very important project being undertaken by the Rounder Records affiliate, Heartbeat, which should ensure that much of this music will be available to future generations. (GP)

KITCHENER: AN APPRECIATION

Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts)

April 18, 1922- February 11 , 2000

If you knew Kitchener, you could imagine him strolling along and suddenly being led astray, riveted by sounds that, to the average mind, might be the general cacophony of a busy street, but out of which some solitary note has beckoned him.

You would see it in the faraway look in his eyes, his habitual blinking suspended as his vision took shape. Then you would know that, once again, his muse had descended.

He was a musician above all else, a pioneer unafraid to explore new forms. “What inspires me in the singing is the music,” Kitchener said. “When I hear the sound of the bass it gets me wild.”

But his music embraced his lyrics so naturally and warmly that it seems a violation to try to tear them apart. He learnt the art of storytelling from the likes of Executor, Growler and Destroyer, and he sang alongside Atilla, Lion, Spoiler, Killer, Melody and his great friend Pretender. In speaking, he stumbled along, stammering and groping, literally with his hands, for words to articulate his ideas; but in song there was nothing but smoothness in his delivery.

His storylines were simple and uncluttered, the lyric resting gently upon the music with not a hint of discord. This simplicity was evident, too, in his demeanour, which was one of gentle innocence.

Over the years Kitchener’s music was recognised as superbly suited to the steelband, but he continued to write songs not just for the pan, but about it as well. He immortalised many of the heroes and events of his time: In Steelband Music, he paid tribute to several of the instrument’s pioneers; in Professor Kitch, he saluted the calypsonians; Kitch’s Cricket Calypso, Victory Test Match, and Cricket Champions were written in honour of the West Indies team.

“I was born a calypsonian,” said Kitchener, and in life, he was one of the two titans of the calypso firmament, straddling the world alongside that other hero of our time, the Mighty Sparrow.

On passing away, he leaves us with a corpus that will certainly prove to be an essential element in the memory of the 20th-century Caribbean.

— Vaneisa Baksh