New Music from the Caribbean (September/October 2002)

A roundup of new CDs from around the Caribbean

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SOCA

Raw Soca

Soca Rebels featuring Shirlaine Hendrickson (Soca Rebels, SRCD1)

Soca (the beautiful music genre, not even in post-World Cup Brazil-five-time-champs euphoria to be confused with the beautiful game) is now apparently an international phenomenon. Spawned in tiny Trinidad during the 1970s, mixing calypso with generous influences from Dominican cadence, North American soul, East Indian and Tobagonian rhythms, it has become the carnival/party music of choice throughout the Caribbean, its diaspora and, as this CD proves, Norrkoping, Sweden. Recorded live at Norrkoping Carnival 2000, Raw Soca lives up to its name, showcasing Sweden’s premier (and only) soca band, who acquit themselves well, incorporating steelpan and the obligatory soca brass section as well as idiosyncratic American West Coast lead guitar circa 1968. The album also features five tracks from Trinidad’s young Calypso Queen Shirlaine Hendrickson, daughter of veteran calypsonian All Rounder. This may not be a classic but should certainly revive rave memories for those who jumped up, waved their hands and got on BAD at Norrkoping’s Y2K carnival. Eat your heart out, the rest of the world. (SL)

 

Best of Crazy

Crazy (JW Productions, JW-242CD)

Edwin Ayoung, better known as Crazy, is a unique combination of serious calypsonian, smut-meister, and party animal — with stage presence he hasn’t even used yet. It’s hard to believe that this irresistible anthology is the first best-of collection from the Lovable Lunatic after 30 years as a star calypsonian. The playlist ranges from long-time favourites like Soca Tarzan to smuts like Paul and For Curiosity, and fete favourites like Jump Up and Wail, This Is How and De Party Now Start, one of the greatest party jump-up performances ever recorded. I have only one complaint:  this CD clearly needs to be a double CD, since it doesn’t include essential tunes like Symphony In C, Suck Meh Soucouyant, Drive It, Nani Wine, nor any of Crazy’s “serious” calypsos like In Time to Come. But hey, while we wait for Volume 2, we can still start jumping to Volume 1. De party now start! (MG)

 

A Treasure to Behold

Scrunter (JW Productions, JWCM 132CD) 

Irwin Reyes Johnson, better known in his homeland of Trinidad as Scrunter (a sobriquet which deserves a whole song of explanation but which essentially means “someone who is hard up and hustling to make ends meet”) is a multi-talented, living legend. His music will soothe your soul and tickle your funny bone as surely as his food will fill your belly and titillate your palate. Besides being a famous hunter and “wild meat” cook, Scrunter is the uncrowned king of Parang Soca (a fusion of the Spanish-derived music played during Trinidad’s Christmas season and fast-paced modern calypso) who can be relied on to produce a Christmas anthem heavily seasoned with humorous and sometimes scurrilous double entendre. A Treasure to Behold presents Scrunter the calypsonian singing his Latin- and zouk-flavoured compositions, including such classics as Woman on de Bass, Oil in de Coil, Crapaud Revolution, Camina Bailar, along with his version of  Lord Kitchener’s all-time masterpiece Sugar Bum Bum. This is music to savour open-fire-roasted opossum to. Vegetarians and vegans can cut straight to the dance floor. (SL)

 

Carnival Party Rhythms 7

Various Artists (Rituals Music, CO9202)

Soca compilations have been known to achieve bestseller status on the basis of one or two exceptional numbers, hence their increasing popularity as a means of marketing the music produced by the bucketful each Carnival. Rituals Music’s 2002 release rides largely on three tracks — but what outstanding numbers these are. Militant’s Latin-flavoured gem Hot & Groovy, André Tanker’s Ben Lion (featuring 3Canal), and Grenadian singer Super P’s Peeping (a one-joke tune which is catchy and well-written enough to bear endless repetition; for some strange reason, P’s droning delivery helps as well), lift CPR7 beyond the ordinary, helped by second-tier tracks like Preacher’s popular My Dulahin, and Ward One’s version of Turn Me On, one of the 2002 season’s biggest hits. (GP)

 

REGGAE

Dub Your Brains Out

Various Artists (Victory Records, VR182)

Born and raised in Kingston’s makeshift recording studios in the 70s, dub, with its sound collages and rib-rattling basslines, is the true-blue ancestor of today’s trance, trip-hop and ambient grooves. On Dub Your Brains Out compilation producers Victory World come good, with an effective mix of material both vintage and modern. The album brings together real-deal, pre-ProTools era dub from the mixing consoles of old-schoolers like King Tubby protégé Scientist and Mad Professor (tweaked, would you imagine, with the bare hands, using faders, potentiometers, analog (!) reverb units and other forms of Neolithic hardware) and tracks by relative newcomers. Dub Your Brains Out features numbers by essential roots reggae artists like Augustus Pablo, Bunny Wailer, Culture, Gregory Isaacs and Black Uhuru, mixed by dub wizards like Doctor Dread and RAS Records’s Jim Fox, as well as moderns like Luciano, Sizzla and Ninjaman. (GP)

 

PAN/PAN JAZZ

Sakésho

Sakésho (Heads Up, HUCD 3069)

Sakésho (pronounced sah-kay show) is a jazz quartet with roots deep in the music of the French Caribbean — specifically the biguine, the intensely syncopated, polyrhythmic music from the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. Three of these musicians — pianist Mario Canonge, bassist Michel Alibo, and drummer Jean-Pierre Fanfant — were born in the French Caribbean, and the fourth, Andy Narell, is a virtually naturalized citizen of the region. Narell is, of course, an American-born steel pan virtuoso with legions of fans scattered from New York City to Soweto. His three comrades, with whom he’s been gigging on and off since 1993, are émigré Parisian jazz stars and studio aces. Not every tune on Sakésho is a biguine; some are calypsos, some are Afro-Cuban, and some are gorgeous jazz ballads. But the flavor of the French Caribbean and its rich musical traditions washes over this CD as irresistibly (and refreshingly) as a blue wave rolling into the windward coast of some green, glowing island in the tropical sea. “Sakésho” is creole for “it’s gonna be hot”, and these guys aren’t kidding. (MG)

 

A Panorama Saga II

BP Renegades Steel Orchestra (Sanch, CD 0106)

In technical terms it has proved notoriously difficult to produce viable recordings of  steel pan, one of  Trinidad’s many unique musical offerings to the wider world. Just to capture the timbre of a few pans has defeated many an engineer, but faced with faithfully reproducing the incredible intensity of a 120-strong steelband playing tenor, cello, guitar and bass pans, along with the assorted instruments of the rhythm section, is a daunting task. Where many have failed, Sanch Electronix have produced a masterful coup in this recording of one of Trinidad’s most long-lived, well loved, famed and formerly infamous steelbands, the BP Renegades, nine-time winners of the national Panorama competition. These seven tracks allow all those who have never experienced the visceral thrill of a Panorama night under the stars at The Big Yard on the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain, to be there, if only vicariously. (SL)

 

POP/ROCK

Laura

Laura Pierre (Jep! Records, JEPCD 001)

Laura Pierre has the big voice and saucy confidence of a bona fide hip-hop diva, and on this well-produced debut release she takes on girl-power themes which go well with her stage persona. Laura and her producers have a clear formula in mind — a dash of dancehall, a pinch of old school soul on Fallin’, a dialect number in Miss Mary, acoustic soul on Man, and so onand it may well work. Laura the album doesn’t break any moulds, but Laura the singer has the chops required for success. (GP)

 

FOLK

The Rough Guide to the Music of Haiti

Various Artists (World Music Network,  LC11067)

Here’s a splendid introduction to the musical riches of the world’s first black republic. The forests may have long disappeared from the former “Pearl of the Antilles”, but African retentions have survived in Haiti’s music, cross-fertilized with influences from neighbouring Cuba and West African soukous as well as  jazz, funk, rap and hip hop from the USA. (Don’t forget two-thirds of the Fugees are Haitian-born and bred.) This compilation includes classic cuts from Nemours Jean-Baptiste (who co-launched konpas and commercial music in Haiti by adapting the popular merengue of Hispaniolan arch-rival the Dominican Republic back in the 1950s), Coupe Cloue, and Tabou Combo. Orchestre Tropicana (still playing after 50 years) and Issa El Saieh evoke the big band sound of the pre-Duvalier era, while rappers Masters of Haiti and the vaudou roots bands Boukman Eksperyans and Ram bring us up to speed. Two separate Cuban influences are featured on Haitiando’s Creole take on son, and Ti Coca’s twoubadou version of the unofficial national anthem Ayiti Cherie. Savour this Haitian feast. (SL)

 

COMEDY

Las’ Lap: Farewell to the Nineties 

Paul Keens-Douglas (Keensdee, PKD-018)

I’ve learned more about Trinidad culture, history, and language from comedian Paul Keens-Douglas than any other single source. To take just one example, on the subject of potholes: he once said that the way police in Diego Martin (a western suburb of Port of Spain) could know you were drunk was if they saw you driving in a straight line. Not only is that a marvelous joke, right up there with Jay Leno or Jack Benny, it’s solid journalism too — as anyone who’s ever driven in Diego Martin can testify. PKD is also an accomplished story-teller, spinning captivating tales with terrific bits of description and masterful characterization. Las Lap is a triumph. I defy anyone to listen to “De Kiteman” (an anecdote set in Grenada involving a Trinidadian boat and a German hang-glider) without rolling on the floor laughing. Trinidad is blessed with a profusion of great comedians, from the classic elegance and flawless timing of John Agitation to Sprangalang’s intellectual brilliance, Tommy Joseph’s uncanny impressions, even the flirtatious commentary of Rachel Price and Donna Haddad. But PKD is Trinidad’s Mark Twain. (MG)

 

Instrumental

Piano Medleys For All Time

Norman Augustus

Trinidadian piano-meister Norman Augustus’s repertoire runs the gamut from classic popular standards (My Way, Stranger In Paradise), Broadway tunes (Send In The Clowns), modern pop (Wind Beneath My Wings) and old-time kaiso (My Pussin), to sacred (All I Ask Of You, Let There Be Peace On Earth), swing, jazz and waltz numbers. That’s quite a range. Augustus’s synthesizer-backed arrangements recall the performances of Dennis de Souza and earlier lounge-style pianists like Felix Roach, Louis Nurse and Ralph Davies. For people of a certain age, this self-produced CD will certainly evoke extremely fond memories of earlier days. (NP)

 

Reviews by Michael Goodwin, Simon Lee, Georgia Popplewell and Nola Powers. Music editor: Georgia Popplewell