Upbeat (November/December 2002)

New music from the Caribbean

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PICK OF THE MONTH

Unheard Message
Tony Bailey (Tony Tameasha Publishing (BMI), TTGB01)

Opening with a tuneful prayer, Tony Bailey explains from the start that he’s cutting a new path away from his well-known role as lead guitarist and singer with Bajan supergroup krosfyah. This new sound is soulful music from the heart. Bailey’s first solo outing is spiritually motivated, and he speaks to listeners on a very personal level. This self-produced release happily blends folk with ragga soca, blues, lovers’ reggae and dub. Yet what is astonishing is how a thickly-accented Vincentian, known across the region as a hard-line soca entertainer, smoothly presents a folksy Caribbean style in a voice remarkably reminiscent of Bob Dylan. This is partly due to Dylanesque inflections and the rough-edged tone employed, but the likeness is at times uncanny. Over 20 tracks, Bailey flies along on his acoustic guitar, a talent little showcased in his krosfyah life. Strangers by Da River conveys a ghostly message of blind love, while Call Me delivers a pleasant treatise on the importance of friendship. The frighteningly truthful reggae song Mothers of Salem is based on some painfully personal experiences — the angst is clear, the guitar pure. And on Fly Angel Fly, Bailey shares a simple, loving folk song in tribute to his father’s recent passing, though the message remains universal. This is a thoroughly joyous album, and an outstanding first outing. (RK)

 

CALYPSO/SOCA

Unity
Square One (Square One Music, Inc. SO (2002)001)

On this, their ninth outing, the well-known Barbadian group remains strong in voice under the leadership of Allison Hinds and Anderson “Blood” Armstrong, with tracks written primarily by Armstrong and band members Terry Arthur, Peter Wiggins and Cecil Riley. Ladies Rule is a pleasantly swaying tune with a bit of rap thrown into the mix. Unity is a little more complex musically, and Shake that Bumper will please Square One fans, as will Bounce, with vocals by Armstrong. Of the 15 songs, Somebody Trick Me is perhaps the most interesting lyrically. Bonus track You Belong To Me is a substantial number with an R&B feel. Guest vocalists on this CD include Natahlee Burke, Peter Ram and Nicholas Brancker, who also did quite a bit of the arranging. Unity certainly equals the band’s work over the last 10 years, though they appear at times stuck in the “instructional” soca mode. Still, the band stays true to its fans, producing a likeable album certain to please its large following. (RK)

Trinity
3canal (Rituals)

This latest release by rapso’s crown princes includes a new arrangement of Over The Mountain, which, in its relatively short lifespan, has become one of the group’s classics. An adaptation of Tito Puente’s old Latin chestnut Oye Como Va is also given a surprisingly fresh treatment by a production team including Omari Ashby and Carlos Molina. The other standout is the Nitin Sawhney-produced Illuminata, which, with its sweetly inspirational lyrics gorgeously backed by piano and strings, represents a considerable departure from the usual 3 Canal sound. (GP)

Ah Wanna Fall: Calypsos from Trinidad & Tobago
Various Artists (Sanch, CD 0201)

An outstanding collection of calypsos from the postwar era of the 1940s and 50s, as performed by Trinidadian actor/singers David Bereaux, Clem Haynes, Kurtis Gross, Leah Gordon and others for the memorable 1992 Canboulay theatre production Ah Wanna Fall. The show’s title was calypsonian Spoiler’s trademark phrase, of course, and he is one of the play’s main characters, along with Kitchener, Melody, Commander, Pretender, Killer, Panther and Wonder. This wonderful selection of songs by these calypso greats takes us back to the good old days when serious wit and a massive talent for double entendre and thinly veiled smut were a prerequisite for membership in the calypso fraternity. (GP)

Under Cover
The Fraud Squad (RaGaCha Music Inc.)

This first full-length release by Barbadian trio Omar Jordan, Shon Cummins and Adrian O’Neale comes on the heels of the successful hit single Tek Dat (included on this CD), which enjoyed success regionally and overseas. Overall, the album presents a raw, unembellished form of the “wuk up”-style calypso Barbados is so famous for, and, perhaps too often, shades of krosfyah come through in the repetitive chants, calls and stanzas. Where this band differs is in its “tuk band”-style drumming, heard through much of the CD. Tuk is an African/British style peculiar to Barbados, and it’s refreshing to see a band utilise this indigenous rhythm. Among the best of these 14 tracks is Betta, which, with its pleasant, haunting melody, showcases the group’s ability to create more complex, captivating airs. Boom Boom, a fairly generic jump-up tune, takes a jab at Allison Hinds and her “instructional”-style calypso while providing a bit of lyrical amusement. (RK)

 

REGGAE

Reggae Redemption Songs
Various Artists (Lion of Zion Entertainment, LZD-6520)

Popular music, when christianised, has a way of losing its edge. Reggae does, however, have spiritual roots, and several of this compilation’s 17 tracks do sound like something more than vehicles for a Christian message. Reggae is a major ingredient in the jamoo style developed by Sheldon Blackman and the Love Circle, for instance, who are represented here by the rocking Right To Believe. Another example is Jamba, featured here on a lovely Steel Pulse-style number called Nuh Worry. Monty G contributes a number called Youth Stand Strong, rendered — appropriately — in the fire-and-brimstone style of conscious singers like Sizzla and Capleton; and Solomon Jabby presents an atmospheric instrumental dub called Iesous Dub International, complete with melodica. All in all, a sound selection of Christian reggae in a variety of styles by a wide range of artists from around the Caribbean. (GP)

Mr Progressive
Shakey Ranks (M2 Productions, C0010-CD)

Pleasant grooves from Bajan reggae singer Shakey Ranks. Ranks isn’t as raw-edged as some of his Jamaican contemporaries, and the impact of his voice is sometimes lost in the dense instrumentation on this recording, but this is a nice upbeat selection of conscious tunes, with some R&B and soca stylings thrown in. (GP)

 

PAN/PAN JAZZ

Caribbean Delight: The Best Steel Pan Album Ever!
(Jamm Records, JAMM REC 06)

Five originals and nine popular songs and standards rendered by pannists Anderson “Andy” Cupid and Sean Richards. The selection of standards — which includes Samba de Orfeu, Lady in Red, Summertime and Quando, Quando, Quando — is a little predictable, and the synthesizer backing at times gives the music a Muzak-like feel, but the originals come off as lively and spirited. (NP)

 

ADULT CONTEMPORARY

Shades of Love
Baron (JW Records, JW-191-CCD)

Baron, like the Mighty Sparrow before him, has made something of a name for himself as a singer of non-calypso numbers, and fans of the calypso crooner may well delight in this selection of socafied popular songs arranged by Leston Paul. Selections range from 80s pop ballads like Chris de Burgh’s Lady in Red and soul classics like Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together to the theme from Sound of Music and Sukiyaki. (GP)

Spirit of the Caribbean
Gene Lawrence

I was barely out of diapers when singer/guitarist Gene Lawrence released Saturday Night Sunday Morning, but I have vivid memories of that album, which, with its breezy old-time kaiso and folksy acoustic guitar, filled a niche for locally flavoured music that wasn’t Carnival-oriented straight-up calypso or soca. With Spirit of the Caribbean, Lawrence, who relocated from Trinidad to St Lucia some years ago, is on a similar mission, with the addition of more electronic instrumentation alongside the guitar and steelpans. The compositions are all Lawrence’s except for Kari (by Earl Klugh) and Sparrow’s The Lizard, and he’s joined on this release by some quality company, including Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, Earl Brooks and Wayne Bruno; Paul Keens-Douglas contributes chorus lyrics on Sugar Apple People. (GP)

 

FOLK

Harambee
Signal Hill Alumni Choir (Signal Hill Alumni Choir, SHAC38761)

A handsomely packaged selection of African songs by one of the premier choral groups in the Caribbean. Harambee features selections from South Africa — including the Miriam Makeba hit Pata Pata — Kenya, Congo and Benin, plus Dennis Williams’s African-inspired calypso Umbayaya Oh and a traditional Orisha chant called Ogun Karanga. Standouts include the Nigerian Kabo Kabo, and Tchotcholoza and Nongongo, both from South Africa. The Tobago-based choir invites listeners to “feel the feel, claim the roots, move with the energy, and experience the spirituality” of the songs, and listening to Harambee, that’s exactly what we’re inspired to do. (GP)

 

JAZZ

My America
Monty Alexander (Telarc, CD-83552)

Monty fans might have predicted that, after Jamaican-flavoured outings like Stir It Up: the Songs of Bob Marley, Monty Alexander Meets Sly and Robbie and Goin’ Yard, Monty might have returned to his adoptive genre of American jazz. But this isn’t the album you probably envisioned. To do so, you would really have to have lived in Monty’s head since the day he first heard a thing called American music. My America is one man’s loving, playful tribute to the country that brought him fame as a jazz pianist, and it meanders across genres, revealing a range of influences and tastes wide as the Grand Canyon and as eclectic as America itself. For a piece to have merited inclusion, it must have produced “wonderful sensations” in Monty’s soul. The qualifiers include the Cole Porter-composed Roy Rogers movie hit Don’t Fence Me In (in tribute, Monty peppers his arrangement with giddy-up cowboy riffs), and Mack the Knife (which comes to Monty via its earlier interpreter Louis Armstrong, not Bobby Darin). Also making the cut are Nat King Cole’s Straighten Up and Fly Right, James Brown’s Sex Machine, Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and others, plus the original composition The River Rolls On. It’s a deeply personal selection that may not please everybody, but the arrangements are always spirited, and never predictable. With the exception of two, the musicians are all Jamaica-born. (GP)

 

Reviews by Roxan Kinas, Georgia Popplewell and Nola Powers.