Upbeat (Spring 1994)

Some new Caribbean albums and CDs, including soca hits for Carnival

Delos, Caribbean Carnival series DE4022

CARNIVAL ROUNDUP

Here Comes the West Indies is the title of David Rudder‘s 1994 album. The music is uptempo, but the themes are serious and strongly Caribbean in the widest sense. The tracks include ‘One Caribbean,’ a song commissioned by the Oilfields Workers Trade Union in Trinidad and urging regional unity and solidarity, plus ‘Here Comes the West Indies,’ ‘The Day of the Warlord,’ ‘Kingston Girl,’ ‘Splendido Avenue,’ ‘Cuba,’ and ‘My Girl,’ based on a melody by a Japanese musician and arranged by Leston Paul. This seems to be Rudder’s Cuban phase; among the musical experiments are some Cuban horns. Most of the arrangements are by Wayne Bruno, with Pelham Goddard contributing ‘Splendido Avenue.’

Shadow launched into the 1994 Carnival season with Dingolay, a pot-pourri of hits in his own witty style. The former Road March King is credited with injecting early soca music with infectious bass lines, and here he has created bouncy dance tunes as well as pointed social commentary. ‘Tony’ addresses the problem of alcoholism, and elsewhere on the album Shadow returns to his Tobago roots with a powerful, rhythmic recreation of J’Ouvert morning, Tobago style. There are echoes of the Tobago jig and other traditional forms. This album, mixed in the studios of Caribbean Sound Basin, is probably Shadow’s most versatile to date.

Black Stalin‘s 1994 album Rebellion features “ring bang”, a new concept in soca claimed by Eddy Grant, the Guyanese-born star who hit the charts in the seventies with his own brand of reggae/pop. The former Calypso Monarch includes a cover version of Bob Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released,’ Black Woman’s ‘Lament’ and ‘Let the Soca Play.’ There are ten tracks plus a bonus on this collection (available as CD, tape or album), recorded at Grant’s Blue Wave Studio in Barbados, with rhythm tracks arranged by Grant. Roy Cape and his Kaiso All Stars are the musicians, with Charlie’s Roots guitarist Tony Voisin, Albert Bush on bass, and horns arranged by Juiceman Roberts. New York-based guitarist George Victory works on some tracks. Grant contributes also to the background vocals, and Barbados’s favourite son Gabby sings a duet with Stalin. This is a brilliant combination of dance music and strong lyrics.

Duke, the only man to win the Calypso Monarch crown four years in a row, also plunges into ring bang. His wry sense of humour shines across in ‘Mask,’ which includes the best of dance and social/political commentary. The ten tracks include ‘Soca Tutulbay’, ‘Home Cooking,’ ‘The Baddest’ and ‘The Floating Dollar.’ George Victory plays guitar and Marcilino Thompson from Panama, based in New York, plays bass. The renowned Vincentian soca arranger Frankie McIntosh deals with the horns while Eddy Grant arranged the rhythm tracks.

One of the most loveable and successful singers, Calypso Rose, is back for 1994 with an album on the Ice Records label, Soca Diva. ‘I Am Back’ is one of the tracks. Others include ‘Soca Diva’ and ‘Ju Ju Warrior’. The only woman to collect both Calypso Monarch and Road March crowns, Rose renews her partnership with arranger Pelham Goddard. Musicians include Albert Bush on bass guitar, Tony Voisin on guitar, Goddard on keyboards, and horns from Roy Cape’s Kaiso All Stars.

Among the younger voices this season are Carlene Wells, whose When Rain is Falling features six tracks by the talented new wave of women singers, and Iwer George, the unofficial king of Soca Village and specialist in uptempo and ragga soca. Wells, lead singer with the brass band Rukshun, offers party dance songs, ragga soca and jam soca on tracks like ‘Soca My Body,’ ‘Nah Jam This Body’ and ‘Party Mood,’ all arranged by Cally Pantor. Iwer George’s four-track album, arranged by Pelham Goddard and recorded at his studio, uses musicians from Charlie’s Roots including Haydn Robin on trumpet, Leopold Stevenson on saxophone, Tony Voisin on guitar and Albert Bush on bass, with background vocals by Natalie Yorke, Jocelyn Jones, Carla Gonzales and Adrian Philbert.

One of the most versatile albums out of Barbados in recent months is Soca Trinity, which offers tracks by Barbados’s most successful calypso writer Gabby, Barbados’s all-time Road March king Grynner, and Bert Panta Brown. Gabby’s contribution includes a ring bang version of Sparrow’s ‘Rose,’ a cover version of Melody’s ‘Boo Boo,’ and the great ‘Pow Pow’ which came second in the 1993 Crop Over Road March. Grynner offers ‘Bring Them In,’ co-written with Gabby, and a recut of one of his first recordings, ‘Suzie from the Country,’ along with ‘Mr Bass Man’ and ‘Don’t Push Me Rosie.’ Bert Panta Brown sings his own ‘When a Trini Jamming,’ plus ‘Soca Up the Party’ and ‘Rock the Party.’ The result is a blend of traditional soca, soft soca/rock, ballad and ring bang.

THE JAMMER: DESPERADOES STEEL ORCHESTRA

Delos, Caribbean Carnival series DE4022

Desperadoes, perched on top of the Laventille hills above Port of Spain, are one of the most revered of all Trinidad’s steel orchestras. Their distinctive, mellow, organ-like tone, their ability to attract the panworld’s top arrangers, their long association with their leader Rudolph Charles and his many pan innovations, their formidable reputation — all this has kept Desperadoes in the forefront of the steelband movement, quite apart from their extensive tours and successes in the Panorama competition and Steelband Music Festival. This CD assembles eight of their biggest hits, arranged by Clive Bradley and Robbie Greenidge. Apart from the title track, they include Kitchener’s ‘No Pan’ and ‘Symphony in G,’ Bradley’s ‘Ah Goin An Party Tonight,’ Greenidge’s ‘Musical Volcano’ and SuperBlue’s ‘Rebecca The programme notes include useful background on the orchestra’s history and its association with Charles, Bradley, Greenidge, Beverley Griffith, conductor Pat Bishop, and its long-time sponsor WITCO.

RECUENTO

Polito Ibanez

Ibanez is one of Cuba’s rising stars, featured here live in concert at Havana’s Teatro Nacional de Cuba. His music is a direct descendant of a musical style from the early years of the Cuban revolution, and offers poetic lyrics dealing with social issues and love. This relatively new Cuban music has been influenced by rock artists like Queen, Phil Collins, Sting, Billy Joel, Elton John and Police, as well as Brazilian musicians like Milton de Nacimento, Chico Guarque and D’Yavan. The album is a major project by the Pablo Milanes Foundation, the first private organisation in Cuba dedicated to advancement of the arts.

INDOMITABLE

Marcia Griffiths (Penthouse)

Marcia Griffiths, Jamaica’s leading female singer, was recently awarded the Jamaican Order of Distinction for services to entertainment. Jamaican pop has few surviving female singers, and Miss Griffiths has been especially durable; best known perhaps as a member of Bob Marley’s legendary back-up singers the I-Threes, she has been a successful recording artist for nearly 30 years. Indomitable, released on the Penthouse Label and produced by Donavan Germaine, is a collection of good songs, including classics like Bob Andy’s ‘Fire Burning,’ ‘Feel Like Jumping’ and ‘Check It Out’ (which is updated this time round with dj’s Buju Banton, Tony Rebel and Cutty Ranks) as well as Bob Marley’s ‘Mellow Mood.’ There is some new material too, particularly Mikey Bennett’s ‘Brought Me Love,’ and several originals by Beres Hammond, one of the foremost male voices in reggae today, who is also proving to be a promising writer, as shown on ‘All I Need Is Love.’ Annette Brissett contributes ‘Roots Rocking,’ and co-wrote ‘I Shall Sing,’ a kind of mission statement for Marcia. Musically, the album is balanced between love songs, roots reggae and the prevailing dance hall trend. Unfortunately, the composers are not credited, and tracks 13 and 14 are mistitled. These errors will affect international airplay by radio stations who observe copyright conventions, and will ultimately affect the royalties of the composers and the singer’s exposure.

VIBES OF THE TIME

Tony Rebel (Chaos/Columbia)

From his debut in 1990 at the Nelson Mandela Birthday Concert in Kingston, when he performed the ‘Mandela Story’ three times to enthusiastic acclaim, Tony Rebel has been a welcome assault on the sensibilities. Vibes Of The Time is blessed relief in the unrelenting terrain of dj gun talk, “slackness” and homophobia. Indeed, there is more “conscious music” (the Jamaican term for positive message music) in this album than on most recent dj albums. Rebel makes no apology for being preachy, and has so much lyrical content that he gives the lie to the current argument that the negative message of the dj is a mirror of Jamaican reality, particularly in the ghetto. Tony Rebel brings home his message with an inspired vocal attack over a strong groove, fashioned on most tracks by the ace Sly Dunbar. He lets off his braggadocio from the first track, ‘Fresh DJ’ (which in this context refers to the Jamaican phenomena of talkers and toasters rather than radio announcers, who are also called dj’s): “A fresh dj is coming and heading for number one.” Vibes Of The Time is about our need to hear the “good news”. The Voice and The Pen is masterly for the way the back-up voices of Brian and Tony Gold weave through an intensive chant, as Rebel wails that he will be the voice and the pen, “the Moses weh come back again”. Tony Rebel is not always evangelical about his rastafarian faith. For instance, ‘My Way Or The Highway’ (with Diana King) deals with a lovers’ spat reminiscent of Ray Charles’s ‘Hit The Road Jack.’ Rebel’s storytelling and lyrical savvy surpasses itself on the beautiful ‘Nazarite Vow,’ one of the best reaffirmations of rasta faith since Bob Marley’s Natty Dread.

GROOVIN SAX

Tony Greene (Saxman Records)

A rarity in Jamaican pop today, an instrumental album. Greene is a member of one of the best horn sections, that of Lloyd Parkes and We The People, and has financed his own album. It’s a worthy first effort, with some of Greene’s originals plus cover versions of popular tunes. The sax man was careful about tasty arrangements as well as using different back-up voices and two impressive guest vocals by Erica Newell, back-up singer for Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers.