Sunday, 22 January 2017

Carnival: The Sound of a People at Queen’s Hall - A Prologue to an Island Opus¹

In the heat and heart of the Carnival fête season when “we doh business”, Etienne Charles will allow us to imagine what creole intelligence sounds and looks like. On Sunday January 29, he will debut and preview at the Queen's Hall selections of his newest extended piece—a planned 3-CD length oratorio—called Carnival: The Sound of a People that locates the musical response of Afro-Caribbean people within this island space to the circumstances of slavery, colonialism and freedom. Adoption, adaptation and incorporation of the cultural traditions rendered with an ear to the broader musical tradition of the Americas, jazz, has allowed Charles to produce music that recognises local audiences' penchant to move to rhythm, and a global audiences' willingness to discover and be awed by the brilliance of New World African music.

Etienne Charles with 'Slim' and the
Moruga Bois drummers. © Maria Nunes
Errol Hill, in his book The Trinidad Carnival: Mandate for a National Theatre, wrote that “Carnival is inconceivable without music.” Music is indeed a central pillar of the Trinidad Carnival. Charles, with the award of a 2015 fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, was allowed to research and explore the music of the Carnivalesque processions, the canboulay and j'ouvert, the drum dances, the sacred and secular music with the call-and-response led by the chantwell, and other African cultural survivals in the Caribbean from pre-Emancipation to present. He embedded himself in the communities that retain the traditions of the blue devil, the jab jab, the black Indian, and in the gayelle of the stickfighter to capture the rhythm and song of the kalenda and the caliso.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Jazz as the new fad in Trinidad or All That Jazz...Or Is It?

"Dancing in the Tropics," an illustration by Bernie Fuchs. A metaphor for adult music, "jazz" is the new signifier of how we dance and how we listen to music once we are over 35 years old.

Last year, I blogged about the plethora of jazz events in T&T making it the new “after-carnival music.” In less that two months, there were at least ten events that were themed as “jazz.” Now, truth be told, the definition of jazz in the Caribbean is fluid, and the emphasis is more on the ambience than on the music. A lot of instrumental music is considered “jazz” here in these islands, but a closer inspection would show that despite definitions, what we are seeing is the faddishness of jazz being used as a tool to market music and the experience of music to a more mature crowd.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Etienne Charles and the conquest of the Americas: a CD Review of San Jose Suite¹

Antillean art is this restoration of our shattered histories...
—DEREK WALCOTT, Nobel lecture, 1992.

The scars by which America is marked are deep... The evils are manifest, naked to the view of anyone who cares to see them.
—ÓSCAR ARIAS SÁNCHEZ, Nobel lecture, 1987.

For me, Art is the restoration of order. It may discuss all sort of terrible things, but there must be satisfaction at the end. A little bit of hunger, but also satisfaction.
—TONI MORRISON, Nobel laureate. Interview with Don Swaim, 1987

San Jose Suite

(Culture Shock Music)

Whenever T&T jazz trumpeter and composer Etienne Charles releases an album, it is an event. In this case, it is his latest opus, the ten-part San José Suite — soon to be performed live in T&T for the first time on November 20. [The album was released in June this year.] This suite dares to magnify the idea of the wider Americas as a crucible for the continuing assimilation and transformation of disparate musical influences. It is a space where the Naipaulian idea of “small places with simple economies bred small people with simple destinies” is turned on its head forever.

Charles uses the coincidence of the name of San José to make a subliminal link between the Caribbean, Latin American and North American cultural tendencies. The real commonality is the idea of the African diaspora intersection with the Native American antecedents to act as the base for a new direction in jazz.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Caribbean Beat Caribbean Playlist – November/December 2016ª

Dis 1. 4. Raf Andy Narell 

(Listen 2 Records)

As if driving home the point that the pendulum of commercial influence for steelpan appears to be moving away from Trinidad was not enough, now comes the new release by American steelpan musician Andy Narell that boasts not one, but two CDs of refined exploitation of the sound and ambience of the steelpan in the context of a jazz quartet and as musical partner with piano. Dis 1. 4. Raf, a tribute to the late Caribbean jazz pioneer Raf Robertson, is another rung in the ladder of success of Narell. With his cohort of players from Cuba and Guadeloupe, Narell on this album weaves a new path for the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago to tread that encompasses influences beyond the archipelago. On the second CD, a duet, he juxtaposes the enhanced idea of modern percussive and rhythmic sounds from the New World—the steelpan—and the Old World—the piano—to subdued and subtle brilliance.


  1. More Caribbean Playlist reviews appear in the November/December 2016 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2016, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The pot bubbling: Cousoumeh by Akinola Sennon – a Review¹

Steelpan player and Siparia Deltones musical director, Akinola Sennon has released a new album of pan jazz on the independent Ropeadope Records label. The album, Cousoumeh, is a mix of effective songwriting and performance and a daring leap into a new way of hearing improvised music from the Caribbean.

Ropeadope Records—an increasingly important record label in the US that is home to jazz pannists Leon Foster Thomas and Jonathan Scales—remarks openly that the record, “is an interpretation of jazz where the heritage of the island [Trinidad] and the full sense of the African diaspora collide, sometimes in a polished way and sometimes with a raw undercurrent.” In recognising that simultaneous pattern of up and down production value, one is effectively exposed to two sides of the musical adventure that Sennon has pursued in the making of this album.

On the one hand, Sennon along with percussionist Tambi Gwindi works with four young Boston-based musicians, drummer Shane Dahler, pianist Chris McCarthy, bassist Cole Davis and trumpeter Alonzo Demetrius Ryan Jr. on half the tunes on the eight-song album. Americans all, this aggregation approaches the idea of the Caribbean and Sennon's music with adroit solos and converses musically in a language that speaks to a proficiency of jazz improvisation while still searching for the Afro-Caribbean aesthetic.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Caribbean Beat Caribbean Playlist - September/October 2016ª

Metamorphosis Leon Foster Thomas 

(Ropeadope Records)

Caribbean musicians are increasingly moving to the metropolitan commercial centres of the music business world to spread the rhythms and sounds created in these islands. Leon Foster Thomas, a Trinidadian steeplan virtuoso, is resident in Miami, Florida and is relying on that connection to a larger market to spread the sound of the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago. Metaporphosis, Thomas' third album, is his debut on important jazz label Ropeadope Records, and signals a critical and commercial blossoming beyond his early funky steelpan jazz beginnings into a standout quartet leader; a metamorphosis if you will. Ten tracks of progressive jazz fusion that highlights the intelligent interplay between steelpan and other instruments without losing the idea that Caribbean music can be improvised and swing. World fusion is in effect. Haitian-born, New York-bred trumpeter Jean Caze and master Latin jazz percussionist, Sammy Figueroa guest on the album.


Precious Metals Ron Reid 

(Mud Hut Music)

Ron Reid is a Berklee College of Music associate professor, and as such the expectation on this, his third album is high, more for the continuing exploration of Afro-Caribbean rhythms in the context of jazz in the Americas. Superb musicianship by a host of Berklee alumnae give this album a finish that is as assured as it is consummate. Reid plays bass and arranges all the music on the album that features jazz, samba, Afro-pop, and calypso rhythms among others, and segues between lyrical playing and evocative compositions that suggest varied moods. This Precious Metals project finds collaboration between and continuity with music that reflect Afro-Caribbean heritage, regardless of legacy. Melodies and rhythms are not static but celebratory. A balance of originals and covers of calypso and steelpan classics gives the album a leg up on the competition, since these songs have a sonic quality that positions the steelpan and Caribbean music for that matter, on a higher plane.

Sirocco Jeff Narell (Self Released)

Jeff Narell is the older brother of prolific steelpan recording artist Andy Narell, and together they were immersed into the world of the early steelbands—they participated in the Trinidad Music Festival on steelpans in 1966 as children—and have never looked back. Sirocco is Jeff Narell's fourth album as a leader, and finds him investigating the confluence between African percussion instruments and the New World invention of the steelpan. More than a simple dialogue between sounds and rhythms, this album showcases the link that has been suggested by ethnomusicologists as part of the syncretism—the merging of different cultures—evident in Caribbean music. The tunes explore melodies and sonic influences from both ends of the middle passage that show the retention of the African sound. Talking drums, djembes, strings and chants are interwoven with melodies from the Caribbean to make this a useful album that showcases the steelpan in a different and important light.


  1. More Caribbean Playlist reviews appear in the September/October 2016 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2016, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Caribbean Beat Caribbean Playlist - July/August 2016ª


San Jose Suite Etienne Charles 

(Culture Shock Music)

Jazz in the wider Americas is more than improvisation that engages the blues and swing, but an evolving exploration of sounds, rhythms and cultural tendencies that inform the music that is the definition of freedom. San Jose Suite, Etienne Charles' sixth album, is a mature contemplation of this Trinidadian trumpeter's wider encounters with the elements of creole music in the New World. Drawing inspiration from three San José cities in the Americas—Costa Rica, California and Trinidad—Charles re-tells the stories and histories of those communities, its people and their commonalities, with jazz that is both rhythmically diverse and harmonically expressive enough to never be cliched. “Cahuita”, “Boruca”, “Revolt”, “Speed City” are musical statements of keen observation, celebratory reflection and musical adroitness. This album is also a signal to the listener that jazz in the 21st century is in the hands of a burgeoning trumpet pioneer charting modern directions much like Armstrong, Davis and Marsalis before him.


  1. More Caribbean Playlist reviews appear in the July/August 2016 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2016, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.