At 75, more still to come from Rodney

The following, which pays homage to steelpan great Earl Rodney, was written by Zahra Gordon and published in The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper, June 25th, 2013.

At the peak of his solo career, musician and arranger Earl Rodney was travelling frequently between the UK, the US and Trinidad performing at various events. Since 2008, he’s been based in Trinidad and has remained largely out of the public eye.

According to Rodney, travelling was rough and a well-deserved break was needed. The 75-year-old Point Fortin-native has spent a lot of time working on his garden, finishing his home, and generally relaxing.

This does not mean, however, that he’s given up music. During an interview with the T&T Guardian last week at his home in Point Fortin, Rodney said he is still learning.

“I keep playing all the time. I’m improving. Everyday I go on my pan and find out things I didn’t know before. It’s like you’ve never seen the pan before. I haven’t reached a bottleneck yet. It’s like out there (pointing to the sky), there’s no end.”

A few more “outings” are turning up for Rodney this year, however. During Carnival he performed at a Trinbago Unified Calpysonians Organisation (TUCO) event and in May was featured in the Point Jazz concert as part of Borough Day celebrations. Last weekend he was also the featured artist at the birdsong Benefit Concert held at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA). Working with birdsong, Rodney has been introduced to young musicians whom he can envision future work with. Making a connection with real musicians, who have both talent and dedication is a rare occasion, according to Rodney.

Although Rodney said he’s able to bridge generational gaps, he doesn’t see himself fitting in with today’s local music industry.

“All over the world there’s a downgrade in music. You go to England you’ll hear the same complaints. In between there’s some good ones that could last a few years,” he said. “But these people who are into the Carnival thing, I wonder if they can remember the Road March or the Soca Monarch from last year. I hate to say that and I wish I didn’t have to say it. People used to sit down to write and arrange music for people to dance. It’s a different time and these people are enjoying their time, but for me, the music isn’t going anywhere.”


His disappointment with the industry will not stop him from producing. He has a few projects under his sleeve. He hopes to build a studio and has the scores of numerous compositions waiting to be recorded piled up at home. He also wants to work on scores for film or theatre as this is one area in his vast career that he has yet to venture into.

Rodney may best be known for his winning Panorama arrangements for Solo Harmonites and his work on iconic calypso music. As a member of the Troubadours he arranged seven albums for the Mighty Sparrow. He has also arranged and played with Lord Kitchener, Arrow, Black Stalin, Valentino, Lord Melody and Explainer, to name a few. Although Rodney has worked extensively in calypso, he admitted that his favourite genre is Latin.

“Almost everything I do has a little Latin in it,” he said. Rodney shared that while growing up in Point Fortin, it was Latin music that filled nightclubs.

Rodney is also remembered for his 1972 recording Friends and Countrymen. He has recorded two other solo albums: Steelband Music (1999) and Pure Original Music (2002). Rodney said he has all intentions of recording another album and developing new methods to record live steelband music, which can often be difficult.

“We need a good way to capture pan and I don’t know how come we haven’t come up with one yet,” he said.

His formula for longevity and the large body of work come from an undescribable source, he said.

“For me it’s not a labour really because most of my compositions just come to me. Sometimes I do sit down and manufacture something, but other times it just comes from nowhere. I’ll be watching TV and just hear music in my head. These things are magical. Music for me is a natural thing.”

Earl Rodney was co-founder of Tropical Harmony Steelband and a former member of the T&T National Steelband. He was also a bass player in the band Dutchy Brothers during the 1960s and 70s. As arranger for Solo Harmonites, the band won four Panorama titles.For the original post:

At 75, more still to come from Rodney | The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper.

Roots Revives Caribbean Nights

Pelham Goddard, the man behind this fortnightly special, has been responsible for some of the biggest soca hits of the last four decades. He has been the musical genie behind the late Maestro, Calypso Rose, SuperBlue, David Rudder and Chris “Tambu” Herbert.

Musician, arranger, producer, Goddard began his career at a very early age, since the days of the combos, graduating into the studio as the keyboardist for all the big name artistes of the era. He played everything, be it calypso or local pop ballads and was eventually also part of the creation of a new hybrid calypso genre, made by Lord Shorty, the late Ras Shorty I.

In 1975 a small group of musicians which comprised of drums, bass, guitar, saxophone and Goddard on keyboards formed a band and called it Sensational Roots. The band was based at KH studios in Sea Lots where it did most of the studio’s products on its label, on the Kalinda label. The quickly hailed as the country’s top studio band and was hired the do a project with the Wild Fire singing group, embarking on a whistlestop tour, traversing the entire nation, with star guests like Mavis John. Roots also worked with celebrated playwright Derek Walcott on one of his productions at The Little Carib Theatre in Woodbrook.

In 1976, when the studio upgraded to 16-track facility, New York-based Trini entrepreneur Rawlston “Charlie” Charles signed Goddard and Roots to record the calypso Savage with Maestro. The single was a mega hit. That year, Roots also was also a hit for Labour Day Carnival. After producing Kitchener’s Christmas hit Drink A Rum, Charles decided to sponsor Roots as a road band. Now known as Charlie’s Roots, the aggregation set about promoting the new wave sound of soca.

On Charles’ CR label, in 1977, Roots produced two songs for Maestro–Calypso Music and Play Me. The band also did More Tempo and Action Is Tight for Calypso Rose, and she won the Road March title, a first for Goddard.

After the Carnival ’77, Roots returned to New York and purchased all the instruments and equipment to start Charlie’s Roots, officially launched in July 1977. Ironically, simultaneously, on the same night of the launch, a new mas band was launched by a talented artist who would change the face of T&T mas forever–his name was Peter Minshall. Minshall and Charlie’s Roots remained joined at the hip for the next 15 years.

In 1978, Calypso Rose repeated the Road March with Goddard’s arrangement of Come Leh we Jam. What happened next was a slew of Road March victories for Goddard, producing hit after hit for Blue Boy (SuperBlue), Penguin, Rudder and Tambu. To this day no one has matched Goddard and Roots record of 12 Road Marches and most popular songs. Included among these hits are Soca Baptist, Rebecca, Ethel, No No We Aint going home, Free up, Bahia Girl, The Hammer, This party is it, Permission to mash up the place, and Bacchanal Lady.

In 1985, Goddard and Roots introduced Caribbean Night, on a Thursday night, at Atlantis Club in West Mall, later renamed Upper Level Club. This programme that grew into something very massive as the aggregation showcased all the music of the Caribbean.

The second coming Caribbean Night has quickly become a regular fixture at The Mas Camp. Blessed with a wealth of superb musicians, Goddard and Roots are guaranteed please crowds at any kind of event.

The band comprises of a 12 piece orchestra and can be contacted for bookings at 738 6940/628 1823, or by e-mail at pelham13@yahoo.com.

For the original report go to http://www.guardian.co.tt/entertainment/2013-06-05/roots-jam-3canal-caribbean-night

See also: Roots to jam with 3canal at Caribbean Night | Repeating Islands.

Gandy dancers

Posted in Bibliolore, May 31, 2013

gandy dancers

Before the 1950s, all railroad tracks in the U.S. were laid and maintained by hand labor. In the segregated South, this work was mainly done by black men.

The section crews responsible for maintaining the tracks were sometimes known as gandy dancers, probably because of the coordinated rhythmic movements required for repositioning tracks that had become misaligned. They synchronized their movements with call-and-response singing of improvised couplets and stock refrains.

The tradition is documented in Gandy dancers by Maggie Holtzberg and Barry Dornfeld (Cinema Guild, 1994). Below, the trailer for the film; the complete 30-minute film can be viewed here.

For the original post: Gandy dancers | Bibliolore.

J.H.K. Nketia, Ghanaian ethnomusicologist

The following appeared in Bibliolore, Feb. 24, 2011.

Ever since the publication of his African Music in Ghana (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1963), Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia (b.1921) has been reknowned among ethnomusicologists. His distinguished career has included many fine publications on music in Africa and its diaspora. The first volume of his collected papers, Ethnomusicology and African music: Modes of inquiry and interpretation, was issued by Afram Publications in 2005.

Nketia’s extensive background in musicology gave him the tools to revolutionize the analysis of African drumming, and since the 1980s he has produced landmark articles on more general aspects of ethnomusicological theory. He is also a composer—he studied with Henry Cowell in the late 1950s—who has written works for both Western and African instruments.

For original post: J.H.K. Nketia, Ghanaian ethnomusicologist | Bibliolore.

Calypso and Caribbean Migration: Lara Putnam’s “Radical Moves”

The following review of Lara Putman’s Radical Moves was written by John Cline and published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, June 2, 2013.

IN 1987, THE EMINENT ETHNOMUSICOLOGIST Richard K. Spottswood compiled an LP for Arhoolie Records titled Where Was Butler? It was subtitled “A Calypso Documentary from Trinidad,” and features many of the stars of the island’s music scene from the 1930s, including Attila the Hun and Growling Tiger. While this record has never been re-released on CD, nor is it available on iTunes, its 16 tracks constitute one of the most fascinating calypso collections ever produced. Long before Public Enemy’s Chuck D proclaimed his oft-repeated maxim that hip-hop is the “black CNN,” calypsonians from Trinidad were narrating the struggles experienced by the island’s oil field workers, led by one Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler. In addition to being a labor leader, the Grenada-born Butler was also a Spiritual Baptist preacher, a faith practice then outlawed in Trinidad due to anxieties provoked by its Pentecostal-like emphasis on shouting and physical “possession” by the Holy Spirit.

You Tube – “Where was Butler”, Raymond Quevedo -Atilla The Hun.

Butler is a major figure in Lara Putnam’s Radical Moves: Caribbean Migrants and the Politics of Race in the Jazz Age, his life illustrating the core thesis of her book. In her conclusion, Putnam states that:

black-internationalist and anti-colonial movements that would shake the twentieth century were rooted in the experiences of ordinary men and women — not only the cosmopolitan streets of Harlem and Paris but also in the banana ports and dance halls of the tropical circum-Caribbean.

Radical Moves thus implicitly offers a corrective to conventional histories of African Diaspora. Paul Gilroy’s 1993 The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness stressed the international character of the literature and politics of African-descended peoples in the 20th century, and focused his attention on major figures like W.E.B. Du Bois and Richard Wright. In the ensuing years, scholars like Brent Hayes Edwards and Minkah Makalani have expanded on Gilroy’s “Black Atlantic,” focusing on metropolitan centers like New York, Paris, and London, filling in the details with somewhat lesser known individuals and organizations. These authors, like Gilroy, prefer to write about individuals with international profiles and concrete political movements, from Claude McKay to the African Blood Brotherhood in Harlem and from George Padmore to the International African Service Bureau in London. In Radical Moves, however, Putnam chooses to focus instead on “the forgotten editors of port-town newspapers and the many thousands of men and women who read their pages and debated the merits in rum shops and butcher store queues.” Within the historiography of the African Diaspora, this is a shift akin to that between the union-centric studies of the “Wisconsin School” of labor history and the opening up to the quotidian of E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class.

For the full original report: Los Angeles Review of Books – Calypso and Caribbean Migration: Lara Putman’s “Radical Moves”