Calypso Culture Festivals Music

In Memory of the Reincarnation of O’Cangaceiro

Satelite Robber from Ken Archer on Vimeo.

May 17th 2018 marks the 8th anniversary of the death of Brian Honore
, who was known in the calypso world as Commentor and in traditional mas’ circles as the Reincarnation of the O’Cangaceiro, Midnight Robber. Brian dedicated his life to the defense and upliftment of the rich cultural traditions of the people of the twin island state of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean at large.

Drop Your Keys and Bow Your Knees


Jimmy Cliff — Jamaica’s superstar of endurance

The following article, written by Everton Pryce and published in the Jamaican Observer, Mar. 03, 2013, pays homage to one of the all-time greats of reggae music, Jimmy Cliff.

There is a proverb, suspected to be of Chinese origin, which goes something like this: “If you remain on the bank of the river long enough, you will see the bones of your enemies floating by.”

Jimmy Cliff, it is fair to say, has endured the cynicism of many detractors throughout his illustrious career, which involved him crossing many rivers on his way to winning two Grammy Awards (1986 and 2013) in the reggae category.

A great many of these detractors now bask in his illustrious achievements as creative artiste, singer, actor and poet, underlining the sterling contribution made to Jamaican culture and history by the creativity and collective experience of the mass of the population who are poor, dispossessed and marginalised.

When superstar Cliff was presented with the Manley Award for Excellence over 27 years ago, some upstart and mean-spirited artistes, along with a few misguided music journalists, thought it was an insult to those regarded as the “real musicians”. It was never made clear what “real musicians” implied, but presumably it meant those who reproduced other people’s music over the years. Acts of genuine creativity out of the ordinary people’s experience were regarded then as retreat into atavism.

Yet, the enduring voices of artistes like Bob Marley, Buju Banton, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Joseph Hill (of the group Culture) — to name just a few — and Jimmy Cliff, have uttered in their own inimitable way, maxims of prudence, guides to development, sharp historical analysis, and insights into the human condition.

In his song Price of Peace, for example, Cliff analyses the historical relations of a particular epoch of Jamaican life as only those who speak to reality through the arts of the imagination can:

“You stole my history/

Destroyed my culture/

Cut out my tongue/

So I can’t communicate/

Then you mediate/

And separate/

Hide my whole way of life/

So myself I should hate…”

Academics, political and economic practitioners, and our grassroots cultural ambassadors, will readily appreciate the genius in the poetic conciseness of this passage which brilliantly sums up the detailed research, theses, and book-length accounts they have given of specific examples of that historical period.

Failure on the part of many Jamaicans to appreciate the power in the insights of the ordinary Jamaican, whom the Jimmy Cliffs and Bob Marleys represent, continues to blur the vision of the society to the creative output of the ordinary folks representing what is considered mastery of what is said to be important for economic development.

Of course, the problem with such an attitude is that it encourages some Jamaicans to misguidedly regard reggae — even the immediately indiscernible variety — as non-music, even while the global village respects it enough to name a category of music for it.

Reggae’s musical creation out of the specificity of ordinary Jamaicans’ experience clearly accounts for its universal appeal and endurance.

This is why when asked recently during a TVJ Smile Jamaica It’s Morning Time interview what he thought of contemporary reggae music, Cliff cryptically replied: “Girls, cars and stars,” followed by the qualifier, “Music is music.”

His answer suggested, in subtle fashion, that the wisdom of the streets, where the ordinary people are to be found, is not to be discounted by the “Big man” (or “Big woman”), whether from the Parliament, the private sector, or the citadel of the creative industry.

Jimmy Cliff knows only too well that the wisdom that informs the success of reggae music, including his own genre, can be mined from the daily verbal exchange of millions of words in bars, on street corners, in tenement yards, shacks, the cane-piece, the market, mechanic shops, hairdressing parlours, barber salons, on radio, at the workplace and elsewhere.

More important, he knows it is also found in the dub poetry, the reggae songs, the deejay lyrics, and the paintings and carvings of intuitive artists like the late and celebrated Kapo Reynolds.

Cliff is off again on a month-long tour of some 10 cities in Asia and Australia to communicate the enduring aspects of our culture and history of suffering and survival, as well as designs for social living, to tens of thousands who respect him enough, and consider him relevant, to have exhausted ticket sales in advance of his arrival.

Where is the evidence that this illustrious and hard-working creative artiste of the soil is respected and revered to the same degree in his own yard?

His tour will no doubt generate millions of dollars in foreign exchange. Precisely how much of this will flow back into the country is hard to say. But be that as it may, can we dismiss the creative output of the imagination of an artiste like Jimmy Cliff as “non-productive”, and of less monetary value than what passes for entrepreneurial initiative in Jamaica?

Like Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, Veronica Campbell Brown, and others of their ilk, the 64-year-old Cliff has made it by self-reliance and the entrepreneurial use of his native creative talents. And despite the odds, he has shown that he is capable of the discipline, sustained application and hard work that people of his class are usually said not to possess.

We dare not ignore this talented, illustrious, and wise son of the soil. What comes through clearly in his capacity to endure over these many decades is his ability to think and to stay focused on his craft.

In the final analysis, his two Grammy Awards serve to remind a lopsided and otherwise evolving society that something other than minstrelsy exists among our people.

What a blessing!

For the original post: Jimmy Cliff — Jamaica’s superstar of endurance – Columns –

See also: Repeating Islands

Calypso Music

The Legacy of Calypso Great: Cecil Hume, Maestro

The Trinidad and Tobago Folk Arts Institute in conjunction with the School of Professional and Community Development of Medgar Evers College, CUNY, hosts a panel discussion on the life, work, and legacy of Cecil Hume, the Maestro.  2013 marks the 35th anniversary of his tragic death, and calypso aficionados remain awed by the undeniable genius of this tremendously gifted composer and performer of the art form.

Panel Discussion: Reviewing the Legacy of Calypso Great – MAESTRO

Date: Thursday, February 28, 2013. 7:00 – 10:00pm

Venue: Medgar Evers College, Mary Pinkett Lecture Hall,                                                       1637 Bedford Ave , Brooklyn – Room S122 (bet. Carroll and Crown Streets)

Panelists: Rawlston Charles, calypso-soca music producer/distributor

Frankie McIntosh, acclaimed musical arranger

Kenrick Mead, former producer of calypso music

Admission: Free


In Honour of Andre Tanker

Musicians speak of the impact of the late Andre Tanker on the 10th anniversary of his passing. Trinidad Express, Feb. 23, 2013.

In glowing testament to the strength of Andre Tanker’s character, his friends, family, band members and frequent collaborators all attest to his genuinely wholesome spirit and his penchant for encouraging others to persevere and always be positive. Here are a few words to honour his memory… interviews by Nigel Telesford.

Gail McLean – Contraband Vocalist

“Andre was one of the most wonderful people I ever met. He was a part of my family – I have two daughters and they both know him and he has been kind to them both. He was really a family type of person. We would be in the studio all the time recording or rehearsing and Andre’s caring and creativity is what stood out the most. We would practise and practise and go over and over and over a song to get it just right and then he would come the next day and change it because of something that happened during the night. The songs never stayed the same way all the time and that was the extent of his creativity. He was like a father to all of us and I don’t think I ever saw him annoyed with anyone – if you couldn’t make a rehearsal for whatever reason – he never made it a problem. When I left Holy Name, I walked straight into Andre Tanker and spent countless years there – for a long time I was the only girl first and then, the only woman. Later on in life, we were joined by Lorraine Bereaux and Nadia Batson.

“Andre was a dream – as a person, as a man, as a friend, he was somebody who always looked out for me and he was my friend. I could talk to him about anything, everything. Up, down, we went through so many good and bad times and he was always there, supportive and encouraging – that’s who Andre was to me.

“Since Andre died, I haven’t listened to any of his music. We did what we had to do immediately after he died: the band had a great show at Little Carib (Theatre) and it was beautiful, but after that, that was it. It was difficult for us to get together and to stay together… Not because we didn’t want to, but yuh know when that light that Andre brought had gone out. It didn’t die, but it flickered and for me it was difficult to listen to his music after that and I really haven’t since. Now I only sing at church and I’m happy with that…

“I was Under The Trees and I got the news (of his passing) Under The Trees. It wasn’t a nice experience at all. I found it very difficult to even stand up after hearing that news because Andre was the person I used to talk to every day, if not every day, every other day. He would call and check in and say hi all the time. I spoke to him the day before because he was going to this party with the hats and he didn’t know where to find a hat and I told him where to go down town and get one and that was the last time I spoke with him. Usually we would talk every day, but on that day, I didn’t hear from him at all.”

Wendell Manwarren – 3Canal Vocalist

“My earliest awareness of Andre was hearing songs like “River Come Down” and “Sayamanda” and “Basement Party” on the radio. Growing up we used to listen to songs that informed us and carried a kind of vibe like that. Coming of age time, well I guess it coincided with him coming back around again and when he got the opportunity to do some re-recording of his songs with Rituals and the Big Bang album, I was able to appreciate him live and in person and working and interacting with him. By then, we were doing some work with the Trinidad Theatre Workshop and he had done the music for Ti Jean and his Brothers, so I was exposed to a whole other side of his vibe too. It was around that time that the singing bug started to take root, so he was one of the first men that we ever vibe or consult with regards to doing music or doing a song.

“I remember one of the things we used to do in those days – before we even formed ourselves into a singing group – a bunch of us would just appear in front of a Tanker stage or a Rudder stage and sing loudly… To the point where we would end up getting invited on stage and in the case of Rudder, we used to open for him at Moon Over Bourbon Street on a Christmas Night.

“Tanker was a great source of inspiration and encouragement – his repertoire, his music, his tone – the kind of Amerindian chanting he would employ; there was always a string vibe there. So when the chance came for us to actually record with him and team up with $hel$hok and do “Ben Lion”, that was a magic moment and a golden opportunity and that’s still one of the biggest songs in our repertoire today.

“It was an honour for us to also be a bridge introducing him into the whole Carnival scene – whereas he had inspired us and mentored us prior to that, we were actually now mentoring him in the Carnival scene cause he hadn’t been on the Carnival scene for a good couple years before and we had been in it for a few. We really worked the circuit that year and even did a guest performance at Soca Monarch that year.

“The following year was a tremendous shock when he passed on Soca Monarch night and it was a big transition year for us as well, because that was the year we parted with Rituals and Rituals folded and that was the year we decided to go on and do The 3Canal Show as well.”

Mungal Patasar – Iconic musician

“One of the persons who was influential in my music taking the direction that it has was Andre. I was then an intense classical musician, but his empathy for me and the classical music encouraged me to keep going and to grow. You would understand that I came to the wider music scape with a certain level of apprehension and it was a smile from Andre as it were that encouraged me to continue to go on.

“You would not believe how important it is to a musician of a different genre to be met with a smile from someone from a different circle. When others would have a problem with what I was doing, Andre would tell them to let me be because, “The man know what he doing, allyuh just doh understand.” When I had become so frustrated over the music and decided to put it aside and study law, Andre told me that opportunity is a funny thing, it always comes when you least expect it so I should keep practising. He was always a welcoming person.”

Tamba Gwindi – Master drummer/percussionist

“Andre was in many ways a mentor to me. I got my break on the local scene through Andre in 1983 when he had me work on a project with him, Ella Andall and Happy Williams. That was real exposure for me at that time. I was a member of NJAC at the time and in their events was featured as a solo drummer. Andre came to do something with us and we met working on a show at NUGFW Hall, ‘Jamming At The Crossroads’ and he asked me to work with him some more.

“I became a full-time member of Contraband in 1987, but before that we did a lot together. Andre put me out there so I could be seen by other people who I would end up working with, people like Clive Zanda, Richard Bailey, Andy Narell and many others. He always shared what he was listening to at any time with me and it was primarily Andre who took me from one level of playing to expanding my horizons to Latin, jazz, fusions and other genres. The years with him exposed me to so much. It was real meaningful to me to have known Andre.”

Theron Shaw – Jazz guitarist/composer

“Andre was a major influence on my music. I began playing with him when I returned to Trinidad and I knew his music for all the years, but I had never played with him till then. I hooked up with Andre by accident when I was doing something at the Trinidad Theatre Workshop and he was there. He heard me play and he invited me to come and work with him and well, we had a couple great years working together in the band.

“The saddest thing is we will never hear that music again. When Andre wrote, he wrote from a Caribbean space. Yes he was locked into the Trinidadian vibe, but he could take the music and play it anywhere in the Caribbean or anywhere else for that matter and the people there could relate. Andre’s music transcended space and time. We were actually planning to do a major show in tribute to him last year and then the SoE happened and we had to cancel because we had no idea when it would have ended. Andre is very much missed.”

For the original post: In Honour of Andre Tanker | Trinidad Express Newspaper | Sunday Mix.


A man of music

The following article was written by Nigel Telesford and published in the Trinidad Express, Feb. 23, 2013. 2013 narks the tenth anniversary of the death of the tremendously gifted musician/composer, and it is in this context that Telesford pays homage to his legacy.

Andre Tanker was a musical giant, whose compositions fused many different styles from around the globe, defied all standard definitions and actually spawned many of the genres we know today.

A direct descendant of Michel-Jean Cazabon and an accomplished musician, Tanker played the vibraphone, piano, guitar, flute and blues harp and amassed an incomparable music legacy before his untimely passing on February 28, 2003.

As we approach the tenth anniversary of his death, we examine his legacy and share fond memories of this legendary musical icon through the eyes of his family, friends and close collaborators.

“We have to recognise his contribution and the impact of it, even today,” said Wendell Manwarren of 3Canal. “He was an amazing songwriter, composer, musician; a giant, warrior, legend, pioneer—a man of music who was committed to Trinidadian, Caribbean and on a wider scale African and Indian expression—because he was a mix himself!”

In 2002, Tanker and 3Canal released their smash hit collaboration, “Ben Lion”—a satirical look at the ongoing conflict at the time between US president George W Bush and Osama Bin Laden, which became the song which defined the Carnival festival that year.

“He had the whole song written already and sat thinking… I want someone else to sing on this,” recalled his widow Christine Tanker. “So he went down to D Yard by Rituals there and played it and 3Canal heard it and agreed to jump on it. That’s the kind of man he was—he didn’t have a problem sharing his talent or his knowledge.”

In 1963, Andre Tanker and his band, The Flamingoes became the first local band to perform at the prestigious Hilton Hotel. Six years later, he married the daughter of Olympian, Emmanuel Mc Donald Bailey and in 1970, he composed the music for Derek Walcott’s play, Ti Jean and His Brothers. Tanker also contributed the music for Ti Jean in Jo Papps’ production of Shakespeare in The Park in New York in 1972 and composed and recorded the film score for the feature film, BIM as written by Raoul Pantin and directed by Oscar winner, Hugh Robertson.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, he would compose music and lyrics for many plays, films and television productions, including Earl Lovelace’s Dragon Can’t Dance, Horace Wilson’s Turn of the Tide, Mustafa Matura’s Playboy of the West Indies and Measure for Measure as part of Shakespeare in the Park in Central Park’s Delacorte Theatre in New York.

“I think a lot of people feel like he only wrote “Sayamanda” and “Ben Lion” and that’s it,” said his daughter, Zo-Mari Tanker, “when the truth is he did sooo much more! But that’s how he was too… He didn’t go around bragging and boasting and claiming things. He just made the music and he shared it. I mean, he would get serious if someone tried to rip him off blatantly and be strict about those sort of things, but he wasn’t one to brag and list his accomplishments.”

Tanker and his band, One World Contraband toured the Caribbean and the US, while he himself journeyed to London, Italy and many countries of the world, while performing in Jazz and World Music festivals alongside the top musicians on the planet.

In 1996, he collaborated with top American pannist, Andy Narell, international drummer, Richard Bailey and calypsonian, David Rudder to create the highly-rated album, Children of the Big Bang.

“My father used to play his music in the car on that drive to school every day.” Guitarist Nigel Rojas remembered. “That drive to school every day was important to me cause they had a lot of local stuff that was getting nuff airplay at the time—you had no choice but to know who these guys were because you would hear the parents speak of them with reverence and one of those people was Andre Tanker. So that was my first interaction of sorts with him and my second came when I was about 8 or 9 and I went to a variety show at St Mary’s with my mother and grandmother—this was one of those shows where you would have one performer doing poetry, another might be a ventriloquist with a puppet and then came Andre Tanker with Contraband!

“I remember it vividly because he came out with an amazing afro, a resplendent dashiki and it was like my first real rock star moment when I felt inside that I wanted to do that—I wanted to be that guy onstage who transformed the little hall with 300 people into a mega stadium full of screaming, singing, adoring fans.”

In 1999, Tanker served as musical director for Geraldine Connor’s UK Production of Carnival Messiah, before sharing his vast array of knowledge with the students of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut in 2002. Tanker served as the composer/musical director for Ti Jean and his Brothers at the university and lectured on his work as a Caribbean composer, while also teaching a class in contemporary composition.

“One of the things anybody who knows Andre would remember,” said his wife and daughter, “is his amazing sense of humour. He never took himself too seriously and he always found a way to look at things that would result in laughter all around. I remember when he was at Trinity College, he would make jokes about it, saying that he would never be invited to do what he was doing there at UWI because he didn’t have a degree—but yet those people from so far away sought him out and welcomed him with open arms. He would see the humour and the irony in things and rather than letting it upset him, he would laugh instead.”

In 2000, Tanker and One World Contraband were also contracted to film a one hour segment for BET’s Jazz In The Sun series in Negril, Jamaica and this production is still shown worldwide on the channel today. Prior to his death, Tanker completed work on a special project which he entitled, IERE 21 and described as “a body of work encompassing all the music of Trinidad and Tobago”. Tanker believed this project would “usher us into the 21st century”.

In January, 2003, Tanker released three singles: “Is Heat” and “Food Fight” with Maximus Dan—who was also featured on a remake of his classic, “Hosanna” which was dubbed, “Hosanna Fire”—and “Rough Jammin”. Less than 24 hours before his passing, Tanker performed “Rough Jammin” alongside Imij & Co at the Mad Hatter’s Ball on Carnival Thursday. Rather than going straight home afterward as he would usually do, he stayed out quite late, telling his family: “It’s my last party”.

May his soul rest in peace and his legacy live on forever.

Andre Tanker: September 29, 1941 – February 28, 2003

For the original article: A man of music | Trinidad Express Newspaper | Sunday Mix.

Calypso Culture Festivals History Mask Music

“Rituals of Power and Rebellion”

The following article appears in Repeating Islands, Feb. 10, 2013.

Hollis Liverpool just released his book, Rituals of Power and Rebellion: The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago (1763 to 1962), at the John S Donaldson, UTT?Port-of-Spain Campus, last Wednesday, as Michelle Loubon reports in this article for The Guardian.

Strumming his guitar, veteran calypsonian/University of T&T professor Hollis Liverpool sang snatches of his comrade Slinger Francisco’s classic Congo Man. The setting was a canefield. It was captured in black and white film during a presentation by retired Alaskan judge and honorary distinguished fellow Ray Funk at the launch of Liverpool’s Rituals of Power and Rebellion The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago (1763 to 1962). It took place at John S Donaldson, UTT Port-of-Spain Campus, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, on Wednesday.

A blurb in the UTT pamphlet said Liverpool had successfully managed to put into context the political, economic and cultural forces which inadvertently come together to create Carnival. It also noted that what appeared to be simply a musical bacchanal was in fact the struggle of the oppressed people to maintain their cultural identity in a land of foreign domination and class struggle. During the author’s oral abstract, Liverpool lamented he had to go to Michigan, USA, to do his PhD, owing to the paucity of research material on Carnival locally.

Asked about his magnum opus, Liverpool said, “Besides historical sources I used oral sources. I depended on calypsonians, masmen, writers, masqueraders and boismen. The people whom I interviewed the majority have gone to the great beyond.” Zeroing on the themes of Rituals and Rebellion, Liverpool added, “To a large extent many of the songs, events and masquerades in Carnival are rituals of rebellion. The kalinda and calypso are rituals. We show our resistance at Dimanche Gras. It is a ritual of rebellion. Even the steelband. The Chinese man who was beating pan to attract people to his church. It was the first time we saw pan being played. It is in the newspapers. J’Ouvert represents the real African traditions of the Carnival. It is what Dr Kim Johnson (senior research fellow) called the African impulse. The soucouyant, La Diablesse and cow horns, bats and devils are in J’Ouvert.”

Asked if he felt there was an improvement in the corpus of Carnival literature, Liverpool said, “I don’t know. But the book is going to be an addition to the archives. The book captures all the documentation and historical development of Carnival over time. “It is intended to impart knowledge on the complex nature of Carnival and the different people who have contributed to its development. To a large extent the Carnival defines our personality and our cultural identity.”

Tributes to Liverpool

While preparing to vie for the C2k13 calypso monarch crown Liverpool heard superlatives about his scholarship. His songs were Prodigal Son and Virginia’s Alzheimer. In the background, traditional mas characters like a moko jumbie and midnight robber milled around. Playing Midnight Robber was Damien Whiskey, a student in Liverpool’s MA in Carnival Arts class. Liverpool had pioneered it. Apart from being an academic, Liverpool has clinched the coveted crown eight times with gems like The Bandit Factory and The Mailman. Programme administrator Lana Allard chaired the proceedings in which each speaker wished him a ninth victory.

But the focus was on Liverpool’s book. Among those paying tribute to him were Funk; deputy chairman board of governors Kwais Mutema; Dr Ajamu Nymoba; Dr Fazal Ali, provost and president (acting); senior research fellow Dr Kim Johnson; and Minister of Tertiary Education and Skills Training Fazal Karim. Johnson made the salient point that while everyone celebrated US president Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, Trinidadians had written history by electing its first black Prime Minister, the late historian Dr Eric Williams in 1962. “It was the end of colonial T&T. Chalkie’s book was about the elements and one crucial element was the voice of the people. The voice of the people was not heard,” said Johnson.

Mutema described Liverpool as a cultural icon and said we are fortunate to have him at the helm of the Academy of Arts, Letters, Culture and Public Affairs. “With a PhD in history and ethnomusicology and as the recipient of the prestigious Nicolas Guillen Life-Time Achievement Award for Philosophical Literature, Liverpool stands well qualified both academically as well as practically, to inform us all,” said Mutema.

Karim noted Liverpool’s study of Carnival is a “continuation of the work of academics who are now deceased like Tobago’s Dr JD Elder and Prof Errol Hill, as well as those who are still with us, like Prof Gordon Rohlehr and Dr Jeff Henry.” Apart from Karim, Liverpool made a special presentation to his friend/chairman of committee US Virgin Islands (St Thomas) Kenneth Blake.

For more info, contact UTT at 642-8888 or e-mail

For the original report go to chalkdust-launches-rituals-power-and-rebellion

See also Calypsonian and WWI Professor Chalkdust launches “Rituals of Power and Rebellion” Repeating Islands.


Jean-Léon Destiné, Haitian Dancer and Choreographer, Dies at 94

In the following New York Times article, Margalit Fox reports on the passing of renowned Haitian dancer and choregrapher, Jean-Léon Destiné.

Jean-Léon Destiné, a Haitian dancer and choreographer who brought his country’s traditional music and dance to concert stages around the world, died on Jan. 22 at his home in Manhattan. He was 94.

Considered the father of Haitian professional dance, Mr. Destiné first came to international attention in the 1940s and remained prominent for decades afterward.

As a dancer, he performed well into old age. In 2003, reviewing a program at Symphony Space in New York in which he appeared, Anna Kisselgoff wrote in The New York Times that Mr. Destiné’s number stopped the show. She added, “He looked agile and nuanced, mesmerizing in a bent-legged solo.”

As a choreographer, he directed own ensemble, which came to be known as the Destiné Afro-Haitian Dance Company.

The company, which presented work from throughout the Caribbean, was devoted in particular to dances from Haiti. Accompanied by vibrant drumming — Mr. Destiné collaborated for many years with the distinguished Haitian drummer Alphonse Cimber — these dances were often infused with elements of voodoo tradition.

As reviewers noted, Mr. Destiné and company could dance, to all appearances, as if possessed.

Much of Mr. Destiné’s work also functioned as commentary on Haiti’s legacy of colonialism and slavery. In “Slave Dance,” a solo piece he choreographed and performed, the dancer begins in bondage only to emerge, in astonished joy, a free man.

In “Bal Champêtre” (“Country Ball”), among the most famous works choreographed by Mr. Destiné, the foppish customs of Haiti’s French colonists are satirized through sly subervsions of a Baroque minuet.

In the United States, Mr. Destiné was seen on Broadway; at the New York City Opera, where in 1949 he was a featured dancer in the world premiere of William Grant Still’s “Troubled Island,” set in Haiti; and, as a performer and teacher, with the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Mass. He also taught at New York University and elsewhere.

Jean-Léon Destiné was born on March 26, 1918, in Saint-Marc, Haiti, to a middle-class family: his father was a local government official, his mother a seamstress. After his parents divorced when he was a boy, he moved with his mother to the capital, Port-au-Prince, where they lived in reduced circumstances.

From a very early age, Jean-Léon was captivated by Haitian music and drumming. As a youth, he learned traditional dance by attending the religious rituals and other celebrations of which it had long been an integral part. He also sang in the folkloric ensemble directed by Lina Mathon Blanchet, a prominent Haitian musician.

In the 1940s, the young Mr. Destiné received a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship to study printing and journalism in the United States. After taking classes at Howard University in Washington, he moved to New York, where he learned to operate and maintain linotype machines, then used to cast type for printing newspapers other publications.

Mr. Destiné, who eventually became an American citizen, also continued dancing. In the late ’40s he spent several years with the company of Katherine Dunham, considered the matriarch of black dance in the United States.

With Ms. Dunham’s company, he danced on Broadway in the revue “Bal Negre” at the Belasco Theater in 1946.

Returning to Haiti for a time in the late ’40s, Mr. Destiné founded a national dance company there at the behest of the Haitian government. By the early ’50s he had established his own company in New York.

Mr. Destiné’s survivors include three sons, Gérard, Ernest and Carlo, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

For the original article: Jean-Léon Destiné, Haitian Dancer and Choreographer, Dies at 94 –

Calypso Festivals Music

Calypsonian Penguin takes final bow

The Calypso Fraternity and all Carnival music aficionados and enthusiasts moan the passing of Sedley Joseph, who made tremendous contributions to the art-form, as composer, performer, teacher, and past president of the calypsonians’ organization. The following Trinidad Guardian article, written by Raphael John-Lall, pays homage to this stalwart.

Veteran calypsonian Seadley Joseph, who performed under the name Penguin was a “giant” in the calypso art form says fellow calypsonian Leroy Calliste, known also as Black Stalin. “We lost a giant in calypso music, we also lost a friend,” Stalin said by telephone yesterday.

Joseph, 70, brother of former national security minister Martin Joseph, and a former president of Trinidad Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO), passed away yesterday morning after a prolonged illness. He won the Road March title in 1982 with the song A Deputy Essential. He won the Calypso Crown in 1984 with We Living in Jail and Sorf Man. One of his other hits was Look de Devil dey.

Stalin said Joseph will be missed by the calypso fraternity and by the entire country. “He will be missed. His contribution to the artform is too much to even mention,” he said.  Stalin said the younger generation of calypsonians and future generations who get into the calypso genre have a lot to learn from him.

“Apart from his involvement in the music he was also involved on the business side of things and the youths today can learn from how he did things,” he said. President of TUCO, Lutalo Masimba, also known as Brother Resistance, described Joseph’s his death a “great loss.”

“His death is a loss to the music of the world and to T&T as a nation. He was a gifted composer and in my opinion did not get his just due. He was one of the few people who won the Calypso Monarch and Road March,” he said. He said  Joseph’s contribution to TUCO was invaluable.

“What he did for the organisation was important. He pointed TUCO in a progressive direction and it was an honour to work with him,” he said. Winston Anthony Bailey, also known as the Mighty Shadow, was shocked by the news and told the T&T Guardian it was the first time he was hearing of his death but said he did “great work.”

“I knew at one time he was sick. We all have to leave this life at some time, but he did work and made his contribution to the art form,” he said. He added that the younger generation, if they listen to Joseph’s lyrics, might be able to learn something. “This generation if they listen to his melody and humour in his calypsoes could learn something,” he said.

For the original article: Calypsonian Penguin takes final bow | The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper.

Festivals Mask

Wire Bender – One of a dying breed

 The following article was written by Zahra Gordon and published in the Trinidad Guardian, Jan. 15, 2013.

Quammie’s skills are in demand in New York, where he makes costumes for the annual Labour Day Carnival.

Arnim Quammie learned most of his wire bending skills on his own. According to the 66-year-old craftsman who began his mas making career at the tender age of nine, “If you wanted to play mas in those days you had to make your own costume. The bands would have samples but if you wanted to play you had to make your own mas.”

Quammie “born and grow” in St James where he was also involved in the steelband movement. “Older fellas would guide you along the way in some aspects, but most of what I know come from lots of trial and error. It had plenty times when people laugh at my headpiece because it was so ugly but I didn’t care.

“I wanted to play my mas,” he said in an interview yesterday.

By the time Quammie was 17, he designed and constructed a section in a band. Since then, Quammie has worked with numerous bands. Currently based with the band Belmont Original Style Sailors (aka De Boss), Quammie also works on king and queen costumes for both adults and children. In the late 1990s and early 2000s Quammie would also travel to the US annually for the New York Labour Day parade to work with the mas band Burrokeets.

He notes that the wire bending is a dying trade, however, and lamented that the young people whom he once taught were no longer interested in the craft.

“Most people are doing plastic moulding nowadays because they can’t do wire work anymore. Some of the wire benders are dead or aged and the government has no programmes at YTEPP or anywhere to teach young people these things.”

Quammie feels that the loss of interest in wire bending will result in further loss of this culture. “In time to come what you would be seeing for Carnival is more of what we seeing now which is bra and panties because people in T&T don’t appreciate the art of wire bending.”

For the original article: One of a dying breed | The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper.

Calypso Music

Charlie’s Calypso City, the Caribbean Cheers of Brooklyn

The following John Leland article was published in, Jan. 3, 2013.

SINCE Rawlston Charles opened Charlie’s Calypso City, on Fulton Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, in July 1972, the store has been a hub for Brooklyn’s Caribbean community, reinventing itself for each era.

n the 1970s, when calypso records were hard to find, the store was a go-to source for sounds straight out of Port of Spain, Trinidad. In the 1980s, when Mr. Charles, 66, opened a recording studio and record company upstairs, it was a magnet not just for calypso performers, but also for rappers like Whodini and the Fat Boys.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, as the borough’s island population grew, the record store expanded and became an essential part of the annual West Indian American Day Parade in Crown Heights, holding a party to start the Labor Day weekend.

And in our own fallen times, when record stores are heading toward obsolescence?

“It’s like the neighborhood Cheers,” said Tammy Hall, 53, lingering in the store on a recent Friday night, along with about a dozen other longtime regulars — drinking wine or soda; eating rice and peas, barbecue chicken or spicy cow’s feet; shouting around a television that played a Nets game.

Ms. Hall’s partner, Norris Thompson, 57, has been going to Charlie’s for 40 years, since he and his friend John Evelyn, now 60, were the store’s first sales clerks. Neither still works there, but chances are this is where they will be on a Friday night, talking about sports, music, Caribbean politics, American politics and nothing in particular. “This is the mecca of everything right here,” said Michael Greaves, a board member of the annual parade. “The ladies treat us like kings. And you couldn’t find a better guy than Charlie to hang out with. He tolerates us.”

Mr. Charles, a native of Tobago, started the store largely because he couldn’t find the calypso records that had been a vital part of his youth. At the time, he said, Fulton Street was a forbidding place. As the neighborhood improved, he watched his children thrive: his daughter Tina Charles, shown in posters and newspaper clippings on the store’s walls, was the most valuable player in the W.N.B.A. last year, and his son, Rawlston Charles Jr., plays basketball in Europe.

But the store is not the business that it once was. Young people rarely enter, he said, and even older customers are scarce. A nearby mainstay, Birdel’s Records, which had been in business since 1944, closed in 2011, done in by the same forces now eating away at Charlie’s. If he did not own the building, he said, it would be hard to keep going.

For now, though, he still has Friday nights. The crowd here might be intimidating to strangers: Sometimes people are yelling at the television; sometimes they are hitting on percussion instruments called irons, modeled on automobile brake hubs.

But for the regulars, it is a place beyond commerce — a necessary destination for visiting musicians, a place where there are chairs waiting and arguments to be joined. “When we want to see someone, we say, ‘Come by Charlie’s,’ ” said Kenny Alexander, 66. “It’s like my second home.”

The music thumped, the Nets won, the food and wine were still going strong. The secret? Mr. Charles, dressed in a natty gray jacket, looked over at his friends.

“Hard work, perseverance; believe in yourself and just stay because of the love you have for it,” he said, adding, “I’m not making a whole bunch of money, but I’m O.K.; I can survive.”

It was the last get-together of the year, and a warm and caloric tiding for the new one about to begin.

For the original article: Charlie’s Calypso City, the Caribbean Cheers of Brooklyn –