Interview: Leslie Lucky-Samaroo

In the following interview othersounds.com speaks to Leslie Lucky-Samaroo about his role in the music recording industry of Trinidad and Tobago, Feb. 21, 2011.

Leslie ”Lucky” Samaroo is a Trinidadian entrepreneur who turned his passion for music into a business. He started up his own pressing plant, International Recording Co. Ltd, which was key to creating an independent record industry in Trinidad. His other ventures included a record label called Tropico and later an airline called Carribean United Airlines.  In the mid-70’s he was forced to leave the music business when climbing oil prices threatened to ground his entire airline business.

How did you get into the record business?

In 1957 I applied and obtained a licensee agreement from RCA (Records) which was the key in establishing a pressing plant in Trinidad. I spent many weeks with RCA at their recording studios in NY, observing and learning sound recording techniques. I can still remember my first recording in Trinidad, sitting in a goat pen on the hills of Levantille with my Ampex 601 Recorder, RCA four channel mixer and four RCA 77DX Microphones and recording Ebonites Steel Band playing ” Oh My Beloved Father”, and releasing my first 45 on the Trinidad / Tobago market. It was an instant hit and best seller.

Were there any other pressing plants before you decided to open

Emory Cook (of Cook Records) was the first to set up a pressing plant in Trinidad Tobago. The pressing process was his downfall, but his recording was and still is the best sound quality of a Steel Orchestra ever produced. Before my Company ” International Recording Co. Ltd.” came on the scene I was told that SaGomes was probably the first person to produce a local recording, I have no idea who recorded or pressed the 78 records.

What else can you tell me about International Recording Co. Ltd?

My plant was the traditional type using vinyl materials in hydraulic pressing moulds. IRCL produced (and pressed) over 4000 local recordings including, Sparrow, Melody, (Lord) Kitchener, Duke, La Petite Musical, Joey Lewis and Orch., Ron Berrage and Orch., Pete De Vlugt and Orch., Cyril Diaz and Orch., Panam North Stars Steel Orch., Silver Stars Steel Orch., Gay Desperados Steel Orch., Cavaliers Steel Orch., and many others too numerous to mention. I did two special recordings for RCA,…Ivory & Steel, with Winifred Atwell and the Panam North Stars Steel Orch., and Miles Davis with the Panam Steel Orch. One of my best sellers was a 45 called ”Portrait of Trinidad” by Mighty Sniper from 1965.

You sold your company in the mid 1970’s. What happened?

In 1966 when my small plant burnt down at Dundonald Street in Port of Spain (POS), I built the largest and most modern plant facilities in the Caribbean at Sea Lots in POS. This plant had automated pressing capability, record mastering and plating, printery, and the largest recording studio in the country. However, in 1969 I started a new Company, Arawak Airlines, but changed the name shortly afterwards to Caribbean United Airlines. I was encouraged to go into the Airline business when the National carrier BWIA could not carry on with the Domestic service to Tobago, because of financial constraints. In 1973/74 I was forced to put the airline in receivership, when the Government refused to grant me a fare increase of TT $6.00 due to the fuel crisis at the time. Although the Government promised to refund me all moneys invested, I never received any refund. I had to sell the recording Company to repay my debts.

Since that time I lost track of the local recording Industry.

For the original report: Interview: Leslie Lucky-Samaroo.

Les Enfants celebrates 50 years of dance

The following article was written by Reshma Ragoonath and published in Trinidad Guardian, July 12, 2012.

The phenomenal Joyce Kirton, considered to be the “Grand Dame” of dance in San Fernando, celebrates her golden jubilee in dance and the formation of her dance company, Les Enfants, this month. She has planned a weekend of special events at the Naparima Bowl, San Fernando to commemorate the symbolic occasion. The festivities will begin with a prayer session today at 10 am and will culminate with a dance concert on Sunday at 6 pm. An all day dance workshop has been carded for Friday and a gala awards ceremony on Saturday night. In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Kirton said the celebration is a way of “thanking God for the 50 years at Les Enfants. Thanking him in song in movement and in word.”

Over the years
She extended an open invitation for all dance lovers to be part of the celebrations. Looking back over the past 50 years, Kirton said she is proud of her legacy of dance and of her hundreds of dance students.  She said dance began as a hobby but quickly became an all encompassing part of her life.  “Why do people like singing? Why do people like anything? I just like dance. This is my way of expressing myself. It was something I was drawn to,” she said. At the age of 19 while attending the Teachers’ Training College she was bitten by the dance bug.  “I had some very good teachers at Training College. Beryl Mc Bernie and another English teacher. Between these two women they really turned me on to dance,” she said.  As T&T was making its first foot steps into nationhood in 1962 Kirton said she was making her first steps into forming the Les Enfants Dance company. She started with small classes at the St Paul’s Anglican Church, Harris Promenade.  “It was a lot of fun, a lot of adventure. Every Independence we would be excited. Children would have been performing in rallies. There were a lot of organisations coming up at that time. The San Fernando Borough Council did a lot of stuff and we were also involved in a lot of their projects.”

Back then, she said, the society was very different.  “When people came to see our shows they paid $3 per show and they were filled. Now shows cost $350. We do not have a very big dance audience in San Fernando. People do not support the dance very willingly. They prefer to go to comedy shows,” she said.  She lamented that interest in dance has been declining and invitations to perform at functions being with it requests for “jump up and wave” entertainment.  “Arts are not being respected. They (people) go for superficial. They do not go for what you produce. When you produce any piece of art it is a piece of yourself, whether it is a painting or performing in a play. You are making a statement about yourself and your country,” Kirton said.  She said students at Les Enfants were not only taught movement but also about T&T culture through the art of dance.  “Dance is a way to reach an audience, to tell a story. That story may be sad, maybe happy. It might be fearful. You also want to make a comment about the things that go on to your society or keep the culture going,” she said.  “We have a very rich heritage and everyone who occupied this country left a story and very often when we are dancing we are telling their stories, the African, the Indian. They all left their mark in society.”

For the original report: Les Enfants

Ifetayo – Black Truth Rhythm Band

David Lewis reviews the release of Ifetayo album of the 1970s Trinidadian musical aggregation, Black Truth Rhythm Band, for Black Grooves.

Title:  Ifetayo

Artist:  Black Truth Rhythm Band

Label:  Soundway Records

Formats:  CD, LP, MP3

Release date:  December 6, 2011

Soundway Records, a label that is invested in re-releasing vintage music from the Global South, has found a gem in this 1976 album that, at the time, made very little impact.  The Black Truth Rhythm Band, an Afro-centric Trinidadian group, was formed in 1971 but made only one recording before disbanding, though Oluko Imo?the band leader who plays multiple instruments here?went on to record with Fela Kuti.  The band formed and released Ifetayo in the midst of the Black Power Movement in Trinidad and, along with performers like Lancelot Layne and Cheryl Byron, responded to the African-centered vibe of the movement in their music, making liberal use of African-style drumming and instruments like the mbira.  The album is not simply an African fusion album, though; the band skillfully weaves music from many traditions through a soul and funk-tinged set of tracks.  The title track, “Ifetayo,” is deliciously funky and falls into a drum and flute break that sounds decidedly West African.  “Kilimanjaro” ends with an up-tempo Latin American guitar break.  The band also incorporates steelpan, the national instrument of Trinidad, as an integral part of the group (not simply a flourish to pander to tourists) in “Save D Musician” and “Umbala.”  Further emphasizing their Trinidadian roots, “Aspire” is a decidedly funked-up calypso beat, and “Save D Musician” has a calypso-like shuffle and lyrics that address social issues, like any good calypso song.

Following is the official promo video featuring the track “Save D Musician”:

Since this album is a re-issue, listeners have to be invested in the early 1970s sound, but if you are, it’s a strong album that deserved much more attention than it received initially.  The album also pre-figured a number of developments in Trinidadian music, including the African-influenced music of rapso artists like Brother Resistance and 3canal, and the current Trinidad-based world fusion band Terrenaisance.   Ifetayo is currently available from Soundway in three formats: an MP3 download and CD,  both of which contain a bonus track, or, for purists, an LP with a 7” disc containing the bonus track.

For the original post: Ifetayo | blackgrooves.org.

When steelband took London by storm

In the following articles, published in the Caribbean Beat Magazine (issue 113), Dr. Kim Johnson discusses the reception of TASPO, the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra and the importance of its 1951 tour to London, England.

Taspo gives its first performance at the South Bank Exhibition in 1951, under Lt Griffith. Photo: George Konig/Keystone Features/Getty Images

On July 26, 1951, some black men unloaded a pile of rusty steel drums in Southbank, London. It looked like junk. Garbage cans. The pedestrians milling around weren’t even curious. The men with the rusty cans sat with them on their laps and at a gesture swung into “Mambo Jambo”. By one newspaper account, “jaws dropped and eyes widened”.

This was the first modern steelband, and its impact still reverberates in Britain. As for its significance back home in Trinidad, nothing would ever be the same after the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (Taspo), neither musically nor even politically. Yet, a mere six years previously, the Legislative Council had prohibited the playing of “noisy instruments”, ie steelpans, in public.

“Fancy you having a musical evening and inviting these gentlemen of the steel band to provide the music for you!” Sir Courtney Hannays, KC, postulated to the council. “Fancy at any exhibition of the fine arts Trinidad represented by people who beat the steel drums!”

Generally, however, attitudes shifted in the opposite direction. Steelbands blossomed in intelligence and beauty, seducing more and more Trinidadians, until in 1951, six years after Hannays derided the idea, the colony was represented at the Festival of Britain in London by Taspo.

Generally, however, attitudes shifted in the opposite direction. Steelbands blossomed in intelligence and beauty, seducing more and more Trinidadians, until in 1951, six years after Hannays derided the idea, the colony was represented at the Festival of Britain in London by Taspo.

It was the first band whose pans were all made from oil drums, and thus had a more consistent timbre. More important, all were tuned on the chromatic scale at concert pitch, which allowed them to harmonise with other conventional instruments. Taspo also introduced the idea of multiple drums, which allowed the three-bass and two-cello pans to play full scales in the bass range.

Yet the inspiration for Taspo didn’t come from Trinidad. On January 21, 1951, before the thought struck anyone here, the Guardian reported that: “Hell’s Gate Steel Band of Antigua is likely to represent the West Indian steel bands at the Festival of Britain which will be opened in London on May 3.”

By March the Trinidad & Tobago Steel Bands Association had decided to send a representative steelband to the festival. The government refused their request for $6,000, so the association decided to raise the money, and a team of the most gifted panmen was chosen.

This was at the height of the fighting years, when respectable society recoiled from the steelband movement in fear and loathing. “You think they would ever send a steelband to England with them set of hooligans in it?” sceptics told Tony Williams. “Boy, you’re only wasting your time.” But committees were established. Fundraising began. And the steelband movement, riven by warfare between bands, closed ranks. Bands held benefit performances all over the island: Fantasia and Mutineers in Princes Town, for instance, and La Lune in Moruga.

The musical director of the band was Lt Joseph Nathaniel Griffith, the steelband movement’s greatest unsung hero. Born 1906 in Barbados, he joined the police band at 14. He left Barbados in 1932 to play clarinet and sax with an American jazz band, but was soon in Martinique arranging for the Municipal Orchestra. In 1935 he took over the St Vincent Government Band and founded the St Vincent Philharmonic Orchestra. Then he led the Grenada Harmony Kings, before joining the Trinidad Police Band in 1938. He taught at the Tacarigua Orphanage and led its band, and conducted the Royal Victoria Institute’s orchestra.

In 1947 he was appointed bandmaster of the St Lucia Police Band, and there he was when he was asked to lead Taspo. “If I going to England with you, you can’t play any sort of wrong thing,” he warned the panmen. “You have to play real music.”

And he set about teaching them. He put numbers on the notes and wrote scores. He taught them a repertoire that included a waltz, a rhumba, a samba, light classics, a foxtrot, a bolero, calypsoes, mambos. He made them tune an alto (second) pan with 14 notes. He also insisted the bass have at least 14 notes. When told that they couldn’t fit, he replied, to everyone’s surprise, “Then use three drums.”

Griffith’s tutelage leavened the genius of men like Williams and Ellie Mannette, and they produced better pans than they ever had before. Williams invented the oil drum two-cello, and discovered the technique of tuning two tones in one note.

“‘Come down an afternoon when we practising,’ Ellie told us,” recalled Maifan Drayton, then in Invaders. “When we went we were shocked to see one man playing two pans. Boots was on bass, Sterling Betancourt was on guitar and Tony Williams on cello. We were mystified.”

The public was even more dazzled. After a concert at Globe cinema, the audience emptied its pockets into the pans. Now that Trinidad realised what a steelband could accomplish, even the elite and big businessmen supported them. Bermudez donated drums, Fitz Blackman offered uniforms, the Himalaya Club, the Little Carib Theatre and the Jaycees held fundraising dances. The tourist board and Sir Gerald Wight each offered $500. Governor Sir Hubert Rance’s aide-de-camp organised an auction: Winfield Scott bought a case of whisky and returned it to the auctioneer, who promptly sold it again.

Hindu leader Bhadase Maraj donated generously. Edwin Lee Lum, a non-smoker, bought 2,000 cigarettes. Thus Taspo, and by extension the steelband movement, forged the multi-class alliance which was for the first time nationalist in scope.

Taspo’s first engagement was at the BBC, after which they performed at the Colonial Office, and at the festival. “A revolution in music reached London today, and experts predict it will sweep the country in a new craze,” reported an English paper. “Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra sat outside the Festival Concert Hall and tapped sweet, swingy music out of rusty pans still with steamer labels stuck to them after their trans-Atlantic voyage.

“Londoners, hearing a steelband for the first time, passed the verdict: ‘The music is sweet and liquid similar to the xylophone but not so harsh’.”

They rehearsed in the basement flat of musician, actor and singer Edric Connor. They got a two-week contract with the Savoy, after which they toured Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester. They performed with calypsonian Lord Kitchener, with Connor and with Boscoe Holder’s dance troupe. (Holder had actually been playing pan in London since the previous year.)

In late November Taspo returned to Paris for a two-week circus engagement and to catch the boat home. Betancourt, Bonaparte, Davidson, Haynes and Williams had plans to stay in England, but homesickness, an oncoming winter, and a fight between Bonaparte and Davidson changed that. Only Betancourt, with tears rolling down, returned to cold London, having found an Irishwoman there to keep him warm.Fifteen years later, Betancourt and two other panmen would transform the small, private Notting Hill garden party into what is now the largest public street festival in Europe. By then Trinidad & Tobago was an independent nation, able to boast of having created the century’s most important acoustic instrument.

TASPO members

Theo “Black James” Stephens, 17, Free French
Orman “Patsy” Haynes, 21, Casablanca
Winston “Spree” Simon, 24, Fascinators
Ellie Mannette, 22, Invaders
Belgrave Bonaparte, 19, Southern Symphony
Philmore “Boots” Davidson, 22, City Syncopaters
Sterling Betancourt, 21, Crossfire
Andrew “Pan” de la Bastide, 23, Hill 60
Dudley Smith, 24, Rising Sun
Anthony “Muffman” Williams, 20, North Stars
Granville Sealey, 24, Tripoli

(Sealey was later replaced by Carlton “Sonny” Roach from Sun Valley)

For the original post: When steelband took London by storm | Caribbean Beat Magazine.

Preserving folk culture:

Malick Folk Performing Company stages nostalgic and futuristic expressions.

The following article was written by Cherisse Moe and published in the Trinidad Guardian, Oct. 12, 2011.

The Malick Folk Performing Company has been working assiduously to bring the indigenous art form of folk music to the forefront since 1979. With a long list of accolades to its name and no signs of slowing down, the local group, which received the 2004 Chaconia Medal Silver for its outstanding contribution in the field of culture, is now gearing up to stage yet another exciting production, titled, Nostalgic & Futuristic Expressions, at the Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s, on November 6.

Secretary/public relations officer, Jemma Jordan said the production, directed by Louis Mc Williams and Norvan Fullerton, promised to be one to remember and featured some of the nation’s brightest stars, including the Shiv Shakti Dance Company, the Lydian Singers, Los Alumnos de San Juan and African dance ensemble, Wasa Foli. “The production highlights Malick through the years so its nostalgic in that it showcases the senior members and futuristic because we have a junior company,” she explained. “We are going to give them a taste of our indigenous culture in T&T in a very theatrical production with beautiful music and dance.”

Members of the Malick Folk Performing Company put on a show for the recently concluded Best Village Dance Finals at the National Arts and Performing Academy.

Recognition

With Jamaican and American genres such as dancehall and hip hop the music of choice among the nation’s youth, Jordan said local genres like folk music was not gaining the recognition it deserved. And while the performing company—which holds the record for being the only folk group to win the Prime Minister’s Best Village Trophy Competition on ten occasions—was doing its part to keep the tradition alive, Jordan stated that the time had come to do more. “A people without a culture is like a people without a soul,” she asserted. “We feel that it’s important that our young people know our culture and take pride in what is our own. They must know what we created as a result of us being colonised. They must know where we came from in order to know where they are going.”

Runs deep

Having toured extensively with the music group over the years throughout the US, Canada, Germany, Italy, Brazil and the Caribbean, Jordan’s love for country runs deep. She said her main goal remained putting T&T on the global map and helping to preserve the country’s dying culture. Also an integral part of Carnival for the past 21 years, the Diego Martin resident who has worked as an announcer for local events such as Dimanche Gras and  The National Steelband Panorama, as well internationally for New York’s Labour Day Celebrations, disclosed that the group was on a “recruitment drive” to attract new members. She noted that interested individuals should be “committed and dedicated,” have an interest in the performing arts and “be prepared to work hard.”

More Info

The production—Nostalgic & Futuristic Expressions starts promptly at 4:30pm  on November 6 at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s. Adult admission is $100 and $50 for children 12 and under.

For original report: Preserving folk culture | The Trinidad Guardian.

Celebrating Freedom: Caribbean People commemorate Emancipation.

For the last quarter century, during the last week of July and the first of August annually, celebrations and commemorative events have been hosted in recognition of the Emancipation from slavery, which was proclaimed in the Caribbean in 1834 and fully enforced from August 1, 1838. These contemporary events are held throughout the region in many of the islands, such as the US Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Anguila, Antigua, Dominica, Barbados, Grenada, St. Vincent, Montserrat, and Trinidad and Tobago. The South American mainland Caribbean nation of Guyana also bear witness to the emancipation festivities.

The 2011 Emancipation festivities a particularly significant in the context of the declaration of 2011 as ” The Year of People African Descent” by the United Nations. This declaration was made in recognition of the millions of people worldwide, whose ancestors came from the African continent, and especially in recognition of the horrors experienced during the near 400 years of slavery and the continued discrimination and racial abuse faced since. In making this declaration it is the hope that efforts to end discrimination on the of race would be redoubled.

The last half of the 19th century saw the coming in to being of emancipation celebrations akin to those of today. In many of the islands at the time, freedom from the shackles of slavery was celebrated in that first week of August. Many of these celebrations eventually became subsumed by the various Carnivals that emerged then and are still held to this day around this time of the year. An example of this is the Cambulay that was held on August 1 in Trinidad but was suppressed in the famous Riots of 1881. The procession, masking, music, and other performance forms associated with this events eventually becoming incorporated into the pre-lenten Carnival. However, the Carnivals of places such as Barbados, Antigua, and Grenada continue to be hosted during the last week of July and the first of August, close to the August 1st proclamation of freedom.

In 1985, Trinidad and Tobago became the first country to declare a public holiday annually in recognition of this historically significant event in the history of the “people of African descent” and indeed, the history of the world. The acceptance of this holiday by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago came after the ground was laid by the Emancipation Support Committee in the years prior. The committee was then spearheaded by the late Lancelot Layne and included leading members such as, Ella Andell, the late Brian Honore – Commentor, John Cupid, in addition to some of the members that hold the fort today.

The commemorative activities initiated by this early committee included processional visits to historic areas and sites, significant to the experiences of the enslaved and their descendants in Trinidad and Tobago. Some of these included: Lopinot, Aranguez, the Lavantille and Picton Hill area, and the Gonzalez/Belmont community which was a former slave village. Sites of cemeteries for the slaves; trees on which hangings and beating were carried out, were pointed out to participants in these processions, which served an educational function in addition to the celebratory. These emancipation commemorative activities have developed to include an extended Emancipation village in which performances and speeches featuring local and foreign guests (especially from African countries) are delivered, and it culminates with a procession on August 1.

Similar types of celebratory events and activities are hosted in other parts of the Caribbean region. In Jamaica the day is recognized as a national public holiday. An Emancipation Park was opened in Kingston in 2002,
and festivities are held in many different parts of the country. For instance in Spanish Town, St. Catherine there is a reenactment of the reading of the Emancipation Declaration. This town was the seat of Parliament for the colonial government when the abolition of slavery was proclaimed in 1838. Other towns, such as Morant Bay, St. Thomas, host celebrations that feature cultural forms such as mento, and kumina among other cultural activities. In 2011, the community in St. Anns hosts activities that culminate on July 31 with festivities entitled “Let the drums talk”.

In Guyana the occasion of the emancipation anniversary is observed throughout the country and is marked by road and cycle races, the distribution of hampers to the poor and elderly, and essay writing competitions. Additionally, church services are held in some areas and there are performances of dance and song. Groups from neighboring Brazil and Suriname are invited to participate and contribute to the events, particularly in some of the border towns. And, processions are held in which the participants adorn themselves in West African print and march along to the strains of African music.