THIS COUNTRY’S steelpan legacy will be honoured during the 2009 eight annual Steelpan and Jazz Festival, now on at Queen’s Hall, through the live works of three revered and accomplished orchestras: Trinidad All Stars, Desperadoes and Exodus.
“Alive at 75”: That’s Trinidad All Stars’ celebration of their Diamond Anniversary. The six-time Panorama Champions will present new adaptations of classic orchestrations by several of their arrangers including the late Fitzgerald “Gerry” Jemmott, who joined All Stars in 1968 as their musical director and the late Nelson Villafana; Leon “Smooth” Edwards, Rudy Wells and Deryck Nurse.
The band will replicate Neville Jules’ majestic arrangement of the hymn “How Great Thou Art” as dancers from Malick Folk Performers enhance the song’s inspirational message. Marionettes Chorale, with whom the band has extensively collaborated, will join the performance of Rossini’s “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” while the remainder of their set will showcase All Stars’ diversified repertoire, which ranges across genre classics by Verdi, Michael Jackson and the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti.
Originally called Hell Yard Boys, Second Fiddle then Cross of Lorraine, the band settled on the name All Stars because it reflected its players’ stellar musical capabilities.
All Stars cultural contributions were recognized in 1982 by the TT Government’s bestowal of the Humming Bird Medal (Gold) and then four years later with an award from the Port-of-Spain City Council. The band’s members have pioneered many developments in the steelband including playing European classical music on the road at carnival and the introduction of the guitar pan.
For their TTSJF appearance Despers will offer a retrospective of calypso favourites and other contemporary songs arranged by the late Clive Bradley, the troubled yet enormously talented multi-instrumentalist who led the band to several of their ten Panorama triumphs prior to his passing on November 26, 2005.
Born November 4, 1936, Clive Bradley grew up in the residential valley of Diego Martin when it was still a remote country district. He was a self-taught musician who worked with some of Trinidad’s greatest musicians of the 50s and 60s including Choy Aming, Johnny Gomez, Clarence Curvan and later Andre Tanker. He led his own groups, the Bradley Bunch, and brass band, Sounds Incorporated and helped to elevate the late Mighty Duke into calypso stardom. Bradley was Duke’s arranger for the four years the latter won the national calypso crown.
It was Roy Cape who influenced the late legendary Rudolph Charles to hire Bradley, who did not play pan, as the band’s arranger. Bradley’s initial assignment with Despers was a 1968 Panorama arrangement of The Mighty Sparrow’s “Mr Walker”. In 1970 Desperadoes won the contest with Bradley’s arrangement of Lord Kitchener’s “Margie.”
More Panorama championships followed for Bradley and Despers in 1976, 1977, 1983, 1985, 1999 and 2000 but Bradley’s pan genius wasn’t confined to his work with the Laventille band: His celestial arrangement of David Rudder’s “High Mas” for the Arima based Nutones won Panorama in 1998 and he scored a record ten victories with various New York steelbands at Brooklyn’s annual Labor Day weekend Panorama. “Bradley best rode the world of the arranger like a Colossus,” said Trinidad’s esteemed musicologist and pan arranger Dr Pat Bishop. “Nobody handled the minor-key mode like Bradley. Nobody could make you weep at Panorama which, of course, is supposed to be a time of unbridled joyousness, but he captured the tragic underside of the human condition and gave it a voice that was utterly awesome, authentic and Trinidadian.”
Returning to the TTSJF, Tunapuna-based Sagicor Exodus Steel Orchestra, equally recognised for their precisely rehearsed sets as for their sartorial elegance, presented customised renditions of a wide-ranging repertoire of pop, jazz and calypso standards during its performance on opening night.
Formed in 1981, Exodus are relative youngsters in the steelband fraternity but their formidable achievements nonetheless command immense respect. Exodus has won Panorama four times; they are the current champs of the Caribbean Panorama competition, which was held in Grenada in 2002; they took top honours at the Pan is Beautiful competition in 1998 and again in 2004 and are the reigning victors of the World Steelband Competition, securing that title in Port-of-Spain in 2002 and most recently at NYC’s Madison Square Garden in 2005.
Exodus’ TTSJF repertoire included renditions of three calypso hits honouring the steel pan written by a departed trio of TT’s most esteemed composers: “Pan Talent” by The Mighty Terror (Fitzgerald Henry), “Pan In “A” Minor” by Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts) and “Steelband Times” by Andre Tanker.
Exodus’ special guests included saxophonist Sandy Gabriel from the Dominican Republic who has previously performed with the band at some of their international gigs and upcoming Trinidadadian vocalist Candice Alcantara, accompanied by the band’s resident arranger, the highly regarded Pelham Goddard on keyboards. Goddard’s musical vision helped to develop soca in the mid-70s and he went on to arrange many Carnival Road March winning songs throughout the 80s and 90s. Goddard’s arrangements for Exodus brilliantly transpose classic soca’s boldly swinging rhythms into complex steelband orchestrations.
“The TTSJF has for years been the singular organisation promoting our national instrument in any meaningful way,” observes Exodus’ manager Ainsworth Mohammed, brother of Exodus’ founder the late Amin Mohammed.
“Their efforts to encourage steelbands to demonstrate the versatility of the pan and the virtuosity of steelpan players must be highly commended.
Steelbands are afforded the opportunity to present on the same stage as many world renowned international acts and we must step up to the plate on these occasions.”