I had the pleasure on the evening of Saturday, December 3 to hear a performance by singer Gerelle Forbes in a Christmas concert at Fiesta Plaza, Movie Towne. What popped out to me as a producer of the series SONGBIRDS…live™, was the overall linked theme of the production that lent an air of professionalism and contemporary grace not seen in many performances by young singers these days. Kudos to her and her team, which included, for me, the star of the show, musical director David Richards. Gerelle, a natural performer at ease in front of an audience charmed, if only for as long as she, admittedly, could hold her voice at a level and intensity that speaks to me as a producer. At 60 minutes, the power was reduced noticeably. This one letdown in an otherwise superb production opened my eyes and ears to the possibilities of the female voice in Trinidad and Tobago outside of the narrow range of soca.
Fortunately, for the production, a lynchpin to perfection was musical director David Richard’s arrangements of the song choices of the star singer. After a couple contemporary hits by Beyonce and others, the music segued seamlessly into a medley of Christmas-themed songs, even cheerfully transforming the Jackson 5 popularised “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause” into an a cappella barbershop quartet with her background vocalists, Elena Rawlins, Jeuelle Archer, and the magnificent Janine Charles-Farray. It worked, and well. Similarly, as the show seemed to veer into images of Christmas north of the Tropic of Cancer, these four ladies did a medley of parang soca interpolated with Kitch’s perennial “Drink a Rum and a Ponche Crema” that made the audience sing and dance. Acknowledgement of David Richards’ input by the star led me to investigate what his motivation was.
David, who plays drums for, among others, the Clifford Charles group says that music arranging is something he does, and may I say, very well. On the sound of the first note by his crack band (Rondel Charles and Kedron Isaac on keys, Shaquille Noel on drums, Modupe Onilu on percussion, Andre Jack on bass), it was apparent that the milieu which these musicians were accustomed was the gospel music of the United States. The majority of the band is from the Seventh Day Adventist church, and we the audience were treated to that highly syncopated cadence of the R&B-tinged gospel that is a hallmark of the Black church in America, the template for the local SDA music. The music tingled. It uplifted. It “swang.” The SDA Church has drafted a Philosophy on Music, which says among other things: ” Music should be prepared, practiced, and planned.” They adhered to this dictum well. Tight and nuanced arrangements that capture the spirit of gospel (only in America is there a differentiation based on skin colour), rhythm to die for courtesy the superb young drummer Shaquille Noel, a name I would want to hear more often in popular music in Trinidad and Tobago, and an almost flawless performance gave my ears a treat I have not been privy to for far too long in secular music circles here. Gerelle’s boast that “these were some of the best musicians in this country” was not hubristic.
A quote from the text of the Guidelines Toward An SDA Philosophy of Music (1972) says:
Harmonic Treatment. Music should be avoided that is saturated with the 7th, 9th, llth, and 13th chords as well as other lush sonorities. These chords, when used with restraint, produce beauty, but when used to excess distract from the true spiritual quality of the text.
Take 6, according to Quincy Jones,” the greatest vocal ensemble on the planet,” are raised in the SDA church, and no longer adhere to this possibly outdated dictum. Not following that lead either were the ladies of voice who harmonized economically on “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel“. God bless them. Those who missed out, missed out. David Richards is a bright revelation in another sphere of the music business here, and we would be well advised to seek out more music from this young musician. The music spaces in this country are niched beyond practicality, but musicians can and should be able to span genres devoid of mandated philosophy or tradition, I believe. “Music is universal” is an adage that works for me, and the ability to hear a lot of live music is one of life’s pleasures as we move from season to season beyond the boundaries.
© 2011 Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.