Summer 2014, if that is a season in Trinidad, was witness to a renaissance of live music productions in those months when school children have time to play. Young adults, too, had time on their hands to escape the early work week humdrum to appreciate the variety of music this island produces. Emerging music business woman, Jeanelle Frontin and her team at Into The Red event planners, over 15 weeks since the end of May, produced the ESCAPE concert series on Tuesdays at RuStreet. The Finale held poolside at the Carlton Savannah Hotel on Tuesday night was a culmination that inspired awe and accolade. Local neo-folk superstars Freetown Collective—Muhammad Muwakil and Lou Lyons along with background singers, sisters Malene and Shanna Joseph, and Tishanna Williams—had the audience watching and listening with rapt admiration for 2 hours. This was not time wasted, this was entertainment.
The group culled tunes from their increasingly vast catalogue of originals, which confirmed that a music aesthetic in which the lyric is king is back. The kaiso has a progeny and it is intelligent and urgent. Conscious lyrics affirming chauvinistic pride and challenging the status quo juxtaposed neatly with an ambience that signalled idyll. Feet dangled in the luxurious hotel pool, as voices raised to sing the songs that address a generation speaking to a common foe: the present generation of politicians, law makers and society shapers that appear to have forsaken their younger kin for some other frame of reference that was not their own, that was not their idea of native.
In the song “Me on my TV,” we heard:
Well it’s not easy to be yourself
All your life you’ve been listening to someone else
Whether it’s the TV or the radio
People need to love themselves if they want to grow
So they can’t empty me with their MTV, tell BET they could beat it
I want to see me on my TV.
Foreign cultural hegemony was challenged with modern tropes.
The idea of escape was never far away though. Not so much fleeing harsh realities, but the kind of escape from the banality of the din of “unconscious” poseurs. Freetown’s Muwakil renders poetry in song that affirms yet soothes, and addresses ideas that are global yet local. On the song “Jerusalem,” a song which should be a Caribbean standard like Marley’s “Redemption Song,” the words cut the warm air with resonance: “I know that these streets are not paved in gold/ And joy is a path you have to walk on your own/ So don’t try to squeeze water from stone / Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” A metaphor for our embattled enclaves, or hotspots as designated by successive governments, this song in its quiet cadence sets the tone for the middle section of the concert when the acoustic vibe was dominant.
Lou Lyons’ acoustic rhythm guitar anchored the music with a steady beat that variously echoed calypso, rock, R&B, blues, pop and folk music. He is a rock, and a rock star in studied silence. The harmonies of the background vocals, Freetown’s Trinity— with subtle deference to Marley’s heralded I-Threes and resplendent in local fashion by Wadada Movement—pushed the songs to tribute and ovation, none more so than “Oh Safa,” the a capella prelude to “Mama Africa” performed as a quintet rendition of South African isicathamiya style singing popularised by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. That was a tour de force performance that prefaced their recent song “Good Swimma,” which brought out guest solos from previous ESCAPE artistes, local hip hop rappers Mark Hardy & Yung Rudd and Inzey.
Freetown Collective continues to set a standard in performance and content that reinforces the fact that hits only come from great songs and consistently evolving work can be rewarding. The business of music, that exportable creative industry that is a current buzzword in government circles, has been avoiding direct contact with the band at its peril. Their songs were however featured on the soundtrack of the award winning Trinidad and Tobago film, God Loves The Fighter, but wider distribution of their original material was muted. The sooner the world hears the sound of Freetown Collective, the better we will all be.
Freetown Collective: Excerpts from God Loves The Fighter soundtrack
- An edited version of this article appears in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian published as “The lyric is king for Freetown Collective“
© 2014, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.