There is something refreshing in the prospect that live music promotion in Trinidad is seeing a renaissance and energy, not necessarily from the same old hands, but by a new cadre of entrepreneurs with a passion and desire to break the next big thing. The next big thing in my estimation is the singer-songwriter NOT singing calypso, but versifying new realities outside local genres. New Fire, a concert series created by Gerry Anthony at the Nu Pub (formerly D’ Mas Camp) is doing just that. On Thursday night, a special event in the series, We Are New Fire—a collaboration with the ongoing TT Film Festival—showcased some of the most gifted singer-songwriters in a solid two-hour show of unplugged variety and versatility.
That show featured the new age folk of Solman, the acoustic diva Gillian Moor with her new band Bush Tea Party and roots rock band Gyazette frontman and renaissance man (actor, singer, painter) Nickolai Salcedo in tandem with performances by local rock mainstays Orange Sky and Jointpop. And, as if that was not enough, neo-folk stars Freetown Collective and Marge Blackman and hip-hop soliloquist, St Ans left indelible impressions that the art of the word with music is in good hands, and ripe for commercial appeal.
The perspective of the creative industry entrepreneur is not to be ignored as promoter Gerry Anthony outlined the synergy between him as promoter and the artistes toward a commercial goal of wider exposure of local music that does not get regular radio airplay: “We have to work together to get this music out there. And tonight, these artists were asked to give of their time and effort pro bono to make this happen.” Despite what was clearly popular and populist music and songs being performed that night in the packed Nu Pub, the continued “radio silence” to these genre forms outside of calypso/soca/chutney for local content astounds.
Solman permeates a sincere spirituality and worldliness without being faux in his songs and presence: a barefoot hippie, for real. Gillian Moor dashes technique for sincerity in her vision and songs of empowerment. I call her the acoustic diva, pioneering unplugged performances with her Songshine series in the early 2000s. Nickolai Saledo admitted that he was now a “wise” man, shedding his angry man sneer and posture fronting Gyazette. Two beautifully rendered songs that suggested a maturing of songcraft proved that point.
Marge Blackman is the daughter of sokah creator, Ras Shorty I, and represents in perfect symmetry the ideals of what he was said to be thinking at soca’s creation. Her use of tabla and congas to fuel her excellent set was that fusion of rhythms and as some say, cultures that resonated under a folk-pop sound that was balanced with her pure voice and ringing guitar. Her boisterous fans that night included calypso researcher Ray Funk and follow-up act Orange Sky, who opened their set with a short tribute to ailing Black Stalin by rendering “Tonight the Black Man Feeling to Party” with just guitars and voice.
The Rojas brothers along with Dax Carter on lead electric guitar transformed an engaged crowd into a screaming herd. Their anthem “Real Love” woke a spirit, a jumbie, a voice. Rapper, St Ans had a unique position on the show as the only act performing to tracks, but for the keen listener, the words were all that mattered. His song “Third World Problems” was both local and global in lyrical content, and showed a deft touch at rhymes, rhythms and opinions that are cutting.
Jointpop represents an idea that to succeed in the music business here in these islands, you have to persevere. Closing in on two decades in the business under this name, Gary Hector and company revelled in harmonies that reminded one of The Beatles and lyrics that reminded one that they take no prisoners. Debuting new music, the crowd sing along stated that their longevity is secure. “You know what you know, and if it is good, you stick with it.” Neo-folk stars Freetown Collective closed the show, and in their short time have built a loyal fan base that speaks to the idea that there is merit in continuing with these showcases of “alternative music” in these iconic venues. New audiences were made with the blend of the various acts’ fanbases, and the commercial possibilities inherent there from are grist for the mill. Bravo!
- An edited version of this article appears in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian published as “New Fire brings out hot talent”
© 2014, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.