When New Fire concert series organiser, Gerry Anthony (Williams) took to the stage at De Nu Pub—formerly the Mas Camp—to open the third show for 2015 in this “revolutionary” series, he was overcome with the realisation that his efforts to put the diverse progressive musical talent of Trinidad and Tobago in front of local audiences had made a profound impact. A standing-room only crowd acknowledged throughout the evening of Thursday 7 May that there is a willing market for music “on the periphery.”
Following recent successes like the previous sold-out reggae-themed show Fire, Gold & Green, this night’s event, Flow Motion: Jazz & Poetry, provided apt entertainment for a wider demographic than had been seen in the past. A mature audience mingled with young fans in the mellow ambience of a cabaret-styled setting.
Show opener, spoken word artist Arielle John planted the seed that the idea of poetry in the Caribbean is theatrical. Her “Moon Child” has to be seen AND heard. It is an autobiography acted and spoken out. The problem with this autobiography is not the recapping of details of the life but the emphasis on a kind of dread in the life. To be so young and melancholic is a posture that is surprising. One can filter out the darkness in one’s life for an audience to appreciate or one can be honest and bravely render all niceties null. Ms. John maintained the latter posture for her second poem later in the event’s set list.
Happily, the other spoken word artist, Akile Wallace, recently crowned Verses Poetry Slam winner channelled a different kind of vibe in his piece, “What Is a Cigarette?” Both funny and provocative, his slaying of the idea that smoking was somehow sexy—allusions to the fact that both beautiful women and cigarettes have butts to which men put their lips—with a rhymed list of dangerous chemicals and ailments that logically would make quitters of a nation, was both humour-filled as he personalised jabs at having “bad-breath and no-teeth” as if to make the point of the foolishness of cigarette smoking, “cigar-death” as he refers to it. The contrast in styles by these spoken word artists, that yin and yang in energy and audience approval, led one to think that the world of spoken word is as varied as popular music, and that variety was on show by the music acts, Ruth Osman, John John, and JWave.
Osman has been a favourite of mine for some years now—full disclosure: I hired her as a singer in the SONGBIRDS…live™ series by Production One Ltd. in 2009—and her quiet neo-folk vibe shone through again as she delivered a repertoire including re-arranged songs from her debut CD from 2013, Letting Go. Reverting back to an acoustic trio, after a period of musical flux, with Sheena Richardson on percussion and still too under-recognised Wayne Guerra on keyboards, Osman made her lyrics ring clear and delivered directly what she has always been able to with her elastic voice; heartfelt love songs and emotional odes that inspire admiration.
John John (Francis) is a soul singer, neo-soul singer, if one wants to be controversial, and on any given night, and specifically on this night, John John can and did wring both pathos and bathos out of a lyric through a set that balanced covers with originals from his 2013 CD Citagrandson. It was a transformative performance that set a different standard for contemporary music in these islands. A highlight was his interpretation of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” where the meaning of the ironic lyric of “an anthem for apathetic kids” is distorted into a soul strut that informs nothing close to the original. Similarly, whether Marley (“I Don’t Want To Wait In Vain”) or Rudder (“Calypso Music”), the Caribbean vibe is stripped to be replaced with pseudo-R&B juxtaposed with iconic words.
Closing the evening’s show was JWave (Jesse McBarrow), a self-described “song-writer, pianist and singer, in that order,” who brought an island pop sensibility to the proceedings. His songs, all originals he says that are his life, are successful in their simplicity to connect and be memorable. His energy was necessary as the thinning crowd was listening to a “different drummer.” “We Declare War” was an anthem that got an ovation. The band, shared with John John, was better rehearsed for this set with guitarist Aaron Low Chew Tung and drummer Joshua Salcedo setting a high standard of soloing and playing. Although not recorded yet for wider accolade by the buying public, JWave has all the trappings of a pop star, the look, the sound, the attitude, but he is in need of a larger audience.
Neo-soul and nu-jazz vibes abounded giving credence to the idea that “jazz” is an adjective in Trinidad describing how people chill more so than the music performed. Gerry Anthony whispered to me that he wasn’t sure if he broke even, despite a full house, as he had to pay a premium for this talent. The goal of showcasing superlative underground talent was met that night. The goal of defining a new trend in live entertainment would be in need of some refining as the series continues monthly for the rest of the year.
- A version of this article appears in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspapers published as, “A night of excellence from the underground”
© 2015, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.