On Saturday night, Vaughnette Bigford gave a performance at the sacred space, The Little Carib Theatre in Port of Spain that had an impact beyond mere words. The superlatives have been expounded on Facebook and elsewhere about her performance, the song set, the production, the guests. What has not been expanded upon so much is the seismic shift that has occurred in how we as an audience now expect local shows to be gauged.
To say that Vaughnette’s show has gone back to its roots, back to square one, would be to minimise its impact on a sold out audience. The tropes of her successful southern shows were all there: the range of songs from the jazz, local and World music songbooks (see song list below), the multiple languages flawlessly rendered, the hauntingly beautiful bass guitar and voice duo song (Putting Up a Resistance), the regulars shouting picong from the rafters! I have been to her Southern shows, Shades of Vaughnette, and have reviewed them for the newspapers here and here, and elsewhere. (Take your time, and read the reviews to get a sense of Vaughnette’s art.) I was there when she made the determined transition to the creole chanteuse who was born to shine and “owned” the local songbook of calypsos and 1970s island pop. Shit, I was there when she headlined Jazz Artists On The Greens – JAOTG in 2017 and graced the cover of my magazine, Jazz in the Islands.
The show was a hit, plain and simple, but for reasons I think that are subliminal to our desire to have our expectations exceeded. For years, audiences in these islands have had to settle for what’s available. Mediocre musicianship and mediocre background vocalists have plagued our calypso tent industry resulting in a major facet of the live music industry being in a quagmire in recent years dependent of state handouts and a few who seem to take a masochistic delight in hanging on to the last vestiges of a proud native cultural heritage. Limited vision and production values have rendered performance spaces inert to any notion that what we in the audience see is as important as what we hear. In Vaughnette’s production over the years, the care taken to coordinate sound and vision on the the stage is paying dividends now. Sublime musicianship and masterful vocal harmonies made that night magic — bassist (and apparently, sex symbol!) Rodney Alexander was almost perfect. The “rhythm and voice” arrangement of Carl Jacobs’ “Luv Up”, a hit for Shandileer back in the 1980s, featuring Afiya Gookool, Genisa St Hillaire, Sade Sealey-Byers and Aneesa Ebony Paul was the song of the night. (That needs to be recorded and commercialised.)
And this is what Vaughnette has been able to perfect over the years of her productions, and ultimately into the creation of her debut album, Born To Shine: our desire as an audience to be challenged and to move beyond mere simplicity. Michael Low Chew Tung, “Ming”, the architect of the new calypso jazz in the 21st century, is the lynchpin in these examples of song and album. What this reflected was a daring to upend our ideas of what a local tune sounds like when re-imagined by a man who posits that his brand, élan parlē translates into “spirited conversations…spoken in a Caribbean dialect, discussing World issues, but from a Caribbean perspective.” John John Francis crooning that soca, Like It Like This, proved that! What this reflected was a belief that what we create is “world class” and “exportable”, to use the jargon of the government in its approach to the music industry. Heads up, we doing that long time.
Two hours of songs and music for the select few who filled the Little Carib Theatre may not make the case, among political policy makers and the mauvais langue mob who continue to deify mediocrity for this thing called “culture”, that the tide has turned. (250 seats was never enough for a Vaughnette Bigford concert in Port of Spain; Queen’s Hall’s 750 seats beckon.) A discerning public is growing. It is growing in the audiences who select high cost events for a parading of aesthetic knowledge and artistic pride. It is growing in the artist class which holds as a standard, the received visions of globetrotters who make the music industry a billion dollar industry. If we are all the mimic men, then let’s copy from the best. Let’s assimilate with a sense that “what will come out of there is like nothing one has ever seen before,” as Derek Walcott famously said of Caribbean creativity.
Audiences are no longer genuflecting to and deifying blandness in performances. Examples in this digital age of media saturation have allowed us to recognise what works, what does not, and importantly, what is not worth it anymore. Vaughnette Bigford in Concert at The Little Carib Theater is a watershed moment in her career as this cements the fact that she is no longer a “south” artist but a national artist. I know that she is a global artist, and so did those 250 souls in the theatre. Port of Spain on that Saturday night now has a new standard for concert performance. Let’s never fall below that level again.
Everyone kept noting that this was Vaughnette’s first show, her “first full concert in the nation’s capital.” V and I have a little secret that we shared on Saturday night. We did a thing back in 2009 for a series, SONGBIRDS…live! Vaughnette, last night was your night. It was your night producing your own show the way it is supposed to be performed by anyone demanding admission fees from patrons. You set the new standard. the new normal. Thank you for your part in developing an audience that knows quality can be local and home grown.
- Old Devil Moon (sung by Carmen McRae, among others)
- Dindi (Jobim, sung by Astrud Gilberto among others)
- Tell Me About It (Michael Franks, sung by Natalie Cole among others)
- Carnavaleando (Marta Gómez)
- Don’t Dream It’s Over (Crowded House, arranged by Ming)
- River Of Tears (Baron)
- Moon Valley (Jason Baptiste, performed by the Ruiz Brothers)
- In Times (Black Stalin composition, with Mikhail Giovann Salcedo guesting onstage)
- Won’t Have to Say Goodbye (David “Happy” Williams sung by Vanessa Rubin)
- To Love Somebody (The Bee Gees)
- Let’s Go Dancing (Kool & The Gang)
- Evening Time (Jamaican folk song covered by Jackie Mittoo. A ska jam I remember!)
- Esperança (Vince Mendoza with Kurt Elling lyrics)
- Putting Up A Resistance (Beres Hammond)
- Just Another Melody (Colter Harper)
- Like It Like This (John John Francis smoked this Kes & Patrice Roberts jam. Smoked it!)
- Home/Nah Leaving (sung by Stephanie Mills in The Wiz/Denyse Plummer)
- Luv Up (Carl Jacobs and Ancil ‘Perez’ Forde)
- Reason (Khalen Drummerboi Alexander)
- Lady (Fela Kuti, dedicated to Hugh Masekela)
- Lady Marmalade (LaBelle)
- Born To Shine (Carol Addison hit and album title)
- Pata Pata (Miriam Makeba)
©2018. Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.