Vaughnette Bigford, VB. Very Beautiful, Vigorously Bold, Vivacious and Black. Melanin don’t lie. This was a Victory over the Blight of COVID-19. This was not necessarily an evening of firsts, this was a return to the stage she commanded back in November of 2011 with her first Shades of Vaughnette concert. This, however, felt like a gathering of the faithful. Or more accurately, a “re-gathering,” as faces became familiar to one who has gone to just about every concert the Creole Chanteuse has put on. (Beyond her “putting on” her concerts, this reviewer has built productions starring VB. The business of VB concerts is Valuable and Benefits the local creative economy.) We know her well. We bought all the tickets. We held them until it was time. Now is the time. Who is bucking the trend by having sold out shows when other people only want to give audiences a “Taste of..?” (Who Voted for that Bullshit?)
Vaughnette Bigford continues down the path of challenging the orthodoxy in these times that suggest that concerts have to be seated affairs with limited numbers and social distancing. This challenge is not a brazen attempt to circumvent rules and pack the Naparima Bowl, but one that addresses the reality that audiences want shows, interactive celebratory events really. They will go anywhere to see her knowing that the production standards on stage also dictate patronage in fine dress veering towards haute couture. (Again, “going anywhere” means that “town people” will get lost looking for the front entrance to the Bowl. The back entrance, discovered like Columbus, last April at De Sunset Pan Jazz Lime was a closed gate and a despondent security guard who just pointed to the “next light down the road.”)
As one crawls past ushers doing mandatory contact tracing along an outside corridor flanked by male and female bathrooms, one enters the space and sees a setting: centred on a vast stage is a high stool next to a table with water in stemmed wine glass, both under a direct down spot light. A cordless microphone rigidly fixed to its stand gives evidence that the intimacy that was advertised is not touching-distance cheek-to-jowl, but one-on-one contact where each patron can and will be exclusively and individually entertained. No singer prowling the stage looking for the better side of an audience that can sing louder. No bawdy dancers in the aisles frightening ushers and unaware folks. Just a single soul singing directly to many single souls, in a collective gathering in the Cultural soul of the South.
Beyond metaphors and memories, this was entertainment worth waiting for. Beyond the anticipation brought on by a 50-day delay due to VB getting COVID-19 — and critically overcoming it with minimal side effects and surviving, because she was vaccinated — Sunday evening’s presentation was a reminder of what superlative performance is all about. It was cathartic. A release of an audience’s pent up energies that pushed VB to recover from her illness. A release of that received energy that transformed that audience sitting in a silent cool space into an effusive chorus singing, “I might be the morning sun to you… I might be like the river wind to you… I might be like the velvet moon to you.”
Tone, timbre, colour are all characteristics that writers use to differentiate singers, good and bad. Audiences know the tonal colours of VB’s voice. On Sunday, that smoky sometimes throaty contralto had power showing all, that the healing was perfect. That range was not diminished or tightened. Every note was a song. VB did reveal to me later that there were points when she could feel a dry cough coming. We heard none of it, thus reinforcing the dictum that the show must go on, but importantly, that the audience will not be disturbed by the challenges of performing at the highest level.
This was more than a concert. It was a yin and yang of tempo and vibe. Two halves, two sets, one show. Intimacy juxtaposed against soulful jams, a foreshadowing, a cycle. Theron Shaw’s guitar and Ming’s keyboard were all the needed accompaniment for us to listen to songs that spoke directly to our emotions. Contemporary songs, jazz and pop and R&B, blended with the reframed island songs, and thrillingly for this reviewer, new original songs. Caribbean rhythms were implied, if not fully invoked, suggesting that the Creole in the Chanteuse may have been gone that evening, but I am not worried. Blues and bossa nova, New World African music filled any unheard void. We just heard great music. Period. We were teased by song excerpts that made us recognise the familiarity and commonality of harmonies in the global songbook of contrasting melodies that evening. Chords became signposts for our discovery: we heard Sade, VB sang Simply Red. Songs of Adele and Prince share a commonality that is 37 years apart, yet miles away from each other sonically. What we hear and what we see go hand in hand at a VB show. Zadd & Eastman; yuh done know! Rodney ‘Bay-C’ Alexander was… well, let the ladies tell you. I not able.
What’s next? More concerts and Carnival Jazz Brunches? More interesting experiences for how audiences will connect with artistes and music? More surprise that is the essence of jazz in the Caribbean? VB shared her voice, and her soul. She spoke ideas into music’ Her tribute to the recently passed Clive Zanda reintroduced her original lyrics to a kaisojazz classic imagining the joy in the sighting of a fancy sailor. The musicians and singers know the work continues. Their craft will always improve because VB will make them and us want to hear more Variety, listen differently, expect Better. They’re doing it already. As a nation arises from a two-year sleep that decimated careers and held back potential, Vaughnette Bigford is a leading light in how to make good better, and reigns supreme in a space that sometimes deifies mediocrity, but celebrates the re-emergence of winners. Our adulation is well put when we disregard local performance options of Vacant and Basic for the Very Best of Vaughnette Bigford.
© 2022, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.
- The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (popularised by Roberta Flack.)
- Darn That Dream (popularised by ALL the jazz divas: Ella, Sassy Sarah, Billie, Lena, Dinah, Nancy, et al.)
- Like a Lover (by Dori Caymmi, popularised by Sergio Mendes.)
- Say a Little Prayer (by Oliver ‘Stumpy’ Chapman, popularised by Wild Fire.)*
- One Hundred Ways (popularised by Quincy Jones with James Ingram.)
- Better Days (Carmen Lundy.)
- Holding Back the Years (popularised by Simply Red.)
- How Could I leave? (Dennis Brown.)
- Wake Up Everybody (popularised by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.)
- Forget Regret (by Jacques Schwarz-Bart, popularised by the RH Factor.)
- Reason (by Khalen JaMoi Alexander.)**
- Grown (by Sade & Lesroy Byers.)**
- Different People (by Ella Andall.)*
- Only What You see (by Tony Wilson.)*
- Dream of Me (popularised by Mac & Katie Kisoon.)*
- Human Nature (popularised by Michael Jackson.)
- Living For The Love of You (Isley Brothers.)
- Good Looking Son of a Gun (by Sade & Lesroy Byers.)*
- Don’t Dream It’s Over (Crowded House)
- Easy On Me / Purple Rain (Adele / Prince)
- Caribbean Connection (Merchant.)*
- Play Harder (Machel Montano.)*
- Be Careful (Merchant.)*
- Fancy Sailor (Clive Zanda, lyrics by Vaugnette Bigford.)*
* T&T/local content
** original local content, 1st performance