A Coda before Christmas – A Celebration of Us

Someone chook meh for my impressions of Vaughnette Bigford’s latest musical project, “RWB: A Celebration Of Us, last night at the Central Bank Auditorium: “Oh God, yuh know you and dem words nah.” I won’t be long.

Last night was necessary. It was a coda alright, but also the re-opening of our live engagement with quality, our communal face-to-face and tangible expressions of joy before the seasons of celebration where brio and bacchanal reign.

Class is class, we know that. When you have the best musicians on the island arranging and playing, and intelligence brimming from the mind of the Creole Chanteuse, you know it’s not just a succession of local songs that sometimes linger in our memories, but an investigation and revelation of the possibilities of that catalogue of Trinidad and Tobago songs that sometimes thrives here and there, or sometimes remains desolate at the bottom of the barrel of commercial appeal in these islands. It’s hard here for a songwriter; a seasonal approval, or a permanent neglect for the next new fad from Trinidad, the new tourist leggo from Tobago. The local ebb and flow of appreciation and demand is constant.

Vaughnette brought back some nuggets from an era when local musicians were battling for appreciation from foreign taste-makers, media programmers and record labels, to make it, and sometimes winning. Some migrated, many stayed and worked a system that either rewards or discards. Vaughnette brought those songs back to life. Ming (Michael Low Chew Tung), Theron Shaw and Rodney Alexander worked their magic to make them brand new for older fans, and intriguing for new acolytes to the majesty of the local songbook.

The production was near flawless. One can niggle over misspellings of artiste credits or perceived emotional disconnect during a song, but as a package, Vaughnette has set the standard for singer showcase concerts. We know that, but there was more. “Born to Shine” met “Born to Shine”: Carol Addison, the original singer, was present for Vaughnette Bigford in her space. That is huge. Roger Bonair-Agard’s griot vibrations made New World African citizens, and everybody else who have ears to hear, say yes: Pan is ours, pan is Black. “We declare by the Orishas that the oil drum is Ogun’s…We declare pan, Sacred and Black!” Ray Holman strummed a guitar to recover precious local memories from two generations ago, a living lyrical portrait of us. The bhangra/soca mashup with urban Qawwali song styling of Neval Chatelal is us. The rock and roll, the reggae, the kaisojazz, the calypso, soca and elevated island pop music is us. It’s all of us. “RWB: A Celebration of Us” delivered a reminder, that we are not circumscribed by narrow ideas of who we are or can be.

As we move into 2023, let’s hope that we can continue to commercially validate what she presents, much like we did this year, and in 2021, during those windows of COVID-19 relief for gatherings. This tribe, this fandom looks to brighter things as we reclaim what we own, what we sing and play, what and who we are. The celebration continues.

I’ll leave it there for now. More in my mind, but not in my pen.

© 2022, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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