The T&T Guardian spoke to three T&T practitioners of oral performance arts, from different generations. Last Thursday we spoke with storyteller Paul Keens-Douglas, active since the 1970s...
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He makes the fete sound right
“You have no band without a beautiful flag woman.” These lyrics opened the calypso Flag Woman which earned the late Lord Kitchener his tenth Road March title in 1976. The Grandmaster was paying tribute to the lithe, energetic women who wave flag for steelbands, and remain an integral part of steelband’s colourful lore and the Panorama competition. Like the flag woman, there are many other individuals who are in the background of Carnival but whose input fuels our national festival; people like the calypso judge, sound engineer and event planner. T&T Guardian is bringing these all-important folk out of the shadows and placing the spotlight on them for Carnival 2013.
In this noisy period of Carnival, sound engineers, musicians and promoters have an ongoing battle with residents and the EMA (Environmental Management Authority) over sound levels. Qualified sound engineer Nigel Brizan has expressed concern over the restrictions imposed, especially at Carnival time, for the level of sound that is considered acceptable for the authorities.
The Kes the Band engineer said: “At the moment the sound levels the authorities strive for, in terms of fetes, are restrictive. There has been no consultation as to what ought to be an acceptable level of sound, especially in residential areas.
“If these paramaters continue to be maintained it would have a negative effect on Carnival, and there may come a day when no permission would be given by the authorities for fetes.
“The level checked by the authorities, if you apply for a variation, as being acceptable, is around 85Dbs (decibels). In a normal office environment, the Dbs level is around 70Dbs. The Dbs level of a vacuum cleaner is also 70Dbs Go do the math, and you’d see what people are asking for of an engineer is unreasonable.”
Brizan, who has been into music for as long as he can remember, reminisced: “I was first a disc jockey, DJ Tokyo from Diego Martin. I was about 16 but wanted to know more about the making of music, spawned from my love of music.
“As an old Vale boy (Diamond Vale, Diego Martin), and a student at Diego Martin Secondary, I played music, as well as football. I grew up with two brothers and was always into the parties. LKC, Amitaf, Signal to Noise, Professionals, Hurricane George were the big DJs back in my time.”
Joining the Army in 1989, Brizan played football for the Regiment team in the second division. He did tours with the Defence Force team to New York and it was while on a tour, he saw a television commercial for a audio recording school in the Big Apple.
Said Brizan: “lt’s like the ad was talking to me directly. I applied to the school (Institute of Audio Research) in Greenwich Village, NY.
“I was accepted and attended the school from 1995-1996; doing my internship in a studio in Brooklyn named Funky Slides Studio, owned by Yioshi Watanabe.”
Today, Watanabe is a premier producer of steelband music in Trinidad.
“On my return home I decided to quit the army as I realised the army wasn’t giving me what i wanted in life. I joined Rent-a-Amp at the end of 1996, and did engineering there for a while, subsequently joining Ajala’s band, Question, followed by Surface, then Machel’s Xtatik.
“I am now with Kes the Band. I have been with them for approximately the past five years.”
Brizan feels there is a lot of room for improvement in the local recording industry.
He said: “From a production standpoint, I think soca music is lacking in terms of quality. Engineering overall just doesn’t sound like it should.
“The problem is that the engineers themselves need to be educated, in areas like frequencies, placement of instrument in a studio, and using basic studio equipment. For instance, if you are trying to mix a soca into a dance track, you find that the quality drops, which means it’s a lack of knowledge on the part of the engineer.
“In Los Angeles last year, Kees (Dieffenthaller) took his album to a studio and the engineer there was very critical of what it sounded like. He said it sounded like a demo rather a finished product.”
Stating that reggae/dancehall recordings have an edge on soca in terms of quality, Brian explained: “Some dancehall tracks are of a far higher quality than our soca tracks. It seems the producers of dancehall have a better understanding of the equipment, and might be taking more time in their production, unlike the soca people who go into the studio today, and want it released tomorrow.”
Brizan has vowed to do his bit to improve the quality of local recording. He said: “Some of what I am involved with is developing standards in the local music industry, in collaboration with the National Training Agency (NTA). I also do training for the Science & Technology Division—I do a live sound programme there.
“The feedback is very good. So, instead of people having to go abroad and pay exorbitant US fees to learn the craft of engineering, it’s now available at home.”
Brizan agreed that sound engineers are among the faceless professionals in Carnival.
He said: “We do a thankless job. Nobody knows you unless something goes wrong with the sound. Trinidadians are known to be very critical of what music sounds like.
“Even working with Kees, sometimes he would introduce all the musicians on the stage, and forget us engineers are also there. Engineers stick with the music purely for the love of the music. We are the first in the party and the last to leave.
“I just do the band, but the amount of work that goes into setting up a system for a show, in somewhere like the Savannah or the stadium, is enormous.”
Despite the onerous burden he bears, Brizan is eager to do even more.
He said: “I do more live engineering than studio work now. I hope, in the next few years, to see much improvement in our music industry. I am always online, researching stuff.
“We are also trying to develop the local section of the AES (Audio Engineering Society), based in the United States. Right now, this is being steered by Martin “Mice” Raymond and Frank Agarrat. Right now, we are having people register to be part of the society.
“In the standards we are trying to develop, we’ve found that there is a real lack of standards in the industry. I have been in contact with PLASA (Professional Sound & Lighting Association), based in England. Been in contact with a guy called Chris Higgs, a certified rigger and trainer, and we hope to bring him to T&T very soon with the intention of developing entertainment rigging standards.”
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