One month ago, mother of two and businesswoman, Ria Sookdeo, kissed her children goodbye as she dropped them off at school.
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Toco boy who became Famous
To most people Junior Noel, aka Mr Famous, is a newcomer to the calypso/soca arena.
Truth be told, this native son of Toco has been an entertainer for a very long time, but has only now risen to prominence off the back of his smash hit single Play More Local.
How did he come up with the sobriquet Mr Famous?
“Originally my name was ‘Pollyfamous,’ as my grandfather’s name was Polly,” said the artiste. “When I came up with Play More Local, my friend Jo Jo (Lyndon Legal) suggested that I drop the Polly and use the Famous. I became Mr Famous. So it was Jo Jo who actually christened me.”
Now 41, Mr Famous said: “I am born and bred Toco. I wasn’t even born in Sangre Grande Hospital. I born in mih mother house in Pasea Street, Toco.”
He’s not planning to leave it any time soon.
“Toco real nice. I am not leaving Toco for nothing. Any time you hear a gunshot in Toco, is because a manicou dead, somebody shoot one.
“I grew up with my mother and grandmother, with three sisters and two brothers, but I come from a big family. I had a normal boyhood upbringing; every day it was sports, some cricket or football, or pitching marble, even playing hopscotch. And then there was the beach and river, and flying kites. I did everything.”
Mr Famous first began singing while in high school, attending Toco Composite.
“I used to enter the school competitions and do concerts. I then attended Persto Praesto Youth Camp and was the man who used to do the singing in camp. I did a lot of moving around in a short space of time, first joining Tidal Wave, a band from Manzanilla, in 1994. I left them in 1996 and went to Barbados to sing with a band called Full Swing. Stayed there for a year, returned to Trinidad and joined Shandileer in ’97, then Roy Cape All Stars in 1998. I joined Horyzon a year after and stayed with them for one year until 2003.”
In 2003, Mr Famous migrated to New York and spent five years there.
“While in the Big Apple I bought up all my studio equipment and started A Plus studio with Preston Andres, in Bon Air. I then met Damien Preston, aka Crazy D, the keyboardist from Tidal Wave who convinced me to join him. He played about 50 riddims for me but the one which hit me immediately was the Happy Riddim. When I heard it I began singing, ‘Bring back Shadow...’ The funny thing about it is that he was going to get rid of that riddim.
“I originally wrote Play More Local with Shadow in mind but was unable to get on to him. I then considered giving it to Blaxx, but we never hooked up. Bigs from Supreme Studio heard me sing the song and told me to hold on to it. I had previously known Shadow when I sang with Roy Cape, so it was easy for me to relate that song to him.”
Asked about his songwriting skills, Mr Famous said: “I have never written a song in my life. I make up songs. I now have about 40 of them and they are all in my head stored away. I have no copybook with songs written down.”
Since last October, Play More Local has been on heavy rotation and remains a must-play at fetes. Even Shadow has admitted that he likes the single. Many people wonder about the song and its singer.
Giving a synopsis on the making of Play More Local, Mr Famous said: “The first thing I did was make a mix for myself and took it to the Toco radio station, around June last year. By the time July reached it was the number one song in Toco. In August, I did Toco Old Boys’ Fete after asking the organisers to allow me to perform for free.
“From that night the song took off. From there I began to give it to the CD men on the street.
“The first man I gave Play More Local to was George, who sells by the Dial in Arima. He really big up that song. He said he was amazed how in a week’s time how that song sent people crazy. By the time school opened in September children began buying it.
“We had a plan and that plan worked. It started in Toco, went to the streets, then to the public and everybody loved it.”
Mr Famous has big plans for this year’s Carnival and beyond. “I will be singing in a calypso tent for the first time in my life, another dream, of mine. I will be with Kaiso House.
“I want to reach in Kaiso Fiesta in Skinner Park. That has been one of my dreams. I used to watch that on TV as a little boy and think, toilet paper or not, I want to be in that. I also want to make it to the Savannah on Dimanche Gras night and want to enter Power Soca Monarch competition.”
Do Yuh Ting, a social commentary, is another new song by Mr Famous. “I composed that one in half-hour. I wanted to do a calypso for the people and that was it. I want the people to understand not to get in politics. Get in what is good for you.
“I also have another song named We Time which I wrote for the girls who love Carnival. Without the girls there would be no Carnival, so I have to big them up. My other soca song is Heyleylay, a Nigerian term, inspired by a friend I had in America who is Nigerian. Every time he got drunk and was having a good time he would say he ‘heyleylay.’”
Mr Famous, who attended the same secondary school as Olympic gold medallist Keshorn Walcott, said he is determined to place soca music on the world map, in very much the same way Walcott brought fame and recognition to T&T through sport.
Mr Famous will be taking part in the semi-final of the International Soca Monarch on Sunday at the Arima Velodrome.
He will sing Play More Local at position number 13 in the Groovy Soca category, and in the Power Soca category he will sing Heyleylay in position number 20.
For more information about the International Soca Monarch competition, check the Facebook page: International Soca Monarch.