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Is Just a CD
In Trinidad, you can almost always tell what is trivial and what is crucial because the inane always dominates centre stage and the essential is never put on the agenda. A timely example of the prattling Trinis love is the “Bring Back Hanging,” which is not a debate in any sense of the word (or, for that matter, in Parliament) but the biggest distraction so far put forward by the People’s Partnership to obscure the real work being left undone. But you can’t blame Kamla. Trinis love to fool themselves into thinking that pointing fingers at one another is a substitute for action. Two years ago, the only difference in the Bring-Back-Hang- ing is which side the PNM and the PP were on; the “debate” could more accurately be called the “Bring-Back-and-Forth-Hanging.” You could run drinks in the usual standoff, if you didn’t know the conditions that allow crime to thrive remain unchallenged, which ensures they remain unchanged, which means things go on as before—and the Government and Opposition grandstand while the republic burns to the foundation.
In that context, I’m delighted to report the two most worthwhile events of the Carnival. Go now and seek out David Rudder’s Random Notes CD and Earl Lovelace’s new book, Is Just a Movie; they’re far better than—and say and do more for Trinidad and Tobago—than anything that will come out of Parliament this, or any, year. Random Notes may be David Rudder’s best CD since Frenzy. The single defect of the album, the absence of a human drummer throughout, is shared by most recordings today; only bands have drummers any more. If such a thing can be compensated for, it is, though, by the excellence of the musicianship, most if it driven by the guitar of Wayne Bruno, the best lead guitarist in soca, and the astonishing keyboards of Jeremy Ledbetter; listen to how he fills songs as different as Coke and 25 and you appreciate the range of playing he brings to the album. Singling out—doubling out?—Bruno and Ledbetter doesn’t obscure the abundance of musical talent on the CD, with Albert Bushe on a very wicked bass, Braxton Hicks and Jan Morgan producing big band brass, Barry Howard (and Chendy Leon) on drums, Roger George on lead and background vocals and Carl and Carol Jacobs on background vocals and the second generation of Rudder talent in nine-year-old Sarai, whose crystal clear voice singing lead on Walls almost compensates for the other song on the album in which children are involved, the accusation of Father Murphy’s Room; her father’s vocal on that song speaks, as it were, for the agony of the abused children.
As always, it is the songs that matter, and the baker’s dozen (including a Sufferers version of Coke) are excellent. To give the few examples of lyrics space allows, in the song Coke, dealing with the belaboured and beleaguered extradition of alleged drug dealer Christopher “Dudus” Coke from Jamaica, Rudder makes genius lines seem throwaway: “The Americans say, ‘Now we’re really mad!’…/ And that is when they played their master card/ They take back their visa.” There’s almost too much more: from 25, the lines, “Listen to the clock on the wall/ He was 21, he had a .22 in his hand/… Around a corner, a Glock is ticking;” from ManJack, his tribute to Michael Jackson, he works in three MJ album names in two lines: “He was bad, his life it was a thriller/ The stuff he did was off the wall.” (Once more, I’m driven to observe that it might almost be worth your while to die before David Rudder, if you could be sure he’d write a song about you.) Earl Lovelace, though, is a man very much writing for the living and the here and now; and only my own sense of loyalty to (and an as-yet-un-started re-read of) The Dragon Can’t Dance prevents me from declaring outright that Is Just a Movie is Lovelace’s best book; by far; by firetrucking far. It is certainly his most important, his most accomplished and his best-structured. The writing—almost as lyrical and even more layered than Rudder’s songs—is drop-dead-with-envy good. No one writing in the West Indian diaspora comes close to Lovelace for making language work overtime. Let the book fall open on any page, begin reading anywhere, and you are at once in a complete world of staggering beauty, even as it details and deciphers great ugliness.
But a book this carefully made should be read in the same way. Lovelace presents two protagonists, the first person narrator, King Kala, and the antihero, Sonnyboy, and uses them—and a host of other “minor” characters—to chronicle and comment upon an ongoing act of rebellion on society’s behalf by a group normally dismissed as an underclass. (See, if you like, my chat with him at www.CaribbeanReviewOfBooks. com.) Packaging his deep, layered prose into short, cleverly titled chapters makes it easy to read; and the reading often provokes loud laughter; particularly when the reader recognises his own hypoc-risies being mocked. The book, as book, is a treat; as polemic and proffered solution, the last 50 pages, particularly, are inspiring. Random Notes and Is Just a Movie should be presented together to the Government as Cabinet Notes; everybody else should treat them as the most valuable souvenirs they can have and hold of this almost vanished thing called Carnival and this Cheshire Cat grin called Trinidad. Finally, four Fridays ago, when I began writing of Keith Smith’s death, and because the last instalment was in the form of a tribute to him (which you can read as today’s blog @ www.BCRaw.com) I neglected to mention one of three other deaths that provoked three columns from me, that of my friend, Wayne Brown; to whom, as it happens, Random Notes is dedicated.
BC Pires is just a random movie noter. Read more of his writing at www.BCraw.com
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