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All kind of Blues
Carnival may, for those struck by rainbows, be all about colour. But for me this year it was all blue; or kinds of blue. The first kind of blue emerged from the post-Christmas rumble, during which I was momentarily distracted by Bunji Garlin’s Differentology.
It was Bunji’s atmospherics which caught my ear, long starved of melody. The evocation of a J’Ouvert crowd rising from the mists of dawn floated melodically over Nigel (Orange Sky) Rojas’ all-too-brief tropical flamenco riff. But then, for me at least, the possibility of Differentology becoming a classic J’Ouvert anthem was lost to many of the clichés (musical and lyrical) which have dogged 21st-century soca.
I still think that with a different arrangement (which would include far more Rojas guitar) and more work on the lyrics, Differentology might be that elusive international soca breakthrough that everyone has been chasing since Hot Hot Hot.
Speculation aside, I heard my first snatches of the Road March favourite downtown Port-of-Spain on an apposite frenetic Friday afternoon, when customs officers, tax clerks, journalists, horse fanciers and the ever-tusty hordes jostle for drinking space at the few remaining bars not made over into parking lots.
Fantastic Friday insinuated its melody through the swaying drone, causing many a glassy-eyed pause, before SuperBlue’s surprisingly youthful and even more surprisingly undamaged vocals began vamping the tsunami, which finally broke on the streets of last Monday and Tuesday.
So while many collective choruses are raised about the death of de Carnival (collapsing calypso tents, the demise of MacFarlane), not to mention the Carnival murders, it’s refreshing to be able to celebrate a resurrection. Blue Boy/SuperBlue has reinvented himself on several occasions; struggled with blue and other kinds of demons and emerged riding his power with skill, talent and energy enough to astound his children’s generation and everyone else left standing.
Unlike Rudder, who has continued to be a regular presence during the Carnival season, even since he relocated to the frozen north, Blue has hovered, drifted and sometimes disappeared on the periphery until this triumphant return. Like the rest of us who bemoan the dearth of creativity in Carnival, his kids’ generation should also take note of Blue’s achievement in the faces of his adversities.
Fantastic Friday is entirely modern in production and arrangement but it’s not digital technology that compelled those in the fetes and on the road. Blue knows intuitively, like the Cubans and their eggun (forebears and ancestors), that melody and rhythm are not separate entities but co-dependents, informing and vitalising each other.
Fantastic Friday seduces us with melody before capturing our bodies with its rhythms (at a tempo which seemed unsustainable a few years ago). It’s as simple and as difficult as that, as you might say of Shadow.
In the Land of Limbo, SuperBlue has lowered the bar; in the Land of Soca he’s skyjacked it to a challenging height for all comers. He may be vintage, but as we all heard and saw, he’s way ahead and can provide the continuity with and grounding in Trinidad musical heritage that our young musicians need along with their mother’s milk. So welcome back, Blue, let’s hope you keep that head. You didn’t win out of kindness, but you’re my kind of winner.
Another kind of blue has been seeping through my soundscape during the Carnival season, which also owes much to the unity of melody and rhythm. Omar Sosa is an Afro-Cuban jazz pianist and santero (Santeria initiate) who has been ripping up jazz festivals worldwide this last decade.
On many occasions he’s expressed more than a passing interest in performing in Trinidad…but that’s a long story. His latest album, Eggun, was commissioned by the Barcelona Jazz Festival, as a tribute to mark the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis’ all-time classic album Kind of Blue.
It says much for the Barcelona Jazz Festival that it would commission a Cuban, rather than an American, for such a project; more significantly, it vindicates what one of the major creative forces in anglophone Caribbean jazz has been pointing out for years. St Lucian Luther Francois has long maintained that given its vast pool of rhythms—some undoubtedly brought from Africa, alongside many Creole innovations—the Caribbean has unlimited possibilities for jazz (and I’d add for other music genres).
There are two other important elements to Sosa’s music. The first we can divine from the liner notes to the original Kind of Blue album: “aside from the weighty technical problem of collective coherent thinking, there is the very human, even social need for sympathy from all members to bend for the common result.”
Like the superb set of musicians Miles Davis assembled for Kind of Blue, Sosa is a gifted fusionist. The band on his tribute album Eggun includes Africans, Cubans and several European and Americans. And then there’s melody; the Davis original marked a shift from the often cerebral harmonic experiments of BeBop to the purity of melody. Melody and rhythm, SuperBlue and Sosa.
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