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Man with the golden pen

...Kernal Roberts takes advantage
Published: 
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Road March writer Kernal Roberts poses next to a portrait of his father, the late grandmaster Aldwyn Roberts, at his Rainorama home at Diego Martin. Photo: David Wears

Passing green islets on the way to Cayman Islands, Road March hitmaker Kernal Roberts, the son of the late grandmaster Aldwyn “Lord Kitchener” Roberts, churned his mind like the foam and spray that stretched in never ending line. Reason being: his comrade in the field, soca superstar Machel Montano, had challenged him to write yet another winning Road March. His golden pen had already produced three Road March titles—Band of Year (2006) Patrice and Machel; Jumbie (2007) Machel Montano; and Palance (2010) JW and Blaze. The vessel passed yachts tranquil as lilies docked in the peace of green anchorage at Jamaica. While there in the company of his female companion, Roberts had an epiphany—Advantage. Advantage came quickly in the quietest of places and on one of his favourite haunts—the ocean. For those uninitiated to C2k11, Advantage, sung by Montano, copped the Road March title and Soca Monarch power category on Fantastic Friday, at Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo. Occasion was the bmobile International Power and Groovy Soca Monarch competitions. Guardian Media Limited was the official sponsor.

On Wednesday night at Rama Studios, located on the compound of Rainorama (named after his father’s hit) he said: “I was just watching the sea in Jamaica. And it was just pumping. God was saying, ‘Take Advantage.’ It just popped into my head.” Crochets and treble clefs are ubiquitous. The senior Roberts’ smile was captured on a black and white album. Roberts, 30, admitted the restoration of the Queen’s Park Savannah stage for the Parade of Bands and competitions was not his preferred theme. “I thought so many people would sing about the stage. After all, Gypsy (Winston Peters, Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism) said he was putting back the stage,” added Roberts. Yet the stage beckoned. Like a nursery rhyme, the words “We so amaze/We get back the stage...came to him.” Although he fumbled for the opening lines of Advantage, he remembered Advantage falling into place like a stack of Leggo blocks. “God made everything start to fall into place. Starts and stops in the song,” said Roberts. Right on cue, he stamped his feet at the junctures.

Indeed, Advantage had sent masqueraders into bouts of wanton merriment as they chorused, “We start to jump on the stage/And leh we make front page.” But the irony of it was as Advantage peaked, Roberts was nowhere in sight. Purring contentedly, he revelled in his own version of nirvana. “I was down the islands. Far from the stage.” Word reached him from the mainland that Advantage was creating history. “It  played 410 times,” he said. “I eh call it no stage. I just take it out of the box. I start to beat out a melody. I was just watching the sea,” he said, with the silent passion akin to famed author Ernest Hemingway, whose love for the sea had produced Old Man and the Sea. 
 
Roberts, Montano reunion
Eyes twinkling, Roberts said Montano may have dubbed him the man with the “golden pen,” but he admitted it was a challenge. In the aftermath of his victory, Montano said he paid kudos to Roberts for his “comeback.” Now the duo has taken the lion’s share including the $2 million prize at Soca Monarch. Roberts said: “It was a beautiful combination and a beautiful marriage.”  He even likened it to a relay.
“It is about passing the baton (Palance) to the next person.”  For C2k10, Montano had announced he was taking a respite from Carnivalesque celebrations. He was busy on his projects with Pitbull. Momentarily, he saw “Boy” (Montano) at two shows for Labour Day celebrations, New York.  He said: “Montano had expressed his desire to return; To come back and make a fresh start. Soca Monarch was a last-minute decision. He was depending on me to give him a three-pointer.” He said: “‘Kitch leh we start something. I had to give “Boy” one good solid tune.”

Roberts admitted the HD family had some challenges without Montano at the helm. But they weathered the storm. “We got some blows as a team—Patrice, Farmer Nappy and Zan. I took my blows. I began to set up my empire. It began with Rama Studios,” he said. When Advantage was chosen via the “filtration process,” Roberts said he began working relentlessly on its production and technical aspects. He said: “Machel would have about 40 songs. He would select the best one. It is one hell of a filtration process.”
 
Rama Studios rocking
Rama Studios had also delivered two Soca Monarch victories (Advantage, Palance) and two Road March wins in Antigua with Claudette Peters and Tian Winter. But he admitted cocooning himself in the music had left him saturated. Roberts, too, had honed his computer literacy skills. Like a chrysalis, he needed to morph into a butterfly and fly. “It’s the second time I’ve been in the studio since Carnival. I had to get away from it. It came like a girlfriend sticking up under you 24 hours a day.” Soft as a sweetheart’s parting, he closed Rama and battled the wilful drift of tides. Now that Rama has reopened its doors before touring, he paid kudos to Montano. Roberts had a word for the “haters.” “Is Machel so he does bring out magic in everything. An artiste will sing A. Machel will sing A. Machel will make A sound like an A-plus. He was born to do this, hence the reason Advantage got the advantage,” added Roberts.

$1 million each
Quizzed on how the “gentlemen of soca” would share the prize, Roberts said: “Is half and half with me and Machel.”  “That $1 million is to try and make millions. It will roll over. We plan to sell the car and split it.” Meanwhile, Roberts intends to upgrade Rama Studios and invest in the young people. On a daily basis, they frequent there and often lounge by the water feature. “I want to help the budding soca artistes as much as possible.” He noted if he had to cost Advantage, it would be “more than $10,000 but under $100,000.” Roberts also intends to donate a significant portion to about three charities.  As expected, the father of four predicted women would be banging on Rama Studios. “It comes with the territory,” he said.
Casting aside the flippancy, Roberts said he would be using a substantial chunk to invest in businesses like offshore projects. “I’m looking for Arab money.”

Kitchener’s contribution
Reflecting on Kitch’s contribution, Roberts said it was about 11 years since his father’s death. The senior Roberts left an unparalleled legacy as a Road March king and hits like Sugar Bum Bum, My Pussin and Flag Woman.  He thanked those who supported him during his time of bereavement, especially Laundry. Tenderly, he said: “I still miss daddy.” He paid kudos to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Peters who had the foresight to rename the Napa auditorium—the Lord Kitchener Auditorium. For C2k11, an exhibition was mounted in Kitchener’s honour. “It’s in the pipeline to have a permanent inhouse museum at Rainorama. I intend to carry on the legacy of my father Kitchener and as I do it I am forming my own. That’s my saga. They don’t call me Kitch for nothing.” For C2k11, Roberts boasted he had worked on a piece with Shal Marshall—Doh Drag De Flag. “Inside there is a phrase Defend It. I am using that phrase next year. It will be like a blue tsunami in Japan.” Not afraid to beat his chest and ramajay, Roberts said: “I am not afraid to put my Road March out there. I have full security in the product. My material is copyrighted.” The C2k12 theme hinges on royalty.  “I will be working on Kings and Queens of the Carnival.”

About Kernal Roberts

He attended Newtown Boys’ and Woodbrook Secondary and began his career playing pan in school competitions. In 1996, he joined the Revue (founded by his father). “It was my first year at the Revue and I remember crying when the tent was closing. I was 15.  I remember getting drop home from De Fosto.  I liked the “big man ting.” After a brief musical  stint, Roberts’ passion for academics started to wane.  “Music planted itself inside of me.” He linked up with Richard Quarless at Abercromby Street and continued playing pan. He dropped out of school but had no regrets. “I promised my mother (Valerie Green) and daddy I would make them proud. “I told them I would not make all yuh shame. I will be as successful or even better than some of my classmates,” said Roberts. His musical ascendancy proved fait accompli. “I met my math teacher (the late Awai) from Woodbrook.” He said: “Kernal, I does see you in the papers and you always said you would do well.  We are proud of you.” Roberts relishes Chinese food, curried dishes—especially wildmeat and his mother’s callaloo with plenty pigtail. Roberts declared his innui with boredom. “I can’t be doing nothing.  My limes could have champagne, mauby or puncheon.  I always say “let’s have a damn good time.”