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Lara whips Soca Monarch crowd into frenzy
During the Carnival celebrations, Jamaica-based Kenneth Lara (Lord Laro) was in town for the 21st edition of the Soca Monarch finals. Veteran Lara, 73, whipped the crowd into a frenzy with Tempo at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port-of-Spain, on Fantastic Friday. He performed in the segment NLCB Tribute to the Classics. In discomento rockers style, Lara gave a sweeping glimpse of “Carnival in Rio/Mas in Toronto/Fiesta in Mexico/I have seen New Orleans/Mardi Gras bacchanal/But nothing to beat the Trinidad Carnival.” It was sheer sweetness when they sang the hookline, “When you hear the Tempo/Land vibrate with Tempo/The land like one big disco.”
On Sunday, Lara thanked chairman of Caribbean Prestige Foundation (CPF) William Munro for inviting him to perform with calypsonian David Rudder of Bahia Girl fame and former soca monarch champion Ronnie McIntosh (1995 and 1997). He was accompanied by his friend/ex-soldier Oscar Waldrond, 73, from Belmont. Asked about his visit, Lara said, “I am very happy to be here to sing at the Soca Monarch. I must give credit to my friend Johnny King and Bally because they saw me on a show in Grenada and decided I must come. Eventually, Munro contacted me.
“I enjoyed Soca Monarch immensely. It’s 49 years since I have been to Carnival here. It was really great to see the changes in the music and the whole new approach to Carnival. The music has a new kind of uptempo soca beat. I love it.” Lara admitted to being overwhelmed at the “new level of professionalism and showmanship.” “There was so much emphasis on lighting. Machel (Montano) Floating... that was great. The supporting actors were well-rehearsed. The traditional characters like the moko jumbies and dame lorraines and sailors captured the essence of Carnival when I was a small boy. Munro must be complimented for being the visionary he is,” said Lara.
The Jamaican experience
Lara, an ex-soldier, was born in Claxton Bay; but he has been living at Montego Bay, Jamaica, for about 50 years. It all began when he met his Jamaican wife, Norma, and decided to settle there. The couple has four children. “I sing calypso day and night. That’s my only job since I left the army. I served from 1962 to 1968. We were the first set of soliders who came to Trinidad. We came back after the Federation was dissolved. They promised us a lot of good things. When I left I didn’t sign back on. I was the number one singer in Jamaica back then. I got a lot of jobs in the hotel. I even worked on cruise ships for a period of time.”
Patting himself on the back, Lara said, “I am still a much highly-sought-after entertainer in Montego Bay and throughout Jamaica.” Reflecting on the Jamaican experience, Lara said, “They treat entertainers very well.” He remembered being embraced by the late prime minister Michael Manley and PM Portia Simpson-Miller, fondly known as Sister P.
Reggae merged with calypso
When Lara arrived in Jamaica, all was not smooth sailing. The late reggae icon Bob Marley ruled the roost with hits like Buffalo Soldier. Lara pioneered “discomento rockers.”
Reflecting on his input, Lara said, “I changed the styling of calypso to suit the Jamaican music that was so popular. It was the era of Bob Marley. Everybody was dread. I fused discomento rockers. Bob Marley was the head man of the music. Reggae was on the up. Calypso was failing. I thought I would bring in the reggae beat. That’s how that new sort of music started.”
Coupled with Tempo, Lara released hits like Yuh Have Fe Dread, My Dread Mildred and Plum Plum. The rest is history. Lara added, “It carried a tad Jamaican dialect. Everybody was saying they dread. I sang the same songs in Trinidad and Jamaica.” As discomento rockers caught on like wildfire, Lara became a sensation throughout the Caribbean and Central America, including Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua. “I am an honorary Belizean. I was calypso king in Belize for about 25 years. Belize has adopted me as a son of the soil,” said Lara.
Discomento rockers took Lara to the United States and Canada. Amid the superlatives that fans ascribe to his work, Lara lives by one golden rule. “I sing and write my own calypsoes. I have never sung anybody else’s work. Back in the day, you had to write your own songs. It’s hard for me to sing another man’s songs.”
More respect for calypsonians today
Unlike contemporary calypsonians, Lara was exposed to the late greats like Atilla the Hun, Lord Invader, Lord Melody and Small Island Pride. Lara said, “I grew up with them. I started singing at eight. I sang with all of them up till 21.” Promoters pay exorbitant wages today. But when he cut his teeth in Sparrow’s Young Brigade, artistes earned paltry wages. He earned about $30 a week. “When I moved to Jamaica, in the earlies, it was about 300 pounds.” He remembered the days when it was considered degrading to sing calypso. “You could get licks in my days...If you said you wanted to be a calypsonian, your parents would say if you wanted to turn drunkard. It was seen as being low class. Thank God, people have a great deal of respect for calypsonians now.”
Commenting on the input of contemporary calypsonians, Lara said, “I admire David Rudder for his crossover style. I love Shadow (Winston Bailey) for his personality. He can stand up on a stage and not sing a note and send the party wild. He has presence.” When it came to C2k13 Road March champion Austin Lyons (SuperBlue), Lara said he was never surprised at his soca prowess. After all, Lyons had sent the masses into a frenzy with Soca Baptist, Ethel and Rebecca. Again, he proved he was a doyenne among soca superstars with Fantastic Friday. “Water and powder” could be heard around every corner like a symphony.
Lara said, “The Good Book says ‘Who God Bless/No Man Curse.’ I love his style, his compositions and his charisma on stage. He has the whole crowd eating out of his hands. Lara said he loved Montano. “I know him from a little boy. I saw his antics and I was mesmerised. He was always trying to invent something new.”
No difference between soca, calypso
Lara fails to see any difference between soca and calypso. “I call the genres calypso. It could be soca, chutney or discomento. I can’t see soca being different from calypso. Calypso is the greatest form. Even if a calypso is sung in Spanish or Hindi, it is a calypso.” Offering a kernel of wisdom to young artistes, Lara said, “Dress properly. Long ago, calypsonians used to dress in suits, then they moved to pretty shirts. Be a gentleman.”
About Kenneth Lara
He was born in Claxton Bay. But he grew up in Port-of-Spain. He attended Glouster Lodge Moravian and Escallier EC schools, and Barrackpore Hindu School. Whenever he’s not touring, Lara volunteers as choirmaster at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, Montego Bay. Lara said, “I teach the children music. I had the first female band (New Wave) that toured Jamaica. Coupled with his fine vocals, Lara plays instruments including drums, bass, guitar, keyboard, trombone and saxophone.
Lara said, “Music is a profession. You have to pour your heart into it. You have to practise day and night.” When he returns to Jamaica, Lara vows to continue experimenting with “discomento rockers.” “I have some fresh new ideas for discomento. I want to teach it in the schools and bring it into mainstream society. It’s just another leg in the musical culture of Caribbean innovation.”
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