Last update: 12-Dec-2013 4:50 am
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Music from John John: T&T’S SOUL
Local neo-soul singer, John Francis, better known as John John, has slowly but surely been making his way into the ears, souls and consciousness of the T&T music industry.
Last month, Francis released his debut album, Cita Grandson. The 12-track album features an eclectic mix of R&B, neo-soul, reggae, funk, jazz and of course, Francis’s disticntive vocals.
According to Francis, the album is his introduction to the world. It is also his story.
“There’s no one message or one ideal (in the music). It’s not just about relationships. My inspiration comes from life, from the things I feel need to be said, from everywhere,” said the surprisingly soft-spoken singer during an interview at the T&T Guardian.
“Most importantly, my music comes from an earnest place. Whatever I say, I’ve lived. It’s not fake and I think people can relate to that.”
Cita Grandson was three years in the making but Francis is proud of not only the final product but also the process.
“That three years went in a flash. I didn’t rush to record because everything takes time—writing the music, going to studio, building a fan-base. I’m slowly making the transition to being a full-time artist but it can be hard juggling work and family life and working on music,” said Francis, who is also an emergency medical technician.
Music provides for Francis with both an outlet and a boost of confidence. “As a fan of music, it’s therapeutic and I’m always looking for new music. On the other side, it’s the only time I get to bare my soul. I’m more of a reserved person and when I’m performing I just get to shout and scream.”
During his teens, the 35-year-old Francis became interested in music by simply listening to the radio.
Although his father sang with church choirs, Francis wasn’t interested in music professionally while growing up.
After graduating from secondary school, Francis joined singing groups like Black Ambition, Kings of Origin and the gospel choir, Youth Pulse.
Yet, Francis says his music has evolved from those early days when he was heavily influenced by American R&B like that of Boyz II Men. These days, Francis is listening to everything from Lauryn Hill to Talib Kweli to David Rudder to Justin Beiber.
There are many challenges to producing the type of music Francis does in T&T, however. His fan base consists largely of a similar group of people interested in alternative music for one.
“It’s a challenge but I don’t study it. If you’re not booking me, I’ll do my own shows. At the end of the day it has to get bigger outside of Trinidad so I work with the culture. The way we take in music here is different; we have a myopic view of music,” he said.
The father of one also has what can be labeled an “afro-centric” approach to music. “I try not to force ideology on people and also not to sound racist or unpatriotic, but it’s more about loving self than hating others and understanding who we are and where we came from. My music is knowledge-based though and tries to tug at people’s conscious and subconscious.”
Francis sees himself as part of a current movement of musicians in T&T.
“I’m part of a renaissance of live music that’s happening right now where we actually try to create an experience for the audience. It’s growing and I hope it reaches a place where it’s not a subculture, where people know these things are going on. In general, even with all these things going on the powers that be still don’t understand the strength of art,” he said.
His allies in this movement include members of the Fringe Fest—an alternative show held simultaneously with the Tobago Jazz Experience—such as rapper Chromatics, reggae band Buzzrock and singer Jeff Wight, and other artists doing similar work like Freetown Collective and Collis Durranty.
To take the movement forward, Francis is planning a country-wide tour with his album. He’s also hoping to expand by hosting his own music festival next year.
In the near future, however, he’ll continue to sing and perform and has collaborative projects coming up with jazz bands Elan Parle and Hi Jinx.
A review of Cita Grandson by Nigel A Campbell
Soul is, in the words of writer Nelson George, “a one word summation of our [Black America’s] spirit, our desires and self-esteem.”
In T&T in the 1970s, local bands flirted with the sounds and rhythms of soul music and channelled its celebratory spirit.
In 2013, a new avatar for soul has arrived. John John debuts as the local poster boy for neo-soul singers with his first album Cita Grandson on Highway Records.
The self-penned 12 tracks on this CD paint the picture of a young man discovering his true self and exploring his longings. Let’s Make Music is brutally frank about his desires: “...take off those clothes/make 10 toes 20, your chakras exposed.”
Production values that look to the larger world for validation, excellently highlighting John John’s slinky voice to effect, are keys that the label and artist can depend on for making that international breakthrough.
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