In central Trinidad, covered in tangled vines, towering trees and green vegetation as far as the eye can see, one can find the evidence of a once thriving cocoa, coffee and citrus industry.
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Musical guru in need of help
In the 80s, Tony Voisin was one of the country’s most distinctive guitarists. The former Charlie’s Roots man was known for his innovative style and was much sought after by musicians all over the region.
But perhaps what his peers recall most about the 61-year-old musician, who is suffering from a debilitating illness, was his easygoing personality and his passion for music and the guitar.
Friend and one-time frontline singer with the now defunct Charlie’s Roots Adrian Philbert said when Voisin joined the band in 1975, he immediately became a favourite and in many ways, he was the strength of the band—never tolerating nor encouraging feuds among bandmates.
“Tony hated the fragmentation among musicians in general, which is still very much a problem today. He used to say: ‘If music is about love where is the love in the music?’”
He added Voisin was always preoccupied with his music and was always finding ways to be innovative as a guitarist.
“Tony used to walk around with a music book…always reading music and literature on guitars. He was a perfectionist when it came to playing the guitar. And someone who was extremely serious about his career as a musician,” said Philbert.
Voisin grew up in a very musical family, and is the nephew of the late parang queen Daisy Voisin. He was inspired by her to get involved in music.
Pelham Goddard who was Charlie’s Roots keyboardist and musical director, remembers a young Voisin coming to him for music lessons. But he found Voisin was so proficient, he didn’t need lessons, he just needed to play more.
Both Philbert and Goddard described Voisin as “people person” and a “fun-loving guy.” They recalled whenever the band would travel or had a performance, Voisin would be the last person to get on the plane or stage, because he always had to stop and chat with the people or fans who greeted him along the way.
“Voisin was something else boy. We just used to laugh when we see him coming through the crowd stopping to talk to everybody as he made his way to the stage. But that is how he was— a very friendly and gracious guy,” said Philbert.
“When he finally reached on the plane we would give him a round of applause,” Goddard told the T&T Guardian.
Voisin spent three decades devoting his time to playing the guitar, not just for the band but his work was featured on so many recordings that have travelled through time, generation to generation.
His work appeared on a range of albums and singles like the late Mighty Duke’s 21st Century Man, Gabby’s ‘Til Now, Gillo’s Ban Fai, Raw Kaiso Volumes One and Two and Big Up, the Grammy-nominated album by British reggae group Aswad. In his spare time he taught music voluntarily at the Birdsong Music School in Tunapuna.
Now that the guitarist is in need of financial assistance, Voisin’s childhood friends Lester McKenzie and Joe Corbin, and some former bandmates are holding a series of fund-raising events to assist with Voisin’s medical expenses.
The first event, D Tony Voisin Family Cooler/Picnic, took place in early May at the Ranch in Maracas, St Joseph where more than 150 musicians got together to entertain a big audience of patrons. The organisers are also using the events to unite singers and musicians, a dream of Voisin’s.
McKenzie, a musician and former singer with the band, Night Wind Rebellions, of which Voisin was a member in his earlier days, described the event as “perfect”.
“It was a beautiful day. Tony was there and in good spirits,” he said.
The event included performances by pan man Ken “Professor” Philmore; former Traffik Jam vocalist KV Charles, who wooed the crowd with some old school R&B and contemporary soca and veteran jazz singer Patti Rogers with a string of jazz classics.
Other performers included gospel vocalist Allister Saunders, T&T born-London based reggae singer Lennard Harry and Adrian Philibert who closed the evening with a touching rendition of Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable.
McKenzie noted he was grateful to Johnny Q Sound Company and Kenny Phillip’s Wack Radio 90.1FM for lending their services to the event for free. Voisin also received a gift basket from Sunshine Snacks.
McKenzie and the other organisers are working on the second event which they hope will feature former Roots frontman David Rudder and Winston “Gypsy” Peters.
The organisers also hope the current generation of soca artistes will get involved in the fund raising campaign.
“Artiste like Machel Montano, Fay-Ann and Bunji and others can really help us bridge the gap between the old and new school soca artistes as well as musicians. That will be very special to Tony,” said McKenzie.
McKenzie said a Tony Voisin Foundation will be set up so that people can make financial contributions can be made to assist him during his time of illness and will also benefit other artistes who might be in need of financial help.
Those wanting to get involved in the fund-raising campaign for Tony Voisin can contact Lester McKenzie at 776-1700.