Calypsonians, panmen, and bandleaders are looking forward to a brighter future under Winston 'Gypsy' Peters, the new chairman of the National Carnival Commission (NCC).
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Ultimate Rejects’ Full Exteme has already been declared the people’s anthem for Carnival 2017. The hooks “we doh business” and “hold dem and wuk dem” have listeners and partygoers embraced in a happiness that has not been felt in long time.
“This song is no longer mine. When you release a song, is everybody song – ‘hear meh song’, ‘hear meh tune.’ It belongs to the people, you share your gift with others and I am blessed to produce, write and create,” said MX Prime, the vocalist on the production.
The song is also reminiscent of late 80s/early 90s soca, which some have bookmarked as the golden age of the genre. MX Prime said he was inspired by the calypsonian Shadow when he wrote the song. “He was always outstanding,” he said. “I was building a pattern. I was working on a drum pattern adding stuff. I started to add melody, then when the words came, I said ‘Oh my.’”
The irony is with this popular recognition, many believe this is a comeback for MX Prime, whose government name is Edghill Thomas, and the other three members of production crew which comprises Johann Seaton, a founding member of DJ syndicate Sel Construction; Avaron Vanloo and Joel Aming, both well-known DJs.
“Like the other day, somebody ask me ‘what happen, I ain’t hearing you. You ain’t doing nutting?’ So, I tell him, ‘nah, nah. I ain’t doing nutten’,” said MX Prime. Before, he was known as Maximus Dan who offered the war cry for the Soca Warriors during their 2006 World Cup campaign. Others would have remembered him as Magga Dan, a skinny youth with the big voice.
Johann, listening to the conversation at UR’s studio in San Juan, nodded because it was a similar experience for him. He is the man behind Mad Man Productions that has produced and mastered some of the top soca songs in recent time and perhaps three-quarter of this year’s collection. Even as he is successful, there are those who are unaware of his movements since his radio presence at now defunct 98.9FM and later, at 96.7FM.
This year would mark Ultimate Rejects’ second anniversary and under their belt, they would have produced 50 pieces, fusing EDM (electronic dance music) with other musical elements. Although their music is not frequently heard on radio, they have a series of podcasts, a web page, social media links showcasing their work. They also have a segment on Hott 93.5FM.
Comparing their works in progress, the UR boys admit Full Extreme was zero effort. In June 2016, they were already planning for Carnival 2017. By November, they were in studio listening to what MX Prime had come up with. “Is the love that went into it, though,” MX Prime said. “I had to give them (the people) hooks, something that must have that warmth, an outpouring of love.” Although, he was cautioned about some of the lyrics: ‘light it up with kerosene…the city could bun’ down…the treasury could bun’ down…the economy could fall down…’ The intent, he said, was never to encourage destruction and mayhem but in true Trinidad character to worry about serious issues after the Carnival. “In those days of depression and war, people sought entertainment as a refuge. It applies now,” MX Prime said.
When Avaron, Joel and Johann first heard the song in studio, they felt its intensity. “In the first 30 seconds, it took a life of its own,” said Avaron. “I was quiet for a while. And then I said ‘What is this?’” Joel said. “When Johann hit the space bar, he said: ‘Wow! People dead! (a sound clash expression)’.”
“You know what it is like to have a tingling in the back of your neck after two hours? I wouldn’t call it pain. That was from the speakers blasting, working on the song,” said Joel. While MX Prime’s voice takes the lead in the song, the guys also join in with the loveable hooks.
The name Ultimate Rejects reflects their experiences working on their music. Not considered mainstream, radio stations did not play their songs. “When I and Johann were experimenting with music, they would only play for one week – or a couple of days. We kept on trying to get our craft on air. We were told we were not connecting with the fan base because they (the radio programme managers) were not accustomed to our music. So when we formed the group, I called Johann and told him we should call the group Rejects United. Then a few minutes later, I called back and said ‘Ultimate Rejects’,” MX Prime said.
Rejects in this context, he added, did not mean bad. It meant that a group of people was doing something different, they were born to stand out. Especially in the entertainment business in Trinidad, the approach to their business is to be different, knowing what they are looking for. They see their music as a gateway to facilitate those who are coming behind them, to push the boundaries of creativity and see a future in it.
EDM is defined by the group as the “next generation music,” even though they are not youngsters themselves. Johann is the eldest, at 43; MX Prime is 37; Joel is 36 with Avaron, the youngest at 33. As far as they are concerned, “age is for idiots” who try to define their maturity by numbers. But the men recognise that in a time of globalisation which allows cultures to travel beyond their borders of origin, EDM now has a sizeable piece of the TT musicscape. “You have to realise you are not a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, you are a citizen of the globe,” said Avaron.
Their other release Stage Gawd, layered with heavy ‘engine room’ percussion, more demonstrates that EDM drive, as do their production featuring Kerwin DuBois, Life Good and Flipo’s Addiction which are also Carnival line-ups. Their aim, during the Carnival campaign as with their other projects, is to present a Caribbean blend that can be played anywhere in the world. “It is something we cannot explain. It’s an intangible in the experience,” Joel said.
“We start off with a dream, two beats then something magical happens. There is nothing selfish about what we are doing. We are not here to reap but to contribute. People appreciate what Voice brings to the table, or Kerwin or Monk (Machel). Ultimate Rejects is no different,” Johann said.
Jillionaire (Christopher Leacock) has been able to blend his Trinidadian/Caribbean flavour as part of the American electronic group Major Lazer. Ultimate Rejects are inspired by him, French DJ David Guetta (Titanium ft Sia) and Scottish DJ Calvin Harris (This is What You Came For ft Rihanna).
Each member of Ultimate Rejects has used EDM as a base for some of their work. Johann was the producer of the Electrolytes Riddim which hosted Kes’ Where Yuh From and Machel’s So High AOA in 2010, he also produced the 40-Foot Riddim which featured Bunji Garlin’s So and So. Avaron built his first EDM around 2005. Joel, who co-produced former Chutney Soca Monarch Rikki Jai’s music between 2014 and 2015, has also done EDM remixes of soca songs. MX Prime has also produced beats that are EDM driven. Together, they feel at home to discuss how they can enhance styles or improve projects that are already in progress. “Why can’t we (as a nation) accept the music can be different? Music is like a child, growing and developing. There must be someone to push the envelope. We are not here to maintain the status quo and that movement to go beyond strikes a fear in people,” he said.
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