Rootsman (Yafeu Oesi) was a good painter and competent wood-carver, but lived his dream to become a calypsonian.
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Rudder stays on top
Ever since he burst onto the calypso stage in 1986 and became a household name in T&T, calypsonian David Rudder has maintained his place among the top entertainers wherever he performs. Though currently resident in Ontario, Canada, this son of the soil is frequently back and forth to his native Trinidad, where he still commands premier billing. The former accounting clerk started as a back-up calypso singer whose big break came when the lead singer of the band Charlie’s Roots fell ill and he was thrust into the limelight. So impressive was he, that he soon became the co-lead singer of the band! But it was in 1986 that he really shot to prominence with the release of his first album, which spawned two huge hits: The Hammer (a tribute to the late steelpan ace Rudolph Charles) and Bahia Girl. These two hits earned him all the winning titles that year—the Calypso Crown, the Road March, the Young King title—and have been eternal hits since then.
Following his 1986 propulsion to fame, he did not find the previous year a tough act to follow and released his mega hit Calypso Music in 1987, which captured the rhythm and vibe of our nation.
Not contented to rest on his laurels, he followed up in 1988 with what many considered to be his best album to date, Haiti, which included the title track, a tribute to the glory and suffering of Haiti; Engine Room, which captured the energy of the steel band; and Rally ’Round the West Indies, which became the regional anthem for the world champion West Indies cricket team. Rudder’s innovative songwriting has been influenced by the uniqueness and inescapable styling of the chants and rhythms of the Shango Baptists, which is the foundation of much of his music. The endless awards that he has been showered with over the 25 years of his career include Male Artist of the year, Album of the year, Best Party Song of the year, Best Social Commentary, Song most played for Panorama, Best Produced Album, Male Vocalist of the Year, Best New Wave Soca, and Most Humorous Calypso. He has delivered performances at several World Music festivals and performing arts centres around the world—in the USA, Canada, UK and Europe. He has been featured over the years in prestigious magazines and publications such as Germany’s Gorgenpost and Stern Magazine, The Guardian in England. In the US, the Boston Globe, New York Times and Newsweek, was a cover story for Class magazine, featured artist in Ebony Magazine. Rudder has performed with such stars as Barry White, Billy Ocean, KC and the Sunshine Band, Third World, Steel Pulse, Musical Youth, Miami Sound Machine and Chalice.
In 1990 he sang the Bahia Girl in Wild Orchid, a major Hollywood movie produced by Warner Brothers, performing with internationally acclaimed Brazilian singer Margareth Menezes. Together Rudder and Menezes sang Dark Secrets, one of three songs. Rudder contributed to the movie which stars Mickey Rourke and Jacqueline Bisset. Some 32 albums/records/CDs later, this Trini to the bone, also his most recent hit, shows no sign of letting up as his fans locally, regionally and internationally would attest. He was awarded one of the nation’s highest awards in 1992, the Humming Bird Medal Silver for his contribution to culture. (From Nasser Khan’s feature in the annual Ins and Outs of Trinidad and Tobago 2013 publication)
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in Belmont (Freetown), Trinidad’s first open university campus.
At what schools/institutions did you receive your education?
I attended Ms Edmund’s Private School, Belmont Boys’ RC, Belmont Intermediate. Then I spent several years at the University of Belmont proper, honing my skills.
What are the plans for Carnival 2014 in terms of shows/performances?
My season is quite busy with several performances at the Hyatt, five nights at the Normandie, Machel Monday, Kes in Concert, Blood Bank, etc.
Plans for the rest of 2014?
I plan on completing my album Catharsis, and hitting the road.
What is your greatest accomplishment in the Carnival arena?
Greatest accomplishment in Carnival? Hmmm…making people feel good and in general, making people think.
What was your first paying job?
Singing at concerts all over the country with the Billy Reece rodeo in the early sixties. I used to get $5 a gig.
If you could dine/lime with someone past or present, with whom you haven’t, who would you choose?
I wish I had known sooner...
I wish I could have known how to be a better parent. Working on it still.
What is your vision of a perfect Carnival Monday and Tuesday?
Carapichaima and Paramin on Monday, Port-of-Spain on Tuesday with sweet music swirling over and around the people, making them fly.
What is the favourite part about Carnival, outside of performing?
My favourite thing about carnival is a steelband on J’Ouvert morning.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life?
Biggest influence...apart from my parents, I would say Belmont as a whole.
What are some of your Carnival related achievements?
Achievements...the triple crown in 1986, representing the Caribbean at the UN, the love of the people throughout the region. Ahhhh! Too many to mention.
What are your favourite calypso and soca songs of all time?
Favourite songs? That’s tough, too tough. It’d take an entire newspaper!
Tell us about your inspiration to do the type of work you do.
I was just born to do what I do. What feeds that founding sweetness is the “noises” I get from the people.
What advice would you give to the country’s leaders to create a better society?
I can’t advise the country’s leaders. Listening to them...they “done know.” Ok, ok...how about stop encouraging tiefing. Start there.
What advice would you give to the young people of T&T?
To the youth I’ll say, “In spite of” is your key to the light.
Calypso has taken you to many countries. Can you remember them all? Which are they?
Ahhh! Let’s see. Most of the Caribbean, almost the entire USA, Canada, Venezuela, Panama, Brazil, UK, Finland, Switzerland, France, Germany (east and west), I was there when the wall came down. Belgium, Italy, Holland, Japan, Nigeria, India and more.
Who was your hero, real or fictional, growing up?
I didn’t have a hero, I had heroes. My neighbours Lord Beginner and Edwin Roberts; Cliff Bertrand; Wendell Mottley; Kent Bernard; Jerry Browne; Lincoln Phillips; Sparrow, Charlo; the leader of Sisson’s Wonderland; Steve David; Leroy De Leon; Warren Archibald; Lord Kitchener; Alvin Corneal; Ellis Sadaphal; the Aleong brothers; Clive Burnette; Leslie King; Roger Gibbon; Fitzroy Hoyte; Jean Moutett, Bert Neptune; Sammy Llewellyn to name a few. The Toussaint brothers Mackie and Roderick; Jason Griffith; Ken Morris; Horace “Pepperwine” Lovelace. I’ll stop because we’ll need two newspapers!
Other than your singing career, what else have you been engaged in?
I also paint, draw and was trained in copper repose by the great carnivalist, Ken Morris. If you see copper murals in the lobbies of the Hilton and the Kapok, chances are you’ll be watching at work that I have had a part in.
What daily motto/credo do you live by?
The motto that I live by is: “How can I be better today.”
What goals and or ambitions do you still have?
My next goal is to start writing.
Of all your accolades, prizes and awards which do you rate as extremely special?
My most special award is the love of my fans.
You currently live in Canada...do you have any intention of returning to T&T to live?
Yes I do.
Describe yourself in three words, one beginning with “D”, the others with “M” and “R”; your initials.
I’d say Determined, Misunderstood and Restless.
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