Horizon at Sandy Point

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Calypso moment

If the 1956 Jean and Dinah sung by Sparrow was a memorable moment for commentary and music - launching the Birdie's 60 year career - then David Rudder's 1986 Bahia Girl and The Hammer represent a similar turning point in calypso. Here was the young man, using his own name, with his own compositions, lyricising - without irony or satire - a pan hero, and then, a woman who becomes a vessel for transformation. His detractors felt he was not singing calypso! These were praise songs, Mr Rudder. As much as the Dedication (to panmen) and Calypso Music (to early kaisonians) in 1987.

If few had heard of David Rudder before, his winning the Young King, the Calypso Monarch and Road March titles - as well as having his song The Hammer played by the winning Panorama band Catelli Trinidad All Stars - would have sent commentators scurrying to find out what he had been doing before. They might have discovered that he wrote the theme song for "Jungle Fever" - Minshall's 1981 band - with Pelham Goddard. He had been called into service when Roots frontman, Chris Tambu Herbert was ill. Rudder remained with Charlie's Roots after that. He also stayed as the chantwell for Minshall's band. He sang with the band in Kitchener's tent. He was a composer. Yes, Rudder had been - as we like to say - toiling in the vineyards for many years before  The Hammer and Bahia Girl.

The Hammer celebrates the Desperadoes leader Rudolph Charles - who was the man with a hammer that he used "to pong a pan, and sometimes a stupid man," Charles died suddenly in 1985. Without once naming him, Rudder asks "where de man wid de hammer gone?" And answers, "On a silver chariot/ Riding to the sun/ Leaving fire in its wake/ Spirits on de run ..." The calypso becomes a lament, " Well, de dragon doh walk the trail no more, no more..." Rudolph Charles - de man wid de hammer - is immortalised as General, Dragon, and Trail blazer.

Rudder said in an interview with Trinidad Carnival 1986, the magazine issued by Key Caribbean Publications, "The Hammer is a play. It is written to live forever in the history of the country. When they talk about Rudolph Charles, they'll always remember the hammer." Indeed, this calypso was written in acts, rather than verses.

His second song Bahia Girl is an account of a spiritual awakening. "This girl from Bahia staying in Moruga" brings a message of transformation to the Carnival people of Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago. From the Yoruba holy city Ile Ife, she took a message to the spirit of Brazil, Bahia; and then brought it to the spirit soul of Trinidad, Moruga. In the course of trying to seduce her, Rudder is himself seduced by her lilting melody - a mesmerising Shango rhythm - "Like you is a Baptist/ She say, darling no no, my darling, is not so/ Trinidad and Brazil, we have the same/ Vibration, Ile Ife Ile Ife/ She make me to understand/ Then the Trini people take it to the street/ From Sando to Parlatuvier chanting to the beat ..." Taking it to the streets, Bahia Girl was the Road March of that year.

In his breakthrough year, David Rudder was challenged as being not a calypsonian. What was his soubriquet? "Sparrow gave me my name, He called me King David." He was a pop singer turned calypsonian. "I have been creating my own music since the 70s - maybe not always pure calypso, but it's always been Trinidad music. I've been crossing over - a fusion artist - all the time."

Carnival was early in 1986, February 10 and 11. I had been working on the magazine for eleven years.  The two weeks before the final street parades were usually spent in the "trenches" - walking the track to the Savannah stage to see kings, queens and individuals, steelbands in practice. Stageside, there were no seats for media, reporters or photographers. Working press spent the duration of the shows pressed up against the the side of the stage or on top of storage lockers beside the hedge in front of the Grand Stand. That year, my daughter was stirring inside my Caribbean belly. As my son had in 1984, when I hunted the Grand Stand for clean toilets!

In 1987, my last year on the magazine, David Rudder proved he was no one hit wonder. The paean to calypso called Calypso Music still beckons its followers: "Can you hear a distant drum/ Bouncing on the laughter of a melody?" ... "It is a living vibration/ Rooted deep within my Caribbean belly/ Lyrics to make a politician cringe/ Or turn a woman's body into jelly/ It is sweet soca music, Calypso / You coulda never refuse it, Calypso/ It make you shake like a shango now, Calypso ..."

Also on Rudder's album for that year was Madness, a critique of the decline in Trinidad's politics and morality. "This is not a fete in here, this is madness!"  He starts to call names: "de glasses ting ... the same one who used to walk de road like she can't touch de ground ... if you see de chile/ Getting on kinda wild and wassy..." and "de big french creole one/ He wet he hot down with half a beer/ Then he snatch de pepper sauce, he drinking dat..." and "a strange woman named gas station Gene..." Then "de union man turn and tell de tactical/ Shoot we while we wine/ But comrades we not leaving here..."
David Rudder, 1986 Trinidad Carnival, ©Key Caribbean Publications
Since 1986, David Rudder has gone his own way, created calypsos that tell the stories of us. Using the old rhythms - bongo for the dead, shango for the living - he has remained melodious, lyrical and relevant. In 1986 too, Machel Montano started his rise (he was Junior Monarch in 1984 and performed in 1985) singing: "too young to soca!" But that's another story.

For now, let's hear Rudder. Not just for the panmen, the calypsonians, all the musicians of these blessed isles:
Leh we sing a song of praise to those who
Helped to clear the path
That we could see through
So now we children they have a source
So very Trinbagonian of course
Out of a muddy pond
Let ten thousand flowers bloom!

Or as an even older bard said:
Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

(Caliban in Shakespeare's The Tempest)

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