Thursday, July 2, 2009

This emerging summer of madness

THERE has been a growing debate in Grenada about the possible reshuffle of the island’s cabinet that Prime Minister Tillman Thomas has said will come in a matter of days to mark the first anniversary of his party in power.

There has been an unprecedented level of public discussion about the reshuffle – what shape it will take and what that will mean.

Frankly some of the discussions have been inspired by mischief on one hand, petty political spite in other instances, plus the more substantive fight to define and determine the philosophy of this government and party.

It is also being inspired by a genuine concern in many circles that this government has in some ways under achieved in its first year. But the analysis has neither been deep and thorough enough so it is likely to miss the real point.

It has gotten to the place now that what you’d likely to get is a knee jerk reaction that may not fix the inherent problems of this government – and if anything will lay a foundation for dissatisfaction and suspicion.

Unfortunately the seeds are being sown by a process that is not being managed properly, and by a humble arrogance of right, shrouded in constitutional soundness but political naivety.

Only that student of politics will tell us that successful politics is not only about the legal soundness of an action, but how that interfaces with the complex human preferences.

To ignore that – is not only to lose the essence of politics – but the very power it bestows.

For now, I’ll refrain from getting into the name calling – and the fashionable blame game that is consuming this town.

It is pointless because the set up has already taken place, and the dialog has been framed. Both recent history and the current reality have been already painted with a distorted brush.

The debate has not been served well by media colleagues that have not asked the smart questions or look beyond an analysis steeped in only the personal.

There is an emerging summer of madness on which we hope the sun will set, before the rain clouds blow over and the storm washes away the hope of July 8th from just one year ago.

But in this beckoning madness – it’s even frightening to hope.

It is not just money – but good sense – that is in short supply.

NOTES FROM ALL AROUND: So who is conspiring to kill the soca?

NOTES FROM ALL AROUND: So who is conspiring to kill the soca?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

So who is conspiring to kill the soca?

BEING IN GRENADA these past few days, I have had a greater opportunity to listen closely to Grenadian radio as they have now turned to an almost complete diet of music related to the island's upcoming carnival.

I have also had the opportunity to visit a couple of local recording studios and listen first-hand to some of the material being prepared there for the festival.

While it is something that has been bothering me for a couple of years now - I am becoming more than satisfied that local Grenadian radio is doing a disservice to both carnival, and its array of promising artistes.

If you were to only listen to most of the stations -- you'd come to the conclusion that there is a less than exciting crop of music this season.

But I am satisfied that it is not as bad as it sounds.

If I was a believer in conspiracy theories, I would have said that some industry players in the radio are part of a wider plot to destabilize Grenadian music.

You listen to the stations and you'd get mostly ill-baked jab-jab laced one- dimensional rhythms with lyrics as empty as Caribbean treasuries and hopelessly pointless.

Indeed that refreshing authentic Grenadian sound is quickly being diluted and short changed -- aided and abetted by people who make choices of what needs to be played on radio that don't have the artistic appreciation nor cultural depth to do so.

SOS someone -- because this is a crisis -- and its slipping fast.

The thing about what the radio is deciding to play -- is that it sets it up as THE standard -- and a lot of the artistes who are capable of much better end up giving the stations -- not the people -- what they want.

Only that could explain how within 12 months Brother B can go from that cheeky infectious song of last season, to a pointless ode to liquor.

(Coming soon on this blog, the 10 most over hyped song of the season that aint worth it; and the 10 songs that should have been played more).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Don leaves a great vibe for the beat of life

DON CHARLES is a Grenadian music icon – but many may not know it if they were not paying close attention.

But they would have heard it – without knowing it

Charles was the man in charge of engine of the island’s music, not the showy ‘upfronter’ looking to soak up the applause.

A generation has grown up under his music influences, manufactured under the label MOSS.

He has never convinced me what it really meant – but a long time ago it was decided is means Masters of Sweet Sounds.

So that was the story – and everyone stuck to it.

It made sense anyhow, because in reality it was true.

Don – and his brothers Ricky and Leon – and their friends from around St Mary’s Road in Grenville came together in 1974 to establish Moss.

And they were to give an independent nation, the birth of its new sound.

A few years later, Moss established Kalypso Kastle, which for about a decade and some, was Grenada’s foremost calypso tent. Indeed the heights they reached –n in terms of packaging, organization, marketing and execution – have not since been surpassed.

There was a historic generational shift in appreciation for local calypso music by 1978 – the marquee breakout year for the Super Tent, the forerunner to the Kastle, and the period when Don introduced the synthesizer – which was the best thing then – to his arrangements.

Some of Grenada’s best calypsonians are graduates of the Kastle:

  • the late Timpo and African Teller – who won major crowns in the earlier 80s;

  • Squeezie (in the days we used to spell it Squeezy) who established himself early on as a road march champion on the melody that Don made.

  • Mr Dee, the first prince of Grenadian calypso soul

  • Darius, the master of satire from The Party Done to Ras,

  • Black Wizard, in his second coming after the days of Young Baron

  • Singing MC, and Leon Antoine, and

  • the discovery of a young Randy Isaac, doing his breakout hit FREE SOUTH AFRICA.

The influences went beyond those who worked directly with the Kastle.

Just ask the likes of Ajamu and Smokey who speak highly of the influences Moss and the Kastle had on their formative years.

Ajamu has the highest respect and felt that the least he could have done was invite him as a player at his highly successful 25th anniversary concert last year.

It was the house that Don built that set up Grenada’s post music industry since Independence.

Those who complain it has not gone further maybe missed the point. Don was always a little head of the time.

Those foundations were laid in an album of top class called CAN IT BE that the band produced in 1978, which included what to me what is an all time, yet under-rated Grenadian classic Slaves Living In Luxury -- (where is the cover anybody) – and the equally impressive and more widely played You’re Gone, showcasing Agnes Forrester at her best.

The album, one of first high class Grenadian recording of our generation, introduced us as well, to the soulful singing of the Laldee brothers and a young Agnes Forrrester.

By then the baton had genuinely passed from Rhythm Riders – which up to independence was the band of Grenada,

Through the years, Moss International under Don’s guidance, churned out the big ones – Caribbean Party Music (made popular in the days of Radio Antilles), Too Hot, Party Animals, Dance The Night Away, Bacchanal Breeze, the ‘anthemic’ Join Hands and of course the most celebrated of them – that haunting road march from 1991 Jambalassie Rule.

The song was to have been called ‘Same Damn Thing’ – but then somebody said in one of those creative sessions – that would be hard for any announcer to say that on the radio.

Did not think we had a hit on our hands, until Singing MCs magic was captured on the camera at a 5 AM video shoot at the back of the studio.

We were rushing to completion – because carnival was about 10 days away – and it was already late.

When we were finished, we were discussing – is Grenada ready for this? Will they grasp it?

We nervously sent it on to radio and TV and hoped for the best.

The truth is, we suspected, people partied to the song because of its irresistible hooks and haunting melodies, pleasingly transformed in song by the charisma of a young Singing MC in his prime.

Perhaps it was after the carnival was over– that many noticed – this was a seriously sneering political commentary.

You say to stain we finger
But only one year later
The country catching heart failure

You vote, you doh vote same damn thing
The heart and the hand, same damn thing

Jambalassie was the song that was almost never made – that’s why it came out so late for the carnival of 1991.

The band was in studio months before working on al alternative album concept called THE BEAT OF LIFE, with no mind on doing music for the carnival of this year.

But then belatedly in one of the sessions, the issue was raised about the need to contribute to carnival – and that after so many years it would be an anomaly not to.
Somebody suggested – I think it was Singing MC – that we do something rooted in Grenadian culture; something that has a sought of ‘jab jab’ feel.

It was then the creative genius of Don went to work in creating what turned out to be the Grenadian soundtrack.

Jambalassie Rule established the authentic Grenadian sound that has been so well exploited years later by the likes of Tallpree, who used it to make Old Woman Alone, a regional hit, and by General Pepe who won road march in 2004 with Never Say Never, a direct and deliberately intended sampling of the original road march of 13 years earlier.

The chants of modern day Lava Man and Don Carlos - are rooted in that authentic Grenadian sound Don manufactured, as much as there are influences by the urban vibe from Jamaica and the USA.

Jambalassie Rule, was the first Grenadian song to have been nominated for a Caribbean Music Award back in 1992.

It was the first Grenadian soca that played extensively on the regional carnival circuit – long before Flying Cloud's Raise Your Hand, or Tallpree’s Old Woman and Super P’s Peeping could have made their mark.

Moss International made its mark oversees, doing the Caribana circuit from 1990 to 1995, opening the festival on one occasion, as well as the New York Labour Day scene from 1991-1994. Those were days before it became fashionable for Grenadian carnival acts to appear at those festivals.

The group was also Grenada’s representative at the CARIFESTA Festival in Trinidad in 1992, and served as the opening act of a young Lucky Dube at a concert in Boston.

Moss was not only the first Grenadian act to have produced music videos, but among the first in the Caribbean – just when that aspect of the music industry was being promoted internationally through the establishment and explosion the American network MTV.

Those were the days in the 1980s of the three quarter machines (long before beta, mini DV and digital) – expensive and bulky. Don found it necessary to invest in it – and inspite devoid of all the effects we yearned for, still had fun using the system.

Only last month he spoke about transferring all those analog tapes into some digital format.

Like the Jambalassie video – now I think we need to rush to completion.

There was a project called THE BEAT OF LIFE – an unreleased album that has been nearly 20 years in the making.

It is another one that maybe needs to be rushed to completion.

For all the tings he accomplished – as a musician, a businessman, a travel industry specialist, and a father – Don’s his biggest gift was his temperament.

He was one cool dude under pressure. He was never flustered when things went wrong. He was never complaining when a session that was supposed to end at midnight went until 5 AM.

He never had any recriminations when one of the bold experiments went wrong.

Never fretting he would calmly say: “Let’s try something else”

Don had wonderful sense of humor and he could have found the funny side even in the most difficult circumstances.

It was that same sense he had, even when he was facing the battle of his life, threatened by this invasive cancer – when he told me – “I am making the best of it; but I have had my good days and my bad days.”

When we got the news on the weekend – it was decidedly one of the bad days – for all of us.

In a generation of making good music, it was as if finally one bad note was played.

But thankfully there are so many good memories in this beat of life.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Where are your own ideas for a stimulus?

Listening from a distance, I got the feeling that the Town Hall-style State-of-the-Union type address and question session by Grenada’s Prime Minister Tillman Thomas at the Grenada Trade Center went down very well.

Of course the critics – and there seem to be a small minority of the Allan Campbell level – has dismissed it as purely as a public relations stunt.There is always an aspect of public relations in every aspect of explaining policy and ideas. But to dismiss it as just that – is either to miss the point, or is a roundabout way of saying there were good ideas which I could not really criticize.

I have read elsewhere the comments of former Finance Minister Anthony Boatswain and New National Party’s current spokesman on economics Kennedy Roberts – who both dismissed the outline of the stimulus package as nothing new.

They both claimed that what was outlined was just some of the old policies and approaches for the former NNP government.By saying that they either did not hear, care to listen or being plain disingenuous. If you ask me to bet on any of those I would take the very latter.

But that aside, if we buy that argument, I would have thought that these two would have hailed the “policies” they had help crafted as the genuine panacea for Grenada’s faltering economy.

Somehow I got disconnected from the argument that these are some of our old policies, and the implicit criticism that they are not adequate.

So what does that say about their previous approaches to the economic challenge?

And while, they are at it – accepting the view that the policies outline were not enough – what are their own ideas for what else can be done?

Give us some concrete ideas sirs, rather than grandstanding.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


WELCOME to my own little space on the internet, where from time-to-time at irregular intervals I would want to share my thoughts on life, economics, politics, entertainment, sport and even musing empty nothings.

NOTES FROM ALL AROUND was the name of a column I once wrote for about a year back in 1989 for the Grenadian Voice newspaper, which allowed me to comment broadly on my myriad interests.

I want to go back to that vibe and to those roots.

My work allows me to live through and witness new experiences everyday -- mostly ordinary, but sometimes extraordinary.

Extraordinary stories are told easily. My challenge here will be to find extra-ordinary ways to tell ordinary stories, without embellishment.

Sometimes you may have to wander with me about something that may otherwise be considered a small detail.

In my story telling I will seek to turn my wander into a wonder.

The amazing thing about the web is that it also allows for immediate feedback -- and yours will be welcomed -- from the brutal to the kind.

Rest assured that my back is broader than my ego.