Archives For music

Out on the Boardwalk….

January 15, 2018 — 1 Comment

Out on the Boardwalk we were having some fun! Saturday night saw “Patrick and the Swayzees” perform at Shupes on Christiansted’s Boardwalk, and St Croix came out to listen. Styled as rockabilly, soul, rock ’n’ roll, they played everything from Elvis to Jerry Lee Lewis to James Brown, and many others, as well as a couple of original numbers. The joint was jumping to such an extent it did cross my mind the Boardwalk, a little hurricane weary, might not withstand the sheer joy of hundreds of people having fun. But it held up. And so did the band.

Hailing from Key West, Florida, though its members are all imports from northern states, the band is young. Only three years old and founded by Jerrod Isaman, guitarist and vocalist. There is though a Patrick in the band – Patrick Stecher, by day a wire artist by night a cool dude playing bass. But rather than a group of lads playing around at music, this is a group of lads who live music. And it shows. The band is tight, professional and, in true musical parlance, utterly awesome!

Keyboardist, River Seine, the youngest member of the group, has spent part of his 20 years on another island, Hawaii, where his mother sang. His fingers danced along the keys with such fluidity and speed I have no idea how he managed to stay on his feet, and his vocals, both as a soloist and backing singer hit every note. Elvis came alive.

Tyler ‘T-Bone’ McHone as drummer has the oh-too-cool-look-to-be-enjoying-himself down pat, but handles the sticks with verve and speed keeping the beat and energy  flowing from number to number, and as the crowd howled for more I saw a smile flicker.

Shout, Johnny Be Good, Love My Baby, Runaround Sue and many more rocked Shupes as patrons, young and not-so-young sang, danced and made merry. An evening of sheer entertainment which backed up vocalist Les Greene’s assertion in an interview with Angel Melendez of the Broward Palm Beach New Times when he said, “These songs are songs that need to go back into the world.”

Greene is a great ball of fire and energy. His stage persona is electric with vocals to match. His soaring rendition of Leela James’ Change is Going to Come brought the rafters close to crashing and the floor boards trembling. And his moves. My God, his moves were a combination of Fred Astaire and Michael Jackson, with a little bit of Louis Armstrong thrown in with his frequent brow mopping from a cloth tucked into his back pocket. He engages the audience with verve and the audience responds, “I want you to sing after me. Baby, baby, baby.” And we did. Repeat after me, “Shout!” And we did. If he’d suggested we all followed him into the crystal clear waters off the Boardwalk of Christiansted harbour, we just might have.

It is hard to imagine this young man suffering the agonies of stage fright but he did, and still does, but has found ways to manage it. From cruise ship massage therapist to high-octane performer is quite a leap.

“Patrick and the Swayzees”, not it must be mentioned because of any great affinity to Dirty Dancing but because Isaman, McHone and Stecher – the original members – were playing around with ‘swayzee’ as an adjective, are part of the Saturday Sunset Series sponsored by Shupes and the Caravelle Hotel. Kudos to both for bringing light relief to St Croix after the torrid times of 2017.

I do hope “Patrick and the Swayzees” soon come again to the Boardwalk to have some fun! Because after a non-stop two-hour set, with Greene breaking from his powerful vocals and fabulous moves only occasionally to sip water whilst the rest of the band continued playing their hearts out, it was an evening of not only brilliant stars but brilliant entertainment.

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Christmas Treats

December 24, 2017 — Leave a comment

For many years my treat at this time of year was The Nutcracker, either performed by whoever my daughter was dancing with, and latterly, The Houston Ballet. This Christmas, I’m on St Croix and despite living opposite a dance studio, Tchaikovsky’s ballet is not on the dance card. And so I’ve found something else to satisfy my cultural thirst – and not just one performance.

There’s something about Sundays and music that goes together – whether it’s a church organ or, as has been my pleasure a couple of times lately, an afternoon of Colombian Cumbia, Brazilian Choro (street music), jazz compositions from the greats and original pieces inspired oftentimes by this remarkable music duo’s mode of transport. Their 43’ sloop – S/V Catherine.

This treat has been on offer for the last month at the Caribbean Museum of Culture and Arts in Frederiksted on the western end of St Croix. The venue is perfect for an afternoon of sometimes fierce, sometimes haunting, sometimes lyrical music – none of which it is possible to sit through without moving, at the very least, your toes. The music adds another layer to this elegant building exuding history through the thick walls which surround an inner courtyard. Art covers the walls of the upstairs gallery – at the moment a fascinating exhibition celebrating gay pride.

Through the open windows the hulking outline of the cruise ship housing FEMA, Red Cross officials and others who have responded to the call of St Croix’s need after the devastation of Hurricanes IrMaria, sits at the end of Frederiksted pier. Palm fronds, slowly straightening and growing back, sway in time to the music it seems, with the occasional bird flitting by as if curious to hear the freely floating melodies.

The current artists-in residence at CMCA are a husband and wife team, who play the piano until the historic walls positively quake, and who make a flute sing so sweetly as to bring tears. I believe their daughters are also musically-minded but I haven’t heard them perform yet. They are sometimes joined by local musicians – this last week by Junie Bomba on the conga drums.

Jarad and Christel Astin, aka Stell & Snuggs, met at the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts over twenty years ago and, until relatively recently, followed individual musical careers. Their life changed, dramatically, just as so many Virgin Islander’s lives have changed recently – due to mother nature. It was Hurricane Sandy who tore into the fabric of their existence but rather than bemoaning their misfortune, this intrepid couple turned their back on conformity and began their nomadic lives, making music wherever they happen to moor.

Their daughters are homeschooled afloat – and I’d hazard a guess, are getting an education that will stand them in wonderful stead. Resilience and adaptability being two traits that will get them through any number of adventures as they find their own feet, or maybe fins.

As I watched Jarad, so at one with the grand piano in the upstairs gallery, his fingers skimming, pounding or fluttering along the keys, I wondered whether he missed having access to such an instrument as he sails from gig to gig. And I would think traveling with an accordion has issues all of their own. Christel’s work tools would seem far more portable – a flute, a ukulele and her voice.

What did traveling minstrels do before iPads? A quick swipe and notes appeared – maybe Wayne Shorter’s Little Waltz – slow and haunting, or a lively salsa straight from Santiago de Cuba. “Music,” Jarad said when describing the Afro-Caribbean beat, “ which all came out of a trip taken on a boat that they didn’t want to take.”

The power might have fluctuated and then gone off but there was no fluctuation in the power of the music. An original composition, Love Piece, soared up then thundered down – perhaps a description of a brief but intense affair or maybe a long marriage.

Jarad’s comments between pieces continued to be thought provoking – “Jazz brings people together from all over the world, regardless of colour or race or creed” – if at times as odds with his slightly rakish look of shaggy hair cut and porkpie hat!

The final composition was another original written as he sailed across that notoriously rough stretch water along the west coast of France, without Christel. Called Sans Romance de Bay de Biscay, it brought to mind loneliness and longing, before moving into a lilting crescendo as presumably he neared home.

The Astins are not only talented musicians but actively involved in encouraging youth to express themselves through music. I truly hope they continue to moor up at St Croix both for what they can teach and for the pleasure they bring.

I might not have listened to Tchaikovsky or watched The Nutcracker this Christmas but I certainly didn’t miss out on a cultural musical tour.
Merry Christmas, and may 2018 bring magic and treats to you and yours, in all its forms!

Rise Up This Morning….

January 10, 2017 — 2 Comments

My father was a Gemini. As well as being a polyglot, he had an eclectic taste in music and the sounds from scratchy 45s and LPs was anything from Schubert to jazz, Bing Crosby to gamelan, Sousa to bierkeller oomp pah pahs and everything in between.

It is he who introduced me to calypso. Not, as you might think, sung by the Trinidadian greats of the day, the Mighty Sparrow or Lord Kitchener or even the American calypsonian Harry Belafonte, but rather the unlikely Danish – Dutch husband and wife duo, Nina and Frederik. I’m sure I never asked why a white couple sang calypso so convincingly. I learnt later calypso entered Frederik van Pallandt’s life when his father was the Dutch ambassador to Trinidad. The Danish connection came, not as I had thought, through historical links to the US Virgin Islands which were the Danish West Indies until 1917, but when Dutch Frederik fell in love with Danish Nina.

It is one of life’s ironies that my daughter now lives in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The country to which I swore I would not return after a year spent in the south, in San Fernando, in the mid 1980s. There is much beauty in the country but, for me, way back then it was a time of strange isolation. A difficult time politically with tensions between black and East Indian contingents. As tradition would have it, political commentary came through calypso and blared from speakers before, during and after Carnival.

When Kate extols the virtues of soca and ska, I remind her it was her parents who exposed her at an early age to the rhythms of the Caribbean. To Edwin Ayoung, aka Crazy, who won the 1985 Road March with Suck Meh Soucouyant and which we heard without cease when we lived there. For those unsure of the term, a soucouyant is a shape-changing character – by day a wrinkled old woman living in a shack surrounded by tall trees and by night, reverting to her true self and her pact with the devil, flies through the sky as a fireball searching for victims.

Trinidad and Tobago also lays claim to Calypso Rose. Born Linda McCartha Monica Sandy-Lewis in 1940, she started writing songs at 15, turned professional at 24, and at 76 and about 800 songs later claims, as the lyrics in Calypso Queen say, “my constitution is strong”.

St Croix has just celebrated Three Kings Day. Part of the Carnival activities include competing for the Festival Calypso Monarch. Won again this year by Temisha ‘Caribbean Queen’ Libert. Her entry, as others, took the opportunity to highlight flaws in local politics – a time-honoured calypso tradition no doubt a little uncomfortable for any politicians present. One of her songs, written by Carol Hodge, asked the question, “How could we smile? No way, no way”.

Another competitor, Campbell ‘King Kan Ru Plen Tae’ Barnes went so far as to say politicians were worse than Satan, suggesting some get elected by invoking obeah – sorcery, of the bad kind – perhaps similar to the type of interference reported in the presidential election!

It would seem, having heard Meryl Streep’s powerful speech at the Golden Globe Awards about the president-elect and his unvetted family and cohorts, that we need entertainers of every stripe to remind the rest of us to hold our politician’s toes to the fire. To not let them ride roughshod over We the People.

Though not a polyglot, I too am a Gemini with an eclectic taste in music. My father died a number of years ago but just maybe, one day, on a giant turntable in the sky, he will listen to a tragic (or perhaps comic) opera describing the events of the Trump presidency. Until that opera or calypso is written, I take comfort, as inauguration day looms, from the music of that other great Caribbean singer, Bob Marley. Because I have to believe “every little thing gonna be alright” and that, as Calypso Rose assures us, the “constitution is strong”!