Sunday, February 22, 2015

The hooligans, the lovers and the man-in-charge

Through my kitchen window I see the story unfold before me. Many are oblivious to the siege that is happening, right outside my window, in plain sight for anyone to see. Everyday, it's a battle for territory, for food and shelter. Everyday, it is a battle to survive. The authorities know absolutely nothing of this. The players in this story are rather inconspicuous, they conduct their affairs under the radar, planning their next move, plotting and scheming each other. It's inconceivable to think that they have so much to fight about, that they don't get along. How long this has been going on, no one can say.

It's taken me a while to identify all the various characters in this scenario, but I've put them in two main groups – the hooligans and the lovers.

The hooligans – there's three in this group, you won't believe it, but even though they're supposed to be peaceful, Doves are hooligans, yes, they're always jumping on each others backs and attacking one another for space in the garden. They jump on the kitchen window ledge as if to ask us 'Where's the food?' They raise their wings at any other birds and even their own kind at the first sign of trouble. They run around in circles chasing each other. They make absolutely no sense.

Next comes the Kiskadees, they perch on the lime tree, wait, then swoop down to steal food from everyone else and they grab the whole lot. They move in groups of threes and make enough noise to wake the dead. Their only saving grace is that they are quite comical amongst themselves.

But the real hoodlums in this group are the blackbirds - beady, yellow eyes. I was in utter disbelief the day one puffed up all his feathers and stared at me with his mouth open as if getting ready to strike, I quickly ran inside. And yet another time, one pecked my head while I was walking. They move in packs, stealing the neighbour's dog food, soak it in the water container on the lawn, then proceed to eat the soggy dog pellets, and hence the idea of a flock of birds is nonsense. They're a pack of blackbirds, like wild dogs, and they're dangerous. When they land and comb the area by mid-morning, every other bird flees in fear of their life.

Luckily, the lovers are smart and quick to manoeuvre away from danger. Thankfully, they outnumber the hooligans. The green, blue and white-lined Tanagers, the spectacled Thrush, the yellow Oriole, the Bananaquit and the Hummingbird.

The Oriole, Bananaquit and Hummingbird are loners. They have the sweetest whistle and never disturb the others. Although I've noticed the Oriole likes to peck at my garbage, so it's noted here he's got a sanitation problem. The Hummingbird just sits on a lone branch on the lime tree and turns his head from side to side, as if just observing what's going on. The spectacled Thrush knows that the apple-cores and bread are coming from me. He and others of his kind come to the window whenever I throw down food, almost as if to say 'thanks'. They bathe in the drinking water daily, jumping in and out numerous times. Recently the Thrushes have started challenging the Kiskadee for food, which is also quite comical and rewarding to see, a lover being a fighter when needed.

The strangest thing is, they all share the same tree to bear their children, it's almost as if they have a peace treaty when it comes to having offspring, that and a time-sharing option on the Exora tree. Food and water are grounds for war, but not the rearing of children.

Occasionally there's a baby owl or a huge corn bird that visits and thus wrecks havoc in the order of this 'community'. When that happens there's mass confusion and the Kiskadees ring the warning bells. They then assemble and try to chase away the strangers. It's quite the entertainment - war in the garden.

But everyone jumps to attention when a Mimus Gilvus (Tropical Mockingbird) comes along. Maybe it's the grey tail that sticks out so dignified at a 45 degree angle, maybe it's how upright he stands. He spreads his wings in a two-step fashion, almost as if preparing for flight, then runs along hurriedly. He is fearless and swift. Whenever a Mimus lands, birds scatter. I had a conversation with a Mimus once, it was raining and we whistled back and forth for over ten minutes, looking at each other through the window. He probably thought 'Man, that's a weird bird!' But he's my choice for the man-in-charge. I know some may disagree, but after careful consideration and thorough observation, I can only cast my vote in the Tropical Mockingbird's direction. When it's a clear sunny day, he will stand atop the tallest tree and whistle his song for nearly an hour, without a care in the world.

So, whenever I go into the garden nowadays and the black birds watch and size me up for an attack, I tell them very sternly 'Hey, I know the man-in-charge, so watch it there guys!' They usually back off, mumbling to themselves.

And that's why, it's always important to know someone at the top, especially the man-in-charge.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Saxophone No. 1

On this eve of Trinidad's 2015 Carnival, please allow me to post a video of our dying art form…..kaiso

Behold the genius of Lord Kitchener…..

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Freetown is in the wrong country

I haven't been out to a live show in Trinidad since last Christmas when I went to see my favourite local band - JOINT POP. They're still fighting the good fight. They're the last of only a handful of bands still standing.

Thursday, 5th February was a show at the infamous Mas Camp Pub - the home of calypso, the home of kaiso, where along with a few tents back in early days of the 20th Century, our music began, our heritage. There was a show being put on by the NEW FIRE promotion, led by Gerry Anthony of WIRK (West Indian Rhythm Konnection). There were two acts - Freetown Collective and Mistah Shak.

I unfortunately left after Freetown so I cannot comment of Mistah Shak.

Last time I saw Freetown they were a guitar playing duo, but on Thursday they were a five piece. Still two guitars and lead vocals - Muhammad Muwakil and Lou Lyons, but also three female singers - Shanna Joseph, Tishanna Williams and Malene Joseph.

They were excellent! Lyrically and melodically brilliant, a rare gem in a country that favours noise and smut lyrics, especially at this carnival season. The only thing that was missing for me was some sort of beat - drums or percussion, and perhaps a bassist. But I thought they were amazing. I only heard them once before, but I was totally blown away at Muhammad's voice, and how he flowed his lyrics. A real performer, and Lou is a very interesting and creative guitarist/songwriter. The harmonies were well crafted and interwoven.

This show was meant to showcase talent other than soca artistes. There was a decent turnout, people were attentive to what was going on. It was a great show!

I know this is carnival season, so now is the time of the soca artiste, just like Christmas season in Trinidad is the time of the Parandero and parang.

After carnival used to be the time for all other musicians in Trinidad to do their thing - jazz, rock, folk.

I don't see much of that anymore to be honest.

And what I cannot shake from my head is this - here's another great indie, underground band, very much Trinidadian, very much unique, very fresh and very talented, and where are they going? Where is there room for them in Trinidad? The answer is nowhere.

Trinis just don't have the mental capacity to understand and appreciate live, indie, original music. They only have tolerance for soca.

Soca - by and large is an insult to what kaiso started out as, but that's another blogpost entirely. Back to Freetown.

Like so many bands and solo artists before them, so many over the last two decades that have come and gone, without a trace.  Few remember all these bands. Their music can sometimes be found in a die hard fan's home, on a cassette, a CD or a stolen MP3. But there's not a single band from 1995 (the best era that ever existed for local, underground music in Trinidad), nor 2010 (the next resurgence of great original bands) that exists today.

And I think of Freetown, like so many others before them, and all I can do is mourn for them and for everyone else who used to be in music. Some gave it up. Some migrated. Some disappeared.

Freetown, on behalf of all the other musicians in Trinidad, do yourselves a favour - keep your art form alive, but move to a country that appreciates live, original music.

Trinidadians only know about a fun time, drinks, dancing and prancing.

If you don't believe me, here's a list of some of the original bands that existed but are no more. What killed them? Simple. Trinidad did.

From 1995 onwards - Oddfellows Local, Orange Peel Groove, Babylon Pig, Bleed, Smith Tuttle, Green, Brothers Grimm, Bloodshed, Virus, Setiva, Flying Crapaud, Jaundis - I, Joint Pop, Orange Sky, Big Eyed Grieve, Lanyap, Incert Coin, Tamper Evident, Alexis Machine, 12, Gregory's Dream, Alien L, Atheleny, Gyazette, Skid Nevely, Vox Deus, Tripped and Falling, Heir Perpet, Transylvania Zoo, The Tide, Chaos Room, Checklist.

I'm sure I'm missing many names but there's only three bands left from that list. Where did everyone else go? Did everyone get out of music? If they did, it's because there's no way to support oneself with music in Trinidad, unless you play soca, and there's no originality in that. Only gimmicks and rubbish lyrics, set to win a prize in the carnival season. How myopic can we be?

So please, take my advice.

Trinidad kills original, indie music.

If you want your career to grow, then find a way out of this place.

This post is also for all those great bands that existed, but sadly never really went anywhere.

How I miss 1995 and 2010, such great years.

My fellow Trinis, other than the few hundred of us that followed the underground scene religiously, you'll never know what great music you all missed out on, if you all had just opened your mind.

How I mourn for my country where music is concerned.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Persist. Persist. Persist.

Analyse. Define. Think. Re-think.

Question. Debate. Identify. Don't judge or criticize. Be gentle.

Determine solution(s). Have an open mind to change and various options.

View all ideas with equanimity.

Observe all emotions - don't act on any. Resist the urge to be rash or temperamental.

Stop living in the past. Stop it now.

Be patient with yourself. Be really understanding with yourself. Dig deep within. Don't look at how far you have to go, celebrate how far you've come.

Even if you fall again, say to yourself that things are improving. Say this over and over until you believe it.

Change perception. Hope for better.

Start again. Slowly. Remove all mental blocks. Don't look at the problems - real or imagined. Envision the result. Temporarily ignore barriers to achieving desired outcome. Don't berate yourself. Forgive all who have hurt you - whether they're aware of it or not.

Give thanks to God.

Be grateful - for everything including all the pain and heartache. View both as tools to helping you improve.

Seek always to improve. Hone your skills.

Use all alone time to focus on your craft.

Create. Create. Create.

Resist the temptation to procrastinate or stagnate.

Force yourself to do the work to get to where you're supposed to be.

Don't make any lame excuses.

Say thanks even for the blessings still to come.

Persist. Persist. Persist.

No matter what.