Bunji’s big boost
Bunji Garlin, aka Ian Alvarez, has attained a significant milestone with his Best International Performance victory at the Soul Train Awards.
While not the ultimate accolade of a Grammy, this is the first time a local artiste has copped a prize of such international standing. Moreover, it is an award which the 35-year-old performer well deserved. Bunji’s ability to chant lyrics extemporaneously matches and surpasses the classic and contemporary extempo calypsonians, but he has also been able to match his lyrics to melody, perhaps best expressed in his perfectly paced 2013 hit, “Differentology” .
Bunji first entered the soca arena 15 years ago with “Send Dem Riddim Crazy”. Since then, he has produced and collaborated on many hit songs, becoming a leading performer in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean. The Differentology album, long before the Soul Train accolade, had been greeted by fans as indicative of a new level of excellence.
What is particularly significant about this accomplishment is that Bunji has always been a serious-minded artiste. Unlike the majority of soca performers, who deliberately aim to produce mindless lyrics that will be a hit with the Carnival crowds, Bunji’s songs have always been about something, even if on the surface they may seem mere fun and froth. In this regard, he follows in the finest tradition of Golden Age calypsonians such as Spoiler and The Roaring Lion, and later icons such The Mighty Sparrow and Shadow.
Interviewed about his win, Bunji asserted that, “This was for my family and this is for my fans and this is for my country.” He also had some comments about the local music industry, advising that artistes had to get away from the pressure to produce a song every year for the Carnival season, since this resulted in work of lower quality. For Bunji, the creation of a good song requires time and a good song should outlast the season. This obviously happens, if at all, for only a tiny minority of soca hits.
Given his talent and his commitment, Bunji Garlin, at this moment, is T&T’s most important ambassador for getting this country better known internationally in respect of our musical offerings. But therein lies the problem, for such marketing cannot rest on the shoulders of one individual and his one award. T&T’s performers can only become known outside the limited soca audiences overseas by aiming for high quality and by establishing links in international music circles, especially in the United States and Britain.
Those in charge of promoting T&T should therefore utilise this short-lived opportunity to ride on Bunji’s laurels, while Bunji himself should resist boarding any political carousel and continue to focus on his art.