ON STAGE: Raf Robertson and Jesse Ryan. —Photos: GARY CARDINEZ

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Majesty Live

Calypso’s new lease on life

By Gary Cardinez

Keyboardist Raf Robertson and a group of musicians and singers mostly from Laventille and Morvant, breathed new life into calypso/kaiso music last Friday evening at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s.

The local genre was given a blood transfusion of sorts as the musicians and singers transformed the calypso art form with infusions by Robertson of contemporary jazz into its melodies and harmonies.

The event was Majesty Live, a dream Robertson envisioned since he released his album Majesty several years ago. The players in Robertson’s dream were Clint De Coteau (bass), Alpha Simpson (drums), Sheena Richardson (percussion), Jesse Ryan (saxophone), Mark Mosca (steeldrums), Lion and Redman (djembe) and Jonathan Storer and Simon Brown (strings).

The vocalists were Glenda Collens, Kevin Humphrey, Ian Baptiste, Deon Baptiste, Melene Joseph, Gerelle Forbes and Ruanne Cabralis.

 Robertson and his group performed six of the ten songs on the CD and added several others in the mix.

They started with Ras Shorty I’s “Endless Vibration” which was an indication of things to come. That was followed by word and song as Sparrow’s “Slave” was performed simultaneously with the reading of a poem in Creole by Adrian Augier of St Lucia and sung by visually impaired Nyol Manswell who has been a protegee of Robertson’s. 

Sparrow’s “Federation” mixed with Black Stalin’s “Caribbean Unity” was performed by Melene Joseph, (son of the late Sedley “Penguin” Joseph) and Kevin Humphrey with fantastic vocal arrangements. As the duo sang, images of former prime ministers of the region of the Federation era were shown on the backdrop of the stage. These included Robert Bradshaw of St Kitts, Grantley Adams of Barbados and Alexander Bustamante of Jamaica. It was intriguing to see the flag, the coat of arms and currency of the Federation with the face of a very young Queen Elizabeth II of England included in the images. From the bittersweet reality and failure of the Federation ideal and graduation to independence and Caricom it was brilliant social commentary with Robertson providing the conversation in music. 

Jesse Ryan (grandson of calypsonian Bomber) and a Berklee School of Music student played haunting melodies with each performance.

Saying he was overwhelmed by the presence of the audience Robertson gave thanks for helping him fulfill his dream. The music continued with Kitchener’s “Pan Explosion” with Marc Mosca on double tenor and Simon Brown and Jonathan Storer on violin.

Gerelle Forbes played the role of Kitchener’s “Margie” while Melene Joseph filled in for the Grandmaster and together they brought the house down. Robertson then asked the audience to help with the next selection as he reminisced how Trinidad used to be in “Portrait of Trinidad”. 

Ella Andal’s “Bring Down the Power” was performed by Glenda Collens with the chorus line showing extreme skill. The vocal arrangements presented throughout the show were something to behold.

After the intermission, the first guest artiste, Brother Valentino, came on stage to the music of “Life is a Stage” reminding the audience why this song has become a calypso classic.

Next was Relator who performed the cleverly written, tongue in cheek “China Syndrome” and his classic on the West Indies vs India test match played in Trinidad in the 1971 at the Queen’s Park Oval, Port of Spain. Titled “Gavaskar” the calypso chronicles the achievement of top Indian batsman Sunil Gavaskar who made his debut that year and broke all the batting records up to that time. Throughout the performance highlights of the memorable match were shown on the backdrop.

Kitchener’s “Pan Explosion” came next, then Manswell’s interpretation of Kitchener’s “Bad Impression” was well received by the audience. Ironically, though written years ago the chorus of “every day is murder, murder, police, police” seems more relevant to these times.

Robertson took the opportunity to let the audience know that the show was what he called a ‘Cuban Moment’, that is they (Cubans) do great things with little or no resources.  And his only goal is to encourage the youths to better themselves.

Sparrow’s “Memories” arranged by Jesse Ryan and sung by Joseph truly brought back feelings of nostalgia, again with images of Trinidad and Tobago in the background. “Fancy Sailor” by Clive Zanda is one of Robertson’s favourite songs and he gave it special treatment throughout the five minutes performance.

The keyboardist chose Andre Tanker’s “Forward Home” to close the show and again this one was treated with the respect and honour it deserved.

After the show one of the special guests in the audience South African musician/producer Hugh Masekela made it a point to meet Robertson. Masekela said he told Robertson he should develop Majesty Live into a full musical and take it on the road. Robertson ended the show by individually thanking not just the cast but everyone involved in the production.

Members of Golden Hands Steel Orchestra who were stationed in the lobby had earlier welcomed patrons to the show and at the end sent them off with sweet pan music as they exited the venue ground. “Fancy Sailor” by Clive Zanda is one of Robertson’s favourite songs and he gave it special treatment throughout the five minutes performance.

The keyboardist chose Andre Tanker’s “Forward Home” to close the show and again this one was treated with the respect and honour it deserved.

After the show one of the special guests in the audience South African musician/producer Hugh Masekela made it a point to meet Robertson.  Masekela said he told Robertson he should develop Majesty Live into a full musical and take it on the road. Robertson ended the show by individually thanking not just the cast but everyone involved in the production.

Members of Golden Hands Steel Orchestra who were stationed in the lobby had earlier welcomed patrons to the show and at the end sent them off with sweet pan music as they exited the venue.

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