Local Lives #22 A horn man came to Carnival… Photographs and story by Mark Lyndersay. Originally published in the T&T Guardian on March 10, 2017.
Tuning the thought It starts a bit like a nursery rhyme. Etienne arrived on a Saturday. He rehearsed on a Sunday. He took to the road with a full band on a Monday. As to whether that was the end or a beginning…well that’s a story that’s still to be told. Etienne Charles began his journey to climbing aboard a 40-foot Carnival trailer in February of 2016 while researching his Guggenheim Fellowship work, Carnival: Sound of a People. It was his first full Carnival season back home in 15 years, and it irked him to see not a single brass band performing as he walked the streets on Carnival Tuesday. “I grew up to the sounds of Charlie’s Roots, Traffik, Atlantik, Rukshun, Sound Rev and many of the other brass bands that used to come out on the road [on] Monday and Tuesday,” he said. “It was a scream to see real musicians going through their paces on the road.” “We have a generation of adults now in Trinidad who have never seen a live brass band on the road. If children only hear music coming out of speakers and not instruments, they’re being short changed culturally. So I wanted to bring that back.” “Men and women used to make a healthy chunk of their year’s salary playing in fetes with bands and on the road. I’m hoping we can revive the live tradition as it adds such a huge element to what Carnival is about.” “My first calls were to David and Leston who I’ve idolized since I was small. Once they were in, I put the band together. It’s basically the same band that did a show at Kaiso Blues [Café] last year when I was home in January 2016. Keith [Prescott] and Lima work regularly with my calypso group in the US and so they’re solid in my corner.” “We’re all on the same mission, to bring quality live music back to the people, and hopefully introduce the next generation to what inspired us to play music.”
Brass hits the road There seemed to be no shortage of hiccups as the musicians gathered around the 40-foot truck that would be their home for the day. “I was stunned when I saw the truck,” Tony Rollins admitted, gazing at the activity on the trailer bed from across the street. Rollins, from New York, was recruited by Etienne Charles to man the sound board for the day and worked alongside Robin Foster to prep the band’s working environment. Foster’s first job was to make space for the band. The truck, outfitted in standard DJ mode was stuffed with huge black speakers and offered little room for the 15 musicians who would be working there. His first move was to direct the disconnection of a layer of speakers from the rear half of the truck, which left just enough room to squeeze the band in, standing room only, save for drummer KJ Marcelle. As the masquerader numbers sharply increased a decision was made to bring in a second music truck, one that would repeat the live music via a WiFi connection. That idea worked for a while, then began to get drop outs on the road and the truck was relegated to DJ control. It was clear, though that the 1,000 assembled were not there to be led by the authoritative whomp of recorded soca but to be entertained by musicians who had already proven their value on the concert stage and were now being tested on a rolling platform. “You have to feel the people, I was watching them, to see when to slow down, when to pick up pace, when to go vintage, when to go 80’s, 90’s etc.” “[You] also have to pace the musicians. It was my first time doing such a long set. The first set was more than 2 hours, and we didn’t stop the rhythm once. We started with an F jam to soundcheck, and once we had vocals in the mix we hit Rainorama, the masqueraders sang lyric for lyric note for note.” “That was a magical moment for me.”
The Band Etienne Charles - Trumpet Shaka Charles - Trombone Tony Woodroffe Jr - Saxophone David Rudder, Vocals Lima Calbio - Vocals Keith ’Keet Styla’ Prescott - vocals Leston Paul - Keyboards Dean Williams - Guitar Neil Payne - Guitar Clint DeCoteau - Bass guitar KJ Marcelle - Drums Kayode Charles - Congas Ernesto Garcia - Congas Chris Wilcox - Percussion Pasquale Landeau - Percussion, Gilbert Ravello.