Music buzz | Reviews (Jan/Feb 2024)

This month’s listening picks from the Caribbean — featuring reviews by Nigel A Campbell of new music by Chris St Hilaire; Asa Bantan & Kalash; Ava Hutchinson; and Sheriff & Erphaan Alves

Chris St Hilaire

Enspirited (Undependent)

Chris St Hilaire describes himself as “a White Trinidadian-American” multidisciplinary and multifaceted musician, and his rock pedigree has been present on albums since the late 2000s. Thankfully, like many hyphenated Caribbeans, you can take them out of the islands, but you can’t take the islands out of them. On this album, his debut full-length solo release of all originals, he takes his cues from legacy artists in Trinidad calypso and soca and Jamaican dub music — Lord Kitchener, Lancelot Layne, King Tubby, and more — to both acknowledge his heritage and to celebrate a Trinidadian musical aesthetic from the 1950s and beyond that resonates solidly here. Calypsos, in a style that harkens back decades, are sung lamenting modernism and materialism, and don’t sound hackneyed. Lyrics matter, as they ring of a subtle cynicism and hyperbolic hopefulness. Steelpan, parang, and chutney music are also featured on this journey to origins. Deceptively unique!

Asa Bantan & Kalash

Arretè Palè (Bouyon Boss Music) • Single

The beauty of the Kwéyòl language to English-only speakers is also the regret of existing with one language that does not fully address the Caribbean. The beauty of bouyon music, inside and outside of Dominica, is also the recognition that music of celebration at pre-Lenten island carnivals is a lot more than Trinidad soca. Dominican Asa Bantan, a superstar in the Creole lands, collaborates with France-born Martinican, Kalash, to bring a new song that will ultimately fire up the masquerader at carnival. The refrain — arretè palè kont moun, which translates to stop talk about people — repeated over a driving beat is a warning in any language: mauvais langue and gossip, rumour and innuendo have no place here. Bouyon music has an energy that moves bodies frenetically, as most carnival anthems do. And when music and message gel sans risqué lyrics, as they do here, the tune can move beyond seasons.

Ava Hutchinson

Of Live & Life (self-released)

Ava Hutchinson is a treasure in her native Trinidad & Tobago, carving out a niche as one of the few female jazz pianists leading a band. On this, her debut album, another side of Hutchinson is revealed: she is a talented composer, brave enough to bare her inner self in lyrics that transcribe her life and loves, good and bad. The melodies are noteworthy with a keen sense of style, and are enhanced by a production from innovative producer Roger Israel and a crack cohort of local musicians. That support becomes necessary to move the music towards a point of distinction, allowing the 18 songs here to provide a clearer picture of Hutchinson’s life. We are no longer left to wonder. Musical autobiographies can either be rigid relaying of facts as rhyming couplets, or figurative lines that allow listeners to fill in some blanks. This album captures a life with lyrics that sing, with words that neatly identify remembered relationships and emotional ups and downs. Revealing.

Sheriff & Erphaan Alves

The Answer (Damascus Media Ltd) • Single

Popular and important producer Sheriff (Keron Thompson) and rising soca star Erphaan Alves continue the idea of collaboration, so ubiquitous among a new generation of carnival music makers, as a template for spreading the music among a broader audience. Producer credits sharing the same billing as the singer give notice that this production is headlining stuff. “The Answer” samples the modern and oft-used Afrobeats rhythmic pulses, and elevates them with a sonic profile that both mimics South African amapiano and transforms soca into something that can find space on dance floors globally. Lyrically, we hear that the key to satisfaction is hearing what you want to hear. Questions become irrelevant. In a sense, belief is so strong, fiction can be our new reality. If life is a drama, and we are the actors / Well it’s a movie we on: Lights, camera, action, woi! In a post-truth world, the inevitable denouement is nigh, but until then, we dance.