If I wanted to make my mother Celia steups, I would tell her that Sparrow was better than Kitchener. Of course I did not mean it because I became a Carnival piong when they both ruled town.
This column focuses on Kitchener because this year is the 100th anniversary of his birth. I respectfully join all those who have paid tribute to him, particularly the impressive contributions to the Trinidad Express newspaper’s special section on Kitchener in last Monday’s edition.
Having ‘disguised’ as a child, my first year on the road in a mas’ band was in my teens. That year Mama Dis is Mas was road march. That Kitchener song was also the tune of choice of North Stars (also known as Pan Am North Stars) who won Panorama that year. I was not yet a Panorama piong.
From my outings to the Music Festival with my Auntie Lorna, I was, however, well aware of the greatness of North Stars. The thing is, though, Despers also played Mama Dis is Mas and their arrangement was available on a 45rpm record. Playing that while sticking cocoyea into headpieces is an enduring memory of my Carnival teens.
Several decades subsequently, the late Eddie Yearwood interviewed me on radio, curious to match my profile to my love and appreciation of pan—by then well known as a result of these columns and my liming in panyards.
In response to his invitation to have him play something, I asked for Despers’ Mama Dis is Mas’. Immediately after it was played on air, a caller to the programme firmly informed me that I should be asking for that tune played by Highlanders.
By then I had met Bertie Marshall at a function and, many years after, I was asked to review some lease arrangements concerning Highlanders, one of the great bands in reduced circumstances but in a spirited revival mode.
The golden thread running through these reminiscences is the eternal life of Kitchener’s music. Moreover, as Aldwyn Albino has shown by playing Kitchener’s music on piano in classical mode, the ‘Grandmaster’ is adaptable for any purpose.
The use of Caribbean music—either in its original or adapted mode—in the recording industry, ads, movies and TV series is a potential source of exposure for our music and our country as well as a source of earnings.
By way of examples (although none are suitable for children or conservative adults), in Minx Season 1 Episode 2, to my delight, Kitchener’s The Road, was briefly part of the episode’s soundtrack.
Before that, I had learned of the Jamaican artiste Gyptian through an episode of Insecure in which his Hold Me was part of the soundtrack. Note too Denise Belfon’s work being part of the collaboration between Megan Thee Stallion and Shenseea.
Due to Covid, I have watched many more movies and TV series than usual and I have taken to keeping on the subtitles better to appreciate the musical works used or adapted, as part of the sound track and accompanying lyrics.
It is to be emphasised that the pressure for diversity in the movie and TV business makes this a fertile time to promote our music, location and festivals in the North American market. I have written about the export and economic diversification potential of our music so many times, but, as a top-flight regionally based economist and public intellectual recently explained to me, our leaders have little interest in anything other than the industrial model.
I would add that, while in bondage to the industrial model, our jokers are unrealistically smug about our declining Carnival product—lacking appreciation of the potential for its constituent skills to be taken further into the worldwide marketplace. That may be an underlying reason why Kitchener has not been recognised for the highest national award.
One might argue that he is better off without it when so many in the kaiso world have sold out or been forced to sell out to the State. What is more pressing now, as a media compere of mine insists, is a conservatory of Kitchener’s music to keep his music alive and transferred through the generations here and abroad.