“[…] From the very first note, a Rudder song grabs your soul, and never lets it go. He gave us the anthem that still rallies West Indians near and far. He beseeched us to appreciate our neighbours, and to empathise with them in their times of struggle. He used calypso music to define calypso music.
“[…] He continuously strives to elevate our Caribbean consciousness, and he gave us the key to living harmoniously in a multi-ethnic society: ‘let you be you, and I’ll be me’. Dr David Michael Rudder is the very definition of a cultural icon…”
The following are remarks by Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs Dr Amery Browne to iconic Trinidad and Tobago calypsonian David Michael Rudder who was awarded with the Order of the Caribbean Community (OCC) on 10 August 2022:
Can you hear a distant drum,
Bouncing on the laughter, of a melody,
And does the rhythm tell you come come come come
Does your spirit do a dance,
To this symphony?
Dr Gordon Rohlehr, respected academic, researcher and writer on calypso describes the art-form “as a mirror that reflects, and as a lens that either magnifies or reduces the phenomena on which the nation’s restless and excitable psyche feeds.”
Calypso emerged at a particular historical conjuncture in Trinidad and Tobago and was once considered by some to be the province only of those who belong to a certain class.
Today, we have the pleasure of according due recognition and honour to an outstanding calypsonian whose music has delighted the hearts and uplifted the minds of untold millions across the world.
This living genius exploded onto the musical and social landscape of Trinidad and Tobago in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and over the decades it has become pellucidly evident that his talent and impact had no limit whatsoever.
I am proud to say that this master of the art-form is one of us. A proud son of Trinidad and Tobago, and a giant of the Caribbean Community.
From the very first note, a Rudder song grabs your soul, and never lets it go. He gave us the anthem that still rallies West Indians near and far. He beseeched us to appreciate our neighbours, and to empathise with them in their times of struggle.
He used calypso music to define calypso music.
With his unique and timeless lyrics and melodies, he calls attention to the plight of the common man and conveys the power we wield when we stand up and send a message. He continuously strives to elevate our Caribbean consciousness, and he gave us the key to living harmoniously in a multi-ethnic society: “let you be you, and I’ll be me”.
Dr David Michael Rudder is the very definition of a cultural icon. A name synonymous with Caribbean pride—pride in the heritage, diversity and beauty of the peoples inhabiting these islands, our islands, whose shores are washed by the waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Born on 6 May 1953, one of nine children, David Rudder grew up in an area commonly known as Freetown in Belmont, Trinidad. His childhood seemed to map the influences that would guide his conscience, and colour his music.
He was baptised three times: as a Baptist by his grandmother, as an Anglican by his mother, and as a Catholic in school. And thus he is amiably called Reverend David Rudder by many of his followers.
He lived in close proximity to a pan yard and a Shango yard—elements that would be at the foundation of his work. Those vibrations gave us the sound that is distinctly him. Indeed, Belmont is the cradle from which many who excelled in the arts originated.
Belmont was the incubator, the place where the commingling of diverse influences nurtured gifts that must be acknowledged as divine.
David Rudder is the consummate creative, having interest and talent in visual arts such as painting and sculpture as well as in performance art. He was an apprentice to the late Ken Morris, a master craftsman known for his copper work and exquisite Carnival designs.
David Rudder’s musical trajectory can be traced back to his participation in singing competitions at school, where at the age of nine he was already able to enthral audiences—confirming for those who were paying attention, that something great was in emergence.
Eventually even those who were not paying attention would find themselves riveted, transported. In my quiet moments I like to think that there was something in our souls that was calling him; and he answered the call.
At the age of 11, he went to sing with a group called The Solutions. In 1977 he joined the pioneering calypso band, Charlie’s Roots—originally as a temporary replacement for the great Christopher “Tambu” Herbert, but then he stayed on as a co-lead singer.
In Charlie’s Roots, Rudder demonstrated his burgeoning talent in both composing songs, and performing on stage. While earning a living as an accounts clerk at the bus company, Rudder was a very good backup singer in the calypso tent run by Lord Kitchener, who is rightfully revered as one of the grandmasters.
Rudder worked behind the scenes in calypso tents and studios, year after year, before his cataclysmic 1986. In that year, his album “The Hammer” smashed its way into the consciousness of our people. It gave us timeless hits such as “The Hammer” and “Bahia Girl”, and enabled him to be the very first artiste to capture all the major competition titles in the same year: Young King, Calypso Monarch, and Road March King.
Amazingly, he also had the winning Panorama tune of that year. You couldn’t hide from him, you couldn’t escape him. And you didn’t want to… because very good had become great.
David Rudder also became known as one of the best dressed, most stylish, and classiest singers of our region, and his stage presence was often amplified by the exquisite African-style tunics that he wore, fashioned by local designers.
This demonstrated and demonstrates to this day his full commitment to the arts, in so many diverse aspects. Authentic in every regard and genuine in every respect. He took his gifts up the islands, and across the continents.
In the year 1992, David Rudder was awarded the Trinidad and Tobago Hummingbird Silver Medal in recognition of his unfailing contributions to uplift the roots of calypsonian culture. And in 1996, he was appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Development Programme.
Through his music, David Rudder has played a most significant role in exporting Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean to the wider world. He was also one of the pioneers of soca music, which is a prominent feature of carnivals within our region and far beyond.
The band Charlie’s Roots accompanied Peter Minshall’s Carnival Band on Carnival Mondays and Tuesdays and Rudder’s music was essential to the unique performances of the masqueraders in those costumes.
There are singers that can raise your spirits, and there are singers that can sweeten the mood. Every good DJ knows that if you want to do both at the same time: it’s “Rudder time”.
David Michael Rudder is not just a genius performer but also a master collaborator with others in his field. He has been featured time and time again in countless magazines, journals and features, such as the British Sunday Observer and Guardian, the Barbados Nation, the Jamaican Gleaner, Germany’s Berliner Morgenpost, the Los Angeles Times, Stern Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Billboard magazine, Class, Ebony Magazine, and Newsweek.
He has performed in just about all of the historic venues across North America, Europe, and Japan.
His repertoire even transcended the calypso stage into the film industry. He starred in a television drama entitled Sugar Cane Arrows, which was a pioneering Trinbagonian drama aired in the United States of America. He also wrote songs for the Hollywood movie Wild Orchid.
Aside from winning prestigious awards and being featured in myriad shows and in the print media, David Rudder has been studied by music critics and academics alike. In 2015, he was awarded a Doctor of Letters honoris causa by The University of the West Indies, for his outstanding works and contributions to society.
This is just a snapshot of David Rudder. A man whose music transcends culture, race, and class. An icon who poetically chronicled much of our region’s struggles, such as the problems arising from the World Trade Organization’s ruling against the concessions offered under the Lomé Convention.
He also immortalised the then immortal West Indies cricket team. He gave them an anthem; he gave us who love the West Indies the lyrics and melody of an emotional cauldron: in that one song you smile warmly, and your eyes fill with tears.
Joy, despair, hope, love. He gave us the songs of who we are. He gave us the songs of what we could be. He has given us the songs of our lives.
A living legend who, in one lyrical flow, captures what makes us good, bad, and great. A chemist of the meaningful who with seeming ease is able to distill and bottle our great Caribbean aspiration, and then gift it to us, feed it to us, pour it upon us, immerse us in it, like a baptism, every time he hits the stage, and every time we press play.
David Rudder was given the moniker “King David” by the Mighty Sparrow, a fitting connection to the biblical King David’s acclaim as the great musician.
King David, your contribution has marked us all. Your life’s work is enduring. You have given us the songs of our lives.
You continue to inspire we the people of the Caribbean Community to see ourselves for who we are, and to reach for what we must become.
One of my most joyous moments was when the Heads of Government of Caribbean Community, approved this recommendation of the Prime Minister and Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, to confer the highest award of Caricom, the Order of the Caribbean Community, to Dr David Michael Rudder.
Editor’s Note: The Order of the Caribbean Community was initiated in 1987 as the region’s highest award and it is conferred upon Caribbean nationals for outstanding contributions to the development of the region. The award can only be held by 15 living awardees at any time and, prior to 2022, had not been conferred in 10 years. Recipients are conferred with the styling The Honourable and post-nominals OCC.
Members of the Order are accorded the privilege of free movement among Caribbean member states and issued with a travel document with similar status to a diplomatic passport. They also have the right to reside in and be gainfully employed in any Caribbean member state, as well as the right to acquire and dispose of property, as would citizens of that country.
Past recipients of the OCC include: Sir Garfield Sobers, Lloyd Best, Dame Eugenia Charles, Slinger “The Mighty Sparrow” Francisco, Brian Lara, George Lamming, Sir Vivian Richards, Sir Derek Walcott, George Lamming, Kamaluddin Mohammed, and Professor “Rex” Nettleford.
Excellent article. Should be required reading and research in the Social Sciences.
Many thanks for this …
great article…great speech for a great artist.