Alexander D Great - The Night Watchman
|Artist:||Alexander D Great|
|Single/Title:||The Night Watchman|
|Date of Release:||2012/08|
|Label:||Lion Valley Records|
|Country of Release:||UK|
|Genre/s:||World | Caribbean | Trinidad & Tobago|
|Sub-Genre/s:||Calypso, Kaiso, Soca|
|Date of Review:||2012/08/14|
The Night Watchman
Reigning UK Calypso Monarch Alexander D. Great's The Night Watchman is released this month on Lion Valley Records, coinciding with his defence of his crown.
The album naturally includes the new calypso with which Alexander D. Great will be defending his title, Fifty Years (Living Independently), more about which in a moment or two. The Night Watchman presents this, together with the previous two winning titles, last year's Pan Woman On Trial (aka Trials Of A Pan Woman) and 2010's Haiti, plus two further new songs, Big Party For Your Diamond Jubilee - in celebration of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee - and the (musically) revolutionary New World Beat. The remainder of the album is given to newly recorded versions of titles ranging from 1985 to 2009, with the exception of 1999's Millennium Calypsonian which was recorded live at Canterbury Global Picnic. Apart from straight kaiso (calypso), there are also a few songs with distinct reggae and soul funk roots, one of the latter being sung by The Soca Divettes, usually backing singers.
All in all, The Night Watchman offers a superb blend of new and old, kaiso and 1980s style soca, soul funk and reggae beats. All eleven tracks are originals by Alexander D. Great, two of these co-written. Strong melodies, usually ideal for arrangement for steel pan - one of the features Alexander shares with his greatest influence, Trinidad's the late great Lord Kitchener, The Grandmaster himself - and outstandingly strong, well constructed lyrics distinguish the songs, superb interpretation and diction the performance. Ever since first coming onto the UK kaiso scene, Alexander D. Great has stood out well above the rest as the UK's finest calypsonian, who could hold his head high among the best in Trinidad & Tobago. Indeed, it would not be going too far to call him the British Grandmaster of Kaiso. I feel sure the revered 'Kitch' would approve.
The new calypso for this year's UK season, Fifty Years (Living Independently), the opener here, celebrates Trinidad & Tobago's fiftieth anniversary of independence (on 31st August). It deliberately and very successfully emulates the style of calypso of the 1960s, the only giveaways that it is contemporary being in the traps and of course the modern keyboards. It is an exquisite melody. The lyrics, traditionally always of prime importance in calypso, are not only superbly well constructed but also bound to be a real crowd pleaser at this time. Over all, Fifty Years (Living Independently) is somehow very reminiscent of that other great of the Trinidad calypso scene, 'de birdie' - The Mighty Sparrow - around the period of the early 1960s. (Think Jean And Dinah.) It is hard to see how Alexander D. Great could possibly not retain his crown with this superb calypso and become Monarch for a third successive year.
Of the other two new tracks, the charming Big Party For Your Diamond Jubilee, featuring the St. Charles RC Primary School Choir, Notting Hill, is a delightful celebration of the Diamond Jubilee, a very happy, joyous, and very traditional kaiso.
The other, New World Beat, is nothing short of revolutionary, at least in terms of calypso. Here, Alexander combines the four main constituents of Trinidadian culture, African, Indian, Chinese and European elements, into one whole, both musically and lyrically. The song is in a broadly 'raga' style. The twelve beat rhythm cycle is divided into 4x3, 3x4, and 6x2 beats - reflecting three different, common (North) Indian rhythmic cycles. Where this song is really revolutionary though is in that the chorus - traditionally always in calypso's 2/4 time or 'broken' 4/4 - partially falls into 3/4 time as a result! This is, as far as I am aware (and I have a fairly extensive memory of the kaiso tradition!), completely unprecedented. True innovation in calypso seemed to have stopped a long time ago, and the art form has, sadly, in the last decade and a half or so, generally been standing still, going nowhere. But here, in New World Beat, far from the home of kaiso, there is genuine innovation aplenty!
For those who would perhaps say that this 'is not kaiso,' I would remind them that we have heard this before. When (then) Lord Shorty (the late Ras Shorty I) introduced elements of soul into calypso and came up with soca back in the early 1970s, some people cried, 'not calypso.' When in the 1980s, Indo-Trinidadian singers combined 'chutney music' with soca to come up with 'chutney soca' (Drupathi Ramgoonai is generally credited with being the first - remember the massively popular Mr. Bisessar, for example!) again, even though very quickly widely adopted by several Afro-Trinidadian calypsonians (need one say Baron, Sugar Aloes, Crazy?) and one Syrian (Mighty Trini) to huge success, again, some bawled 'not calypso.' Of course, from a strictly musical POV all these pale compared to the imaginative, truly revolutionary innovation of Alexander D. Great's New World Beat. It is new. It is exciting. It opens exciting new ways forward for the calypso art form! (A good new 'course' for the good ol' University of Woodford Square, if it is still functioning...)
Last year's winning title, Pan Woman On Trial (aka Trials Of A Pan Woman), reviewed here last year, needs little further comment. In many respects a kind of homage to Kitch, it is also the most Kitch-like of Alexander's performances. For The Night Watchman, it has received a new, superior mix that exquisitely lifts out the pan.
The winning title of 2010, the exquisite, angry and heart-rending Haiti, is still as topical and relevant as it was the day it was conceived. More than two years after the devastating earthquake, the poor of Haiti are still pretty much left to rot, the world has conveniently forgotten about them, with much of the promised aid never materialising, and much of that which did probably as usual ending up lining the pockets of the rich who play ball with their paymasters. When will Haiti stop having to pay the price of the only wholly successful slave rebellion in modern history? When will Haiti stop being made to pay for the 'sins' of Toussaint L'Ouverture? When will the suffering stop?
Sadly, it would take too long to go into the remaining songs in detail. However, they are a wonderful collection, both older and newer songs, a kind of 'Best Of...' selection. The fact that they are not individually commented upon here should by no means be taken as meaning that they are somehow secondary to the others. This is not the case. They are every bit as excellent as the rest.
Over all, The Night Watchman is a beautiful album of amazing treasures and is as consistent as could be. More than compelling, this album is totally addictive and demands being played again straight away. The Night Watchman is full of charm, wit, humour, beauty, biting intelligence, as well as very catchy tunes and plenty of variety. Brilliant and exquisite, and far and away the best calypso album not coming from Trinidad and Tobago that I have yet encountered, by, ooh, lightyears. Oh, and lyrics for all songs are included on the inside of the sleeve, although the excellent diction surely makes them unnecessary; there are a few differences between printed and sung lyrics, and the print is near-microscopic, though.
A very firm favourite here that will get played over and over and often, Alexander D. Great's The Night Watchman is an absolute must have not only for the dedicated calypso connoisseur but also the general world music aficionado. Don't just beg, steal or borrow this gorgeous album - go and buy it!
1. Fifty Years (Living Independently) (Loewenthal 2012) - 6:57
Alexander D Great - lead vocals (exc. 5), keyboards, guitar (6, 8, 10), flute (8), backing vocals (1, 6, 9)
Debra Romain Ahmad (Pan Diva) - steel pan (2), backing vocals (2)
Wil Joseph - steel pan (1, 7, 10, 11), recorder (11)
Martin York - bass (1-9, 11)
Sara Loewenthal - bass (10), backing vocals (1, 7, 11)
Tim Cansfield - guitar (1-5, 7, 9, 11)
Joy Joseph - drums, percussion, backing vocals (7, 11)
Colin Graham - trumpet (3-5)
Trevor Walker - trumpet (1, 2, 9)
Mickey Ball - trumpet (7, 11)
Dave Bitelli - sax (1-5, 9)
Paul Bartholomew - sax (7, 11)
Magnus Dearness - trombone (1-5, 9)
Mike Kearsey - trombone (7, 11)
The Soca Divettes - vocals (5), backing vocals (3-5)
The Choir of St. Charles RC Primary School, North Kensington (8)
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