This month’s listening picks from the Caribbean — featuring new music by Leon Foster Thomas; Monique La Chapelle; Fay-Ann Lyons; and Kevon Carter
Leon Foster Thomas
Calasanitus (Krossover Jazz)
The steelpan, as an instrument to translate emotion into sound, does not get the high-profile notice that, say, a violin or piano gets. With a history of not yet 100 years, that may be inevitable — but in the hands of a master, one can hear the expressive potential of the instrument. Thomas’ rapid-fire dexterity takes a back seat to his improvisational elan on this, his fourth album, to let his compositions breathe and his guest soloists fly. The album is a tribute to his late mother and her imparted life lessons, and its songs follow a range of ideas and moods — from heartache to joy, contemplation to memory. Steelpan, piano, saxophone and trumpet dramatically converse with each other to tell stories: a parent’s sacrifice, an immigrant’s dream, the migrant’s challenges, a happy evocation of childhood, a meditation on the end of Caribbean life, and more. This mature reflection — both good and sad, all well played — makes this album a keeper.
Monique La Chapelle
The Hopeful Romantic (self-released)
The Hopeful Romantic plays like a musical autobiography, or a song diary where personal stories are made public. The arc of a relationship is explored over these seven songs: wishing for love, falling in love, being in love … These nuanced distinctions are reflected in lyrics that speak to her having lived this range of emotions — culminating in the recognition that not all young love is eternal. The decline into and rebound from sadness in this song cycle are completed in a duet with Zachary de Lima, offering a male perspective on the possibilities unfulfilled. Superb production value places this album in a category above many others; playlist inclusion should be a no-brainer. La Chapelle’s vocal phrasing works effectively and emotively on these songs. Fine pop sensibility and a touch of island vernacular on the standout track, “It Doh Matter”, make this a grand debut album from a young Trinidadian singer/songwriter who has something to say.
The HuU Project: Human Unlimited (Bad Beagle)
There is an open-ended conversation on what constitutes a soca artist. A singer of Carnival songs, a soca singer from the islands, a modern calypsonian? Fay-Ann Lyons is a major soca artist who continues to challenge definitions of the music, bending the accepted rules to create new boundaries for what is possible for soca and modern calypso music in the global marketplace. And her bona fides are top notch too — three T&T Road Marches and a Soca Monarch title. This four-track EP, exclusively done for the Apple Music Home Sessions project and now widely available, has a tantalising diversity of rhythms and producers (Guyana, Ghana, USA) that were used to make this collection widely appealing. Ghanaian producer Kofi Black gives “Over You” an island chill with hints of Afrobeats; his countryman Drillyx Beatz puts a soaring sax on “Island Girl”, making the Antillean metropolitan and cool. Two more jams showcase island music’s future sound.
Welcome Back (XplicitMevon) • Single
…the Carnival spirit saying, ‘welcome back again.’ Those words drive this catchy soca single and define what is said to be the “mother of all Carnivals” in 2023, as Trinidad Carnival will be coming again in full force after a two-year pandemic hiatus. Today we out here looking for more than a taste / ‘Cause we love we Carnival, we love we bacchanal. These lyrics will put a smile on the faces of locals who remember that in 2022, a dull experiment — Taste of Carnival — was tried. To all others, it is an appeal to return to the island since the joy and party atmosphere unique to this festival will be back in full swing. When pop music meets soca, as it has been doing for years, good things can happen. Add Carter’s high tenor pop voice, and you have something better. The synth sound of a reverberating muted guitar dances throughout, giving this track a memorable earworm. This could be an invitation for 2023 and beyond.
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