For Toronto bound jazz great Etienne Charles there is more to Carnival than just parading through the streets of Port of Spain. No, for the Trinidadian trumpeter, the annual carnival is a source of profound inspiration for a musical tradition that dates back to colonial times.
The 35-year old trumpeter is coming to Toronto on November 16th for the North American launch Carnival: The Sound of a People Volume 1, his new CD and to perform it live at the 1,000 seat George Weston Recital Hall in North Toronto. The CD, recorded in part in Trinidad, has already been released to critical success in the Caribbean.
“Carnival is an ocean made up of so many different hybrid influences,” Etienne Charles told the Caribbean Camera late last week. “ In Toronto I want to make the statement that what you hear now isn’t all there is to Carnival. This CD (and my coming live performance) is all about the precursors to both the sounds of pan and calypso. It is a whole different world when you dig deep. I call it Volume One because there is more to come!”
Charles, who holds a master's of music degree from Juilliard and teaches at Michigan State University, was in Trinidad and Tobago in 2016 studying the nation’s musical Carnival traditions. Funded by a Guggenheim Fellowship, he made both audio and video recordings of some of the richest traditions of carnival to inspire his own jazz compositions.
His live recordings of the Claxton Bay Tamboo Bamboo Band and the Laventille Rhythm Section were incorporated into the studio recording sessions of this CD back in the US.
“Unfortunately, we can’t afford to bring everyone to Canada,” laughed Mr. Charles. “Just too many people to fly them up. They have played with us in Trinidad – I try to perform at home at four or five times a year.”
“The Tamboo Bamboo is a Trini percussion instrument made from bamboo. It is played with sticks and you can see how it is a precursor to the pan,” he continued.
Iron, is another made-in-T&T percussion instrument. Musicians originally kept a beat at the outdoor Pan Yards in Trinidad by striking car engines and brake drums with sticks. “ When it comes to iron there is no where else on earth you can hear it this good but in Trinidad. The size and the sound of the Laventille Rhythm Section is overwhelming.”
Charles was born and raised in Trinidad and although he credits his youthful involvement playing in his father’s pan orchestra exposing him to carnival, he thanks Toronto for introducing him to the trumpet.
"The reason I'm a trumpet player began when I was in trip to Toronto as a three-year-old," the trumpeter, recording star, composer, bandleader and teacher said in his Skyped interview with the Camera.“I visited an uncle and was able to make a sound on his saxophone. At age 10, the same uncle gave me a trumpet and a different musical life opened up, one that incorporated new sounds with calypso as its root.”
Charles moved up to Florida when he ws 19. There he studied music and began playing jazz. He has now recorded 6 CDs, has performed at the White House and has won many accolades. Earlier this month he received the New York City Caribbean Sunshine Award for excellence in the performing arts.
“I was kind of out of the carnival loop from about 2002 to 2010, but I got back into playing in Atlanta and Miami. I went to England for the Nottingham Hill Carnival.” He said. “ It was this project that brought me back to Trinidad. I have played in Carnival both last year and this. We were on a float with over 1,000 people playing mas in the street with us. David Rudder was there with me -- it is going to be even bigger next year!”
When Charles comes to Toronto he will hold a free panel discussion prior to his evening performance. He will be talking about Carnival, the CD and his impressive jazz career.
When he does take to the Sony Centre’s George Weston Theatre he will have five musicians performing with him including Larnell Lewis one of Canada’s most well known and in-demand drummers. Lewis has garnered international status with his most recent work with the three-time Grammy Award winning band, Snarky Puppy.
Also on stage will be three of the best traditional Mas performers in the world – Tracey Sankar, Steffano Marcano and Abby Charles. Tracey Sankar is a fire breather and in 2015 was the Trinidad’s winner of a Traditional Mas award. Steffano Orlando Marcano is a young Blue Devil performer from the hills of Paramin in Trinidad and will appear with Abby Charles (Etienne Charles’s sister) who performs as the Fancy Sailor.
The Etienne Charles – Carnival: The Sound of a People pre-show talk runs from 6.45 – 7.30 at the Sony Centre’s George Weston Recital Hall (5040 Yonge Street, North Of Sheppard Avenue. The ticketed concert begins at 8pm.