Trinidad musician David Rudder: Calypso as commentary

Rudder wants to narrow the divide between different Caribbean nations, Debbie Ransome writes for the BBC World Service.

Calypso, the good-time party music played at carnivals across the world, should also strike a more serious note, says leading Trinidad musician David Rudder.

Rudder believes it is important to return to the roots of social commentary in calypso developed by African slaves.

“That’s what calypso is about really, dealing with news and current affairs issues,” Rudder told the BBC.

“Just making notes on things, on life as it passes by.”

This view infuses Rudder’s latest album, Random Notes, which marks key events in recent Caribbean history and covers topics from the 2010 Haiti earthquake to modern life in Jamaica and Trinidad.

David Rudder was one of the pioneers of the modern pacy form of calypso known as soca.

In his native Trinidad, he first came to prominence as a member of the 1980s pioneer party music band Charlies Roots.

The group’s 1980s hits became soca anthems and a launch pad for modern soca music.

Soca music is today best known for the tune Hot Hot Hot by the late singer Arrow who spent his soca formative years in Trinidad.

Rudder went on to a solo career, making his name across the Caribbean and among the region’s diaspora in the US, Britain and Canada.

He is the first to admit that, like calypso, his fame does not easily transfer to a world music stage.

If you watch a West Indies cricket match these days, the song the team use as their joint anthem is Rudder’s Rally Round The West Indies.

His 1988 song Haiti I’m Sorry first brought impoverished Creole-speaking Haiti to the attention of the English-speaking Caribbean.

One Caribbean

His latest album is in this tradition of commenting on topics close to the hearts of Caribbean people.

Several of the tracks in Random Notes focus on the lives of Haitian people a year after the devastating earthquake.

The album also reflects on the extradition of the alleged Jamaican drug lord Christopher Dudus Coke to the US in 2010.

To protect Coke, his supporters barricaded their part of the Jamaican capital, Kingston, forcing a stand-off with the army and police.

Watching the scenes of Kingston burning, Rudder said he penned the tracks about the virtual war zone.

“This is not the Caribbean… you see this on Ivory Coast, Nigeria… and this is Jamaica – it’s us,” Rudder said.

He said he wanted his music to also reflect just how much people in the area loved Dudus Coke despite the allegations of major drug-running.

At a time when the English-speaking Caribbean is widely seen as facing a crisis of identity, Rudder is one of the few voices talking about a wider Caribbean embracing all territories in the Caribbean Sea.

For him, Haiti lies at the centre of this message of unification of the Caribbean.

He says: “When things happen in Haiti…’s flavour of the month.

“I just feel I have to keep reminding people – just remember these people (Haitians). They are us and we are them.”

He talks extensively about the divide between the English-speaking, French, Spanish and Dutch Caribbean which are often closer to their colonial roots than to one another.

“We only connect on occasions and usually only when it’s a tragic occasion.”

For the original report go to

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s