A report by Peter Ray Blood for Trinidad’s Guardian.
Clive “Zanda” Alexander, pioneer of extempo/kaiso jazz music is largely a self-taught composer/improvisor, pianist who has gained recognition at home, in the Caribbean and internationally. Zanda, as he is known internationally, recently returned from a visit to South Africa primarily to see his sons (Tshipi and Zolani) and four grandchildren, spending almost four months there. “It was a spiritual and phenomenal experience,” said Zanda.
“In terms of reuniting with where we came from as a people and to see what South Africa has achieved coming out of apartheid. In 25 years, what they have accomplished and the opportunities of what they were denied are astounding. As a people they are aggressive and in positive pursuit of their aspirations.”
Zanda’s elder son Tshipi is married to the daughter of a Zulu tribal chief (Chief Musa) and he was able to have the rare opportunity of meeting the village elders. He observed the tribal structure first hand and was impressed by how they mitigate problems.
Said Zanda: “I was astounded by the music and dance. I have always wanted to return to my Motherland and meet the Zulu elders fully clothed. The elders instructed me to remove my shoes and be barefoot—only then would I be truly connected to ‘the Motherland,’” said Zanda.
Zanda, now 77, was also blown away by the culture and his interest in music was fuelled by the experience.
He said: “My expectation was to see how the music of South Africa had evolved from their culture of Zulu and Xhosa music. I was surprised to see that there was a great influence of Hip Hop, R&B and music from West Africa. When I reflected I realised that Kaiso Jazz, which the late Schofield Pilgrim, Michael Boothman and myself pioneered, was the right direction in terms of developing our music emerging from the roots of extempore calypso. This demonstrates the power of Western music and shows how influential it is globally.”
Aside from meeting internationally renowned South African musician Hugh Masekela, Zanda also met a number of highly acclaimed musicians. “I didn’t meet or see many wind instrumentalists there,” said Zanda. “This is a problem that we also have in Trinidad. UWI and UTT would be well advised to have courses to attract more young people who wish to become proficient playing wind instruments.”
During his stay, Zanda was interviewed on South African radio and when he played his two CDs (Clive Zanda is Here with Dat Kinda Ting and Pantastic Visions Revisited), people were very eager and thirsty for this type of music.
Zanda said: “Our music is loved in South Africa and the people were asking how come more of T&T’s music is not marketed there. Olatunji Yearwood’s hit song Ola is very popular in South Africa. Interestingly, the South Africans said that the word ‘Ola’ is not African but Brazilian. They were also very impressed by Len “Boogsie” Sharpe’s music and described his music as ‘a monster’.”
As a child of Siparia, Zanda can be considered a music prodigy, always creating something or the other as well. He started making music on self-made cardboard, miniature bongos at age ten beating out calypso rhythms, scatting and composing lines on top of the rhythms. At age 15, Zanda began classical piano lessons with Sybil Joseph in Siparia. After a couple of lessons, up to grade one, he started extemporising on the piano, incorporating some of what was learnt with his own tunes. Joseph gave up on him and left him alone to do so.
At a young age, Zanda began hanging out with several local combos and dance bands in jam sessions. Not long after Zanda got an opportunity to sit-in with some top local combos mainly playing bongos and singing some of his compositions.
However, it was not until the age of 20 he migrated to England primarily to pursue studies in architecture because the future in music was considered not lucrative. But music was always in his head and because of the nature of architecture, being considered “frozen music,” he was able to study and combine both disciplines successfully.
It was during his stay in England that Zanda had his earliest encounters with live and direct Jazz music. Impressed by how much music a jazz trio could generate, he seriously immersed himself into the genre of jazz and subsequently commenced intense private lessons with well known British Composer Michael Grant.
Soon after this he formed his own combo experimenting with fusing calypso elements with Jazz which in Zanda’s perception were musical siblings. Successfully pursuing his academics as an architect and playing music at nights.
The Dez Alex Combo, as his group was called, performed regularly at the London Pigalle night club doing curtain calls for such acts as Shirley Bassey, Matt Monroe and Sammy Davis Jnr.
On his return to Trinidad, the Zanda Gayap Extempo/Kaiso Jazz Workshop was established, in association with the Queen’s Royal College (QRC) Jazz workshop under the direction of school teacher, musician Schofield Pilgrim, researching and experimenting with the concept of Extempo/Kaiso Jazz which he continued to pioneer up to this day.
This marriage was the nucleus for this unique genre of music spawning outstanding musicians like Michael Georges, Michael “Toby” Tobas, Beverly “Muthadi” Thomas, Luther Francois, Michael Boothman, Rafael Robertson, Ron Reid, Etienne Charles and Wayne “Barney” Bonaparte.
Zanda said: “I was saddened not just by Schofield’s death but also when he died there was no music created by him to be played either on the radio or at his funeral. At the time, I thought we must begin to document the music we create. It is why I decided to document all my music for the benefit of future generations.”
It has been some years that Zanda has been away from the mainstream music stage locally. He explained: “I have been documenting my Kaiso Jazz compositions for the purpose of leaving behind a legacy for my children and the community at large. When I pass on I hope to also control the music from my grave. The classical composers did this and that is why they are still alive through their music.”
In 1975, Zanda visited the USA and attended lecture demonstrations in jazz improvisations at Rutgers University under the direction of Professor Chris White (a bassist of Trinidadian descent). He was awarded a Certificate in Jazz improvisation from Rutgers. While in the States he formed a combo which included well known New York-based musicians such as Dunmore Louis Haynes known for his drumming with the Oscar Peterson Trio; soprano saxophonist Charlie Davis; trumpeter Tex Allen; and, Trinidadian born bassist David “Happy” Williams.
Zanda’s group performed a series of concerts at the East Harlem Cultural Center playing original calypso jazz compositions and sharing the bill with another of his well loved, the Archie Shepp Quintet. Zanda has also appeared at all major Caribbean Jazz festivals, the last being St Lucia in 1994, De Mora Theatre in Toronto Pan Jazz Festival and the T&T Jazz festivals to name a few. Having established himself as composer, improviser, pianist, his fans expects nothing short of his innovative interpretations of calypso and jazz standards.
There is no question that Zanda is a national treasure and musical ambassador for the Caribbean who believes that music is the intercessor for peace in the world. He is also committed passing on knowledge to the youth, who are the future and is in the process of producing videos and documenting literature as part of the holistic commitment to the development of the art of Extempo/Kaiso Jazz.
Zanda’s last major performance was a fund-raiser at Central Bank Auditorium for young Berklee College freshman Joshua Joseph. He said: “I believing in mentoring the young musicians. Another important collaboration I did was with Louis Nurse at his concert.”
In closing, asked what exactly is Kaiso Jazz, Zanda replied: “for me Kaiso Jazz is the creative hybrid product deep rooted in our ancestral consciousness of the drum, the riddim of life, and our multi cultural heritage.”
Clive “Zanda” Alexander will be back on stage on November 18 when Ethnic Jazz Club stages KaiSocA@theJazzStudio at The Jazz Studio, 51 Cornelio Street, Woodbrook. Zanda will be performing with Richard Joseph (drums), Russell Durity (bass) and Natasha Joseph (pans).
Advance tickets will be available for purchase at the studio on November 15 and 17 between 11 am and 5.30 pm at the Studio. Patrons are asked to note that Zanda has chosen to present his sets at 8pm and 10pm.