Age of Atilla and Roaring Lion revisited

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A report from the Trinidad Guardian.

Icons calypso Roaring Lion and Atilla the Hun took calypso to the world in 1934 and, on October 7, at 6 pm, The Academy for the Performing Arts at the UTT will present a special concert/multimedia event that looks back at when Lion and Atilla first went, after Carnival, to New York City to record calypsoes in 1934.

The concert will feature the Ibis Ensemble, led by violinist/arranger Simon Browne, with two-time National Calypso Monarch Chuck Gordon as Lion and UTT faculty member Krisson Joseph as Atilla.

Conceived and scripted by Ray Funk, the retired Alaskan judge is a current Fulbright scholar. The programme will be an educational entertainment with powerpoint, audio, visual clips in addition to live performances of many of the songs recorded in 1934 by Lion and Atilla, featuring the original instrumentation.

The Ibis Ensemble comprises international concert artistes who are members of the UTT academy faculty. They have performed over 150 concerts locally and internationally with a wide repertoire from classical music to Caribbean and contemporary compositions. A quartet from the ensemble just made a tour of the Caribbean.

Gordon, son of late Malick Folk Performing Company musical director Roland Gordon, is currently a student at UTT in the music recording programme. He won 2014 and 2015 national calypso monarch titles, has many times been a finalist in both calypso and soca competitions, and also performs chutney and a wide variety of other styles. He has toured internationally and often performed a wide range of historic calypsoes.

Joseph, son of late former national calypso monarch Pengin (Seadley Joseph), is the programme coordinator at The Academy for the Performing Arts at UTT and is very busy in his role in academics at UTT as well as a leading vocalist who can be heard in jazz, folk, calypso and classical settings. He has a degree in management and economics and a masters in Music Business from NYU. Joseph is a tireless performer and has been featured in Malik Folk Performing Company’s The River, Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Remembrance by Professor Roger Henry.

Funk has been coming to Trindad for over 20 years and has been researching calypso, steelpan and mas. He co-curated an online and travelling exhibit on the globalisation many years ago and co-produced a deluxe box set on the Calypso Craze for Bear Family with an extensive book. He co-authored a series of books, including a history of George Tang’s photos of Stephen Lee Heung’s mas, a book on Invaders Steel Orchestra and a book on the Northern Illionis Steelband, forthcoming in November.

“I have been wanting to do a public presentation on the 1934 trip for many years and am thrilled to work with Ibis Ensemble.” Funk noted. “Simon Browne has for several years been transcribing early calypsoes for Ibis. This is not easy work, listening to the scratchy 78s and picking out the parts and adapting them. I have been very impressed with the Lovey Band and Lionel Belasco pieces he did.

“Last year at the film festival, I gave a presentation on Edric Connor and Simon created four transcriptions that Ibis performed and Krisson sang to everyone’s delight as the highlight to that event. Simon and I started talking then about working together on the 1934 calypso material.”

Funk added: “In many ways, Lion and Atilla’s trip in 1934 was the pivotal event. It started a yearly expedition of the best calypsonians to go after Carnival to New York City to record. Beyond the recordings, they were featured in a Broadway nightclub and on one of the most widely heard radio shows. When they returned they were greeted as heroes. Two songs from that session are considered classics, Lion’s Ugly Woman and Atilla’s Graf Zepplin, but they are many others that were equally wonderful but little known.”

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