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Celebrating the 'Godfather of rapso'
It was a night of reminiscing, nostalgia and knowledge sharing as people gathered at the Big Black Box on Murray Street on July 30 to celebrate the life of musician and cultural activist Lancelot “Kebu” Layne, widely remembered as the “Godfather of rapso”.
On his groundbreaking song Blow’Way, Layne was the first musician to feature music and poetry in the form that later became known as rapso in T&T.
The evening featured the launch of a new double CD compilation of Layne’s work released by German record label Cree Records, as well as the airing of Crossing Over, a 1988 Banyan film documenting Layne’s visit to Ghana.
In addition, two film clips were shown, one of Layne recording a never-released song, This Griot Band, and a tribute to Layne by Ghanaian highlife musician Koo Nimo following Layne’s death on July 28, 1990. T&T musician Clive “Zanda” Alexander, who played on many of Layne’s tracks, also played a selection of his works.
Writer and activist Eintou Pearl Springer shared her memories of working with Layne towards having the August 1 Emancipation Day holiday proclaimed in T&T.
She said he was “passionate about owning land for African people but was sometimes thwarted by division in the African community in T&T. We stood together as we were laughed at by Africans who didn’t know they were African or refused to acknowledge their Africanness.”
She said there was still a lack of knowledge about Emancipation in school curricula. “Children are kept in ignorance. We have to be warriors for our children, we have to fight to get our artists into our schools.”
Merten Kaatz of Cree Records remembered hearing about Layne when he came to T&T years ago to research late musician Richard “Nappy” Mayers. Kaatz said he was happy to be here now launching the CD of Layne’s work.
Layne’s daughters, Niasha and Anuska, said their father was fun, loved his family and was passionate about life, and every moment was a teaching moment with him. Singer Ella Andall called Layne a great warrior whose message was still alive. She remembered asking him why he chose to talk all the time instead of using his beautiful singing voice, that he got upset and said he wanted to say what he had to say.
Filmmaker Christopher Laird, who directed the Ghanaian segments of Crossing Over, recalled fondly Layne’s tremendous sense of humour and said it was great to see he was finally getting some recognition. Most importantly, he said, through the work of Kaatz and Cree Records, Layne’s family would finally be receiving royalties from the use of his work.
Rapso performer Lutalo “Bro Resistance” Masimba remembered being blown away the first time he heard Blow’Way on the radio. From Layne, he learned about Emancipation and the need for the holiday to celebrate it.
“I don’t understand why he isn’t more celebrated,” the rapso elder said. “This warrior left a serious body of work that we could learn from and try to re-educate our people and teach the younger ones.”
3canal’s Wendell Manwarren said he was influenced by Layne and took from him the sense of “knowing self”.
“It’s for this reason I always talk about exposure and influence when teaching,” Manwarren said. “The young people don’t know, and they don’t know they don’t know.”
In Crossing Over, Layne travelled to Ghana to meet Koo Nimo, a leading folk musician of highlife music in that country, and explore the link between highlife music and kaiso; Nimo then travelled to T&T to see what had “happened to our descendants who were taken from Africa.”
In the film Layne was able to perform with one of the highlife groups both through the use of instruments and in teaching them a call and response version of his popular song Tiger about the “Laventille Tiger”, boxer Leslie Stewart. The film showed striking similarities between the street processions in Ghana and those in Trinidad, including the moko jumbies, brass bands and music trucks.
While in Trinidad Nimo met music legends calypsonian Lord Kitchener, broadcaster and composer Rocky McCollin, extempo king Aldric “Lord Pretender” Farrell, tamboo bamboo player Felix “Fedo” Blake, pannist Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, tassa player Chandranath Singh, soca creator Ras Shorty I and singers/ songwriters David Rudder and Chris “Tambu” Herbert of Charlie’s Roots, among others. Nimo explored the music history of T&T and how different musical rhythms and instruments came together to create T&T’s musical forms.
In the film Nimo said, “One of our purposes as musicians is to encourage the youth by teaching them how to play their own instruments and respect their traditions.”
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