edge

Where the Man with the Mirror Gone?

A version of this feature first appeared in November 2010

Picture courtesy Mark Lyndersay

Picture courtesy Mark LyndersayMy name is David Rudder and I’m a recording artist.
To me, Belmont, where I was born, is a metaphor for the whole country. Almost everybody in Trinidad artistic society passed through Belmont.
There’re still some of the old “livers”, as we call them, but most people in Belmont now rent a room to be close to work in Port of Spain during the week. And go to their real home on the weekend.

There were five of us children, four boys and one girl. I was the eldest and was always the one expected to “do something”. In a strange way, after 1986, I came like the eldest of the Trinidad family. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people expecting me to make good music every year, expecting me to do al kinds of things. I might come home and see two-three people who expecting me to give them a little change so they could go and buy milk because they broken. It travels in so many different ways, that kind of expectancy, after a while, you just feel tired. You’re drained.

Even now, when people know I’m in Trinidad, they call, “I want you to do this, I want that”. My greatest line from Trinidad – and they actually say this – is, “I want to use you for something”. They actually use the words, “I want to use you” – but like they don’t hear them. It’s something else.

I know all the characters in [Earl Lovelace’s novel] The Dragon Can’t Dance. They grew up around me. My mother was well-respected and some of Belmont’s baddest men would help take me to school. Don’t mind they just open somebody back down the road: they know my mother! They taking me to school!

There’s a whole area of Belmont, Upper Davis Street, where I spent part of my life, where you’d swear you were in Central Trinidad. Most people there were Hindu. Out on the Valley Road, the whole area was African. You go round the [Long] Circular [Road] and see all these gingerbread, European-style houses. We had the most steelbands, all the calypsonians, mas men – Ken Morris, Jason Griffith – all the great footballers, Jim Harding, Gerry Brown, Horace “Pepper Wine” Lovelace, who was also a mas man. Everything that was magical about Trinidad was in Belmont. I wrote the song “Belmont” trying to capture the history of the place in six verses.

I was doing the Trinidad Stories album cover shoot on a part of Cadiz Rd called, “the Front Road”. One of the youths – he was like a scout, they send him to find out what going on – came up to me and said, “You’s David Rudder”. Apparently they were selling a variety of drugs and wanted to know who is this man taking pictures here. But the joke was, that was what the Front Road was famous for selling: drugs and revolution. Militants, bad men, a lot of the guys who ended up as Muslimeen, came from that Front Road. It’s just so funny that, at the end of the day, the only thing that remained constant was the drug dealers.
I went to Belmont Boys RC and Belmont Secondary. I loved school. Belmont’s such a small space, it was like an extension of “the Life”. Teachers sending you to get the best pessi whip to beat you with. Parents coming into the school to cut your tail, too. Catching fish in the Dry River -– the same cheap fish we used to call “millions” selling for real millions in North America now.
Thiefing mango in Fondes Amandes, everybody in Belmont “nearly get catch” by the watchman. Two things everybody in Trinidad do at some point in their life: “nearly drown” – they call it that or “drink water”or “nearly get catch” thiefing mango.
When I came on the scene, it was like, “Something new is happening here. Let’s hope that this is what the society going to be!” But people are always comfortable in their old skin and Trinidad is a very “one step forward, two step backward” kind of place. Look at [the national football team] the Soca Warriors: we actually got to [the 2006 World Cup in] Germany! The average society would say, “What’s the next step forward”. But we are in the two-steps-backward stage.

Normally, every nine months, I put out an album in Trinidad. I have over 25 albums. Now I look back and think, because I felt I had to please people and try my best Picture courtesy Mark Lyndersayto make them think, feel good, everything else, I would ‘hustle out’ the work. Sometimes I listen to a piece and there’s a little ‘coulda-shoulda-woulda’. Now, I don’t have that worry. I just do the work for myself, do things that I might have, before, “No, I won’t go there”. Now, I’ll easily “go there”. Write what I want to write. I suppose I always had that but now there’s an ‘extra’ that I’m very happy with inside my own spirit.
Trinidadians always talking about “give back”. You work hard and give-give-give-give-give. And then they want to know what are you going to “give back”. That is up to me! If I feel I’ve learned this and want to give it to someone I see fighting up, I can say, “Listen, you could move so”. But there’s a demand to “give back”. Sometimes I ask [them], “What have you given?”
Canada is a very neutral space. I could always just relax and melt into my environment. Where I live in Toronto has more roti shops than you could find in Belmont. It has more snow than snow cone, too, but that’s the time I usually come down to work for Carnival and miss most of it. I hate to think I going to say this but, to a certain degree, I enjoy some of the cold sometimes.
Even trying to lay low in Canada, people find you. Canadians, too. I’m always on CBC. In the Jamaican Dufus situation, the first person they called was me. I sit on a board of the Arts Council, too, to decide who to give money to, for arts projects. In a sense, it’s like the respect you don’t find at home.
The song, Trini to D Bone, was written by Ian Wiltshire. I just readjusted it. But, to me, it’s a compliment when someone uses your song, like how this newspaper series is called, “Trini to D Bone”. That was how they closed off the commentary on the Trinidad v Sweden match in Germany, the commentator saying, “Trini to the bo-wan!”
There’s a vagrant who grew up in the era when man used to say ‘ten cents’ and ‘five cents’ meaning ten and five dollars. So he said, “Gimmeh a five cents, nuh!” So I deliberately gave him a five-cent piece. He say, “Five dollars, boy! You ent know the slang or what?” By coincidence, when I did the High Mas video, the same man passed across the screen. Every time I see it, I say, “Eh-eh, look Five Dollars, boy!”
I love to read but don’t have a favourite author. “Netherland” was a great book. I want to meet that guy. He captured the Trinidad mentality amazingly. Phrasing, rhythm, everything.
My favourite colour changes with my mood. It used to be blue. Then it went red. My son says, “You wearing your ketchup outfit again?”
If I could eat only one thing between now and death, it would be stew fish, pigeon peas, plantain, calaloo. With some good pepper.
I started writing songs when I was around five, six. I’d listen to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and say, “If was me, I wouldn’t write, “Oh yeah, I”. I’d write, “Oh yeah, so-and-so”. I used to “correct” the Beatles’ songs.
I was always obsessed with how songwriters would say things. So it was just natural for me to start to write. I might pass down the road and hear somebody say something. [My song] Longtime Band came from this woman saying, “I going and wine like I never christen’”.
Art can’t lead. All art can do is suggest. Hopefully, somebody will pick up on the suggestion. Even if they feel it’s their idea, that’s all right.

Calypso has influenced a lot of people in quiet ways. The first million-selling record in the history of the Earth was Harry Belafonte singing what they called calypso. And, later on, he did sing a lot of calypsoes in his own style. People always come down on Harry Belafonte but, if wasn’t for him, nobody would know what calypso is.
With Charlie’s Roots, we used to produce the music on our own. Then we got Joe Brown, who did the “Calypso Music”/”Haiti” era. After that, I did my own thing with Wayne Bruno, some with Pelham Goddard. Wayne has been my right hand man for a long time now. In Canada, there’s a young man called Jeremy Ledbetter, very talented. But, basically, I know what I want in my head, so it’s just to get it on to the tape.
I listen to Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, I love Fela [Kuti]. The digs he took at Nigerian society, the same things still going on. Bob Dylan is the ultimate American calypsonian.
After 300-and-something songs, upper- and middle-class Trinidadians will say, “I love Bahia Girl”. And the rootsmen will say, “Where the Man with the Hammer?” It’s almost like my whole life is based on those two songs. But you go Grenada or Antigua and they say, “How come you ent sing, ‘Somewhere up in Laventille many years ago/ a man had a hammer we used to follow him to and fro’? And how come I ent hear, “1990, the blood flows in Bogota”. They relate the lyric the song to identify the song.
I prefer club performances to stadium gigs. The big shows, yeah, you control the masses and it’s very powerful. But in a club… Look, I did a show at Martin’s on the Boulevard, the band jammed up in this little backyard, the place packed and, in the middle of it, [then Cabinet minister] Beau Tewarie and Deepak Chopra came in. After three or four songs, I started “Calypso Music”. And like Beau & Deepak had to go somewhere, they got up to leave. Over the whole sound system, a man bawl, “Nah! Nah!Nah! My king on the stage and Deepak Facking Chopra walking out? While he singing the great “Calypso Music”. Fuck you, Deepak mother-cunt Chopra!” You couldn’t get that in a stadium!
Trinidad is a society of dependents. The barrel mothers. You wouldn’t believe the number of big men who still cussing their mothers: where the barrel? There’s no point where they say, “This is my time, now, I’m in control”. People might talk about the East-West Corridor and the dependency syndrome but, at every level of society, everybody has a dependency.
When, sometimes, just one person comes up and says, “When you say, so- so-so-so-and-so, do you mean, so-so-so-so-and-so? And that’s exactly what I meant — that is the best part of the job.
The bad thing about the job is I’m getting tired of the drudgery of the road, the 10,000 airport security searches and, when you reach, somebody is two hours late. And things aren’t exactly as the contract says. I’ve cut a lot of that out of my life. But, with our people, you always bounce it up again.
A Trini is, “One plus one equals 11”; “One from ten is zero”.

Trinidad is a rumshop where you watch Argentina v Germany and Argentina loses 4-0. And the DJ plays three versions of Don’t Cry for me, Argentina, starting with the Dennis De Souza one!
Trinidad is the only place in the world where people don’t eat food, they declare war on it. They lash a roti! They put some blows on a pelau! They leather the dumpling! They murder the pudding! Trinis don’t eat food, they’s fight it. And win!
Trinidad & Tobago is my heart and soul. It’s my home, my spirit. Even though it gets me tired sometimes, there’s a laugh in the place that makes you say, “All right. Let me go again!”

Where the Man with the Mirror Gone?

A version of this feature first appeared in November 2010

Picture courtesy Mark Lyndersay

Picture courtesy Mark LyndersayMy name is David Rudder and I’m a recording artist.
To me, Belmont, where I was born, is a metaphor for the whole country. Almost everybody in Trinidad artistic society passed through Belmont.
There’re still some of the old “livers”, as we call them, but most people in Belmont now rent a room to be close to work in Port of Spain during the week. And go to their real home on the weekend.

There were five of us children, four boys and one girl. I was the eldest and was always the one expected to “do something”. In a strange way, after 1986, I came like the eldest of the Trinidad family. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people expecting me to make good music every year, expecting me to do al kinds of things. I might come home and see two-three people who expecting me to give them a little change so they could go and buy milk because they broken. It travels in so many different ways, that kind of expectancy, after a while, you just feel tired. You’re drained.

Even now, when people know I’m in Trinidad, they call, “I want you to do this, I want that”. My greatest line from Trinidad – and they actually say this – is, “I want to use you for something”. They actually use the words, “I want to use you” – but like they don’t hear them. It’s something else.

I know all the characters in [Earl Lovelace’s novel] The Dragon Can’t Dance. They grew up around me. My mother was well-respected and some of Belmont’s baddest men would help take me to school. Don’t mind they just open somebody back down the road: they know my mother! They taking me to school!

There’s a whole area of Belmont, Upper Davis Street, where I spent part of my life, where you’d swear you were in Central Trinidad. Most people there were Hindu. Out on the Valley Road, the whole area was African. You go round the [Long] Circular [Road] and see all these gingerbread, European-style houses. We had the most steelbands, all the calypsonians, mas men – Ken Morris, Jason Griffith – all the great footballers, Jim Harding, Gerry Brown, Horace “Pepper Wine” Lovelace, who was also a mas man. Everything that was magical about Trinidad was in Belmont. I wrote the song “Belmont” trying to capture the history of the place in six verses.

I was doing the Trinidad Stories album cover shoot on a part of Cadiz Rd called, “the Front Road”. One of the youths – he was like a scout, they send him to find out what going on – came up to me and said, “You’s David Rudder”. Apparently they were selling a variety of drugs and wanted to know who is this man taking pictures here. But the joke was, that was what the Front Road was famous for selling: drugs and revolution. Militants, bad men, a lot of the guys who ended up as Muslimeen, came from that Front Road. It’s just so funny that, at the end of the day, the only thing that remained constant was the drug dealers.
I went to Belmont Boys RC and Belmont Secondary. I loved school. Belmont’s such a small space, it was like an extension of “the Life”. Teachers sending you to get the best pessi whip to beat you with. Parents coming into the school to cut your tail, too. Catching fish in the Dry River -– the same cheap fish we used to call “millions” selling for real millions in North America now.
Thiefing mango in Fondes Amandes, everybody in Belmont “nearly get catch” by the watchman. Two things everybody in Trinidad do at some point in their life: “nearly drown” – they call it that or “drink water”or “nearly get catch” thiefing mango.
When I came on the scene, it was like, “Something new is happening here. Let’s hope that this is what the society going to be!” But people are always comfortable in their old skin and Trinidad is a very “one step forward, two step backward” kind of place. Look at [the national football team] the Soca Warriors: we actually got to [the 2006 World Cup in] Germany! The average society would say, “What’s the next step forward”. But we are in the two-steps-backward stage.

Normally, every nine months, I put out an album in Trinidad. I have over 25 albums. Now I look back and think, because I felt I had to please people and try my best Picture courtesy Mark Lyndersayto make them think, feel good, everything else, I would ‘hustle out’ the work. Sometimes I listen to a piece and there’s a little ‘coulda-shoulda-woulda’. Now, I don’t have that worry. I just do the work for myself, do things that I might have, before, “No, I won’t go there”. Now, I’ll easily “go there”. Write what I want to write. I suppose I always had that but now there’s an ‘extra’ that I’m very happy with inside my own spirit.
Trinidadians always talking about “give back”. You work hard and give-give-give-give-give. And then they want to know what are you going to “give back”. That is up to me! If I feel I’ve learned this and want to give it to someone I see fighting up, I can say, “Listen, you could move so”. But there’s a demand to “give back”. Sometimes I ask [them], “What have you given?”
Canada is a very neutral space. I could always just relax and melt into my environment. Where I live in Toronto has more roti shops than you could find in Belmont. It has more snow than snow cone, too, but that’s the time I usually come down to work for Carnival and miss most of it. I hate to think I going to say this but, to a certain degree, I enjoy some of the cold sometimes.
Even trying to lay low in Canada, people find you. Canadians, too. I’m always on CBC. In the Jamaican Dufus situation, the first person they called was me. I sit on a board of the Arts Council, too, to decide who to give money to, for arts projects. In a sense, it’s like the respect you don’t find at home.
The song, Trini to D Bone, was written by Ian Wiltshire. I just readjusted it. But, to me, it’s a compliment when someone uses your song, like how this newspaper series is called, “Trini to D Bone”. That was how they closed off the commentary on the Trinidad v Sweden match in Germany, the commentator saying, “Trini to the bo-wan!”
There’s a vagrant who grew up in the era when man used to say ‘ten cents’ and ‘five cents’ meaning ten and five dollars. So he said, “Gimmeh a five cents, nuh!” So I deliberately gave him a five-cent piece. He say, “Five dollars, boy! You ent know the slang or what?” By coincidence, when I did the High Mas video, the same man passed across the screen. Every time I see it, I say, “Eh-eh, look Five Dollars, boy!”
I love to read but don’t have a favourite author. “Netherland” was a great book. I want to meet that guy. He captured the Trinidad mentality amazingly. Phrasing, rhythm, everything.
My favourite colour changes with my mood. It used to be blue. Then it went red. My son says, “You wearing your ketchup outfit again?”
If I could eat only one thing between now and death, it would be stew fish, pigeon peas, plantain, calaloo. With some good pepper.
I started writing songs when I was around five, six. I’d listen to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and say, “If was me, I wouldn’t write, “Oh yeah, I”. I’d write, “Oh yeah, so-and-so”. I used to “correct” the Beatles’ songs.
I was always obsessed with how songwriters would say things. So it was just natural for me to start to write. I might pass down the road and hear somebody say something. [My song] Longtime Band came from this woman saying, “I going and wine like I never christen’”.
Art can’t lead. All art can do is suggest. Hopefully, somebody will pick up on the suggestion. Even if they feel it’s their idea, that’s all right.

Calypso has influenced a lot of people in quiet ways. The first million-selling record in the history of the Earth was Harry Belafonte singing what they called calypso. And, later on, he did sing a lot of calypsoes in his own style. People always come down on Harry Belafonte but, if wasn’t for him, nobody would know what calypso is.
With Charlie’s Roots, we used to produce the music on our own. Then we got Joe Brown, who did the “Calypso Music”/”Haiti” era. After that, I did my own thing with Wayne Bruno, some with Pelham Goddard. Wayne has been my right hand man for a long time now. In Canada, there’s a young man called Jeremy Ledbetter, very talented. But, basically, I know what I want in my head, so it’s just to get it on to the tape.
I listen to Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, I love Fela [Kuti]. The digs he took at Nigerian society, the same things still going on. Bob Dylan is the ultimate American calypsonian.
After 300-and-something songs, upper- and middle-class Trinidadians will say, “I love Bahia Girl”. And the rootsmen will say, “Where the Man with the Hammer?” It’s almost like my whole life is based on those two songs. But you go Grenada or Antigua and they say, “How come you ent sing, ‘Somewhere up in Laventille many years ago/ a man had a hammer we used to follow him to and fro’? And how come I ent hear, “1990, the blood flows in Bogota”. They relate the lyric the song to identify the song.
I prefer club performances to stadium gigs. The big shows, yeah, you control the masses and it’s very powerful. But in a club… Look, I did a show at Martin’s on the Boulevard, the band jammed up in this little backyard, the place packed and, in the middle of it, [then Cabinet minister] Beau Tewarie and Deepak Chopra came in. After three or four songs, I started “Calypso Music”. And like Beau & Deepak had to go somewhere, they got up to leave. Over the whole sound system, a man bawl, “Nah! Nah!Nah! My king on the stage and Deepak Facking Chopra walking out? While he singing the great “Calypso Music”. Fuck you, Deepak mother-cunt Chopra!” You couldn’t get that in a stadium!
Trinidad is a society of dependents. The barrel mothers. You wouldn’t believe the number of big men who still cussing their mothers: where the barrel? There’s no point where they say, “This is my time, now, I’m in control”. People might talk about the East-West Corridor and the dependency syndrome but, at every level of society, everybody has a dependency.
When, sometimes, just one person comes up and says, “When you say, so- so-so-so-and-so, do you mean, so-so-so-so-and-so? And that’s exactly what I meant — that is the best part of the job.
The bad thing about the job is I’m getting tired of the drudgery of the road, the 10,000 airport security searches and, when you reach, somebody is two hours late. And things aren’t exactly as the contract says. I’ve cut a lot of that out of my life. But, with our people, you always bounce it up again.
A Trini is, “One plus one equals 11”; “One from ten is zero”.

Trinidad is a rumshop where you watch Argentina v Germany and Argentina loses 4-0. And the DJ plays three versions of Don’t Cry for me, Argentina, starting with the Dennis De Souza one!
Trinidad is the only place in the world where people don’t eat food, they declare war on it. They lash a roti! They put some blows on a pelau! They leather the dumpling! They murder the pudding! Trinis don’t eat food, they’s fight it. And win!
Trinidad & Tobago is my heart and soul. It’s my home, my spirit. Even though it gets me tired sometimes, there’s a laugh in the place that makes you say, “All right. Let me go again!”