Picture courtesy Mark Lyndersay
My name is Jean Michel Gibert and I feel honoured — and lucky — to have produced Calypso Rose’s new album, Forever, at her sweet age of 80.
I am born in South of France, in Nice, a Nicoise. It is through French Trini, Lorraine O’Connor, who become my first wife, and is still a business partner, that I discover that Trinidad and Tobago exist in January 1986. We have a son, Sebastien, well-known for his line of clothing. In 2014, I became a citizen. I consider myself as coming from, not a particular part, but from Trinidad and Tobago as a whole.
I am happily remarried since 15 years to Helen Carrington.
I attended the best commercial school in France, Hautes Etudes Commerciales, a kind of French Harvard. Being part of the Seventies “Beat generation”, I went back-packing all over the world, especially Asia.
On my first visit to Trinidad, arriving before Carnival, coming straight from greyish Paris winter, I didn't see anything reminding me of France. The old Piarco Airport — so much vibe compared to the new one — my ex-father-in-law, Peter O’Connor, gracing me with a Carib, stopping at panyards of the East-West Corridor, being immersed in the sweet and melodic musics of Panorama rehearsal… This was REALLY far from France! Of course, later, I could see the connection and the influence of the French culture, especially in Carnival: Jouvert; Canboulay; and the patois of Paramin and Lopinot.
I was raised Catholic, holy communion, etc, but, from the time I start to read the French philosophers and political consciousness grew in my teens, I didn't follow any more any established faith. I can go to a beautiful Indian temple, visit a mosque in Morocco, meditate with monks in Japan or trek to a church in the mountain in the Alps — but I will not follow a preacher.
I believe in Mother Nature and mankind. I believe there is a meaning in what we do.
In the Seventies, my Beat generation rejected the system and dreamt of a different world and a more open life. To allow us to grow, personally and spiritually. In Asia, Buddhism influence my perception of life and I became a vegetarian at age 20. I still eat fish.
I’m not sure about the afterlife. Death is probably a next trip, a next adventure. I’m inclined to think that nothing disappears, everything transforms into something else in a perpetual movement. But let’s see when it happens!
Since 1992, I live full-time in Trinidad, spending my energy to promote abroad our musics and our culture. I represented Trinidad & Tobago in many major music and film markets — this guy trying to convince people passionately of the potential of T&T lifestyles and entertainment industries — but with a French accent!
I had major international successes such as gold single, Sweet Soca Music, silver single Follow the Leader and, the ultimate, Rose’s platinum album, Far from Home. My movies such as Calypso@ Dirty Jims, Rose the Lioness of the Jungle and Pan! Our Music Odyssey, were awarded in various international film festival.
In Trinidad, the musical talents were there, but not the entrepreneurs to expose these unique styles beyond the diaspora. Along with business partners, Lorraine O’Connor and Rosemary Hezekiah, I decided to try to fill the gap.
Tobago produced a different emotion from Trinidad, more African, more laidback. Of course it means a lot to me, with family reunion at Charloteville, and with Calypso Rose coming from Bethel (also part of the family, as my wife, Helen's family, is from Bethel.
While working on the movie, Calypso@ Dirty Jims in 2004, I was blessed to meet with Rose and it changes my life. Sixteen years, three albums, two movies, several videos and many singles later, and after becoming her international manager (and spending every day more than five hours of my days solving problems), see where we are today!
I have never wear in my life a jacket and a tie, except to climb the steps at Festival de Cannes with Rose, for the preview of the documentary, Calypso Rose: The Lioness of the Jungle. I borrowed a tuxedo and a bowtie as it was compulsory. I [prefer] my son Sebastien’s urban clothing. At age 65, I feel I am looking myself in his trendy short pants, jeans and T-shirt, with my THC sandals… And maybe it makes me feel still young.
I have countless beautiful memories of my music involvement in Trinidad, so many great artists and human beings. The list is too long but I can name a few. 3 Canal, Mungal Patasar, Brother Resistance ,Andre Tanker, Sharlene, Superblue, Roy Cape, Kindred, Gail-Ann, Shel$hok, Fate, Ataklan, Rubadiri, Nikki Crosby, Chinese Laundry, Bomber, Terror, Sparrow, Relator, Superior, Nigel and Marvin, Sugar Daddy, Ray Holman, Prophet Benjamin and Isasha, KMC, Bunji & Fay-Ann, Jamesy P, Shaft, Machel, Nailah and of course, “my” platinum artist, Calypso Rose.
The talent of the artists and the producers is not enough. You need a lot of different ingredient for an international hit. In South of France, we say “Pour que la mayonnaise prenne”: “For the mayo to raise, you do it yourself, with eggs.”
For an international break, you need a risk-taking reputable international label, a trusted international publisher, a reliable touring agent, a lot of connections you built with your good reputation over the years, a good single, an artist who understands and is ready to play the game, institutional public bodies who can at times support your effort and the right timing. Rose is 80! Maybe also the right featured artist with your star — on the Far From Home album, Manu Chao made Rose a mainstream star in France. You also need to be extremely professional (pushy!) and dedicated to make it happen… And then a part of luck, or fate, as you want to call it. Managers and producers jokily say, “If it works, it’s the artist’s talent, if it fails, it’s our fault.
The release of Forever next year may be the proudest moment of 30 years immersed in Trinidad & Tobago music. It is a statement of the love Rose shares and the energy she spreads.
I feel fully committed in 2020 for my mission and promise to Rose: a Grammy ! I’ll do all what I can do to make “Forever” a perfect follow up to Koffee and Angelique Kidjo in LA in January 2022.
Today’s Carnival is highly seasonal and topical. It’s like wearing an elaborate mas costume that you just dump on Ash Wednesday. Maybe [modern] Carnival musics do not have the longevity other styles can create. Calypso Rose, with her charisma, her story, her collaborations, seems to be an exception. And not just because she is keen to take risks, but also because she reincarnate and rejuvenate a style — calypso — which is more palatable that the actual Carnival music genre for mainstream music lovers.
When I experience how difficult it is for our local team to put together a show for Rose, or release her new songs, I am not sure these aspects of our culture are sufficiently appreciated by the society. Trinidad & Tobago becomes every day closer to a soulless Far West. Creative TT, eg, gets a mere few millions $TT to promote our fashion, film and music. But the Point Highway [approx 30km] cost close to TT$10B! So I always wonder, if a highway in Trinidad could be shortened by just 30 metres, that would change the game and enable us to dynamise a sector which addresses the dreams of the most fragile growing sector of our society: the youths.
I was not a bad dancer in my youth with the Seventies kind of move. But, becoming older, I’m not sure I can keep up with too wild wining.
It’s difficult to point to one director as my favourite. Maybe Tarantino. Because of the work on the image, the humour and the strong scripts. But I recommend [everyone] to watch Parasite from Joon -Ho.
It’s difficult to pick one song on Rose’s new album because she is exploring different distinct styles — the ska style One by One with Kobotown & Mr Vegas, eg, will be a classic — but I really enjoy Watina. It is a Garifuna, Afro-based anthem, originally sing by the great Andy Palacio, reproduced with a modern twist, a great melody and a catchy hook in Garifuna dialect.
This album is such a proud moment for me. Because, when you start such an important project with a 80-years old person, you never know if it will happen.
If I spend too much time in Europe, I miss the freeness, the carelessness, the easy way we are here. It’s our people I miss most. I also miss our beautiful nature and, in a certain way, our remoteness.
To me, a Trini is someone who has a Catholic father, a Hindu mother, a Muslim brother and a sister who is Rasta. Or could have Chinese, Carib, African, East Indian and “Syrian” in them.
To me, Trinidad & Tobago means my chosen home since close to 30 years !
Here is a link to the lyrics video of the new international release of Rose SAME BOAT by Calypso Rose featuring Patrice and Kobotown remixed by Guts and Izem available from 8 July https://youtu.be/ExFop4dqSmM