Meet Dr. Roy Cape - Legend, Musician, Bandleader, Author, Educator & Philanthropist - UpClose!

A When Steel Talks Exclusive with contribution from G. Blake

He is the man who brought the likes of Beverley Griffith, Clive Bradley, Scipio Sargeant, Ron Berridge, and Raf Robertson into the steel orchestra arranging community. Full Stop!!! Yes, you heard it here.

It is said that the world moves in wondrous and mysterious ways, and moreover, everyone and everything are connected. There is no greater example of this phenomenon than the life of Dr. Roy Cape. If you remove Dr. Roy Cape from the time-line, his significant and global impact to date on Pan culture, the art form and music world in general, would be voided; and all that exists because of his interactions - would never have been. We dare say, devastating. From the world-renowned Trinidad and Tobago's Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, to standout American composer/musician Andy Akiho, can all attribute their success and existence as we know it, to Dr. Cape - directly or indirectly. Amazingly and somewhat ironically many who play pan and listen love the music the music of the steel orchestra are unaware of his pivotal and game changing contributions to the art form.

When Steel Talks has had the fortune of conversing with many past, present and future iconic people who in no small shape, form or fashion have had, or will have - tectonic impacts on the culture, history, music and the art form Pan - such as Clive Bradley, Ray Holman, Ellie Mannette, Emmanuel “Jack” Riley, Daisy James-McLean, Anthony Williams, Dawn Batson, Merle Albino-DeCoteau, Robert Greenidge, and Rudy King, among many others. All indispensable and irreplaceable spokes in the wheels that move the wagon we call life, music, art and culture. Dr. Cape is without a doubt among these iconic figures - as a unique hub that spawned, inspired and secured magnificence, brilliance and genius.

Indeed the concept of "Without you there could not be me" sets everything in motion...  And as probably the first steelband arranger talent scout we've watched his ‘picks’ continually ascend to greatness and legendary status...

In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks this passionate, humble, noble, musically-gifted and talented unassuming intellect, we come to understand how Dr. Cape carved out a special, honored place in the history of Pan music without ever seeking it - but always looking out for others. 

When Steel Talks Exclusive icon

“I would first like to thank WHEN STEEL TALKS for giving me the opportunity to share some aspects of my life and career with the Global Steelband Community. It is with a sense of happiness and humility that I recount these experiences for the benefit of music lovers, researchers and other interested persons the world over.” – Dr. Roy Cape


WST - “What led you to play the Saxophone?”

Dr. Roy Cape at UWI
Dr. Roy Cape at UWI Graduation

Dr. Cape - In responding to this question, I would like to give a brief background of the path that led me to fall in love with and learn to play - the alto saxophone. As a young boy, around the age of ten (10), I lived in the East Dry River community which was populated by many Steelbands. There were Renegades, City Syncopators, Desperadoes on the Hill, Trinidad All Stars in the Garrette on Charlotte Street; Sun Valley on Upper Nelson Street, Blue Diamonds also on Nelson Street, City Symphony on St. Paul Street, Facinators on Old St. Joseph Road and Tokyo in the John John community. At that time I was very attracted to Steelband music and frequented many of these panyards since many of my friends were playing with some of these bands. However, on many occasions, some of the elder guys in the panyards would chase me out of the panyard, telling me to go home and study my books.

During that period, as a young restless youth, I had many behavioral issues and was giving my parents a lot of problems at home. As an example; when my mother sent me on an errand to the shop for foodstuff, I would return sometimes eight (8) to ten (10) hours later. Things were really getting out of hand and [I] was becoming unmanageable for my parents since my younger brother Holis, was also displaying behavioral problems and like me, was running away from home and not attending school. When it became too much for my parents, they give me two (2) options, one, to go to Grenada to live with my grandmother, or two, be sent to the Belmont Orphanage. I chose to go to the Orphanage, which is now known as the St Dominic’s Children’s Home. At the time I was twelve (12) years old.  

After being processed by the Courts, I was sent to the Home where I remained for four (4) years from 1954 to 1958, until I was sixteen (16) years old. In starting my life at the Orphanage, I had to choose a trade and I chose tailoring. I also requested to be enrolled in the music band. Having enrolled in the music band, I first chose the Bb Clarinet; since there were not enough instruments to be assigned to every individual, I had to wait until there was an instrument that could have been assigned to me. During the period in which I was waiting for an instrument, I was taught the rudiments of music which was a preparation phase before an instrument could have been assigned to me. At the time I was advised by the tutors and elders at the Home, that there was not much work for clarinet players on the outside, unless one had the intention of going into the Police Services Band. It was then that I knew that the Alto Saxophone would have been my preferred instrument for pursuing a career in the music industry. During my time at St Dominic’s, I also played the Tenor Pan in the Home’s Steelband for our in-house Carnival parade.”  


WST - “What made you such a great Band Leader?”

Dr. Cape - I don’t know if I am great, but I have been around great musicians and bandleaders and great people all my life. My first Band Leader, musical arranger and Trombonist, Selwyn Wheeler, was a mentor and great teacher. My second Band Leader and my musical father - the great Frankie Francis, [other influences included] Bertram Inniss, Beverly Griffith, my good friend and brother, Ron Berridge, and the great Clive Bradley.

In 1997 we had a band by the name of Sounds Incorporated which was led by Clive Bradley and included Lennox Church and Michael “Toby” Tobas. I worked with Earl Rodney and Fortunia Ruiz with the Sparrow Troubadours from September 1968 to Carnival 1970. All of these guys were great musicians. With a line-up of these great musicians, if there is greatness in me, you can see where it came from. In my 1998 song, “Jam Meh Mr. Cape” which I performed at the Soca Monarch Finals, there is a line:

“Frankie Francis, Bert Inniss, is they who teach me the business, my education I got from these musicians.”


WST - “How and when were you introduced to the Steelpan?”

Dr. Cape - “When I was ten (10) years of age, I was given a Tenor Pan by a tuner from Renegades - Pancho Benjamin. When I took the pan home, my mother did not want me to keep it and she gave it to an elder from the Desperadoes band.”


WST - “You were great friends with Rudolph Charles, how did that friendship develop?”

Rudolph Charles
Rudolph Charles

Dr. Cape - At the time I was living at the corner of Laventille Road and Picton Road and Rudolph lived just a little way down Picton Road. It was around 1962 and I was playing with the Clarence Curvan Orchestra. I was living in Laventille and from time to time I would visit Desperadoes Panyard. I was introduced to Rudolph by Neville John (AKA Petty John) and we became good friends. I would often go to his house where he may be blending a pan, and I would play the notes on a melodica for him to get the pitch of the notes. A melodica is a wind/percussion instrument that has a musical keyboard on the top and is played by blowing through a mouthpiece that fits into a space at the side of the instrument. He would talk to me and share with me his plans for the Band and his ambition to have Despers as one of the top bands in Trinidad and Tobago. He was always determined to take Desperadoes to the top and that Despers should always be at the top of their game where their performances were concerned.”


WST - “In your opinion, what made Rudolph Charles so great as a leader?”

Clive Bradley (left), Emmanuel "Jack" Riley with Garvin Blake
Clive Bradley (left), Emmanuel "Jack" Riley with Garvin Blake

Dr. Cape - In my opinion, based on the relationship we shared, the Rudolph Charles I knew always had an open mind. He was always thinking. He had a way of seeing the big picture. Rudolph was a visionary. He was ahead of his time. In spite of the Steelband rivalry, Rudolph reached out to Emmanuel Jack [Riley], who had built a reputation as both a player  and tuner with Invaders from Woodbrook and invited him to come up the Hill to play a major role in tuning Desperadoes instruments. Jack was actually the resident tuner for Desperadoes for a number of years in the 1960s before he migrated to the USA. He was also an awesome soloist Steelpan player.”


WST - “Why did Rudolph believe that you could find (and you did) the right arranger for Desperadoes?”

Beverly Griffith
Beverly Griffith

Dr. Cape - During our many conversations Rudolph expressed to me that he needed to have a musician arranger for the Band. I knew Beverly Griffith with whom I was working closely in the Clarence Curvan Orchestra. Beverly was the arranger for the Clarence Curvan Orchestra and I knew that he would make a great Steelband arranger.

I always felt humbled by the fact that Rudolph had such high confidence of my opinion. He used to ask me so many questions and I would give him my opinion. So Beverly came, and in 1963. He arranged “The Road” a Kitchener song, which earned Desperadoes 3rd place in the National Panorama. In 1964 he arranged “Mama Dis Is Mas” another Kitchener song with which Desperadoes placed 2nd to Pan Am North Stars in the National Panorama. In 1966 Beverly arranged “Obeah Wedding” a Sparrow composition. Desperadoes placed 1st in the National Panorama that year and went on to capture the historic Triple Crown, by also winning the Bomb Competition and the Best Playing Band on the Road.

1966, after the 1966 Carnival, Beverly decided to migrate to the USA. As a result of Beverly’s departure, “Charlo”, as we all called Rudolph, came to me and said:

Capos what are we going to do boy?

Scipio “Sarge” Sargeant
Scipio “Sarge” Sargeant

I told Rudolph that I have someone for him, one Scipio Sargeant, a brilliant guitarist who worked with Beverly and me in the Clarence Curvan Orchestra. We got into Rudolph’s vehicle and drove up to Tunapuna where Scipio lived. I called out to him. When he came out I introduced him to Rudolph and told him that we came to invite him to arrange for Desperadoes for the 1967 Panorama. He was very hesitant at first and indicated that he had never even given thought to arranging [music] for a Steelband and was unsure whether he could do it. I told him that I was confident that he could, since I was aware of his musical talent and ability, of which I had a great appreciation of as he was a great soloist on the guitar and was very familiar with Beverly Griffith’s style and arrangements with the Clarence Curvan Orchestra.

Scipio eventually agreed and did the 1967 arrangement of “Governor’s Ball” which was sung by Sparrow. Desperadoes placed 2nd in the Panorama Competition and everyone was pleased that “Sarge” was able to achieve such a remarkable feat. However, sometime during 1967, Scipio, like Beverly before him, also decided to migrate to the USA. History repeated itself in 1968. With Scipio having migrated, Rudolph approached me with the same question,

“Capos what are we going to do boy?”

Clive Bradley
 Clive Bradley

“Without any hesitation I said to him, “I have the right man for you”. In came Clive Bradley, and the romanticism between Clive Bradley, Desperadoes and “the Hill” began. For the 1968 Panorama, Clive did Sparrow’s “Mr. Walker”; 1969, Sparrow’s “Sa Sa Yea”; 1970 Clive registered his first Panorama victory with Desperadoes with an arrangement of Kitchener’s “Margie”; 1976 “Pan In Harmony”; 1977 “Crawford”; 1978, “Pan In The 21st Century”; 1980, “No Pan”; 1983, “Rebecca”; 1999, “In My House”; 2000, “Picture On My Wall.””


WST - “You introduced Ron Berridge, Scipio Sargeant, and Raf Robertson to Rudolph Charles. Are there any others you felt would have excelled as Steelband arrangers but never entered the arena?”

Dr. Cape - Yes, there are a few. I always held the view that any good keyboard musician could have arranged for the Steelband. There were many very good keyboard musicians around the music scene in Trinidad. Raf Robertson was exceptional; Martin Lubert – an original member of Sparrow’s Troubadours, and many others.”


WST - “Did you personally ever arrange for Pan? And if not, did you ever wish to?”

Dr. Cape - No, I never had the personal challenge. God inspires and motivates you with a calling. I guess that in my case it was not meant to be.”


WST - “What impact is the UTT (University of Trinidad & Tobago) music programme having on the Trinidad music scene?”

Dr. Cape - The UTT music programme is having a very positive impact on the Trinidad music scene  at present. Of course there is always room for improvement. Many young musicians are benefiting from the music programmes that are being conducted there.

“There is a very strong Steelpan programme as well as programmes for Woodwind, Brass and String instruments. My understanding is that the UTT has established an Academy for the Performing Arts that offers tuition in music education as well as dance, animation and music technology. This is a great development. Aspiring musicians can now enter the UTT to obtain certification in the Performing Arts. This can allow opportunities for young students who may wish to pursue a career in the Performing Arts as an instrumentalist, a teacher or some other “back office career” in theatre design and production and music technology.”


WST - “How does the UTT programme differ from the musical environment you grew up in?”

Dr. Cape - In my era, we would go to the Band Room, in a very modest environment, and were taught by the elders who came before us. Many of them were great teachers, and we would do two (2) hours per day, sometimes more, for five (5) days per week, Monday to Friday. The UTT of today is a modern academic institution with a full-time faculty of professional tutors, with advanced systems of teaching and curriculum implementation and in most cases in a state of the art environment. There is a vast difference.”


WST - “In your estimation/opinion, compare the music programmes at the UTT and the UWI (University of the West Indies), relative to the Steelband art form.”

Dr. Cape - I do not have any details of the Steelpan music programmes at the UTT and the UWI to make an objective comparison, but I am aware that both institutions offer certification in both music theory as well as instrument performance disciplines. If I am not mistaken, I think that Dr. Mia Gormandy, Seion Gomez and Leon “Smooth” Edwards are part of the faculty at the UTT. I am not aware of the Steelpan faculty at the UWI.

I do know however, that good things are happening. It takes time to earn a degree and to go further to [earn a] Doctorate status in music. I think that there is a huge appreciation for music literacy and music education in Trinidad and Tobago at this time. Many of the youngsters are very interested and this can only auger well for the future.”


WST - “From your perspective, is today’s Soca an evolution of Calypso, a new genre, or both?”

Dr. Cape - “I think that it is a combination of the two.”


WST - “Is there a role for an “arranger” in today’s Soca music?”

Dr. Cape - Yes. Of course there is. Someone has to be responsible for constructing the music.”


WST - “Is there a market for Big Band Calypso music?”

Dr. Cape - “No. The audience is not there.”


WST - “What are your three (3) favorite Panorama arrangements and why?”

Dr. Cape - Beverly did Desperadoes arrangements in 1963 and 1964, and placed 3rd and 2nd respectively with “The Road” a Kitchener composition, and “Mama Dis Is Mas” another Kitchener composition. I am not sure what he did in 1965 Panorama, but I know that Despers ‘mash-up’ town on J’Ouvert morning with Beverly’s arrangements “Flight of the Bumble Bee” and “Czardas”.”

In 1966 he was ready and bought glory to the Hill placing 1st with “Obeah Wedding” a Sparrow composition. In 1967, Scipio Sargeant arranged “Governor’s Ball” aka “Mr. Prospect” another Sparrow composition and placed 2nd. And although Despers did not win, Rudolph and the Band were very satisfied with the awesome work Scipio did with the arrangement. (Scipio subsequently migrated and went on to rip up the New York Panorama Competition with five (5) consecutive winning arrangements for Despers USA).

I too migrated to the USA in 1970. I returned to Trinidad after the 1974 Carnival and left again for NYC. I returned in 1977. Over that period I missed seven (7) Carnivals and did not have the Panorama experience during that period. From what I have witnessed and heard for myself Beverly Griffith’s 1964 arrangement of “Mama Dis Is Mas” and Clive Bradley’s 1983 arrangement of “Rebecca” stand out.”


WST - “Do you have a favorite Calypso?”

Dr. Cape - “Yes, “Portrait of Trinidad”.”


WST - “What is the greatest challenge facing the Trinidad and Tobago musician today?”

Dr. Cape - The absence of audiences. Outside of Carnival, there are very little opportunities for the Big Band Sound Bands. The size of most music bands have been reduced. The new concept is smaller bands with heavy electronic technology. Event promoters and producers are reluctant to employ a ten- to twelve-piece orchestra with a full sound, when they can hire a five-piece band with electronic technology and a lead vocalist.”


WST - “And from your perspective, what is the greatest challenge facing the Steelband art form in Trinidad and Tobago?”

Dr. Cape - “Organisation, Restructuring and Visionary leadership.”


WST - “What are you most proud of in your career?”

Dr. Cape - Performing on the same stage with the legendary Duke Ellington Orchestra and his famous band of musicians at the Queen’s Park Savannah with the Sparrow Troubadours in 1969.”


WST - “What is your greatest disappointment?”

Dr. Cape - “That musicians continue to be not properly or equitably compensated for their contribution to the success of the lead vocalist.”


WST - “Presently, what do you miss the most relative to your career?”

Dr. Cape - “Going out at nights and entertaining audiences.”


WST - “From Sparrow and Kitchener to Blaxx and Ricardo Drue, what is different? What is the same?”

Dr. Cape - Although Sparrow and Kitchener sang danceable music, most of the music they made was for a sitting audience. During the Sparrow and Kitchener era, when a person went to a Calypso tent, they went to listen to the lyrics of the Calypso whether it was social commentary or comedy. Blaxx and Ricardo Drue, the music is different. Their focus is dance and Dancehall music.”


WST - “What advice would Roy Cape of today give to the twenty-year-old Roy Cape?”

Dr. Cape - Without a doubt getting a sound education would be paramount. Education is the pathway out of poverty. In whatever field one chooses, music, engineering, architecture, arts and craft, whatever - education is number one on the agenda.”


WST - “What would you like, or what do you believe, your legacy to be?”

Dr. Cape - Someone who with the Blessings of the Creator God, contributed to make the world a better place through music. God shares with us and we should share with others.”


WST - “Tell us about the Roy Cape Foundation?”

Dr. Cape - The idea of the ROY CAPE FOUNDATION was sparked by the January 2016 shooting death of two schoolboys on their way home from school and the deteriorating personal security situation in the Laventille community at the time. The day after the shooting, I received a telephone call from a friend of mine, who informed me of the incident and suggested that we do whatever we could to initiate a programme of music education to engage young persons in the joy of learning music as a means of combating the threat of violence and other anti-social behaviors. I found the idea to be very relevant and timely and we immediately set about crafting a letter to the then-Minister of National Security of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, Major General (Retired) the Honorable Edmund Dillon, offering to donate a set of Marching Band Drums and Woodwind and Brass Instruments to initiate a pilot programme of Music Education in the Laventille community.

Healing Communities Through Music-Roy Cape Foundation
Healing Communities Through Music - Roy Cape Foundation - Dr. Cape is at left

After fifty-plus years of performing on the Calypso and Dancehall stages all over the world and here at home in the Caribbean, I felt a sense of giving back to the community in the best way I know; through music. The RCF is registered under the Companies Act, 1995 of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and was issued with a Certificate of Incorporation in October 2016.

OUR MISSION:

To make music literacy and instrument performance programmes available to interested persons of various ethnic, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds throughout Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean Region in preparation for their pursuit of possible careers in the Arts, Entertainment and Music Industry.

OUR VISION:

A future with an abundance of musically literate musicians in ensembles and orchestras of Steelpan, Woodwind, Brass, Strings and Percussion instruments spread throughout Trinidad and Tobago.

Donations to the RCF can be of various types: e.g. Donation of instruments, Teaching Materials (music stands, music text books for all instruments, accessories: mouth pieces, reeds, strings, valve oil, slide oils), Teaching Aids (Laptops, Digital Multi Media Players, Multimedia Projector Screens).

The RCF postal address is:

 # 5 First Avenue, Oropune Gardens, Piarco, Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies.

The RCF main contacts are:

The RCF Board of Directors include:

Dr. Roy Francis Cape

January 2019



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