Moods of Pan 2008
Grammy award-winning producer and song writer - Ralph MacDonald
Antigua & Barbuda, W.I. - Multiple Grammy award-winning producer, song writer and performing artist Ralph MacDonald came to the beautiful Caribbean island of Antigua, sister isle of Barbuda - to have some fun. What was also very apparent from the onset was that the people of Antigua were in for a very special treat. Ralph MacDonald brought his A-team to town - and they were not about to take any prisoners.
This was MacDonald’s first visit to Antigua in his storied and wonderful career, and he made sure the people of Antigua and Barbuda were going to remember both him and his gang of musical Goliaths. The scene was surreal against the backdrop of the warm Caribbean night with the Antilles winds from the coast of Africa providing a natural cooling breeze - under what looked like a billion stars and planets twinkling like lights on a Christmas tree.
Now Ralph MacDonald is one of the nicest cats in the music business you would ever like to meet. He is mischievous, funny and generous. However, he does not mess around when it comes to his music. Ralph reminds me a lot of Max Roach - in that you had better be real good at what you do, if you are going to be around him. You will never get a second chance to mess up.
The spotlight showcased MacDonald center stage on percussions. To his stage front left, was the fabulous Robert Greenidge - possibly the steelpan player with the greatest touch and control ever. Behind Greenidge was Clifford Carter on keyboards (also a recognized composer, who has collaborated with George Benson, James Taylor, Natalie Cole, et al.) and bassist Nicholas Brancker. To the rear, solidly but innovatively anchoring the powerhouse line-up was drummer Christopher Parker, who plays with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, et al. To the right was famed guitarist David Spinozza (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, et al.), who appears on MacDonald’s most recent CD (as too does Parker), Mixty Motions. And stage front right consisted of his horn section made up of saxophonist Arturo Tappin (Roberta Flack, Courtney Pine, Monty Alexander, et al.) and trumpeter Etienne Charles (Marcus Roberts, Roberta Flack, Ralph MacDonald, et al.). Rounding out his team were Nadirah Shakoor (Arrested Development, Jimmy Buffet, Quincy Jones, Madonna, et al.) and Dennis Collins (arguably MacDonald’s favorite male vocalist) on vocals. This was an all-star cast that came together on every level under MacDonald’s direction to deliver a memorable performance that the Moods of Pan Festival will not soon forget.
Ralph MacDonald (center) at Moods of Pan Festival 2008 - Another Side of Pan
MacDonald took the audience on a musical journey through a varied repertoire of new and past hits that sounded as though they were being delivered for the very first time. And this of course included MacDonald’s signature tune, the globally familiar musical anthem “Just the Two of Us,” which was penned for Trinidad and Tobago, but also superbly acclimatized to the twin-island nation hosting Moods of Pan - Antigua and Barbuda. MacDonald’s enthusiasm, honesty and commitment to his music is what makes it reverberate so well with everyone. Moreover his respect for the steelpan instrument is second to none. You will never find a synthesizer filling in for the pan on any of his gigs or recordings, or the pan player included as a mere afterthought, buried somewhere out in left field. As a matter of fact, MacDonald keeps it “real” all the way - he does not use synths for any musical voicing in his recording sessions or live performances, period.
Although he was born and raised in Harlem, New York, Ralph has a Caribbean linkage throughout his career and life. His father was the famed calypso artist Macbeth the Great. Furthermore, the steelpan instrument has been a part of MacDonald’s musical journey from day one. He unabashedly calls himself a “Desperado” referring to the legendary steel orchestra from Trinidad and Tobago. And of course while it is still not known to everyone - as mentioned above - his Grammy Award-winning hit “Just the Two of Us” was about the twin Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago.
About the 2008 Moods of Pan festival overall, MacDonald’s observations, interestingly enough, echoed those sometimes expressed about events daring to focus on the steelpan instrument outside of a Panorama setting. Chatting with When Steel Talks, he said: “It was my first time in Antigua, and I thought it [Moods of Pan] was great....I would have liked to see larger audiences [given the caliber of the event and the performers]...” He touched on the ridiculous, practically ‘giveaway’ cost of entry on any of the three festival nights, given the stellar cast of artists and performances. WST has covered other MOPs, and noted the attendance this year has not been on par with other, more enthusiastically attended editions of the festival.
Panist extraordinaire Robert Greenidge shared the stage with MacDonald; the spotlight bouncing off the chrome of Greenidge’s double seconds, the rays seeming to hit every point on Deanery Grounds, the Moods of Pan venue - and bathing the instrument in an ethereal glow. Indeed, Robert’s grace and what appears as an effortless command of the instrument often conceals the depth of his musicianship. Robert Greenidge is one of the best players to have ever honored the instrument. His touch is second to none. Robert’s performances punctuated the purpose and spirit of the Moods of Pan Festival - the best of pan celebrating the instrument.
Indeed the Moods of Pan Festival is known for its once-in-a-lifetime performances from its great artists. Ralph MacDonald and his gang of musical cohorts made sure their names will be added to that line-up.
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