A Real Steelband Man

Anthony “Benup” Kinsale

by Sharmain Baboolal

Provided by, and published with, the expressed permission of: the Author

Trinidad & Tobago, W.I. -  At three score and ten, plus six, with a mind as sharp as it has ever been, it turns out worshipping took a toll on his knees. How did that happen? Well, for a couple of months, on mornings, he would go to the pan yard, in St Barbs, which he built from scratch for his community, having successfully negotiated the value of the steelband, just as inventor/ leader/musician Rudolph Charles did, in the days of the first prime minister Dr. Eric Williams.

Anthony Kinsale aka “Benup”
Anthony Kinsale aka “Benup”

At the pan yard, for at least two months, Anthony Kinsale, “Benup”, took out his double seconds and played for a couple of hours, the gentle hands sending musical notes around a community locked down by COVID, no less. The soothing sounds of gospels would flow up the hills and fill the little valleys. By its mystique, the Steelband is community work and he was still paying his dues. At six o’clock in the morning, after he turned off the lights in the pan yard, Blessed Assurance (see band’s performance below) and How Great Thou Art would lead to a few Christmas carols that lifted hearts and souls in the early morning silence.

For that he was brought to his knees. It was too long to be standing, as he now pays the price for the rigors of always being on the move, lifting heavy drums, decades of Panorama seasons here and in England, and New York - where he played for Panorama and arranged music for the Harlem All Stars, sometimes also playing for six hours at Penn Station or underground at 116th Street.  Add to that, work in Jamaica, Cuba, France and more locations in the USA - San Francisco, Texas and Miami. Thankfully, he is better now, after treatment.

Kinsale’s greatest worth to his people and community came from the decision to buck the status quo and the fearmongers, and stay in Laventille, that priceless real estate owned by the working class that is the vanguard for the rest of the country, perched on the edge of Port of Spain which is historically the enclave of the rich and famous.

He stood resolute, like a light on the Hill, while all else abandoned base.

Read on for a brief history, in his own words, of how he was instrumental in bringing an end to the steelband riots, how the former Vice-Captain of Desperadoes was a close ally of Charles, and a community inspiration whose resilience created the Serenaders on the edge of the basketball court in St Barbs, keeping Steelband alive on the hills when the Mighty Desperadoes ran away and Tokyo all but folded up.

A Community Inspiration.

Anthony “Benup” Kinsale opens up the yard
Anthony “Benup” Kinsale opens up the yard

“I love the people of Laventille. In 1996, I left the Desperadoes and revived the Serenaders which started in the 50s and became dormant in the 80s when some members left the country for the US and England. I left Desperadoes ten years after Rudolph Charles died because I wanted to be my own leader. All kinds of bands tried to build on that spot, next to the basketball court in St Barbs, but it never went beyond four posts and two sheets of galvanise.

“Always I would see the youths - some nine and ten years old - by the gas station just doing nothing, so I said to myself “I am going to see what I could do - make them into something.” Ricardo “Shortman” Mapp, Frederick “Shakala” Jones, Noel Oba Luke, Wayne Shabba Best, as well as Jermon Ashby, shared the vision and they became the backbone of the Serenaders.  One year afterwards, Mikey McDowell joined as and became the band’s PRO. Florence Watson of Louis Clarke and Associates, a Custom Brokerage firm, started with us and sponsored all our uniforms for competition from preliminaries to finals, until she died in 2018. God bless her soul. Barbara Ross, who plays scratcher for the band is the seamstress who made all the uniforms. Florence’s sister, Diane Clarke, continues to help the band.

“Everybody chipped in: San Juan All Stars donated a few instruments and I worked my taxi to contribute to buying pans, while the late MP Eulalie James donated four tenors and George “YoYo” Griffith tuned our pans. We were a single pan band until 2006 after which we joined the Conventional Small Band category. We started with the band practicing on the side of the road, and when it rained, we went under the pavilion. The owner of the bar on top of the hill kept the pans for us. The people up here respect me and what I am doing. When we started it was like Christ came here. The youths became interested and when parents saw their children off the streets, they supported us.

“Nobody comes around here to look for anybody because we said we don’t want anyone involved with crime to come in the band. Some wanted to join but it did not make sense. But in this community, they all look out for me, even the miserable ones. Nobody plays a bad john here either.

“We eventually started construction of the building under the Basdeo Panday United National Congress (UNC) and then the People’s National Movement (PNM) came back into power and piece by piece we finished it. The old Serenaders, before us, tried to put up something and they just could not make, it was registered under their committee and they signed over everything to me at Town and Country Planning. When they handed it over to me, I made it a reality.

“And we have competed in Panorama for 23 years. No players were afraid to come up here as we had some from Cascade and we go for them and take them back when practice is done. There is no disrespect towards me or the band or anyone who comes to the band. At Panorama time, it’s not just the band that gets money. It’s the community. When Panorama is over even the guys under the pavilion get some money because they help us.”

Framed and Jailed for Nothing; Benup’s Prison Band Unites Rioting Steelbands.

“It was about 8:30 p.m. on July 5th 1963, when police officers of the Special Branch (then the Intelligence Unit of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service) ambushed us at the corner of Laventille Road and Ovid Alley. They came shooting. At the time we, the Desperadoes, were on the corner, planning to go and make a raid on our enemies, Renegades. We gathered with all different type of arms, with the aim to go look for Papito, Dr Rat, Mighty Kincaid, Peas Eye, Lil Axe and Tan-Tan who were the heavy gunners down there. It was supposed to be a run-through, an invasion of their base on Observatory Street. But then the police cornered us and two members of the gang were shot. They raided us, but we never fought against them.

Anthony “Benup” Kinsale
Anthony “Benup” Kinsale

“We appeared in court and the case was called and adjourned for three years and we even appealed until November 1966 when they jailed us. By that time, we had changed our name to Thunderbirds and we were still getting on miserable. One or two members skipped the country and left for England before May 23rd 1966 when Justice Corbin handed down a sentence of 60 years to be divided between the twelve rioters from Laventille whom they also described as a menace to society.

“The police switched the evidence and put it across like we started shooting when they approached. It was a very sad moment, indeed. When I was charged, I gave my father’s name Junior Mackenzie, instead of using my real name Anthony Kinsale because my uncle was Teddy Kinsale, the leader of the notorious Red Army.

“We were featured as rioters in a photo on the front page of the Mirror newspaper which captured us going into the big Black Maria. Some faces on the papers were looking sad but I was like a bird, with two hands in the air, as if I won something. We even made the BBC news- as people told me, though I never actually heard it.

“Our crew consisted of Al Capone, Jeff Wan, “Benup”, Budzin, Fonrose, Major, Len we call him Popeye, Edwin we call him Poi, Donson Williams- Troy, Killer Annie, Sandy. They divided us. Two were kept in the Royal Jail on Frederick Street and ten of us were sent to Golden Grove.”

Laventille Serenaders - Blessed Assurance
Bomb Tune - arranger:  Junior Anthony Kinsale (“Benup”)

“One month after we arrived there, I made a request to the Prison Superintendent for some instruments from Desperadoes to be brought to the prison. He relayed this to the Commissioner of Prisons who gave the okay and Rudolph Charles brought the instruments. So, we had a band and they gave us the authority to practice every time ahead of an event from 5 to 7 p.m. A couple members of the Thunderbirds used to practice along with other inmates from the prison. We were people from Renegades, John John in Laventille, and from all over the country.

“It was a cosmopolitan institution with the music inside there. Calypso Prince was one of the musicians from John John and Dennis “Merchant” Franklin, was in prison at the time too, playing the Six Bass along with Crawl, another bassman from Desperadoes. “Merchant” was a good six bass man and the majority of calypsos he sang were composed while he was in there- he came out and sold songs. I was a tuner, arranger, and I also blended the pans and was in charge of the prisoners who were members and were allowed to stay out from 5 to 7 in the night.

“In prison, we used to listen to the Panorama on Rediffusion and because we supported different bands there was a kind of tension when the bands were playing, but it used to be fun and we never fought despite the shooting outside and when we were running one another with cutlass and dynamite. We realized how nice we were living inside while outside we wanted to kill one another. We were the peace makers; we played football and cricket together and shared a brotherly love for five years.

“By the time we came out we started to visit newfound friends in their area where we could not do before. We ate, drank and party, without fear or favour. The relationship between the two bands changed. Indeed, it was a valuable experience for me even though when I came out, I was 24 years old and still kind of ferocious.

“I returned to Desperadoes after my release from prison because I last played with them in 1966 when we made a clean sweep of titles playing Sparrow’s Melda before we were convicted.

“Most of my run-in with the law was with the police. I used to beat them when they tried to take advantage of me in the bars on Charlotte Street. They used to try to manners me, Randy Babb and a lot of other bad police like Leach and Serpico, some of whom pulled gun for me but other policemen moved their hand.

“In one incident at York’s bar at the corner of Prince and Charlotte Street, Corporal Lambert was talking rough to me and he pushed me. In return I cuffed him down and kicked him in his face— five of them came at me and they held me and took me down. So, I was making a criminal record.

“My mind reflected on what a nun told me inside prison, after listening to the musical repertoire of the band. She told me I had too much talent to be in prison and so I started to take the pan seriously. Rudolph talked to me and told me to cool myself. I had a position in the band, as vice-captain and he advised me to stay away from trouble, saying anywhere the band was travelling to perform he would carry me. But In 1970 when the band was going to England, I did not have the full repertoire so I stayed at home and was captain for the rest of members who stayed back.

“Then Desperadoes started to travel; in 1976 to Jamaica and Cuba and at a Trade Fair in Dallas, Texas, and then in 1977 when Penny Commissiong won the Miss Universe, the government sent us to Miami for a parade and concerts.

“The experience was good. That time as Vice-Captain was an eye-opener for me and developed my leadership skills.” 

 I lifted Rudolph’s dead body and felt he was alive.

Rudolph Charles
Rudolph Charles

“On the night of March 29th, 1985, Rudolph Charles was walking from the Charles’ family home on Picton Road to his home, near mine, and when we found him, we realised that he had fallen down a small hill about nine feet landing on the hard rocky ground of what was once a quarry and hit his chest. A young man who was walking along the road at the time heard him groaning. He ran down to my home and called for help. I, along with Rudolph’ brother, Errol, and a neighbor went out in the back and saw him on the ground.

“We lifted him and walked him through a track and took him to his house which was just in front of mine and we tried to resuscitate him, not knowing he was gone already. They called the ambulance and Errol and I went with him in the ambulance and we kept checking his pulse and I felt a faint beat.

“When we arrived at the back of emergency room, we stood and looked on as they put an oxygen mask on his face as the doctor gave the signal to shock him and then ordered a stronger one, as we watched as his body just lifted off the table and dropped back down. That’s when the doctors turned to us and said if we had brought him 15 minutes earlier, he would have lived. We thought he had just fainted. There was a bruise on his chest which indicated that he hit a rock when he fell. We left and went home.

“By that time people started to gather and his sister-in-law and brother who were living nearby said they could have told us that he died, but we would not have believed them. Rudolph believed in me as he often said that I was a man of principle. When he made mistakes, I used to tell him, and he liked me for that and there was a mutual respect between us. Days afterwards, I was in a different world. It was shocking that an aggressive, powerful, healthy man had died so suddenly.

“One year before Rudolph died, in 1984 I left home and picked him up and I drove down Picton to go to the Royal Bank on Independence Square. I dropped him off and he went into the bank. Right there in front of the bank is a bus stop. While he was inside a bus arrived to pick up passengers. And when he came out of the bank instead of passing in the back of the bus, he walked towards the front and just as he crossed the road, a car came and hit him right there where I was standing, waiting for him. I had a hatchet in my bag and was angry to the point of wanting to wound the driver but Rudolph stopped me from hurting the fella. I took him to the hospital. Little did I know that he would die one year afterwards.” 

Sharmain Baboolal

About the author, Sharmain Baboolal

A Journalist/Editor based in Trinidad and Tobago, with 35 years experience in print, broadcast and digital media. As a founding member of the T&T Mirror Newspaper, I served as photo journalist, columnist and editor over 23 years.

My experience in broadcast journalism started and ended at the now defunct National Broadcasting Service (Radio 610 AM and Radio 100 FM). I honed my skills in broadcast journalism at the Radio Netherlands Training Centre (RNTC) and I am a certified media trainer.

Single-handedly, I established a small but effective News Department at Trinidad and Tobago Radio Network Limited (TTRN). As a seasoned news woman I am skilled in photojournalism, parliament and court reporting, writing and producing for print, electronic (radio and video) as well as digital media and promotions. I have mentored and trained a few younger writers and producers along the way. For this and more I earned a National Award in 2012, the Humming Bird Medal (Gold). I am the mother of a young scholar, an undergrad at Columbia University in New York, and a lover of steelpan music.

contact Sharmain Baboolal at:

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