Journey to Desperadoes: Zanda’s Untold Story

by Sharmain Baboolal

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

© 2018 -  All Rights Reserved.

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Trinidad & Tobago, W.I

A community leader redefined....

Not until he was proven to be the gift sent from Siparia to Laventille to bring the lost and wandering band from atop the Hill back to its spiritual moorings that eyes opened to Carlton Alexander.

Brother of Clive Zanda, Carlton, the lesser known of the two, was on the threshold of three score and ten when he gave the iconic Desperadoes Steel Orchestra a Panorama victory that pulled them out of a 15-year slump.

But it was not just a journey from South to North Trinidad, via Canada and the USA and more lately Soweto through his project with the late Hugh Masekela.

Clearly, he was divinely prepared to recover the voice that was muted by the hard times (not financially) on which the band had fallen with the residue of Rudolph Charles’ leadership legacy in the dust, Desperadoes also lost its legendary arrangers Beverley Griffith and Clive Bradley.

When the definition of Islam for the majority of young Muslims in Trinidad is in sync with the goals of ISIS, Carlton, who embraced the religion formally in Toronto in 1975, but was introduced to it in Trinidad, might appear to be an oxymoron wearing his Taj drilling a band of musicians who are pleading in his arrangement of Voice’s Year For Love, “Tell me what they fighting for?”

Lifting the 2016 Panorama Championship was a process that began more than 60 years ago when the sound of Desperadoes first resonated within Carlton as a young boy growing up in Siparia, located 81 kilometers away from Laventille.

Not by radio or television or any kind of technology. as you would imagine. The mystical messenger was his cousin, Reggie Peters, who left Siparia in the 1950’s and headed to “town” where he became a ‘Rados player.

When Reggie visited the village where he grew up, he would play the songs and so Zanda revealed as a child he was in tune with Despers and even though his musical experiences took him far and wide it never left him.

Zanda’s hunger for music eventually took him into the Deltones Panyard as a teenager even while he enthusiastically embraced the Combos against his father's wishes.

Today he straddles both Desperadoes and Deltones.

map of Trinidad
Map of Trinidad

It was in the 70’s after he migrated to Port of Spain when, as if by divine order, Rudolph Charles walked into a band room on Quarry Street, Port-of-Spain seeking the leader of Third World Reflections. It turned out to be Zanda.

But it was a long and winding road on the journey which took Carlton back to Desperadoes and within there is the story of the cross migration of musicians from South and North of the island.

The rivalry in music and football was epic.

Carlton explains his journey best. For fear of misrepresenting what he brings to the table as a leader this interview is broken into six parts which, if you read through, will give not just an understanding of his contribution, but a significant piece of history, as well.

Zanda was born into a family of musicians but was the teenage renegade among them and persisted when his father pulled him out of rehearsals with the Beatnix Combo for "playing devil music", Rhythm and Blues.

A woman like Daisy Voisin was just another part of the landscape. Bertram Innis, he saw in action for the first time when, at 14 years old, he was stolen away from Siparia to Sparrow’s Hideaway to accompany a calypsonian who wanted to make it to the tent in town.

And there’s Albert Bush one of the best bass players in the Caribbean. They bonded musically through their late teens in Fyzabad and in their early 20’s in Port-of-Spain before Zanda left for Canada.

He explains his journey best.

This is broken down into six parts which are meant to give a deeper understanding of the trials, tribulations, joys and bliss in the DNA of this Panorama arranger. One for the history buffs.

Finding Despers’ Voice…

“The challenge I have with Desperadoes?” Carlton Alexander said, slowly repeating the question that I had asked at the start of an interview at his Siparia home, in April 2017.

“Despers had very good orchestrators in the history of the band and here I am coming now, so my challenge is to meet that,” Zanda said putting his work into perspective.

“By the grace of God, it was done in 2016. What I was trying to do is retain the sound of Desperadoes, as I remember them,” he explained.

“I thought the band was losing the sound. That was one of the things the people of Laventille and the people of Trinidad and Tobago, who are Despers’ lovers were happy about. They heard the sound,” he said without really acknowledging the deeper effect of the music which turned jaded players into warriors.

“I did not listen to ‘Rados for a long long time before I took the responsibility to arrange for them in 2016.

“But I always liked them and I believe it is because, one, of my cousin Reggie Peters who left Siparia in the 50’s and was playing with ‘Rados in town, so you know you have a cousin playing with ‘Rados and you feel happy.

“He used to come home and play a little song for us and usually it was the song he was playing in town with ‘Rados. So a certain tonality stays in your head, certain movements," he added.

“That has to do with voicing; what you put where you put. Playing the piano is fine voicing, but the voicing might be different on the pan,” he said.

As for Panorama, Zanda said it shows that “we get too busy doing a whole lot of notes all over the place and I like Desperadoes because it was never a band to be playing one set of unnecessary notes.

“It is more about colour and shape,” Zanda explained.

Clive Bradley

“So if people told me I sound like Bradley. I won’t say no.

“Remember when Bradley had Esquires and I had Third World Reflections,?” he asked recalling they both emerged from the Combo era in Trinidad music.

“Bradley was a solo piano player and I was in the Queen’s Royal College (QRC) jazz workshop doing the same things.

“I was about 18 years old when I met Beverley Griffith as we both used to play with Clarence Curvan and he was one of Despers’ early arrangers who laid the foundation for their sound.

“Seeing that we came from a Western type orchestration, the way we voice will be the same. It will be different to how a pan player will voice,” Zanda noted, emphasizing their similarities which made the transition easy for him.

Now, imagine Rudolph Charles the legendary innovator who ruled the Desperadoes with an iron hand walking up Quarry Street and hearing music.

It was the kind that made him stop and walk upstairs to the band room where the guys from South were rehearsing with the band Third World Reflection Revival; Zanda, Albert Bush, Patrick Drakes and Slim who had moved up to Quarry Street joined by singers.

They had come to town to play music; they were told the guys had instruments but not musicians.

David Rudder and those guys used to pass up Quarry Street and come by our window because our building was close to the road. They would stand and listen to us.

“One day the deceased Rudolph Charles came and knocked on the door and announced himself as the captain of Desperadoes.

“I am always passing up here and hearing this band practice. I like this band, who is the captain of this band?” Zanda recalled Charles asking.

“They point to me with this big Afro playing in the corner. He said it would be a nice idea for us to play together and from that, we started to play in the Hollows together every Sunday: ‘Rados and Third World. That is where it started, between 1972-1974,” he said, speaking of the years before he migrated to Canada.

Another twenty years would pass before Zanda made another connection with the ‘Rados. It was when he returned in the early 90’s to arrange for Deltones and “Slam” one of Rudolph Charles’ brother took him from Siparia to Port-of-Spain.

“.......Playing ‘devil music’”

It was a little boy’s dream. The lure of playing an electric guitar and the final pull of a “nice red Fender Strato,” which propelled Carlton Alexander across the divide from gospel into pop music.

Daisy Voisin who was friends with his sisters, he would meet for the first time on the street on her way home. Bertram Innis, the legendary combo bandleader whom he could not have truly understood at the age of 14 years, declared him a good guitar player on the night he has stolen away from Siparia to Sparrow’s Hideaway in Petit Valley to accompany a calypsonian.

Other nights his father pulled him out of practice with the Beatnix Combo... and had to run to catch him too.

But music is in his DNA. It is the knot that bonded his family.

Ella Andall
Ella Andall

“My mother’s maiden name is Louisa Andall coming from the roots with Ella Andall who is my first cousin. My father a was a shoemaker, a tenor vocalist, a guitarist and the choir conductor for the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Siparia and he had five girls and four boys, all of whom are musicians in some way.

"Some became vocalists, some became guitarists like my father. My mother was a soprano vocalist in the choir as well as a designer/painter who made flowers and handicraft.”

“We did not have a pan in the house but we had a guitar. My elder sisters played the piano. My father’s sisters, the Osbournes were piano teachers in the community.

“Where we are sitting now (under the family home in Siparia) is my father’s workshop and my mother’s flower design shop. I had a small guitar school right here when I was 16 years old and taught most of the guitarists on the SS Erin Road going right down to Palo Seco.

“In the ‘60’s I was always mingling with the musicians in Siparia who were mostly pan players. They did not play western instruments like the guitar or the piano, for example.

“And so I started to meet other musicians in the community who were not gospel based as I was because of my father’s strong affiliation with the church.

“I used to carry my guitar to the Pre University High School which I attended when I was 14 years old. It was located just a short distance from our home at the top of Mary Street. During break time I would sit on the back step and play the guitar and on one of these occasions Aldwyn Marchand, whose family had the Beatnix Combo, said that he was amazed by my playing and asked what band I played for.

"And then when I said that I only played at the church he told about their band and that they had an electric guitar and that excited me because at that time I never played an electric guitar.

"He told me they would be performing at a bazaar at Victoria Street at Dudley Commercial School - where the late Cuthbert Joseph (Minister of Education) was born and raised.

"I ran away from home to go and hear them. Coming from the Adventist background I was not allowed to be around that type of music.

"I happened to be peeping through some holes because I could not go in the bazaar and heard them playing and saw them performing with their nice red fender strata guitar.

"So I decided one day I would go where they rehearsing and I went across the Savannah where they practised at the family home and I got a play on the guitar which I really wanted to experience; an amplified guitar.

"Naturally, they asked me to join the band. I was not too sure about that because my father would not want me to be in that type of environment. He did not mind me playing music but he did not like that type of environment. He preferred the gospel, and that was a struggle.

“I was part of the Siparia Better Village and was there when the Siparia SDA Church joined with other churches to go to a Music Festival.

"I remember, too, around that time, I even got an endorsement from Daisy Voisin. One day she stopped when she saw me on the corner of Coora Road and Mary Street with two of my friends who were pan musicians.

Daisy Voisin
Daisy Voisin

"She always had a beautiful smile and she told me that I looked like an Alexander. I did not even know who she was but she said she heard me playing some nice chords and that she wanted me to show her the chords.

"I ran away home to my mother who told me that it was alright because Daisy used to be home with my sisters.

"The desire was there to try other things. There were things I was doing simultaneously like backing up a lot of calypsonians in the community. It went so far that Lenore Charles- whose brother, Ralson Felix, aka Smokey I used to back up, helped to sneak me out of the house one night when he had to go to an audition at Sparrow’s Hideaway.

“That year he had a nice calypso called “They cyar keep me back for this carnival.” This was a good experience. So one day in the week she actually stole me.

"She told me, Carlton, go and bring your guitar. And they put me in a car and when I went in the car I saw Ralston, Lenore and one of her other brothers who was a driver. I did not know where I was going.

"All they told me is that I am going to back up Smokey at Sparrow Hideaway.

"The drive was nice and I went up in his place on Simeon Road and auditioned.

"I never forgot that experience because when it was Smokey's time to perform I remember Betram Innis, who was with Sparrow's band, came knocking to Sparrow beneath his chair and said ‘listen to the little boy with his guitar.’ I will never forget that.

“Unfortunately the Birdie (Sparrow) wasn’t too pleased because that boy Smokey coulda sing. When he finished singing his number Sparrow asked him, ‘Yuh cyar sing something else, you come to compete with me or what?’ and he never got in the tent.

"I think up to this day that affected Ralson. He was really disappointed.

"I was a little boy, did not know what was going on. I came back down the road easy like that.

“By that time I became a member of the Beatniks Combo and went through a real pressure with that.

"My father used to come to the rehearsal room, pull me out and run me down.

"My older sisters who were living in the US and England at the time started to write letters telling him to go easy on Carlton.

“Eventually he eased away from me. I joined Beatniks in 1965 and by '67 he eased away.

Even at Deltones... ‘They thought I was too outta the box’

If playing the devil music was bad enough, Carlton took it a step further, into the panyard.

Ellis Knight, whose statue stands proudly as an icon on High Street, Siparia, was the founder of the Deltones. History has it that Knight, known as “Lively” packed his clothes and moved out of Laventille, taking the train from Port of Spain.

He came out at the last stop, Siparia. There, at the end of the train line, ironically, is where the Deltones panyard is located in the historic old railway building. It was on that spot, just where he landed that Knight started the Deltones.

It was fair exchange then, when Zanda became the gift to Laventille, for Lively was the gift to Siparia.

After two years with Beatnix, the ever-hungry “young Alexander” made the next musical mark in his village in the Deltones panyard.

"My friends Beverly Pierre (Slabby) and Fred Julien (Rodo) were going to Deltones practice and I was going to the Beatnix, neither of which was far from each other in terms of location.

"When I reached my location- and they had to continue a bit- they said "Zanda let's go by the panyard." I said "I doh play pan," but Fred said "boy you is a musician." I liked him for that. He was always a challenger.

“So I say "you challenging me?" I told the guys in the band room I am coming back just now, I am going down by the panyard.

"When I got there the arranger was playing a song by the Beatles and I think at a certain point he was having problems to continue the bridge of the song. It could have been “Michele my belle” as far as I remember.

"I was in the middle between Slabby and Rodo and I could not see the arranger because he was in the corner but there was a second pan facing me and the captain, the deceased Ellis Knight (Lively), who was friends with my brother Clive was looking on.

A statute of Ellis Knight in Siparia, Trinidad
A statute of Ellis Knight in Siparia, Trinidad

"When the arranger was getting lost in the progression I saw the notes written out on the pan so I borrowed sticks from my friend and I walked to the pan and started to block out the progression, and Aldwyn King who was the arranger of Deltones, they used to call him the Hawk, was surprised.

"He did not think that anybody in the band at that time had that knowledge to complete the cycle of that progression of the bridge of the song.

"So he asked "Who is that?" and my two friends said "That is Zanda," and he told Lively that he must 'let this little boy do some songs for the band'. That was the year I became a member of Deltones and started doing a few songs for the band.

"Two things happened at the same time for me, Beatniks Combo and Deltones. Some of the people in Beatniks were in Deltones and in the Best Village, some were in both Deltones and Beatniks.

"But I eventually broke off with Beatniks and started doing more work with Deltones and I was searching around and then met some guys in Fyzabad.

"In 1967 I was in Form Four when we went to Fyzabad to play school’s football: The Pre University High School versus Fyzabad Intermediate.

"After the match, I saw this guy sitting on the bleachers with a four-string guitar. So I said to him "You will make a good bass player, boy." He watched me and laughed. It was just a casual meeting. But that was Albert Bush, one of the best bass players in the Caribbean who played with David Rudder and Charlie’s Roots.

"When the Seventh Day Adventist Church sent my father to be the deacon at Fyzabad he used to take me to church. I was carrying a guitar when I met Chester, the man dubbed the best guitar player in Fyzabad.

“In those days, it was the normal Trini thing where there were two guitar players there would be a jam out.

"And with the Kitchener song Hold On To Your Man, Chester, the man considered to be the best guitar player in Fyzabad at that time got lost in the bridge and that is when I got crowned in Fyzabad.

"I was a kind of adventurous musician, doing things differently and you will find at your own home they thought I was too out of the box, "All them kinda big chords Zanda like to use" they used to say.

"In Fyzabad I was more relaxed, however.

"Another guitar player eventually joined us and we opened a band called The Professionals. I was on keyboard, Bush on bass and Slim was on guitar.

"I always use to pound a piano anywhere I met it. I played all the strings- bass, double bass, cuatro and we used to play all over in South.

"We did not last very long, however, and by 1969 after a stint with the Peter Vin Courtney Orchestra from Palo Seco, I would have been about 18 years old, we moved into Port of Spain.

Rural, Raw and Uncut in Port of Spain ....until Toronto called

"We learnt that Port of Spain had instruments but they had nobody to play it. So four guys, Albert Bush, Patrick Drakes, Slim and myself, went to Piccadilly Street and we had a jam session and that is how I ended up in Port of Spain.

“I was employed at the Ministry of Works as a draughtsman at the same time, so I got a transfer. By that time Clive came back home in 1970 from England with his wife from South Africa and he worked with Winston Moore.

"So I started to live with Clive at Upper Bournes Road in St James. One day some guys were playing ball on the road and I went and joined them and they did not mind.

"I heard a pan playing and I ask them if there was a pan side around here and they pointed me to Pan Am North Stars. I stopped playing football one time and I walked towards the sound.

"As I entered the yard I was amazed at the sound that was coming from those Cellos and we made friends. The leader, Anthony Williams was watching me, knowing that I was Clive’s brother.

"Then Bush, Slim, Drakes and myself opened a band called Third World, in 1970. By that time I was living on Quarry Street and Prescott Alley and there were some guys from a singing group in that area called Reflection Revival- namely Ellsworth James, Andrew Perry and Alan Nicholas who wanted to join our band.

"We gave them a break and called the group Third World Reflection Revival.
"There were other combo bands around, Needle in a Pin Cushion from St James, and then the Boothmans had a band Rockerfellers. They were the guys I met in Port of Spain at the same time. There was Esquires which turned into Esquires Now, all those bands in town were hitting it hard in 1973 or thereabouts.”

Steelpan was always musical territory waiting to be reconquered by Zanda.

“At one point I went to play with Starlift just after coming into town. But the line of people waiting to audition was too long and I turned away even [though] I loved Ray Holman’s music at the time. It was exciting," he said.

But there was a turning point when his brother Clive returned from England.

“That is when I began to understand certain jazz qualities and sounds that Clive had brought and opened up our ears to, and he did influence a lot of other players, as a matter of fact, all of us.

“In 1973 I returned to Siparia for a time and arranged the first Shadow song I orchestrated in my lifetime for Deltones, ‘Prance”, and we did it for Panorama in South", he recalled.

Third World dissolved and Carlton headed to the Ontario College of Arts to study Environmental Design.

“Since then I can say I have not really moved from Toronto.

He extended his musical experience and played “top 40 music all over Toronto with people’s bands.”

By 1979 Carlton graduated and married his first wife, as well. A few years later he moved over to New York, to work at HTI in downtown Manhattan.

But the music education continued and he paid his hard-earned money to study with the legend of Bebop, the Grammy Award-winning Barry Harris.

Barry Harris
Barry Harris

"It was there that I started to open up." Zanda declared.

“Intermingle” was the name of the little band which he formed with a group of friends and then while he returned to Canada in the late 80’s, they had already started Pan Fantasy in New York which placed second on two occasions in the New York Panorama.

Another decade passed before he formed another band, The Coal Pot, which takes credit for being the first West Indian group to perform in Canada at the Bermuda Onion, one of the biggest jazz shows, the same week with Ahmed Jamal. "That was a big thing for us,” he declared, adding “and then we played for the Montreal 350th birthday.

"The repertoire was Caribbean music. I do not like to use the word jazz. We are not jazz people.

"It is Caribbean folk. Jazz is a culture, it is a life, it is eating cornbread and black eye peas. It is an American thing," Zanda said.

A revolution: Panorama players get paid

"Deltones called me to arrange for them in 1992 which I did with Kitchener’s Bee’s Melody. But the following year I did my own song called ‘Give we something.’

"I was always out of the box. They did not give me much support with that in Siparia, saying, “Zanda coming with his own song”.

“But what motivated that song was important; when I came back and saw the pan musicians were not getting anything, I felt very bad, even though I paid lots of money in New York for my own knowledge.

“It’s hard to work with a band when the players not taken care of. I did not think I would get out of them what was required. It is natural.

“Working with a musician in the yard you would hear him say “Zanda, I hungry boy” and I would go up to the house and ask my mother to make bake and saltfish for the players who were so hungry.

“When I came back I saw the truck man getting money and everybody else for that matter getting paid, and knowing that before I went to Canada steelband groups used to be playing in fetes.

"When I came back home I saw the DJ just taking over. No bands were playing in the fetes. So I called the song ‘Give we something.’

"It was done in Leston Paul's studio. Deceased Eddie Quarless did the horns for me and Albert Bush played on it. Blaxx who was living right next door to me did the vocals and it was one of the first songs he recorded.

"Blaxx’s father had the Gerry Stewart Combo, I used to teach him to play the guitar.

"The people at Deltones were not too happy that I did my own song.

'It was afterwards that Pan Trinbago paid the pan players a stipend and they eventually settled on the TT$1,000.00 fee. I will say Deltones was the forerunner in even motivating that.

"By 1994 I told them I could not arrange for them. But I was a judge for the national Panorama competition.

"Two years later I returned and arranged music for them for Pan Ramajay and we started building again and doing better.

"In 1997 we had a challenge. The social dynamics had changed. Young people were no longer coming into a panyard and just playing because of the love of it. Young people had children by this time.

"Deltones got most of their players from Point Fortin and when Lively and I went to Point to ask the guys to come and play they said they were getting work in Dunlop and they would play in Tornadoes. It started a decline.

"The first national we won really was with the youths when we did Melda and then we won in the Small Band Category," Zanda recalled.

…as for Panorama judging?

Desperadoes Steel Orchestra
Desperadoes Steel Orchestra

O’rama means fete you know.

“It is not an environment where you sit down.

"We as orchestrators have to be very careful with that. I learnt that from this year (2017): don't get too caught up with the set of musicality.

"I am saying, what is the use of having all these criteria for reharmonisation and motif development and then throw away because you are not using that to judge anything.

"Forget that!

"It became a lot more clear to me that it is not necessary to do those things.

"Pan is a people’s thing and people don't care about all this motif and thing.

"We have been doing it before they call it motif development and melodic development and all that stuff like that.

"The judges are not using the criterion. I know what is reharmonisation.

"I don't know if they know what it is. Most of those guys, they are not doing that.

"The next thing is you cannot tell an orchestrator that you think you should hear the verse one more time or the chorus.

"That is your business, you should be judging music based on your criterion.

"I could tell you are not doing that. Ms. Jeannine Remy is a bright lady- she actually wrote it out on the score sheet, if you don’t write that I am not sure you hear what I am doing.

“We need to look at that seriously.

“I really want to say what it is you are doing. But just forget that musicality. I would say a lot of things I done this year they are far from it. If I ask them I know they can’t tell me what I do," Zanda, speaking with the wisdom of threescore and ten, declared.

Author 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 Netherland 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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