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Speaks on Latest Project

"Made It"

When Steel Talks Exclusive

Recently, France-based Calypsociation steelband released its latest CD offering called "Made It."    This CD is one of the more interesting and diverse steelband musical offerings we have heard in a while.  Calypsociation successfully explores different musical concepts and movements for the steelband - all the while remaining in the Caribbean motif and true to the art form.

In an interview exclusive with When Steel Talks, Calypsociation shares their thoughts on "Made It," and the future direction of the group.

1. WST - Calypsociation brings a new and refreshing voice to the steelband music arena.  Who are your influences?

Calypsociation - Thank you for the compliment, we appreciate it greatly.  The members of our association are a bunch of “Trini-fanatics”, at any given time you will find people on the internet following the latest news on ‘When Steel Talks”, watching pan videos on You tube, and gleaning any and all pan information that’s out there.  As a result, our influences are very diverse, but primarily it is the music of Trinidad that is our first and foremost source; Clive Bradley, Beverley Griffith, Boogsie Sharpe, Jit Samaroo, Ray Holman, Robert Greenidge to name a few.  And of course, Weather Report, Steps Ahead, Sixun, Jaco Pastorius, Andy Narell, Eddy Louis, Alain Jean Marie, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Bach, Mozart, Chopin…

2. WST - What was the most difficult part of getting this project done?

Calypsociation - There were no major roadblocks to getting this project off the ground.  Each step of the way was organized by and with the entire group.  We really took our time so as to come together and agree on each decision.  We worked very hard until the results were satisfactory to everyone.  It was a real collaboration.  The only real difficulties came at the time of mixing.  Putting closure on each piece was very difficult because you could go in so many different directions and each direction would have had a distinctly different result.  

3. WST - The title of your album is "Made It;" what is the significance of that?

Calypsociation - Calypsociation Steelband has “Made it”.  Ever since the founding of our association in 1993 we’ve never produced a solo CD.  We’d only up until now co-produced CD’s.  For example, in 1998 we co-produced the” Steeldream” CD with Laurent Ferlet as a result of the Steeldream Project which united 150 steelpan players from France, England, and Trinidad and Tobago in a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in France.  We collaborated with the Swiss who recorded the First Steelpan European Festival in 2000.  And, of course, our collaboration with Andy Narell on “The Passage”.  It was this collaboration which really inspired us and gave us the confidence to finally produce a 100% Calypsociation Steelband CD.  So you see, after 14 years we finally “Made it!”

4. WST - In the past Calypsociation was very closely associated with Andy Narell.  In our recent interview with Andy, he explained that there was somewhat of a parting of the ways.  How has this impacted on the musical direction of Calypsociation?

Calypsociation - Calypsociation had a very close 4-year collaboration with Andy Narell. We were lucky enough, as mentioned above, to have been a big part of “The Passage”, we went on a tour in the Bay Area and to the Portland Jazz Festival [USA], and we really learned a lot from this experience with Andy, as I’m sure we brought a lot to him.  As a matter of fact, Andy still has a group of musicians from Calypsociation that he’s working with and this project still rehearses in the panyard, so we still have a good relationship with Andy.  Our ‘parting of the ways’ with Andy probably was another motivating factor in the production of our CD, which  enabled us to really define our own style.  The musical direction of the Association has really remained on a steady course.  We have about 5 different levels of classes and we really try to stick to a repertoire that consists of original compositions and arrangements by our panyard talents, Laurent Lalsingue, Mathieu Borgne, Julie Goldstein and more recently Clement Bazin such as 123 Soleil, Panipwoblem, panorama tunes like Pan in A Minor, Pan in My House, bomb tunes, salsa, jazz and classical.

5. WST - In "3X3" you move into African music motif with a 9/8 signature.  It is an interesting place for a steelband to go.  What was your motivation, or should I ask, inspiration, for going there?

Calypsociation - Mathieu Borgne:   “I’ve always been very interested in African rhythms because of my background in drums.  I’ve composed a number of 12/8, ¾, and 9/8 time pieces for the steelpan for my small band ‘Steel Vibration”.  In the "ternaire" African beat, the swing is based on the second half beat, like the “Sega” rhythm from the Reunion or the Salegy of Madagascar.  These beats remind me of the Trinidad Parang and I feel that any good steelband can play them and have a great new sound.

6. WST - Calypsociation is not bashful in hugging faithfully, and presenting authentic Caribbean rhythms and themes throughout the CD.  Have members spent much time in the Caribbean?  Particularly Trinidad?

Calypsociation - Many of our Calypsociation musicians have participated in either the Trinidad, London, or New York Panorama.  We’ve had musicians play with Desperados, Skiffle Bunch,  Valley Harps, and Tokyo??? , in New York, Mathieu Borgne arranged  "Ellie Man" by Jeff Narell for “Women in Steel” and brought over 3 musicians to play with them, and in London Calypsociation has had a very tight relationship with Glissando since 2001,  last year Laurent Lalsingue even co-arranged “Colors Again” with Rudy Smith for them.  And, of course, many of our members have gone to Trinidad for the Carnival and Panorama as spectators.  The founding fathers of Calypsociation created the association after a life-changing trip to T & T.

7. WST - In "Sunday", you present an interesting and unapologetic mix of a true steelband performing with an electric guitar.  What was the inspiration for this?

Calypsociation - Mathieu Borgne:  ‘I believe it’s only natural and ultimately very interesting to  mix different rhythm styles and different instruments in with the steelpan.  I play the double second in a Caribbean jazz quartet called Djazil, so I asked the guitarist of this group, Cedric Baud, if he would like to play a concert with us and we all really liked the sound. It seemed only natural to ask him to play on the CD.  We also included flutist Benoit Sauve to play on the CD as a result of a concert where he played with us and I believe this really lead to an innovative, interesting mix of sounds that gives us a particular style and a new feel to steelband music.”

8. WST - Throughout your cuts, there are percussive shots that remind the listener of "Panorama".  How important was the concept of a 'panorama feel' to this project?

Calypsociation - As Panorama is a very important concept in steelpan music, it is inevitably very important to us.  We try to motivate all of the members of our association to experience the Panorama at least once, by either playing in a group or at the very least by going to a London, New York, or T & T Panorama. Our panyard is a true reflection of the T & T panyard experience, we teach our music by rote, in the Trinidad tradition and each group plays at least one or two pure Trini panorama tunes. We really wanted to reflect this by beginning and ending the CD with Panorama tunes, as if leaving on a musical journey and coming full circle back home to Trinidad with “Party Tonight” by Clive Bradley.

9. WST - What was the most rewarding part of this project?

Calypsociation - This CD, being the fruit of such a collaborative group effort gave us a great sense of solidarity and worth because each and every one of us is proud of the result.  We feel that our style and musical sound is well represented in this piece of work and obviously it will be a perfect tool for getting concerts, an agent maybe, partnership or sponsorship.

10. WST - You guys obviously know your history.  Who's idea was it to perform "Don't Rock Me So" in a retro format?

Calypsociation - Once again, this was a group idea that is a direct result of our passion for the history and evolution of this instrument.  We’ve spent countless hours listening to everything that was ever recorded on a steelpan and we were inspired by a tenor from the 60’s that Laurent Lalsingue got from his father.  This particular instrument, brought over to Guadeloupe from Antigua by English sugar cane workers, was the first instrument that belonged to Lalsingue’s father and was used to create the group “Les Alizes”  in Port Louis in the 60’s.  Since then, Pierre Lalsingue recreated an ALizes group in the north of France where Laurent was raised playing the steelpan from the young age of 4 alongside his brothers.

11.  WST - On this CD Calypsociation truly lives up to its name as you take the listener on a musical journey throughout the Caribbean with the various musical styles found in the region.  I particularly like the Haitian feel and percussive approach to "Sweet Mango."   How did that piece come together?

Calypsociation - Laurent has a true history with this type of music due to his West French Indies background that we mentioned earlier.  To get a really clear idea of just where this influence has taken him, it’s a good idea to listen to his quartet “C2J” in which he plays the double alto.

Laurent Lalsingue:  “In this piece I wanted to experiment with ‘Kompa’, also known as compas or direct compas which is a Haitian genre consisting of a combination of folklore, Tipico, Cuban and African rhythms, giving it a more contemporary feel than what I was used to playing as a kid in my father’s group.  I was looking at something a little more soul-funk influenced, simpler, more entertaining.  The steelpan really brings out this open, swinging sound.

12. WST - You end with the album with "Party Tonight" - a piece written by the late great master arranger Clive Bradley.  What are your thoughts on this piece?

Calypsociation - Everyone here really loves Bradley, his style, and most of all we are all fans of his music.  Mathieu, Laurent and Julie Goldstein, a teacher here in the school, were lucky enough to have spent time with Bradley at the New York and Trinidad Panoramas. Mathieu: “We really loved liming with Bradley, listening to his music and drinking Caribs with him."

He was very friendly and extremely generous to us, explaining his music, his method for choosing strum notes or the way he would piece together transitions within a song.  Every single year we pay homage to Bradley by arranging one of his songs.  Every  person in our association knows "High Mass," "Pan in My House," "Picture on My Wall," "Stranger," "Looking for Horn," "Trini to de bone," and "Savannah on Fire" - all arranged by Bradley.  "Party Tonight" as a closing piece was an important choice to us because it was the only original tune he composed and arranged for the Panorama and, of course with it they [Desperadoes] won.

13. WST - This "Made It" album has a much more 'deliberate' feel than your past work.  Is this a case of maturity, or - the direction of the group, and in this regard - more reflective of Calypsociation's signature voice?

Calypsociation - It’s definitely a fine mix of all of that.  We have gained a lot of maturity through our various experiences and our musical orientation reflects the identity of Calypsociation Steelband as a group.  This CD is a direct result of the past 7 or 8 years most of us have played together as a group and the fact that each and every one of us has brought an interesting facet to the identity of the group as a whole.  In our past 14 years of existence, we’ve tried to maintain a strong tie with Trinidad and the ways of the steelbands there, playing not only traditional Caribbean music, but also jazz standards, pop music and classical. However, each of us coming from such different horizons and bringing bits and pieces to the whole has definitely been a large part of creating our signature “voice” as you say.

14. WST - Calypsociation is considered on of the best steelbands in Europe.  Are the majority of your players French natives?

Calypsociation - Yes, all of our musicians are French with the exception of one of our bassists, Isabel an American who’s been living in France for the past 17 years.  Joy Lapps, a Canadian tenor, played with us all during 2006, and even played on the drum takes of “Made It!”.

There are a lot of talented musicians here in France and it is one of our motivating forces that helps us in the promotion of the steelpan and its endless possibilities throughout France and Europe.

15. WST - Your group visited the US in 2005.  Will you be traveling anytime in the near future outside of France?

Calypsociation - We would love the opportunity to go on tour outside of France anytime anyone extends us an invitation.  It’s not a very simple undertaking to travel far with 2 six basses, 2 tenor basses, a four cello, etc…  We were able to tour with all of those instruments plus our own high pans in the US thanks to Jim Munzenrider from Chabot College who lent us the necessary pans.  At least now we know it can be done and how it can be done, so the sky’s the limit… Let’s get something in the works!

16.  WST - On this CD Calypsociation challenged the expected norms for the steelband, both in terms of musical accompaniment and musical style/direction.  What can we expect next from Calypsociation?

Calypsociation - Thank-you very much for the compliment.  Since the recording, we’ve already composed and learned 3 new pieces.  A composition by Laurent Lalsingue, a French West Indies mazurka written in a minor chord, a composition by Mathieu Borgne inspired and based on a Cuban timba rhythm, with a little more of a syncopated feel, where montunos replace strums, and finally a Panorama-style arrangement of Pan in Harmony by Clement Bazin, a born and bred Calypsociation member and our latest panyard talent.  We’re already planning for our next CD, in which we hope to continue to progress and confirm our style and push new limits in steelband music.


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