The Original DeFosto Himself Speaks

In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks, the calypso artist and prolific steelband panorama music composer standout, speaks about the art form - its highs, its lows and its future...

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

by When Steel Talks

© 2011 When Steel Talks - All Rights Reserved

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When Steel Talks

   An exclusive with The Original DeFosto Himself


WST - We have on the phone Mr. Winston Scarborough, better known to the pan world, especially within Trinidad and Tobago as the Original DeFosto Himself....

DeFosto - “....It’s a pleasure and privilege to be here with you at this point in time...”

WST - ...We’d love to get a bit of information from you, and essentially - learn a bit more about the Original DeFosto Himself. You are always with your music offerings for the Panorama season, and generally you’re the first person to have it available. How early do you start composing in order to get this early start?

Panorama 2011DeFosto - “That’s a wonderful question; well, you see, I never stop composing. I don’t know if this might have something to do with just creativity... And I’m also centered around certain medium. And I guess because of the privilege, or the accessibility produced for me, it is so much easier for me to put songs together.  For instance, Len “Boogsie” Sharpe - I have done a tribute for him.  I’ve also done one for Exodus for 2013; the one for “Boogsie” Sharpe is [for] 2012.”

“So I continue to write, and there are songs that have already been finished, just only waiting to go in the studio and start to prepare them as best as I possibly can. So you find when I am going into the studio, like for Carnival 2011 all my songs have already been completed. For 2012 you’d find I start extremely early - in 2011 - to get to 2012, so I always work a year in advance. I thank the see I believe that who God bless, no man curse, and He is the instrument; He is the medium from which this creativity, has been coming from forever.”

The Original DeFosto

“And then, let’s say, artists from the past, who many people might have forgotten, I have never forgotten them. I haven’t forgotten Lord Kitchener, I haven’t forgotten Maestro, I haven’t forgotten [Lord] Shorty [Ras Shorty I], I haven’t forgotten Merchant - I haven’t forgotten nobody. And because I don’t forget these people, whose contribution, was all so significant - this is why they call that the outer-inner medium. So I always have something called ‘communicational accessibility’; from beyond, to here.  So I communicate with these people forever. Black Stalin - I also have a tribute for Stalin; so I continue to write and pay tribute to people who have given so much.”

“As you will recognize in the three tunes I pay tribute to Desperadoes [Desperadoes Coming Down]; I pay tribute to Fonclaire with a tune called A Raging Storm.  And I am also paying tribute again to the Grand Master (Lord Kitchener]; because it is only in Trinidad where an icon is dead, they’re dead forever, but I try to keep them alive.  It is important - I see America does it forever - Elvis Presley never die; Nat King Cole never die.  But once you’re a person from Trinidad that was born and create all this sort of music for people, when you dead you are forgotten.  And there’re very few people [who] take time to keep the memory of great people alive in this country.”

WST - What is it about your music, do you think, that draws so many in the Panorama arena to select your music for the Panorama competitions?

Winston Scarborough is considered by many to be one of the all-time great composers of steelband ‘panorama tunes.’

A performing artiste himself, 2011 marks the 33rd year that Trinidad & Tobago’s Winston Scarborough (The Original DeFosto Himself - as he loves to be called) has been singing calypsos.  For him it was an uphill struggle to be recognized by the fraternity and public at large.

Abandoned by both his parents at the young age of 6 months, Scarborough was sent to the Tacarigua Orphanage in east Trinidad where he remained until age 17.  The experience in the orphanage would place an indelible stamp on him.

One of the most important aspects of DeFosto’s work as a calypsonian is the tributes he has paid in song to many of Trinidad & Tobago’s cultural icons; the late Lord Kitchener (calypsonian Aldwyn Roberts) would be one such with whom people are most familiar. 

DeFosto - “...Because I have learnt from the best. Professor Art de Couteau who has passed on... who used to be - they call him the musical genius, in terms of arranging music for all these calypsonians and so forth; he made a prediction before he died, as a matter of fact, he spoke about me to his wife before he died and he told her... Arthur (Art de Couteau) took me with him the very first time in 1976 to St. Thomas to play music for people like Ainsley Gomes, Kitchener, Sparrow - you name them - Blakie and everybody. And I think one of the reasons why - his preparation is - being able to prepare himself in this particular manner... [it] is because of these people who are also creative, and ‘ingredient’ into my life at some point in time... that made it all possible for that to happen. ...It is their music - that they get people to understand the importance, of not just waiting two days before Carnival to get something done so that the people can have access [to] whatever music that you have.”

“It is a great album I have done for 2011. So I have only released thus far, these three tunes for Pan because I think this needed to be highlighted long in advance, so this is a part of the reason why things are able to happen, how they happen.”

WST - You’ve released three songs - how many more on the entire album, and what is the name of your album?

Closure - The Orginal DeFosto

DeFosto - “Twelve... The name of the album is “Closure” ... And “Closure” means ...  because of - there were so many songs on the album that pay tribute to people in this country of ours, and things that might have happened at some point in the history of our culture, that need closure, to bring a certain satisfaction, of objective desire of fulfillment.  For instance - 1990, the coup d’état ... people have spoken about that.  It is twenty years later - and this never seems to rest in the minds of so many, so I did a tune called “Closure 1990.”

“Then I paid tribute to Makandal Daaga with a tune entitled “His Excellency, Chief Servant.”  Again this was 1970 ... Mr. Makandal Daaga might have been about thirty years... And his contribution has been so much, that he has never been given that ultimate acknowledgement, and I thought it was important to do a tune in tribute to him, because of his dedication and his commitment to our country.”

“And I did - look, for instance - A Raging Storm.   Fonclaire, when they did Pan By Storm - twenty years later, the people still talk about a “robbery” - that never give them fulfillment and satisfaction.  And it took a boat ride, last year, that I went on which was the Pan Trinbago boat ride, and when the DJ played .... Pan by Storm that was done by Fonclaire, the boat almost turn over, I had to hold on for safety.  It means that the people is hurting for so long, and God in His own wisdom, perhaps allowed me to be there to see this manifestation unfold itself, and when I saw what I saw I said ‘No, these people is still hurting after twenty years.’  Pan By Storm, still - one of the people’s greatest pieces of music - I say, this needs to get some closure.  So I decided on the boat of itself, to start writing this tune called A Raging Storm because the boat start to rumble...”

“Ten years.  Desperadoes never won a Panorama for ten years. And they are the only steelband that won Panorama ten times.  But ten years now, they trying desperately to win a Panorama. And that have never been able to bear fruit for them.  And the person as I am, I say: you know what?  I think Despers has done so many great songs over the years and never get the nod of the judges.  I say, well I have to do something for Desperadoes, to make these people feel a sense of glory and pride and joy, so I write the calypso entitled Desperadoes Coming Down.

In She Rainorama - Kitchener being the greatest influence, in Pan history - for Carnival; I being the person who, you know, acknowledge his great genius.  Since a child, I was about three years old, when I first heard... and from since that to now he has lived with me forever.  He passed on, and he still lives with me.  I remember before Kitchener died, he used to come and look for me where I used to live in St. Joseph; every time he had time, Kitchener would take time to look for me.  When I moved from St. Joseph and I went to Curepe, Kitchener followed Curepe.  He remind me of the tune called Bee’s Melody.  He always looked for this person whom he seems to have trusted, musically.  And In She Rainorama - if you really listen to that particular calypso; analyze it the best that you can, and you will see the genius of this man called Kitchener in the magical way in which he used to compose.  Because, In She Rainorama, you would have to go right back down to PP 99 first, because people may not really understand totally, the....  you have to go back to PP 99 - once you go to PP 99 (here DeFosto sings part of the PP 99 refrain).  “Now that was the wrecker coming to pick up PP 99.

In She Rainorama now, the person who Kitchener lived with for a lot of his years was Valerie ...Sugar Bum Bum - and his four children Kitchener had with Valerie, or Valerie had for Kitchener;  analyze In She Rainorama and that is going to tell you the greatness of Kitchener, because In She Rainorama is what you call a ‘double entendre’ kind of calypso - and when I sing in the chorus (DeFosto goes into part of the refrain from In She Rainorama) - now, these are the words Kitchener would use...; so these kind of double-meaning, I am emulating him!”

WST - You have composed songs of course, geared toward specific steel orchestras, like last year - [Smooth Sailing] - All Stars, and of course Desperadoes Coming Down, and A Raging Storm for 2011– for Desperadoes and Fonclaire, respectively.  You do have In She Rainorama [not for a specific band].  Do you think that when songs are geared toward specific bands, do you think that it limits the number of potential bands who will play your music?

DeFosto  “- Not necessarily.  For me that is not - for me it not how much bands [play] the songs [or] if the whole fraternity play DeFosto, not necessarily.  I am the patriot.  I am the person who normally, respectively, decided a couple years ago, to pay tribute to certain steelbands and their legacy over these years.  So I started off with Renegades... and I did Dr. Jit - then I went to All Stars and I did Smooth Sailing.  Now, this year is A Raging Storm for Fonclaire (click for Fonclaire performance), also Desperadoes Coming Down for Despers.  For 2012 I doing one for “Boogsie”; 2013 I do one for Pelham [Goddard] and Exodus.  And as I go on like this... as long as I have life I will do this.  So it doesn’t matter, because everyone know that I - I am the tribute person - that I pay tribute to everything  - everything and everybody, so it doesn’t matter.  But that’s where I do an ‘open tune’ - so the ‘open tune’ is In She Rainorama,  So if you frighten, if you don’t want to play Desperadoes, you don’t want to play the Raging Storm, you have In She Rainorama.”

WST - There is no fee paid by bands to use the music of composers.  So: how do you make your living, and how do you survive financially from month to month and year to year?

DeFosto - “- “...That is a beautiful question that you ask.  Well - I am not a ‘Praying Mantis’ but I pray a lot.  I thank The Father and I reach out to him in the best way I possibly can.  I an’ all asking ‘Father, how am I surviving?’  I don’t know what is happening, but I am somehow able to survive, because it is not sustainable.  You have to find money - sometimes I go to the bank and borrow money - just because I am a culture person, and I [am] singing - and writing songs is my life.  I thank the Father for that; I don’t know if it is a punishment or if it is a blessing; and I believe it is more blessing than a punishment.  But nevertheless, I somehow, does try to survive; because of my name, because of the... I came from as a child, because of who I am - I think that might have been able to help to some extent.  But sometimes you feel, you know, you’re fighting a battle that is very difficult to win, but to win - you have to some point in time.”

‘So sometimes you look forward to things like a Pan/Calypso competition in Trinidad during the season of Carnival; and they got rid of that some years ago; and that and all put a ‘burden’ and a ‘dent’ - in I being able to - (if I don’t win, I could come second,  I don’t have to win all the time).  But these are the little things that would normally sustain you.  So this is why I don’t come up to America as regularly as people would like me to come; but to come to America if nobody ain’t ‘send for me’ - I would have to use my money, and my money is too limited to do that.  And I want to say after thirty-five years, thirty-six years in this business I think that people should be more patriotic than that, and I think people should be more concerned about people whose contribution is so significant... [I] don’t only write in the Carnival season; I write in the season, out of the season, in any season - to make the season.  So I am always producing, I am always writing -”

WST - Well, you know, DeFosto, that’s actually a very good point, because it leads to the other question we wanted you to really address, which is:  what would you personally, like to see provided for composers of music especially written for the steel orchestra in the home of Pan - Trinidad & Tobago -  as a major contributor to the culture of Trinidad & Tobago, what type of minimum economic and social security should be in place for contributors like yourself? 

DeFosto - “ - Well I feel the [government] administration, and I feel this administration is able to do this; because I could remember before the Prime Minister became the Prime Minister - I am so taken by what happens to ‘culture people’ in [the] ‘culture world’ - that I went to her during one of the campaign [rallies] and I said to her ‘...Prime Minister-in-waiting - you know, I would like more to be done for culture in this country of ours.’  So she asked me:  ‘Well, what do you want?  What would you like to be done, DeFosto?’  I said ‘you know, Panorama, one steelband have to provide a hundred and twenty players to prepare themselves for a Panorama competition.’  By the sponsorship alone of a particular steelband, or any steelband that has sponsors, they would have already spent something like about TT $500,000.00 (USD $77,825) to put the band into position -  especially big bands.”

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar

“I said ‘we need to raise the stakes of the Panorama’ - and I was asking her [then Prime Minister-in-waiting] to raise it from - you see - I was able to get it [the first prize in Panorama] raised from TT $400,000 to one million - it is I who was able to do it.  And now is me again - thank God for that - is able to get it moved from a million, to two million.”

“But I was asking her if she could do it for the steelband - if the steelband fraternity could get anything close to about - [that is] the first prize in Panorama - about three million, five hundred thousand (TT 3,500,000) - and she said ‘You know what?’ ... ‘Well, we all will rise together.’  And when she ask about the Chutney, she ask about the Soca Monarch, she ask about the Calypso Monarch - all of these competitions.  And then she had decided, well, that everybody would rise to two million (TT $2,000,000), and give a two million-first prize to all these various competitions.”

“...In itself, that is a blessing in disguise. And it is in that context, I was able to tell her that, there is much more needs to be done, for the calypsonians that is still here with us - the icons - particularly people like - we have Brigo... we have Count Robin, you have all these people... I start from the bottom of the great ones; but [Black] Stalin is still with us.  And very few are ... The Shadow... and what needs to be done in that capacity is that -- there should be - if it is not a fund - something - setup to make sure that these people who live by this art, panists, everybody; there should be something set out to make sure that they can have at least a decent means of living, especially in their times of need!  I always need, but people don’t know - because I don’t say.  I don’t say because I believe - I have contributed so consistently, and as a result of that, I am not getting that beneficiary reward for all the work that I am doing.”

“Could you imagine that I went to COTT (Copyright Organization of Trinidad & Tobago) just the other day to get my yearly beneficiary.  The money - after all the steelbands play it - Smooth Sailing and everything else, and all the tunes that I had for Panorama [2010] ... believe that the money that I collected from COTT, was only TT $5,000 (USD  $778.00) - after the year is over...  That is DeFosto money.  And plus whatever you make in the Carnival season in the Calypso tent.”

“So I really hope very much indeed that the [government] administration put things in place.  And I will be arguing forever; they will never hear my mouth keep quiet - once the Art is affected; once I am affected I would never rest.  I must speak out for those who died before me, who could not have spoken up for themselves - I must speak for them, too.  I will speak for them from beyond the grave - I would resurrect them and talk on their behalf.  So I am saying as a result of this, I am a “hurting” person, even though I do so [much] music.  I always ready for the people because I think that I am people-centered, people-focused, people-driven.  I have always done music for the people; ...the album for 2011 is no exception to that; as a matter of act I want to be bold enough to tell you that the album for 2011 would be one of the best albums that I have ever done in my life.” 

“But much more needs to be done, much more.  In Panorama I feel...I feel that when a steelband wins, with whatever tune...if  say a steelband wins, let’s say a steelband wins the Panorama with “DeFosto”- they’re able to get two million. - sometimes they don’t even self tell you thanks, you know - and I live for pan....Kitchener tell me that, you know.  Kitchener say ‘Boy, I know you like to write for pan, you love pan, but you don’t have anything much to get from that.’  And I didn’t care!  It is not whether it is ‘much’ or it is little.  But now, it have to be more ‘much’ - more ‘much’ than little at this point in time.   [Kitchener] tell me you don’t make no money, singing tunes for pan.  They don’t even call you in New York to sing for their panorama, at least to give you some ‘survival’ money.  So I really and truly, have to try to put things in order.  So I am hoping very much... what have to happen is that they have to put things in place.  I think if a steelband wins the Panorama; and if I could get the steelbands to get at least about three million, or even five million dollars first prize - because in this little... business of culture in this country -- more than almost a billion dollars is made every year in culture. But yet still, the art, the art form and everybody, just get ‘chili bibi’ money, some kind  of pocket change....  I don’t know how people can survive it. I cannot survive that.  So I try extensively and intensively, because nobody is dealing with the issues that affect the nation and affects this particular fraternity we call the Pan Fraternity.”

WST - DeFosto, we want to thank you very much for sharing so wholeheartedly and passionately about yourself as a person who contributes in such a major way to the culture of Trinidad and Tobago, and the concerns, and the real issues that impact you...within the cultural fabric of Trinidad and Tobago.

DeFosto - “I want to thank you ever so much...  I also want to take this opportunity to salute When Steel Talks, for this moment in time when they can reflect on a person who is dear to the heart; they many not know this.  I remember when Uncle Craze [Edwin Ayoung] spoke with me last year and he told me:  “Why you don’t go on When Steel Talks and see all the songs they have?”  But when I look at the website, I only seeing “When Steel Talks.”   When I saw When Steel Talks, I was seeing a song; I say - but this is a song!  So I tell him - I say “Crazy, this is a song, you know; this is a title.  When Steel Talks is a great ‘pan tune.’”  And I said to him “Crazy, I am going to do When Steel Talks and give it to you to sing.”  He said “True?”  I said “Yes; I am going to do it for you in two days.  And I did it for him; last year he sang it.”

“So I really want to thank...When Steel Talks; I want to [be] thank[ful for] the information they share to the world on the net - on When Steel Talks; the Pan world, the Pan business and everything like that....  Let me thank you ever so much for this moment in time.”

“I thank you, the people, for listening across the globe; I thank you for understanding the pain and the difficulties that sometimes artistes and panists, etc. have to go through.  So let me thank you ever so much for this time.

WST - Thank you very much DeFosto, it was good speaking to you. 

Listen to DeFosto’s 2011 songs



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