Seeing David Rudder at Zen last night was well worth the lack of sleep that I am paying for this morning. A master showman with an enviable body of work spanning over 25 years, Rudder’s genius is more than being able to string catchy lyrics together and support them with an addictive melody; it is in being the mirror that reflects us back to ourselves – the good, the bad, the sublime, and these days, the ridiculous.
His voice is still as sweet and strong as that first suck on a sugar cane stalk – pure and dizzily exhilarating – with a comforting familiarity that lets you know you’re home. From the first slow strains of I’d Rather Be In Trinidad to the easy groove of Bahia Girl, you remember the year, what you were doing, which Carnival band you played in, what was the political, social, economic state of the country, and by extension, the world.
Rudder is the Naipaul of calpyso, consistently showing us who we are (and suggesting who we could be) while we often remain, as the saying goes, the monkey who cyah see its own tail. This is why his Madman’s Rant still sounds like it was written yesterday instead of in the mid-90s. We don’t always listen to the Chantwells, and by not taking heed, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past – who doh hear will feel.
I first interviewed Rudder for a Sunday Guardian feature article circa 1987, soon after he had won three major calypso titles the previous year – Calypso Monarch, Young Kings and the coveted Road March. Even with those accolades, he hadn’t yet begun to taste the degree of fame that would descend upon him, but from his modesty and quiet self-assurance, I knew then what most people know now: that Rudder was one to watch, that he was light years ahead of his time. His intelligent wit, uniquely Trinbagonian sense of humour, keen powers of observation and sensitivity to our collective “human-ness” were all key ingredients in his stories – our stories, really.
Phenomenal to listen to, he is also enchanting to watch. As he eased his body into the Shango-like shaking during his rendition of Calypso Music , the entire place seemed to “catch the spirit”. This is the intoxicating power of Rudder. Professor Gordon Rohlehr, in his book A Scuffling of Islands, describes Rudder as:
“…the singer who best typifies this tendency of calypsoes towards both transcendent optimism and pessimistic realism.”
So when, after poking jabs at T&T’s appalling political situation, Rudder asked the crowd, “Who voting for Ato?” you think you know which tendency he’s leaning towards – or do you? Never one to back down from addressing controversial topics, the King covered everything that makes T&T, in his words, “something else” – from politicians playing the race card to multi-million dollar drug busts. The action is definitely here – but I think I’ll wait until David Rudder (or Nicholas Laughlin, for that matter) is appointed a Senator – then there’ll be no doubt as to where my ballot will be cast.