Barbados recently won honors at the 2003 World Travel Awards for: Caribbean's Leading Destination, along with 5 other top travel awards, and one of the best reasons to vaction in the "Gem of the Caribbean" is the annual Barbados Jazz Festival, held each January, and now in it's second decade. (Opening photo of Nathan East of Fourplay by Kris King Photo.)
The 2004 Barbados Jazz festival coincided with the Martin Luther King holidays in the USA, allowing more visitors to travel to this one-of-a-kind festival.
Brancker fuses contemporary jazz with a Caribbean beat and other music styles absorbed from his world travels, and we tasted a sample at the Dinner Set venue (tickets US$100, separate pricing from a festival pass) at the Colony House Hotel, a former British Military prison, and now also a museum. The outstanding food was served buffet-style, and the wine flowed as we listened to the Grammy Award Nominee, who is on the threshold of focusing his multiple talents to a wider spectrum of music lovers.
Nicholas began his career at three playing the toy piano given to him by his parents. Under the guidance of Barbados' most recognized music teachers he began his classical music training. At age 20 he broadened his musical experiences by working in the studio and touring with Eddy Grant, the Guyanese-born international recording artist.
His musical travels led him to the Middle East and Europe and he returned to the Barbados scene with a diverse interpretation of music. Brancker is an accomplished piano, bass, and keyboard player. He has collaborated on the behalf of Atlantic Records with the international producer Salaam Remi. He has graced the stage of jazz festivals regionally and internationally. And he has played for QEII and other celebrities.
As a producer he has been awarded some of the highest accolades, including the Barbados Service Star in 1995 from the government of Barbados. He received a Grammy Award nomination for "Love Is", by Sherri Winston, and we were pleased he played it this evening.
With over 2000 recordings to his name he continues to produce the Caribbean's biggest stars, including Arrow, Edwin Yearwood, Alison Hinds, Rupee (who always seems to be winning the CropOver entertainment prizes each year in August), RC, R.P.B. and Glen Washington. During his performance, The Ambassador of Barbados entertainment, the Mighty Gaby, performed with him, as well as other top stars from Barbados.
When asked to describe the album "In Contempt" Brancker replied: "My album 'In Contempt' should be seen as me being in contempt of being labeled as a jazz, R&B, or Classical artisté. I am just an artist."
His second recording, "NEWA", is a collaborative project with a few of his closest musical friends: Arturo Tappin, Eddie Bullen, and Wilson Laurencin, with whom he tours frequently. He is under the contract of Sonic Entertainment, email@example.com
Eddie Bullen and his wife Joannie, were often on our press bus and on a sailing adventure, and his infectious smile is drawn from the love of his music. Bullen, who looks exactly like Mr. Clean, complete with the golden earring, has several CDs out, and his newest is "Make It Real", with all keyboard and drum programming by Eddie. He dedicated the album to his father, Ralph. When customers came into the family's music store, Eddie would perform for his first audience on piano and keyboards. Brancker played bass on the CD, with Bullen's brother Johnny on drums. It is a strong and innovative jazz album throughout. I particularly enjoyed the tune, "Moon Raker".
Adrian "Boo" Husbands was another local Bajan musical treat, and he is well known by the locals, they all have his CDs. He came out in a striking white loose fitting jump suit at the Heritage Park and Rum Factory, always one of my favorite venues, and luckily he came out before the lackadaisical and lackluster Mike Cheeseman, who was a little too electronica for the mood set by Boo, who played the recorder, then two at once, and then a conch shell that was hauntingly beautiful.
Saxophonist Kirk Whalem opened the evening set at Sobers Auditorium, named after the world's best cricketer, Sir Garfield Sobers. A born again Christian and chaplain, Whalem is a regular on Whitney Houston's touring band.
Whalem's signature song was Maxwell's, "Did You Ever Wonder?" brother Kevin Whalem joined him on stage on an unusual version of "Thank You, Jesus", and Jonathan Butler's, "Falling in Love With Jesus". Whalem's latest CD is "The Gospel According to Jazz, Part 2" supported by Kevin and Atlantic Star singer Barbara Weathers and a tight six piece band, which earned a standing ovation at Sobers.
One of the biggest names to perform this year was Colorado native, India Arie, who nearly packed the largest of the week-long festival venues, Sobers Auditorium. India was multi-talented on the flute and guitar, and mystical when singing, especially a number with mother Simpson. It was another two hours of singing about self-love, praise of God, and love of family. Her trademark white guitar flashed under the lights on a soulful rendition of "Summertime", "The Truth: God Is Real", and "Little Things", from her newest album, "Voyage to India". After a diving experience in St. Lucia she said, "No one can not tell me God is not real."
India sang the Stevie Wonder song, "The One" from the '70s. She sang on with "Get It Together", and "Talk To Her". And then she gave a tribute to Michael Jackson, who was in a Santa Maria, California court room the same day she performed. India came to the limelight, debuting with Sadé many years ago. Scatting on the keyboards this evening was Ashanti Sanders. Adding to the haunting vocals were the backup singers: Karisha and Eluthera. India also performed her two mega hits: "Video", and my favorite in her repertoire, "Brown Skin".
Another outstanding delight at this year's festivals was Hiroshima, who played a Saturday set at Farley Hill National Park under clear skies. Hiroshima represents an Eastern mystical music influence, with June Kuramoto on the koto, one of the most ancient string instruments, that left the audience in awe.
The koto is a traditional Japanese instrument that came to Japan from China around 700 AD. It was originally made from kiri (paulownia tree) that has heart-shaped leaves. It is a soft, porous wood that gives the deep, warm sound, like a harp (although it is classified under the zither family). It is approximately 6'-3" long, 10" wide and about 3" deep. It has two sound holes at the bottom and is hollow inside. The traditional koto has 13 strings (originally silk, and now usually substituted with tetolon), with 13 moveable bridges (originally ivory but now also made of plastic). It is played with three ivory picks worn on the right hand. Some compare the koto to a dragon crouching by the sea because of its length. At the head of the dragon the strings are pulled down through eyelets, representing the horns of the dragon. At the opposite end the strings are coiled like the tail of a dragon. The bridges represent the scale of the dragon. Kuramoto received her "natori" (teaching, professional, master degree) from the acclaimed Michio Miyagi Koto School of Japan.
Another band mate delight was Japan's Shoji Kameda on the Taiko. It was mesmerizing to groove into this band, and even though they have been around for over 25 years, they are not as widely appreciated as they should be, and luckily most of their material is still out on CD or online.
Black Entertainment Television filmed the entire festival with a crew out of Jamaica, the only authorized film crew, and so you can watch the reruns on your local channel or satellite. Concert promoter Gilbert Rowe praised the local Bajan artists for the caliber of their talent and their prolific pressing of new musical CDs. During the festival, American FM Jazz radios WHUR and KWJZ hosted live remotes.
All Barbados Jazz venues cost a mere US$160, except the seperately priced Dinner Set, which was US$100. For tickets to next year's festival go to firstname.lastname@example.org. For further info call: GMR International Tours, Inc.: 246/437-4537. In Barbados, ticket outlets are Cave Shepherd on Broad Street and also at Sunset Crest; Standard Pharmacy on Tweedside Road; Texaco at Kendal Hill and Wildey; Pelican Variety Store at Pelican Village; Pharmaco in Speightstown, and C.S. Pharmacy on Broad Street.
The National Cultural Foundation has formed a new Festival and Events division to enhance future jazz festivals and events. Other Barbados cultural events that shouldn't be missed are: Congaline, GospelFest, Holders Season (opera), Holetown Festival, CropOver in July and August, Ouistin's Fish Festival, and the Celtic Festival.
The 2004 Barbados Jazz Lineup:
India Arie <www.indiaarie.com> She is gorgeous on the melodies, with honest rootsy blues. She got panned by some of the local press pundits for being off key.
Hiroshima <www.hiroshimamusic.com> They galvanized the audience with their East meets West approach. They were formed in the late '70s with a distinctive One World philosophy.
Fourplay <www.fourplayjazz.com> A talented band that is composed of four of the world's most revered, superlative, and accomplished recording artists: Bob James, keyboardist, producer, composer, and arranger; Nathan East on bass; Harvey Mason on drums; and Larry Carlton on guitar. In fact, the entire band can arrange and produce, and the Hill Streets Blues theme song was written by Carlton.
Herbie Hancock <www.herbiehancock.com> Herbie is an icon of modern music with over 40 years of visionary jazz piano, but he didn't groove well with some of the older audience members who left early at the Sherbourne Conference Center.
Lizz Wright <www.lizzwright.com> Lizz is an Atlanta songwriter that sings with a gospel-styled bluesy jazz with tinges of Sarah Vaughn and Oleta Adams. She is found on The Verve Music Group Label, and she was a big favorite at this year's festival.
Joe Sample The Texas/Louisianaian has recently moved back to his roots from the dustbins of LA. For over forty years the songwriter and pianist has been pounding out new tunes to thrill new audiences, and as the one of the openers at Sunbury, he certainly showed his licks.
KEM <www.kemistryrecords.com> KEM was the most poetic lyricist at the festival, entwining dreamy thoughts into tentacles of mystical vibrations. All appreciated the self-taught musician.
Danah A creative Bajan duo made up of Dana Ward and David Thomas, who delighted the audience with the walking parody of "The Light", fusing pop and acoustic genres and blending it into gospel.
Kal David And The Real Deal <www.blueguitarpalmsprings.com> His first recordings were as a teenager with his band Kal David and the Exceptions that included Peter Cetera, who later was the vocalist for Chicago. Later Kal changed the name of the band to Illinois Speed Press and popped out two albums for Columbia Records, including the title of his band and "Duet".
After the regular festival was over I was delighted to hear another local Bajan singer at the luxurious Villa Nova, voted in 2003 as the best Boutique Hotel in the Caribbean. Sexy, sultry, and senuous, Jazz à la Rosemary (the title of Rosemary Phillip's latest album), entertained a dinner group of tourism officials pontificating their next strategic moves. Rosemary has established herself as one of the leading jazz vocalists in the Eastern Caribbean, and it won't be long before the charts ignite with her talents.
She has recorded with Saint-Preux, and the London Symphony Orchestra. English and French are Rosemary's natural vocal languages. You can find Rosemary (and albums by the Barbados Police Force) on the CRS Label out of Barbados and at www.crsmusic.com or email@example.com or call 246/427-6836.
By Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine. Most photos courtesy of Kris King Photo, www.kriskingphoto.com.