By Laura Dowrich-Phillips
The premiere of MTV Tempo on Trinidad and Tobago’s cable television in 2005 drew curious audiences eager to see which of their local artistes would be the first to help put soca music on the map via this new medium.
At first, there were no surprises. Machel Montano, of course, was present, with videos that chronicled his rise from a boy too young to soca to the reigning king of Carnival music, along with Shurwayne Winchester and his supercharged, superhero-themed video for that year’s Road March, “Dead or Alive”. But there was one other performer starring in a video credited to Trinidad and Tobago, which was shot along the scenic North Coast Road.
The unfamiliar name and face of the singer left most of us wondering, “Who is he?” He turned out to be Tobagonian David Reid, a pannist turned singer, currently based in California.
Formerly a member of Tobago’s West Side Patience Hill and Our Boys Steel Orchestras, Reid abandoned the national instrument, and music overall, after he settled in the US, and concentrated on getting a degree and an eight-to-four job. Then a call to fill in for a pannist in a band reignited Reid’s passion for the instrument, which he had been playing from childhood.
But it was the invitation to play in the band Insomnia, formed by friend and former Atlantik bassist Wayne “Lemo” Lemmessy, and encouragement by another friend, Lisa Wickham, to give singing a try, that transformed Reid into a vocalist.
After a year, Insomnia disbanded, and Reid became the lead singer and musical director of his own musical ensemble, called Tambrin. Today, however, he is best known as a solo artist, performing his own compositions, which include “Memories”, the first song he penned when his passion for singing persuaded him to try his hand at composing and producing his own material.
As beginner’s luck would have it, that was the song that pushed him out of obscurity and into our homes, when its theme, of picking up the pieces in the aftermath of a failed relationship, resonated with listeners.
The video for “Memories” was produced by Ezone Entertainment, owned by Wickham and shot by Militainment. They were also the production team behind Winchester’s “Dead or Alive” video. Thanks to Tempo, Reid picked up fans around the region, and immediately began plotting his foray into the local market.
His quest: to become a household name around the Caribbean and, in particular, in Trinidad and Tobago. That he intends to do with his recently launched debut album, Memories, titled after the single.
Q&A WITH DAVID REID
On Memories, there are a lot of songs that focus on relationships — are these based on your own experiences?
There are a few songs where I draw from my past, my experiences, as well as the experiences of other people. But for most of them I just put myself in the moment to paint a picture. For example, for the Carnival songs I pictured myself jumping up in Port of Spain.
Do you have a favourite track?
I have two favourites, actually. One is a track I recently completed at Shaolin Studios, called “Sweetness”. I love the music and the melody on that. The other is “Be AfrAIDS”, which I like for the lyrical content and the message it is sending out. It basically is a song letting people know they are responsible for their lives.
In the video for “Memories”, you are captured posing with a pan. Are there any pan songs or references to your past as a pannist on the album?
I featured pan in that video because without pan none of this would have happened. I started out playing pan. When I was small I learned to play guitar, but I couldn’t afford to buy one. But my love for music was strong, and pan was the cheapest musical instrument around, so I ended up playing it. Putting it in the video was just a way of giving back the love — but there are no references to it on the album.
Have you collaborated with any other soca artistes on the album?
Because of time constraints, I decided to just make this album about me, but definitely for the next album I plan to work with some other artistes.
Many soca artistes are incorporating reggaeton, dancehall, and even old-time calypso melodies into their productions, to make the music more universally appealing. Have you incorporated other musical influences?
Yes, I have mixed other genres into the soca. “Memories” is a mix of R&B and soca, “50/50” is a lovers rock, “Dream Lady” is pure R&B, “Moving On” is R&B with a sweet calypso rhythm. A lot of experimenting went on to see what could be done with soca.
You are a newcomer to the local soca scene. Why do you think this album will give you the edge?Because it is different. I think soca is at a crossroads; it’s trying to attract a different market. The fact that the album has such a mix of genres and soca gives it an edge. People are looking for something new.
Fellow Tobagonian Shurwayne Winchester has won the Road March twice, plus the Soca Monarch and Groovy Soca Monarch competitions within the last three years. Do you think the doors are now wide open for artistes from the sister isle?
The door has been wide open for years. Looking back at Tobago’s history, we’ve had people like Calypso Rose and Shadow blazing the trail, and now, in recent years, Shurwayne, who I admire for not giving up the struggle. I think it is up to Tobago artistes to put out work that will be recognised and accepted.
Who have been your biggest influences musically, in and out of soca?
Outside of soca, Sting, R Kelly, and Steel Pulse. I like Sting because of his business approach to the music, R Kelly for his lyrics, the way he tells a story, and Steel Pulse because of the way they manipulate their voices. As a pannist, Kitchener influenced me. Pan sides always played his music, and the type of melodies he created always had this jazz feeling. I must also mention Machel, because of his stage performance.
Some have described your sound as “island soul”. How would you define your music?
That is a compliment. When I first started, people used to tell me I sounded too American, but I am always trying to keep the Caribbean flavour in my music. My description of what I do is just “music”, though — according to what I am feeling, that is what I’ll be putting out.