We didn’t hear a lot of music while in St. Martin but did catch a fun act at a restaurant in Maho Bay. They are a group of five guys (locals) called “Sweet Chocolate” and they’ve been something of an institution at the place for many years. They consist of basically one guy on keyboards and various recorded/computer tracks, plus four singers. They are a total “act” with costume changes and plenty of energy and humor. Although they sang plenty of Motown and reggae tunes, a highlight for me was when they did some authentic calypso tunes. If you are unfamiliar with this uniquely Caribbean music, it has a long history and there are even competitions in the form on some of the islands. It consists of basic major key chord changes with an infectious beat and the idea is that the singer comes ups with improvised verses. In the past it was quite political at times and going way back, was a way for slaves to express their frustrations with their lot. These days it’s usually much more humorous and often a bit risqué – the singer will pick out audience members to target.
The singer was very, very talented and fun. He must have come up with about 40 verses, some of which were obviously rehearsed but many were created on the spot. He had particular fun with a large party of locals who were having a pre-wedding dinner. By the end of the song my face hurt from laughing so much! It was a really cool experience and just another example of why we love going to the Caribbean so much. If you ever get a chance to experience real calypso music, take it – my sense is that it is something of a dying musical form and uniquely part of the wonderful melting pot of Caribbean culture.
On another note, I was recently turned on to a GREAT young singer/songwriter named Sarah Jarosz. Her recent album is terrific and the title song “Build Me Up From Bones” has been nominated for a Grammy as best contemporary folk song. Her alto voice and delivery are sublime and she is a fine player of mandolin, guitar and her primary instrument, a tenor mandolin. It is truly refreshing to hear such a wonderful and talented younger writer. I predict she will be around for a long, long time. Also check out (on You Tube) her cover of the great Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song.” Just amazing. She reminds me a bit of Gillian Welsh (not my favorite, but I like some of her songs) but with a more honest style and all round vibe.
On a personal level, I’ve been doing my regular Saturday morning gig at the Daily Brew café in Cataumet and have been enjoying doing the Christmas tunes I’ve worked out. Obviously, I only get to play them at this time of year and although some of them are quite simple it’s always a challenge – a good one for me! – because they are so familiar and any mistakes are pretty obvious (!). In any case, the folks seem to enjoy them and I do too. I have been at the Brew for about three years now and even though it’s the “smallest” gig I have every played in terms of the venue I continue to love playing there more than any place I’ve ever performed, including concerts in front of many thousands of people. The atmosphere is warm and inviting and the coffee and food is damn good too! If you’re ever in the area, stop by!
Peace & good music,