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Reclaiming Rudder
By KEITH SMITH Editor-at-Large

October 28th 2004

Because of a mix-up in the ticket arrangements, I never got to the Stadium complex to see Rudder's "Rhythm Show" but, as luck would have it, I was wending my way, as they say, to a village "christening", when a fellow fan hailed out:

"Keith, the show on radio!"

Which, of course, led to a re-routing of my steps away from the "christening" to the familiar comfort of my bed, which is where I was when David said two things that have since stayed with me: the one being that he has decided to live his life here from December to March every year; and the other, that for Season 2005 he would be releasing not one but two albums, the one being the music from his The New Lucky Diamond Horse Shoe Club done in collaboration with Tony Hall of vintage Jean and Dinah fame, and the other, presumably, being his regular Carnival album.

I say "regular" but Rudder didn't release a Carnival album last year and, come to think of it, I don't know that his recent albums have been Carnival albums in the traditional sense, the festival tunes I hear there seeming to be more of a bow to the season than anything else with "Trini to the Bone", his collaboration with Ian Wiltshire being a memorable exception.

I don't know, disclosed as it was as part of his stage patter, how seriously I am to take the kaiso entertainer's pledge to spend four months of the year home here and, in truth, his residing in Canada doesn't really matter, the man, like Sparrow, Rose, Nelson, Kitchener, Terror and a goodly number of others over the years, based in "foreign" but with a cultural heart-beat that is as Trinidadian as crab and dumpling and bake and shark.

But, strictly, on a personal note, I miss having Rudder physically here, at least over a period, sharing with people like me the pleasure and pain of this place, the pain paramount for the Trini-to-the-bone set insightful enough to know that "all this sugar cyar be good fuh we", which is not to say that we were "liming pardners" or anything of the kind, only that we shared a certain consciousness so that when, for example, Nappy Mayers keeled over on the tennis court and died I knew the first person I had to call was David, whose silence, at the other end of the line, captured, more than anything for me, the terrible sadness of the moment.

As for the promised release of two albums, well, I can only think of it as make-up time. Listen, I don't care what anybody say-Carnival without Minshall and Rudder is all the poorer, a kind of aberration really, not that they, necessarily, have to have the best mas and the best songs-although many a time they have-but their presence in the season is testament that the apocalypse so long threatened for Trinidad and Tobago is still being held at bay, and that if things are not actually all right in the world we still haven't reached rock bottom with all the attendant fire and brimstone.

As I said, I got to hearing the concert late-mid-way in the first half, if I had to guess-and I wasn't there in the Stadium to see, so I am in no position to write a review, such a concert being more than the sum of its songs, the show rising or falling on the flow, but I remember thinking, towards the end, that the audience was reclaiming Rudder and Rudder reclaiming them, loosened bonds now tightened by the mutual recognition of family pain felt and familiar pleasure experienced, soca music take me back to my island, for example, causing what I call "pleasant pain" both to those literally self-exiled up there "in the cold" and those actually living here but yearning for a Trinidad and Tobago that existed, perhaps, only in their dreams.

Oh yes, one more thing. As I heard Rudder run down his repertoire I found myself, thinking, as well, what a great art form I had the honour to call mine, Rudder on the night leaving out some memorable songs and even so he was only the latest "great" in a tradition that goes back, in modern terms, to the turn of the 20th century, Mungal Patasar on the sitar gracing the form in making the essential crossing, and Andy Narrel blessing it from his own musical intelligence and, yes, being doubly blessed in return.


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