‘Let’s support what we call our own’

RUDDER 6.5, a concert to celebrate the career of  Trinidad-born artiste David Rudder, which was  scheduled to be held at the Sony Centre for the Performing  Arts in Toronto on Saturday, has been cancelled because of reported slow ticket sales.

 The cancellation has prompted one of his fans and  a student of  Caribbean music to write the following article about the singer/composer who turned 65 last month and who has played a  significant role in the development of the Caribbean cultural scene in  Toronto:

 By Teeka Belle*

David Rudder

RUDDER  6.5 was to be a retrospective, a celebration of a career that spans over five decades

in which the city of  Toronto has played a big part.

So it seemed only fitting to continue a celebration which started in Trinidad on May 5, here in Toronto. After all, David Rudder has played a significant role in the Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival or Caribana,  as we know it. In the 1970s, Rudder came to Toronto  with his band, Charlie’s Roots, to perform “on the road”. In those days, the parade was on University Avenue. We all have memories of the patients on hospital row sitting in their wheelchairs, forgetting their illnesses as they experienced our culture.

Over the years, as Toronto’s Caribbean population grew, so did Rudder’s connection to the city.

His music paved the way as Caribbean culture became an integral part of Toronto’s vibrant multicultural scene. Our college radio stations CIUT and  CKLN, and even CBC Radio played soca music long before other stations jumped on board.

Rudder moved from performing in venues that only the insiders knew about such as Cutty’s Hideaway and Club Trinidad, to places that invited others to join us as we celebrated our music – the Toronto Island, the CHIN picnic, and even the Queen Street club crowd at the Bamboo.

Riding the rhythm of Caribana, the city created more festivals and more opportunities for us to share our “Caribbeaness” with our neighbours and for them to share with us. Rudder was at the heart of that movement, performing at Harbourfront Centre, Nathan Phillips Square, and Mel Lastman Square.  As we matured as a community, taking our place as valuable contributors to the cultural fibre of Toronto, and he as a performer, we saw Rudder’s appearances move to venues like the John Bassett and Glenn Gould Theatres, Roy Thomson Hall, and the Hummingbird Centre,  now the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, and we revelled in the joy of seeing our culture beyond the streets of the city.

Rudder, having performed there before, chose the Sony Centre for 6.5 because it is acoustically

one of the finest venues in the world. In addition to offering the audience an experience they will appreciate, it is a musician’s venue. It allows the artist to deliver with the greatest of ease, enabling the audience to see and hear every nuance of the delivery -story telling by nature, social commentary by definition, and rhythms that compel you to move. Where can we better celebrate music that can best be described as a lesson in modern Caribbean history, while giving us a chance to listen to and reflect on our own stories?

The cost of producing a concert in a unionized environment is astronomical. RUDDER 6.5  was not intended to be a money-making venture. Civic Theatres, a not for profit organization graciously welcomed David Rudder in Concert, based on his international reputation as one of the stalwarts of Caribbean music and culture. They only asked that we cover the cost through ticket sales.

For Rudder, his reason for doing this concert was twofold. Beyond providing an atmosphere for a communion of musical souls, at 65, he was thinking about his contribution and legacy.  His lyrics of  20 years ago are often as relevant today as they were then. The more things changed, rearranged, and as we sit solidly in the twenty first century, “1990” did not make a liar of him.

And then, there is the band.

According to his “Song For a Lonely Soul”, “a concrete jungle drum can’t play no calypso”  but in Toronto, a city where musicians are often first generation immigrants or in the case of local musical director, Jeremy Ledbetter, Canadians who genuinely have a love and appreciation for the music, it has been possible to form a “Contra Band” able to meet and exceed his expectations.

For David’s 2004 concert at the Hummingbird Centre, Rudder flew in the majority of musicians for the show. Not this time. The members of the Contra Band  are all local musicians, each contributing  in  his own way to Toronto’s bubbling music fraternity, whether it is trumpeter Alexis Baro, through the local Latin scene or Michael “Skel” Redhead and Derek Thorne and their work within the education sector. Some are session musicians, jobs by day, then recording and performing wherever the music takes them by night. All, including Jan Morgan, Iain Green, Duane Sampson, Terry Woode, Sue Lewis, Michelle Walker, and Gervais De Souza, grandson of the late Caribbean Jazz pianist and bandleader Dennis De Souza, have worked hard to learn, understand, and perfect Rudder’s brand of soca/calypso. RUDDER 6.5 would have given them the opportunity to share their talents in a venue that many musicians only dream of.

RUDDER 6.5 Toronto was cancelled this week because of slow advanced ticket sales. Although there were many promises of “I’ll be there” and “I’m going to buy my tickets once I organize my lime” actual sales did not translate into the numbers needed to move forward.

We have no problem purchasing tickets in advance for our mas’ costumes, boat rides and fêtes, the aspects of our culture that we deem valuable. In doing so, we should also recognize their roots in the rhythm, the music, the lyric, the song.

We are a last minute people by nature. We thrive on the excitement. Unfortunately, there are times when this works against us.  Let’s support what we call our own and we must understand that business is business.

(* Teeka Belle is the pen name of a fan of David  Rudder and student of Caribbean music.)