My weekend of music in Toronto

My weekend of music

By Henry “King Cosmos” Gomez

Roger Gibbs and Chris Wilson of Shak Shak

Not exactly your man about town, but I must say that musically I had a remarkable experience over three successive days of this past weekend. Each was in a distinctly different setting. The first was at the Harriet Tubman Institute at York University, where Roger Gibbs and I presented Calypso as Music of Resistance. This was part of Tubman’s Black History Month series, under the auspices of Tubman Institute, CERLAC, York University and Organization of Calypso Performing Artistes (OCPA).

Our presentation consisted of live and recorded performances and included music from as far back as the late 18th century right up to modern times. We began with me singing The Slave, made popular by the Mighty Sparrow (Dr. Slinger Francisco) which took us all the way back to West Africa and the roots of calypso. Roger accompanied excellently on the guitar and some audience members joined in singing this plaintive song set in a minor key to evoke feelings of the pain and suffering of slavery.

There were some technical glitches, and some online viewers reported that they did not receive the Zoom link on time. Overall, though, they felt that they learned something from the presentation and were entertained at the same time, as we presented music from the Kalenda era right up to 2023. We ended with an excerpt of Crazy’s Too Old to Soca. a twist on Too Young to Soca and a calypso that suggests resistance to ageism as its theme.

Joy Bullen, Jesse Ryan and Tracey Ramsubgh-Mannette

The second experience was on Friday night at Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple, where Jesse Ryan and his Kaiso Street Collective gave a Jazz rendition of some of the Mighty Bomber’s (Clifton Ryan’s) calypsos. Because of service interruptions on the subway system, I was late and missed the opening number. Later, I found out that it was James and Joan, one of my favourites. It is the calypso that won Bomber the Calypso King title in 1964 in Trinidad, making him one of the few calypsonians to beat the Mighty Sparrow in a competition. I joined the sing-along during the Q & A at the end of the concert though.

What a band and what a show it was, led by Jesse on saxophone! Add a xylophonist (a rarity these days), a trumpeter, another saxophonist/clarinetist, a drummer, a bassist (on double bass) a keyboard player, a trombonist and a guitarist and you have the band. Nine musicians, and each one a star in his own right. Each of Bomber’s songs was chosen and arranged to allow each musician to have a solo or two. The drummer held everything together real tight, but I yearned to hear him really “leggo” and stretch out with a few solos. Maybe next time. Overall, though, Kaiso Street Collective gave the audience of jazz lovers a treat of a lifetime. The event was produced by culturepreneur Joy Bullen, and presented by the TD Bank.

The last in my weekend trilogy of musical treats was on Saturday around 5:00 pm on my way home on the subway. As I got off the northbound train at Bloor, I heard a distinctive and recognizable cello sound. And there he was. Leo Zheng, master cellist at his accustomed station just off the northbound platform, near the coffee and variety stall, playing his cello. I stopped, watched and listened as he moved his fingers nimbly up, down and across the finger board.

Leo Zheng

I stood some distance off to his right and within his peripheral vision for more than half an hour, money in hand, ready to put in his collection box near his feet. Other commuters walked by, some in a hurry and some stopping for a minute or two. Some put money in the box. Others did not. Through it all Leo seemed oblivious to the movement of people around him as he concentrated deeply on playing through his repertoire of concertos. Every time I thought he would stop, he played another. Finally, with the aid of an electronic device, he programmed some chords and played a beautiful waltz, which to me sounded contemporary. He later told me that he had composed it right there on the spot. When he stopped for a breather, I placed some money in the box, thanked him, said goodbye and made my way home on the eastbound.

I might never have another musical treat like the one I had over the weekend, but since I use the subway system regularly, I’ll likely hear Leo Zheng at the Yonge and Bloor platform near the northbound again. I’ll surely stop, listen for a bit and put something in the box. You should too, if you have the opportunity.