veteran calypsonian believes his songs this year will do well
by Donna Sealy
There’s something about Crop-Over that calypsonian Serenader loves.
He breaks into a broad smile, his eyes twinkle, and he shifted in his chair as he settled down to talk about his songs for this year.
He, like some of the veteran artists, have so many stories to tell about those early days of the festival. It was hard working for no money, going from one part of the island to sing knowing that he might not get a cent.
But that’s not what he came to Barbados TODAY’s Warrens, St. Michael offices to talk about, at least not initially.
Serenader, who was christened Elenza Brewster, feels good about his songs this year and feels they will do well.
“This tune, Sophony in C Minor took about three years in the planning. I always wanted to do something soca with a classical feeling in the brass and the strings, I wanted to mix the two so I couldn’t call it Soca Symphony so I cut it down to Sophony which would be a touch of soca from the drums and maybe the percussion and phony with the classical feeling in the strings, brass and whatever is there that you get to make a symphony … So after three years of planning I told [arranger] Leston [Paul] I would take a crack at it.
“I’d been to Trinidad and I sang it in the presence of Leston and Defosto and Defosto was like wow’ you don’t want to give me that’ that’s the second time I have done something down there that they asked me ‘Serrie you don’t want to give me’. When I sang Steel I didn’t want to compete and I can remember Merchant said ‘man gimme let me sing it if you don’t want to sing it man’ .
“My tunes are well accepted in Trinidad that is the truth for the melodies and the topics. I sang it for Leston and left it on something like a casette and when I went back Leston had everything only to finalise. He said Serrie this is good. He got the feeling from the brass men, he said they were very impressed. Sometimes that talk could be true, sometimes it could be that they’re trying to make you feel good.
“”I think this time they really were shocked. One guy said ‘ Lord Kitchener would smile when he hears this one, he would have to smile’. It started to take off from Trinidad, I brought it here and took it and let certain people here it before I decide if it was completed. If certain people had find fault with certain things, the kind of arranger that Leston Paul is, I could have called him and let him know up here in Barbados the guys say may be you want this and maybe you want that, he would do it,” Serenader said.
He will be among De Big Show’s line up this year and he knows exactly what he wants to do on stage for Pulling Down but you will have to go to the tent when it opens to see for yourself.
His song Sophony in C Minor, has taken off and he is “so happy with the amount of airplay”.
“I was also happy to read in the editorial that Serenader is a breath among the others. I felt good that’s the truth. It is always my intention, to be honest, to do something different. If you listen to my tunes throughout the years you will find out I come with a different topic. I don’t try to sing the same things the others are singing. I believe if I do something different I will be heard.
“I will never forget when I had the chicken issue and everybody had a chicken song. Only two came out (on top) and they were about 20. I try not to get into something when everybody is. Some people will get hurt It happens that the best artist will get the ear of the listeners.
“I remember when I wanted to record Jogging, some one asked me what I gine sing bout jogging you gine mad? They didn’t know that angle I was coming from and I could remember with Steel, they asked what are you going to sing about steel. Wherever I walk it is steel in there,” he recalled with a laugh.
Having said that, he thinks that he and the other veteran calypsonians have poured so much into the festival to ensure it survived those fledgling years after the rebirth in 1974, they should be shown a greater level of respect.
“I love the art form but to be honest we don’t get the recognition that we deserve. If you notice, there were Cavalcades this year, and you haven’t seen any of the veterans on any of them.
“Barbadians usually go to anything that is free in numbers. So if you had a free show with anybody at all, you will get nuff people. When a lot of these people are singing at Cavalcades people don’t hear them. The average man goes to where he know he will see a lot of women. The average woman goes because she wants to go and kill them off. Few people might have fans or one or two people who might go and back them but other than that they’re not interested. Which means, that they should give some of the experienced artists too,” Serenader.
“I think that veterans need more respect. What is happening is that people who don’t have a clue about Crop-Over, or don’t have a clue about calypso, are in charge and are running the shows. What some of the veterans are experiencing at the fetes is that somebody could be at the door that never went to a tent, never went to a show and he is in charge, and says ‘you can’t come in here’.
“You in your earlier days sang for nothing every night to keep the Festival alive. I sang for nothing for so many years to keep the Festival alive. I sang for nothing. We build the festival from Yoruba House, Gabby with Battle Ground and we were singing sometimes on nights for 10 people, five people, and the whole band still got to be paid so that means the calypsonians ain’t going get paid but yet we kept on doing the same thing working and working.
“Some nights when I get home with so much fright in me ’cause I had to pass by St. Matthew’s graveyard after singing. I lived in Jackman’s and I sing and don’t know how I’m going to get home. My problem was when you’re going through Waterford Bottom you’re looking left and looking right ’cause you’re frighten. The lizards were jumping from blade to blade and you’re looking around. When I get by St. Matthew’s graveyard, I was frighten man, I pop off man, run passed that graveyard., I ain’t look left, I serious, I gone. All those things I did,” he recalled with laughter.
Serenader also recalls sleeping at Piley after performing and going home after drinking a cup of Bay Leaf tee and also being given a ride by the Police.
“I was still working at the hotels, and I was at Sam Lord’s Castle with my little volkswagon, I didn’t know anything about an engine when the lights went down like a cigarette and I still managed to get to Bay Street. I ran from the last gas station there down to the Port to sing Get Out Me House. I was the popular artist that year .
“I ran from there and I ain’t getting paid, you ain’t getting paid. You get promises but not money. …I’m trying to show you the work we put down for the Festival. We didn’t stop cause we weren’t getting paid, we continued to sing and perform for the art form.
“When I won it was $20,000 and I got advice to buy a compressor, I do refurbishing. That pulled me through. The first job with that compressor paid for it. We worked hard. People like me and Viper, Gabby, Destroyer, Grynner, we didn’t work a little bit of hard. We had no place to keep meetings we used to sit under a tree in Queen’s Park,” he said.
For the singer who had popular tunes such as Breakdown (one step forward, two steps backward), Juck for Juck, he is not ready to hang up his costumes and watch from the sidelines. [email protected]