by Latoya Burnham
For most people, music is a pastime, maybe an enjoyment; for others, it’s a profession. For Amber Barrow, it’s life.
There are not many young people who can say at 14 that they’ve performed to thousands at Reggae Bajan Nights, Reggae on the Hill, or at a few of the island’s night spots. Amber Orano – the moniker she’s created for herself – has.
Last Friday, the Parkinson Memorial Secondary student blew away her competition at the inaugural Kaiso In De Pine competition hosted by her school, to walk away with the Edwin Yearwood Challenge Trophy. And having heard her delivery of I Am A Child, despite singing since the age of four, few would believe that this Crop-Over is the first time this soulful and unique voice has ever touched the genre of calypso.
The win still fresh in her mind, and still a little in awe of what she has accomplished, Amber sits in a straight-backed chair in the corner of an office on the schools compound and plays with her fingers as she chats about music. Ever so often as a particularly pleasant thought crosses her mind, she raises bright eyes, shining behind black-rimmed glasses and the excitement that chases across her face is like watching the sun emerge from behind very still clouds on a slightly overcast day – dazzling.
“It felt good; really good,” she says about her victory and new monarchy, with a broad smile. “I felt like I had been doing it before, but this was my first time and it felt comfortable”.
She was a little surprised even to find that she enjoyed calypso just as much as she does reggae. In fact, it was her now music teacher, band leader and mentor, Randy Eastmond that got her into reggae music in the first place. Singing since age four, Amber explained that her mom being a DJ, she would often get a mic and imitate her mother and that was how she learnt to sing.
When Eastmond joined the school’s teaching staff two years ago, he wanted to get a band started and threw out the invitation at assembly for interested students to contact him. Amber did.
Eastmond said he was shocked, excited and in disbelief the first time he heard the shy 12-year-old sing and with the cadence of her voice, realised she had the perfect pitch for reggae. And the rest as they say is history.
In the school band, with mates – Shamar Coombs, bass; Matthew Trotman, drums; Mylon Clarke, sax; and Samantha Romain, Kadeem Maynard and Alicia Lloyd on vocals, and teacher and fellow band leader Farakhan Stephens, keyboard – they’ve done reggae, pop, and R&B mostly. They’ve also become a bit of a school sensation, now performing to a hall of screaming and appreciative school colleagues.
In addition to vocals, Amber also plays keyboard, an instrument she said she was still learning and getting the hang of.
During the competition on Friday night, Amber Orano skipped onto the stage in a green dress, ribbons in her hair which was separated into childish plaits, with a doll hugged to her chest to belt out the words of I Am A Child. Of the experience, she says: “Singing calypso was kinda the same as singing reggae but it is actually more exciting and I get introduced to another genre and that was quite exciting and very new to me.”
She entered the Junior Monarch preliminaries this year and was not lucky enough to go through to the semifinals, something she says she is a bit puzzled by because she did everything she was advised to do. Amber said though that she has not given up and will try again next year.
Preparing for the Kaiso In De Pine show was also a new experience for her because it meant late nights at rehearsals, trying to arrange props for her presentation. She actually enjoyed the late nights, long practice sessions and showcasing her talent.
“When I was in primary school nobody never really paid attention. My singing only started after I got to Parkinson. When I was in first form Mr. Eastmond was my music teacher and he asked me to sing the school song. I was scared and the rest of children encourage me and tell me go long and sing it and I did and that’s when he knew that I could sing. From that day on, he let me be in the band and help me with my music,” says Amber, and adds that she is thankful to her teacher for showing her the way and continuing to mold her talent.
When you ask her what she loves about music though, Ambers face takes on an almost indescribably joyous look.
“When I’m in my little corner and quiet or something, I just have to depend on music because music does do something to me that I can’t really explain. It does make me a new person.”
Despite her success and enjoyment of calypso, Amber says reggae is still where her heart is because it has a beat that she loves that makes her just want to move.
Her long-term goal is a career in music and has her sights set on being a singer.
“I want to stay in music as long as I can, maybe even until I die. Without music I can’t really be who I am because I just love music and it’s my favourite thing.”
Beyond that, if her ultimate dream falls short, she is practical enough to know that she still needs her education. It is one of the reasons she is in the business stream at school, with plans to go on to study computer technology or engineering or some computer related field.
She confessed that she has a head for computers as well and loves to tinker in that area as well. She also has a love of basketball, practices karate on the weekends and likes to hang out sometimes, though she says she does not have a lot of friends and is more of a loner.
But when she does not have a mic in her hand, chances are she is in a corner somewhere with a pen and paper, writing songs like the one she wrote for her late brother, one of her favourites Hot Spot. Already, her teacher Eastmond says she has enough of her own music to produce an album, something he is considering but holding back doing.
“I think what we might do is release a few singles rather than doing the whole album because I am trying to pace her, so her career does not flame out by the time she is 17. I want her to go far. It does not mean that I will be the one to take her all the way, but as long as she is moving forward, I am happy.
“I am amazed at her for her age. She was doing stuff that more seasoned keyboardists were not able to do. She is able to split the keyboard and play in two parts at the same time, sometimes even play three keyboards and I sent videos to others with her and she was only 12 or 13 at the time.”
He says all he has to do is explain how certain things are done, how to play certain instruments and she fiddles until she catches it, which is usually in just a few tries. “She would watch me and by the second or third time she has it perfect. I would look at her and say, this ain’t normal,”he says, glancing in her direction as she hugs her backpack to her chest, eyes in her lap.
The shy Amber that sits before us, is so at odds with the confident young woman on stage that the transformation when you get her talking about her passions – music and songwriting – is more noticeable.
Performing on the big stage at several local events have added a bit more experience to her already growing resum√, while helping her enjoy what she loves – music in all its glorious forms. firstname.lastname@example.org