by Julian Rogers
Thank God for the Internet. Who else can we thank for being able to share the gift of music shared by a group of Bajan musicians, singers and poets, and people at home and the Diaspora and being able to receive an Easter gift that was a feast for the ears, eyes and spirit?
The chef was a multi-instrumentalist, arranger, conductor and impresario who guided us through the menu of genres and moods – from course to course – topped off with a sweet dessert of songs to aid the digestion of this rich fare.
There is nothing more Bajan than saying grace before a meal, starting a modern miracle of feeding thousands who sat in their homes’ comfort across the world.
The Reverend Billy Graham was back on our Rediffusion speakers on a Sunday afternoon as grandmothers and aunties clasped their hands in prayer at the first strains of the familiar hymn, How Great Thou Art; praying for their children to come back to Sunday school.
Whoever banned “Banja” from church made a severe mistake. After all, it was a pentecostal revival with the spouge medley that spoke of love and more love that only Jackie Opel could write and sing about at his most passionate. And Zorro and Fowl were rocking again, quoting from the Sixth and Seventh Books, passages which can never grow old.
The joyful Talk trumpet brought Rediffusion memories and its showcase of the big bands from Bert Kaempfert to The Troubadours International.
And while we are it, the blending of the classical Fur Elise and Pan in A Minor would have restored Beethoven’s hearing and have Lord Kitchener’s felt hat dancing. In another mixing, Nicholas Brancker’s arranging genius is evident in the band’s additions.
Boasting a string section for this concert, and with music teacher Dr Phillip Forde at the grand Cathedral organ, we got a reassuring performance of The Lord’s My Shepherd. We could only imagine the chorus of voices joining this historic performance.
The band served up solo or combined starring moments throughout the concert – whether it was a saxophone or brass section or steelpan – this was a band of star performers.
Nikita Vaughn, with deft piano style, added Prelude in C to the menu before the band waiting in half-light emerged to add Beautiful Barbados and raise our heartbeat with pride as the national colours washed over the Cathedral’s ancient columns.
Alison Norville Forde reminded us that as God watched over the sparrows in the Cathedral’s rafter, we, too, were accorded similar protection.
The band provided an old-fashioned Bajan doily for Alix Cage’s prideful rendering of Mark’s Lorde’s classic ode to Barbados. There must have been a beaming composer on Beckles Road.
Out of one of the pews came Edwin Yearwood, bridging the ages with a quietly passionate offering before twinning it with another of his emotionally charged songs. Amid Crop Over celebrations, Edwin brings people back to our damaged world’s reality in need of Jah Jah’s mercy.
We should add that Nicholas prayed. How else can you describe his The King Of Love My Shepherd Is as he closed his eyes and his hands clasped around the bass guitar in a solo before the rest of the band played the chorus.
JJ Poulter hopes that we could change the world and give the next generation a better world gave us shades of Chicago Brass, a sound dating back to the 70s. But it was Poulter’s reworking of Eric Clapton’s classic that added another rich portion to this musical feast, giving the band’s lead guitarist another starring role.
Mahalia had to be at this table. Hallelujah for this highly talented performer who can rock with the best on any world stage. For this event, Mahalia basked in the reggae lilt to uplift our spirits as she has done from Two Mille Hill to the international concert stages.
Kweku Jelani raised the dispossessed anthem, known to Bajans as Emmerton and penned at a painful time for the composer Dr The Most Honourable Anthony Gabby Carter.
Kweku recounted the South African shanty towns’ pain in what we imagined to be a young Hugh Masekela trumpeting and voicing, “looka wha’ you do to our Emmerton”.
Poetry had a place at the table, providing critical linkages to the servings, while Nicholas’s heartfelt introductions spoke of the joy of bringing together all this exceptional talent.
The Nicholas Brancker Band with Strings is unmatched, where the joy of playing was evident.
While we basked in the musicians’ glorious artistry, the individual guests laid on course after course, which should only be taken in small portions. But our greed had already set in when Nikita started to share, little by little, as her offering took us to new heights of ecstasy and set us picturing a live audience looking up to the Cathedral’s rafters to see how high up she had gone.
In a remarkable rendition, Nikita left no doubt that she is a master of her concoction, rising beyond the heights of popular fare she exhibited over the years in her trademark red locks.
Shadia Marshall, not to be outdone, quietly gave us just a taste at the beginning but then laying out more significant portions of her soul-stirring voice to leave our tastebuds wondering what could be next on this menu.
Her marriage with Biggie Irie was an unmatched blending on a classic Stevie Wonder song appealing to an end to hate and violence now bestriding our lands.
We could not help but notice that Nicholas acted as a marriage officer in bringing pairs of artists together at the altar of St Michael’s Cathedral, which has seen its share of wedding ceremonies, but none like these in one event.
The master lyricist from East, St Phil-LOP, entered the Cathedral dramatically crossing from Nicholas’ home studio. He laid out his lyrical fare with his charming smile, distinctly calling for excellence, which was on show. The transition was not long in coming as the Red Plastic Bag raised the rafter with a rallying hallelujah heard worldwide.
And to the credits, Nicholas Brancker did the honours. Still, the final offering, a thank you to frontline workers, could be served to thousands around the world who we leaned on; whose reassuring words were don’t worry about a thing as they held hands on behalf of family members who could not be there; a salute to these champions who pledged to be fighters to the end; and invoking a new spirit of unity rallying around the West Indies, much more than just the cricket team.
Our thanks to the National Cultural Foundation and all those not seen as the credits rolled. We thank you from around the world.