Gyazette

“Soca music, take me, take me, take me back to my island.”

For more than three decades that timeless lyric from calypso icon David Michael Rudder has comforted many a pining West Indian heart, stuck in the hustle of big city life on both sides of the Atlantic.

Rudder himself admits to finding solace in the familiar warm embrace of his aptly titled “Song for a Lonely Soul” when he found himself missing these shores, following his migration to Toronto, Canada in the 2000s.

Pandemic-forced travel restrictions and an ongoing ban on large gatherings in T&T have given the calypso legend less and less reasons to return to the land of his birth—though it is worth mentioning he did return for a day to record a virtual performance for a local mobile phone service provider last Indepedence Day.

Back in the biting cold of the White North, Rudder has found new warmth in the old melody carried by the unexpected voice of rocker Nickolai Salcedo. The Gyazette-lead singer breathed new life into Rudder’s 1989 classic with the release of an artistic cover.

“It does evoke the same sentiments (as the original). The song was inspired by listening to people who emigrated to the big metropolitan cities and their nostalgic dreams of returning to the lands of their birth,” Rudder began saying when asked about his thoughts on Salcedo’s cover.

“There’s a newness about its artistic treatment that invites and attracts. I guess later on as I too migrated I related to the essence of the song because even thought I share my time between both places (T&T and Canada) I’ve met people who haven’t seen T&T for over 20 years and still dreaming about getting there,” Rudder continued during the WhatsApp exchange with the Kitcharee on Wednesday.

Salcedo, who has also spent extensive periods away from these shores in Canada and the UK, said “Song for a Lonely Soul” was the obvious choice after he was asked to cover a Rudder jam for the upcoming “Paintings in the Garden III” exhibit by T&T-born Brooklyn-based artist Alicia Aberdeen.

Aberdeen’s collection is based on the cover of Rudder’s 1989 album: The Power & The Glory.

“I was to choose any song of Mr Rudder’s and create a piece of performance art to go with it. Owing to her using that album cover (The Power & The Glory) for her portrait inspiration, I decided to go with a song from that album. I was looking for what would feel like the most recognisable song from the album and to me ‘Song for a Lonely Soul’ definitely stood out,” an animated Salcedo said during a WhatsApp exchange with the Kitcharee on Friday.

Salcedo said listening to the song again immediately transported him back to his time in Toronto shooting for award-winning filmographrt Frances Ann Solomon’s HERO. Salcedo played the lead character Ulric Cross in the acclaimed biopic that detailed the former T&T diplomat’s extraordinary life.

“That song (‘Song for a Lonely Soul’) always felt like home to me. It is the cry of the diaspora scattered throughout the world; it is their cry every time they miss home. It’s a song that has all of the sweetness of soca music, but Mr Rudder also evokes something bordering on the spiritual; like a blood memory. There is a feeling of deification in the music that underlies the song’s message of the delights, spirit, and natural beauty of Trinidad & Tobago. These are all constantly recurring themes in his music so I knew going in that it was important to let these elements breathe,” Salcedo noted.

Running for cover

It’s never an easy task to cover a classic, yet alone share that cover it with its creator. Salcedo had crossed paths with Rudder at the Art Galero of Ontario in Canada and again when they both performed at the New Music Festival at the Ortinola Estate in Maracas Valley here in T&T.

Salcedo worked closely with Rudder’s long time music and business collaborator Ottie Mieres to iron out all copyright formalities before even setting foot into the recording booth. With all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted Salcedo and his production team of Joshua “Supayouth” Salcedo and Mark Hallal went to work.

“The recording process was more about balance; I wanted very much to honour and keep the spirit of the song even while putting my own spin on it. I knew going in that I wanted to tug on the heartstrings of those who heard it and so we decided to go for more sustained pads and other sounds to accompany the song’s already haunting melodies,” he revealed.

With vocals wrapped and the project mixed and mastered Salcedo worked with his wife director Dahlia Ferandes, old band mate director of photography Jonathan Otway and editor Ivan Spee on the music video.

Confident with their final product Salcedo said he felt more excited than anxious to share the project with Rudder.

“Truth be told, this whole experience has just been a huge honour for me. To get the chance to honour a personal idol as Mr Rudder has been it’s own reward. I must admit that yes there was some slight concern on my part; I did not want him to be disappointed by my rendition. I hoped that he would not feel as though I had butchered his work,” Salcedo said.

Rudder was very complimentary of the work. But his decision to actually share the project with his thousands of social media followers wass the ultimate compliment Salcedo said, adding: “It’s so easy for people to simply say, “I like it’ and move on but that action of sharing it was all the validation I could ever need. Long live the King.”

The pay back for Rudder is Salcedo is introducing his 32-year-old song to a new generation. The mere fact that they are even listening is a credit to the quality of the songwriting, Salcedo chirped.

“Relevance is gained when people can find something relatable in your message and are willing to keep them alive. That’s why it’s always up to us to keep our classics alive and in rotation. I hope that the younger generation gains a new love for the song. For those that aren’t too familiar with that song or David Rudder’s music I would hope that my rendition incites an interest to go listen to the original and get into David Rudder’s music. He was a bridge between the calypso of yesteryear and the soca of now. He is one of our national icons and as such we should do what is necessary to keep his words and his music living in us,” Salcedo said.

Always frugal with his words Rudder said introducing his older hits to the contemporary audience will come down to the work speaking for itself.

“If it has honesty, the people will feel it,” he concluded with a sly knowing smile.

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