“NOTHING seems to make sense anymore,” David Rudder sings on repeat in “State of the Nation”—his pore-raising commentary about where our society is heading. David Bishop and MX Prime (Edghill Thomas) added their vocals to the track in which Rudder addresses crime and corruption.
“State of the Nation” is everything fans expect from the king—rhythm, musicality and powerful lyrics that bear witness to the winds of change blowing over T&T. For the 57 years that David Rudder has been in the entertainment industry each of the songs in his catalogue of recordings have been inspired by what is happening on the ground. There is his haunting track “Madman’s Rant”, his poignant and eerily prophetic song “1990”, the lyrical masterpiece “Hoosay”, the unforgettable “Rally Round the West Indies” and “Madness” a song written and produced years ago in which Rudder seems to foretell what is happening in our society today.
“Trinidad has always been my inspiration. My songs have all been inspired by the way I see the country,” ‘King’ David tells Kitcharee. “I always live with the feeling that I have a sense of responsibility to sing about issues as I see them through a creator’s eye.”
Whether other calypsonians are assuming a similar responsibility is up for debate. But Rudder doesn’t shy away from giving his opinion.
“Some (calypsonians) are in survival mode and are in it to pay the bills and so while some of the songs do give you reason to pause and think, others are what you might call ‘eat ah food’ and not as intense,” he says.
When it comes to his latest music, the calypso legend describes his offerings for Carnival 2k20 as a musical “trinity”. “State of the Nation” deals with the harsh reality on the ground, while his other track with Etienne Charles “Port of Spaining” which is an effervescent ode to the capital city is on the lighter side. And his third song “Ceremony”, which will be released shortly, is all about celebrating the ritual of Jouvert.
His ability to create lyrical verses around a range of subjects is one of the reasons many consider Rudder to be not just a singer but a prophet and poet. He began singing at the age of nine. The day Rudder volunteered to take part in a competition put on by his primary school, Belmont Boys’ RC, he knew calypso was meant for him and vice versa.
“The moment I stepped on the platform in front of my peers, a peace came over me. I knew then that I was born for the stage,” he says.
Rudder later went on to sing professionally. The creative scene was vibrant even back in those days; there were so many singing groups in Belmont where he grew up that there seemed to be a band on every corner. He became the lead singer for Charlie’s Roots before stepping out on his own, a move that eventually led to him becoming known as one of the most successful calypsonians of all time.
There is as much talent today as there was back in the day when Rudder first found his footing in entertainment, but he worries that as a nation we are settling for second best and not maximising our potential.
“I don’t think there is any other country that has as much talent per capita as T&T. A lot of people, I would say between 30-40 per cent of our population are involved in the arts in one way or the other. We are a musical and magical people. But we are throwing that away for some reason. We are throwing away our gifts when we should be an example to the world. And that bothers me,” he says.
It’s up to each of us to commit to making things better, he adds.
“I see a lot of decay in our society, I also see young people who accept death and don’t care who goes down with them at the end of the day. We need to work with the youths the best we can and invest in the long term. We have a choice; either we bury our heads in the sand and expect things to get better or we do our own bit every day to bring about change,” he says.
When he is not in Canada, Rudder spends most of his time between Trinidad and the Caribbean. Stepping away from the glass, as he puts it, offers him an advantage as a songwriter as opposed to someone who has his nose pressed to the glass. Through his songwriting, Rudder has helped raise the level of awareness of societal issues and united people around the love of music and culture.
As the voice of the collective conscience, the calypso icon will continue to add more gems to his musical repertoire. Fans can expect more songs that remain on the listeners’ consciousness and celebrate the best of T&T.
Over the years he’s received many accolades and titles including an Honorary Doctor of Letters (DLitt) from The University of the West Indies, but knowing that his songs have had an impact on its listeners gives Rudder more satisfaction than anything else.
“I’m thankful for what I’ve been given but I don’t need a big set of accolades,” says Rudder. “When I walk the streets and someone says ‘King, thanks for the music!’, that’s enough for me.”