Karega Mandela and Brother Resistance (Lutalo Masimba) were like two rapso seed in a pot.
If you saw one, you saw the other. For decades this was the case. Be it a calypso tent opening, an all-inclusive Carnival fete or a random crossing of paths outside the then Drag Mall on the corner of Frederick and Henry streets in Port of Spain, the two were virtually inseparable.
Their 46-year friendship ended abruptly when Resistance passed away in the late hours of Tuesday night at the WestShore Medical Private Hospital in Cocorite.
The Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisaiton (TUCO) president, a cancer patient, was taken to the medical facility by family after complaining of a persistent headache the day before. The renowned rapso artiste and poet was 67.
“I met him in 1975,” a reflective Mandela started when asked to relive their musical journey on Wednesday.
“I went to a pardna’s house in Tunapuna to play on a DJ set and he was there. The name of the DJ was Tunapuna Block Masters and Resistance was a part of it when I joined,” Mandela continued during an emotional phone call.
Resistance was immediately impressed by Mandela’s passion for calypso music and asked him to his Quarry Street, Port of Spain base to hear his Network Rapso Riddum band play.
“He invited me to come see the band practise on Quarry Street. I always did a lil writing, not in a serious way, but he encouraged me to take my writing seriously. That was my introduction to the (rapso) music,” Mandela continued.
A new world of opportunity
In 1980 Resistance won a national poetry competition with his rapso composition “Pan Baby” and was selected to represent T&T at the fourth edition of the Caribbean Festival of the Arts (CARIFESTA) in Barbados the following year. Mandela said he was happy to travel with him as part of his supporting cast.
“We had a bond from early. He asked me along with three other members of the band to go with him. That was one of our first real experiences performing outside of T&T so we were all eager to go do our thing,” Mandela recalled.
In 1981 Network Rapso Riddum band debut “Busting Out” became an instant hit. The following year the group released “Roots of de Rapso Riddum”. They continued to release music, always putting the genre front and centre: “Rapso Explosion” (1984), “Rapso Takeover” (1986), and “Rapso Uprising” (1989).
Resistance went to a book fair in London, England in 1984. Mandela said his goal was to get their music heard and secure gigs for the band. Failing to secure a booking he returned to London city the following year determined to network and make more connections. In 1986 his efforts were rewarded when the band was booked for six shows in the British capital.
“We went up to do six shows and ended up doing 25,” Mandela laughed.
“It was summertime and that was how it went. We had an African sound, but with a Trini flavour that featured the distinctive sound of the steelpan. They loved us in London that summer, but that was all down to Resistance’s persistence,” he continued.
Mandela says when he thinks of Resistance he thinks of his unusually high work ethic. Resistance was always writing music and thinking of new ways to promote the rapso genre.
Together they started the Rapso Explosion showcase in the 90s, an open mic forum for rapso, poetry and spoken word that was preceded by a week-long workshop that taught young performers about both on and off-stage best practices.
More than a musical education, the Rapso Explosion workshops allowed youngsters to rub shoulders with the stars of the genre like Wendell Manwarren of 3Canal and Omari Ashby of Kindred thereby instilling confidence in self and pride in culture. Soca stars MX Prime (Edghill Thomas) and Bunji Garlin (Ian Alvarez) were both a part of that movement.
“He didn’t ‘fraid work. He would go party and wake up the next morning and write. He had that drive, always looking for something to promote the culture. He would wake me up all hours to ask me, ‘read this; this making sense?’ That was Resistance,” Mandela added.
Mandela and Resistance’s on stage chemistry blossomed throughout the 80s and 90s and into the 2000s with the former’s “Free Up Africa” and “Rapso Ridium Time” and the latter’s “Mother Earth” and “Ring D Bell” becoming genre setting standards.
Mandela, however, pulled on a memory dating all the way back to 1980 when asked to recall his standout moment with Resistance.
The band had been invited to the Spice Isle to perform at the first anniversary of the Grenada Revolution. Established local acts like Black Stalin (Leroy Calliste), Brother Valentino (Emrold Philp) and Vincentian legend Becket (Alston Cyrus) and the late Monsterratian calypso icon Arrow (Alphonsus Cassell) were all billed for the show, Mandela recalled.
However, it was an impromptu unrehearsed chant form Resistance that had the biggest impact with the Grenadian crowed, Mandela shared.
“We were well rehearsed but on the way to the venue we saw one set of signs and slogans promoting a black conscious vibe. On the bus Resistance tell us strip down that song and he will do the rest. When we got on stage Resistance watch de crowd, de place was full, full, he started chanting ‘Grenada we strong, strong, brave and strong forward ever backward never’ that song clean up the park clean, clean,” Mandela concluded proudly.