Leston Paul is an icon living.
An accomplished music producer and musician Paul has worked with virtually every major calypso and soca act including Lord Kitchener, The Mighty Sparrow, David Rudder, Baron, SuperBlue, Byron Lee, Arrow and Crazy, just to name a few. He also famously helped launch soca king Machel Montano’s career in the 80s with his first hit song “Too Young to Soca”.
“The one thing that keeps me going is life plus when I observe the technological advancement in the world from analogue to digital and it’s just mind blowing.
“You actually learn to appreciate the past and welcome the present and the future. There was a time it became extremely frustrating travelling back and forth with those heavy two-inch tape reels from studio to studio wondering when and how they would come up with the tech that would eliminate this hassle,” Paul said during an exchange with Kitcharee on Friday.
New tech means everything that was once impossible is now possible...and then some. Paul says the digital era has fuelled his drive to keep creating timeless music.
“My interest and passion to create, compose, produce and arrange has always remained steadfast no matter what is trending musically, but still maintaining the foundation and structure that I have learned and developed throughout my career,” he explained.
The Big Apple Connection
Paul started the New York Connection in 1985 with Hue Loy of B’s record label in New York City. After almost two decades of music the band fell apart following falling record sales caused by the advent of online piracy.
With the New York Connection he created a formidable US-based calypso and soca cover band and released original hits like “Weakness for Sweetness” and “Do way yuh want” with Bajan songstress Natalie Burke.
After two decades of inactivity the band is back in business with the release of a new track featuring Trinidad-born soca act Tracy D called “Tempreture”.
“Between 1999 to 2018 I have been getting a lot of FB messages, comments from people far and wide that the people want to hear us back again. But nothing ever materialised until the summer of this year when I wrote ‘Temperature’
“I contacted Tracy D just to do the demo, but when he came in the studio and executed the song in ten minutes, (having) never heard (it) before and I listened to his tone, vibes and energy I told him just pray that the artiste I’m trying to contact don’t like the song or don’t return my email in seven days.
“After I got no response from the artiste I originally had in mind I said look ,Tracy, this song is yours and I’m gonna use it to re-connect the New York Connection,” he said.
A blooming Rose
Paul pointed to the international success of Calypso Rose as an example of the rewards of persistence and hard work. Duplicating that success, however, will require a united global front by soca music’s foremost practitioners, he mused.
“Rose has been scanning the globe for years as far back as I can recall. So she has been dedicated and focused and is now enjoying the fruits of the hard work and commitment.
“If we have to make a big impact and statement in the world with our music, one or two persons cannot do it. It has to be a movement, an avalanche of artistes and performers under one umbrella where everyone can benefit. There and then you can influence the masses and generate that awareness and excitement that would eventually lead to legitimate world tours, releasing albums any time of the year,” Paul said.
Artistes must, however, first break the seasonal mindset and open up their thinking to creating music that can exist outside of a Carnival setting, he said.
“Two months of the year is just not sustainable. When we break this every year chain and I can see performances in major venues around the world then I would be convinced that something positive is happening with our music.
“For now it’s just an individual thing, but with hope, commitment, financial resources in place for proper promotion and marketing it can happen, we’ve got the talent but the question is when?” he asked rhetorically.
An exciting time to be making music
Paul said he is generally impressed with the quality of music production coming out of T&T. He said contemporary producers have done well with the modern computer software and technology and soca music as a whole has benefited from an enhanced sound.
“It seems like most artistes want to be different from one another and are continuously experimenting so as to stand out and have an identity. It can be a way of being creative, but (they) have to remember a roti would always be a roti and a pelau and callaloo should also taste like what it’s expected to taste like,” he advised.
Paul said international promoters and DJs are often left confused when they hear new soca music sounding so very different to the slower, horn-filled grooves of yesteryear. Those oldies are the songs that have defined soca on the global market, he said.
“People from the outside who want to give our music a space complain of being confused when they play ‘Tiny Winey’ and ‘Don’t stop the party’ compared to the new soca that does not sound anywhere close to those of that era.
“That seems to be an issue that could easily be rectified by giving the new music a name. I love the new vibes; it is awesome and has a lot of vocal creativity, but what is it really?
As for calypso music, Paul said its heart-breaking to see a music that was so accepted and loved globally now be rejected in the land of its birth.
“Personally I think it musically needs a facelift. Not straying too much from the roots, but a little more commercialised so that whilst the message is being told you can dance, stomp your feet do something that you would not be bored,” he said.
He said while calypso is steeped in the tradition of a long intro and band chorus the fact is modern music has to be more in your face and to the point.
“The rhythm of the music needs to be more up-front as people no longer relate to long accompanying triads and beautiful orchestration popularised in the 50s 60s and 70s. The satire and storyline don’t have to alter much but some innovation and creativity in a modern way can be applied to bring people back to the level of acceptance, just like how soca has evolved to what it is now.
“Calypso must be saved now to avoid becoming extinct. Who knows; something positive might just emerge out of it that touches the hearts and souls of the nation,” he concluded.