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My laughing friend

DEBBIE JACOB Friday, May 19 2017

WHEN I GOT the news Wednesday morning of musician Tony Voisin’s passing, I felt particularly sad because no one has ever made me laugh like Tony. The first time I stopped in Maraval to give the Charlie’s Roots guitarist a ride, we laughed so hard I cried.

Soft-spoken Tony had the heartiest laugh you ever wanted to hear; a loud, continuous guffaw that felt like a freight train of laughter.

Once he got started, it was impossible for him to stop laughing.

When he got out of the car that morning, my two children, Ijanaya, then five and Zino, then four, sat silently for some time before they both said, “I have never heard two people laugh like that.” This would be the case every time I saw Tony. To my children, he became my “laughing friend.” What is most remarkable is how Tony translated his laughter into music. Known for his euphoric smile and head-bobbing while playing those guitar lines that former Charlie’s Roots colead singer David Rudder once called “bubbling guitar licks,” Tony helped to shape Charlie’s Roots’ defining voice.

As a brass band, Charlie’s Roots had a unique voice not just because of the its dynamic co-lead singers, Christopher “Tambu” Herbert and Rudder, but because of the musicians: Pelham Goddard, Tony and the late, great guitarist Junior Wharwood who made the singers’ voices stronger and the music richer. There were layers to the bands’ music that, in my opinion, stood out from the other brass bands.

Tony was a musical foil for Wharwood, a sobering, soulful guitarist. Tony’s music exuded that feeling we have when we talk about someone being a “good soul.” He captured the joy of spirit more than any guitarist I knew.

Once, when I recovered from one of our laughing sessions, I told Tony I wanted to do a feature on him. Much to my surprise, he physically recoiled. Leaning as far left to the window as he could, he flat out said no. I tried to guilttrip him into complying with my wishes.“Look how Junior is gone and we have nothing to document his presence. We have to write about all these great voices in music — and yours is one of them,” I said, for indeed his music, so rich and effervescent, had a voice. Tony would never agree to an interview with me. He said, “I just want to be in the background.” I never gave up trying.

I generally feel sad and I always feel like kicking myself when someone dies and I didn’t get that story I always wanted. But when I thought about Tony and the conversations we once had, I realised just what Tony meant.

His purpose was to make music — not talk about it. His confidence and talent spoke volumes.

No one had to translate it or pontificate about it. It existed in the timeless way great music and literature exists, and it would always be there for people to love and enjoy. It will be there for new generations of musicians to study.

Tony’s music always reminded me of my philosophy for writing: You can make many important points with a light, even humorous tone. Tony knew the power of being light-hearted.

On one night I remember, Charlie’s Roots took a break between sets. Tony jumped off the stage and approached me smiling.

“Oh good,” I said, “I’m liming with you today. No, I’m liming with you,” he said.

We argued back and forth staying with our “liming” banter until Tony jumped back on stage to pe r form.

S m i l i n g , head bobbing, he strummed his guitar.

Today, I smile at my memories of that joyful, creative man.



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