For decades Stephenson “Steve” Neaves has been composing music for other artists. You may know his songs Celebramos Maria (Ay Ay Maria), Parang the Wrong House, and Steelband Coming Down.
However, Neaves decided that it was time for him to do more for himself and sing his own songs because he felt it was the right thing to do, although he said his vocals could be improved.
Despite this, his new soca parang, Pweffem Parang has a very catchy tune about paranging in the neighbourhood. It is a great song to dance with a Trini/Spanish rhythm break and a switch up with a slow line in the chorus.
Neaves said he was in Tobago when he started getting ideas for the song, so he played around with his guitar and created a Christmas song with lyrics he wrote from his personal experiences.
Previously, he had only sung one other parang, and a 2005 album, Buljol, by Steve Neaves and Zu Zun Geng.
He told Sunday Newsday Buljol, which he described as a cross between calypso and anything, did very well in Canada.
“I kept the calypso base but then put flavours on top of it. Reggae, jazz, folk, soca, Indian... I do what I feel to do. My music is free-spirited and I use a lot of improvisation. In all my music I try to be different. I’m not following nobody because, in the long run, I just want to be me.”
Neaves said as a youth his family would parang every year and he always loved the music and the camaraderie. He said when he was in Form Two or Three, his father brought home a cuatro.
He immediately took the cuatro and taught himself how to play. When he felt confident, he encouraged his friends, who played an instrument, to parang with him. His next step was learning to play the guitar. He said he would often visit a friend who taught him the basics and let him practise. Eventually he bought his own and also learned to play the bass guitar.
Through the encouragement of various friends he played guitar in Best Village in Petit Valley and later with the folk choir, La Petite Musicale. He even offered to compose a song for one of their albums, his first full song, Celebramos Maria.
“I realised I was always composing in my head. If we liming I could sing a little extempo, my brain always working to look for something new, something creative. I would listen to people, learn stuff, try to change it and create. After that I did a lot of composing for other people, helping them because I liked to do it.”
Over the years he played with several bands and played consistently at The Harvard Club. He also worked as a DJ and set up sound systems for events. He further developed his skills though numerous amateur calypso competitions where he helped the contestants compose their songs, and mixed music.
At the time, Neaves worked as a qualified TV and radio repair technician at Radio Trinidad and Rediffusion.
However, he always wanted a studio so, bit by bit, he bought music and studio equipment. “I started to see music as a whole – the playing of music, the composing of music, doing sound systems, everything.”
In 1990 he was retrenched. That was when he decided to make music a career. “I got up one morning, I had no work, and I decided that I was not working for anyone ever again and I started doing everything for myself. It was the worse and best thing that ever happened to me.”
He said he tried to say a little and mean a lot, and mix a lot of different music into the framework of songs to keep people’s interest. Therefore his songs rarely had the same rhythm throughout. Eventually, Neaves learnt music theory up to Grade Five.
After that he studied on his own online. He recommended this to musicians saying that he found the knowledge gave him self-confidence and settled things in his mind.
“Studying the theory for me just dotted the ‘i’s and crossed the ‘t’s. I started relating to what I was doing all those years by ear on a different level.”
In the end, Neaves said anyone wanting a career in music had to love it with a passion.
“You can’t be lazy. You have to work very very hard and try to overcome all your obstacles. We are all talented in some way. We all have to have a dream and work hard towards that.”