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Saturday 15 December 2018
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Kizzie at the crossroad

Gospel, jazz, calypso, now EDM

PHOTOS BY JEFF K. MAYERS
PHOTOS BY JEFF K. MAYERS

Kizzie Ruiz is at a crossroad. She’s done gospel, dabbled in jazz and mastered calypso.

But these days, Ruiz is in love with love. Her latest song, Pro Love, which she describes as an Electronic Dance Music (EDM) track with a Caribbean feel, was completed two years ago.

However, the singer did a remixed version of the song earlier this year, which is set to be released next month. She is hoping Pro Love will be well-received by her fans.

"EDM is completely different to anything I have done and I wonder how my audience would adjust to something that was new," said an excited Ruiz, who grew up singing gospel music but went on to excel in calypso.

"EDM is not necessarily popular in Trinidad, not something you will hear on the airwaves every single day. It is completely different to what people know me for."

You may have missed her from the calypso scene: the diminutive singer with the booming voice. Truth is, a lot has happened in Ruiz’ life. Apart from completing her Master’s degree in Strategic Leadership and Management at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies some years ago, Ruiz has been kept quite busy with her job as a communications manager.

On January 1, New Year’s Day, the San Juan-born singer also got married to a man, whom she said has been encouraging her to explore her vocal ability. "He has been very instrumental in me pushing forward with my music in terms of producing new stuff," Ruiz told WMN.

Over the years, though, she has veered somewhat from the calypso arena, performing with several of the country’s top singers, including Raymond Edwards, Eddie Cumberbatch and Nigel Floyd.

Ruiz said Pro Love was conceptualised in response to the crime, selfishness and disillusionment, which she feels has become virtually endemic in TT. "I just felt it was time to produce more recordings that speaks to love because there is need for a turnaround in our society."

But Ruiz, who won the national calypso queen title in 2010, has not always been the versatile, self-assured woman she is today. Like many people, hers has been a journey in self-actualisation that’s been told in the book My Story: My Secrets: Letters To My Younger Self, by Carlos Lee, which profiles citizens who have done TT proud in various fields, including sport, culture and academia.

Contributors include environmental scientist Dr Denise Beckles, retired national footballer Shaka Hislop; journalist/businessman Lasana Liburd and entrepreneur/motivational speaker Marsha Riley. The book is expected to be distributed to schools across TT within the next few weeks.

Specifically, My Story: My Secrets: Letters To My Younger Self, challenges those profiled to chart their journeys to success by talking to their younger selves about the trials and disappointments they encountered along the way.

"It captures my thoughts on the way I see the world today based on my experiences," Ruiz said of her contribution to the book.

"It also looks at the way I plan to position myself as a performer and woman in leadership. My goal is to encourage, inspire and motivate persons through my music and life."

Ruiz said Pro Love, produced by Ruel Lynch later remixed by Lyndon Livingston, has allowed her to step of her comfort zone.

"It was a challenge for me because it was new. But I love the message, which is very important to me."

Written by Darryl Gervais, the song explores love in its various manifestations: love of self, community and country.

Love of self, Ruiz said, addresses specifically issues affecting women.

"Because a lot of young women are dealing with self-esteem issues, they are dealing with self doubt and self-confidence problems.

"And for some strange reason, they are looking for role models but in all the wrong places. They want to be like all of the models on magazines which in reality are not even real."

Ruiz said love for brotherhood/sisterhood recognises the need for people to be their brother’s keeper. She observed many people in society have become desensitised to issues, especially tragedies.

She told WMN, "You can see a man caught on fire and somebody is there with a cell phone either recording or videotaping it, and sharing it as opposed to helping the person during their time of need."

Ruiz added, "It is as if our whole society has become very desensitised to taking care of one-another and we have become very selfish.

"There are multiple layers which would influence why people will react the same way but at the end of the day we will need to be our brothers’ keeper and if we develop that type family and community approach to treating with issues, I think we will be far better than if we were individualistic."

Ruiz said TT also needs love, especially in light of the economic crisis.

"We are going through very trying economic times, but we also have to take stock and know that we also have to assume responsibility to get TT out of the path that we are facing."

She said the problems confronting TT, including crime and domestic violence, demand that citizens put country first.

"We are in a bad situation socially and we all have to look at country first and do what can we to improve the situation, which comes from the simple things like the way your train your children, the type of moral values you instil."

Ruiz recalled it was common, years ago, for neighbours in a village to reprimand one-another’s children "and that is because of country first because we know we need to develop Trinidad as a people."

She has vowed to continue to produce positive music. "It should share a story of compassion and how love really is the answer. In the back of my mind I really want to start some type of movement which speaks to love."

Ruiz, whose memorable calypso offerings include Class Language, Adie Haiti, Collatoral Damage, said Pro Love adds a new dimension to her repertoire.

Revered as one of TT’s top female calypsonians, Ruiz’ singing career actually began in the church.

"People know me singing and performing calypso but I have been trained in gospel music.

"I started off in the church and weirdly, outside of Carnival, people rarely ever ask me to sing calypso. It is always gospel or jazz or R&B. So, I have always been saying that I would produce something outside of my comfort zone. But I also had a yearning to get back into the church."

Ruiz credits her friend Jennifer Gonsalves for encouraging her to return to the church. In fact, it was Gonzalves who referred her to Lynch to produce Pro Love. She said her husband, perhaps her biggest cheerleader, also felt she had stayed away from music for too long. Saying he did not come from a music but project management background, Ruiz described her husband as very strategic and task-oriented. "So, he made sure I am meeting my time line, which is very funny because he has not one shred of musical bone in his body and now he is dictating my pace in terms of what I should do musically.

"He found that my focus is now on work and the corporate world and that I am losing the focus on music I once had."

Ruiz admitted during her time away, she has missed the stage. "Calypso has been very good to me. I have been able to express myself through different topics and reach many people."

Calypso, she said, has also allowed her to travel the world and see things from different perspectives.

"I have been given the title of cultural ambassador several times to represent my country. I have been awarded by UWI as one of their top graduates who would have achieved.

"I have gotten all of these countless awards and it is because of me performing calypso. I could never give up on calypso, all I could do is continue to give back."

Ruiz said reinventing oneself was very important for performers "because it is very easy to become dated as an artiste, where people put you in a particular box."

"I don’t want to be labelled as doing one thing. I want to be seen as the performer who is able to go beyond calypso.

"But, I also know that calypso has been extremely good to me so I will continue flying the flag of TT high."

 

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