SHARON PHILLIPS, well recognised in Europe and the Middle East as a jazz singer, and who has stunned patrons in the last few years at the Tobago Jazz Experience and more recently at North Coast Jazz in 2019 with her vocals, has now decided to get into calypso.
Phillips, also known as Anubia Phoenix Nile, will be performing at the Divas Calypso Cabaret International Tent that opens February 4. She is a finalist in National Women's Action Committee's (NWAC) national queen competition and is registered for the National Calypso Monarch competition.
People who have heard her two powerful offerings for Carnival, Aimless and Shameless and Phoenix Rise, are of the firm view she will rise like her sobriquet and become a force to be reckoned with.
Speaking with Newsday on the weekend, she said it was ironic that the man who challenged her to get into calypso and sing about the main issue plaguing TT, gun violence, was himself a victim of gun violence last Christmas.
She said: “I was having a conversation with a dear lifetime friend of mine, deceased Mark Nurse, the MI4 officer who was murdered in Tobago just before last Christmas, when he asked me, ‘what have you not done as yet? because you’re rapping, singing, doing reggaeton, everything, you dye your hair white, blue, all colours,’ and I said, 'I have not yet won a Grammy award and I’ve not yet ventured into singing any kind of calypso.'"
“And he said, ‘well, if you sing the calypso maybe you would win the Grammy.'”
She said he then made a bet, if she won the calypso competition he would make soup for her.
She said: "It was really funny and when I called him to get the inspirational points for the songs to give to the songwriter, he was talking about the violent crimes in the country and just then a car passed playing Gunman in She Hole by Trinidad Killa and the both of us got mad at the same time.”
Knowing Trinidad Killa, Phillips said he has so much talent that she was bewildered that he would choose such a vile message in song, especially knowing how youths take things so literally.
She said: "Let me make it clear. I have nothing against the person Trinidad Killa. I think that he is extremely gifted and talented, if you listen to his other songs you could see the potential in the artiste. My only issue is the choice of content in that particular song, and the impact and reach it has had in the negative discussion of our society.”
She added: “Imagine there are videos out on WhatsApp and going viral with young ladies allowing men to put actual weaponry into their private parts, we were so disgusted with the whole situation, and that became the catalyst for one of the songs, Aimless and Shameless.”
Phillips said Nurse also gave her the sobriquet Anubia Phoenix Nile after she fell into an open manhole in 2015, but rose above all the challenges she suffered from that incident.
She said he told her, "You are like a phoenix. No matter what they do you and burn you down a million times, you keep coming back out the ashes."
“And that in itself became the catalyst for the second song, Phoenix Rise. So I am pursuing the calypso this year based on an agreement between two friends.”
Phillips left TT to pursue music at an international level when she was 19, after signing to Brickhouse Records (Germany) and EMI Records (London).
“With this collaboration I was able to put out a song, Touch Me, that went number one in all of Spain and number one in most of the underground dance charts (a merge of European culture and our ragga soca element). Then I did Like This Like That, that also went to number one.”
Phillips composed all her songs while in Europe.
She also did work with Peppermint Records in Hanover, Germany, and Universal (Berlin, Germany) as well as took part in the James Bond tours as the Bond girl singer with several orchestras in Germany.
“I’ve also performed with the Babelsburg Orchestra and the HR Symphony from Frankfurt, and for Chancellor Angela Merkel when Germany sent its apologies to several families that were affected by brutal and racial hate crimes, and I was selected as a minority to represent and to bring truce by singing John Lennon’s Imagine at that international telecast in 2011.”
Phillips spent some 16 years practically living out of a suitcase. However, when her father was diagnosed with stage four cancer she stopped, packed up and returned to her homeland Tobago to care for him.
She said: “I am an only child to my father and he didn’t have any other support systems. He was the backbone and support for everything that I did, including taking care of my kids.
"But it became stressful on them having to balance studies and deal with a very sick grandfather, so I had to shut down my life and put it on hold to return home to see about him and them. That was in 2012.”
Her father passed December 2018.
Of calypso, she said: “I believe that calypso is one of the most prolific and influential forms of oratory skills that we have in our culture. It is indicative of our ability to use tact or gravity to discuss social ills or any issues that may be of great concern to people.
“I think though, we as artistes, are not using the platforms that are available to project the correct images to the youth. It is important for us to understand the responsibility that is placed on us as artistes, regardless of the genre of music that we chose to embark on. I see myself as a musician, and calypso is a part of my culture. I am willing to push the bar and to experiment with all genres because they are a part of my cosmopolitan culture.”
Phillips is of the view that TT artistes need to use their influence on their fan base to push more positive messages into the public space.
She said the youths are very impressionable and when an artiste says pick up something, anything and run with it, and they do it, that should tell the artiste how influential their song can be.
She said she is here to be that change, and feels her fresh, young, vibrant and inclusive approach to the tone of her calypsoes will resonate with young people.
Phillips said her immediate goal is to sensitise the people as to exactly where they stand, the state that TT is in, the need to just come to a complete halt, stop all the bad things that are happening and create some change and a space where TT can heal as a nation.
She said: “Nobody is listening too much to politicians at Carnival time, everybody is listening to the musicians and artistes right now, and you are not getting the artistes coming out and saying something in one voice against it. So I am using this platform to say something that would be sustained.”
Ultimately she wants to bring back a love for calypso, bring back its sweetness, and content that is useful in the general space, as well as some solutions instead of just itemising problems.
She said: “A song is hyped if it is about bacchanal and confusion and there is no way forward or betterment out of it. I am not one to subscribe to that. I do believe that if we could identify the problem, we should be mature enough to discuss the solutions as well."
Phillips would also like to see TT's music on the Grammy stage, building a kind of international respect that she says it deserves coming from the generation after the Sparrows and Roses. "I would like to see it on an international stage. But I have to first be that change. I can’t want somebody else to do it.”
Where her entrance into calypso is concerned Phillips said she sees herself delivering a very powerful message. “I am a medium, I have been in competitions before and I’ve learnt not to go into the competition with winning as your first priority. My first priority here is to send this message very loud and very clear. I am not one of the persons who would be hurt if I do not win the competition but I will be hurt if no one changes their attitude, and if the message does not go across effectively. If one life has changed, if one gunman puts down that gun, if we could save a few more people’s lives by changing the lives of a few I am satisfied.”