Where the Man with the Mirror Gone?

David Rudder performs at his show Port of Spaining at the Kafe Blue, Wrightson  las Thursday. - Gary Cardinez
David Rudder performs at his show Port of Spaining at the Kafe Blue, Wrightson las Thursday. - Gary Cardinez


A version of this feature first appeared in November 2010

My name is David Rudder and I’m a recording artist.

To me, Belmont, where I was born, is a metaphor for the whole country. Almost everybody in Trinidad artistic society passed through Belmont.

There’re still some of the old “livers”, as we call them, but most people in Belmont now rent a room to be close to work in Port of Spain during the week. And go to their real home on the weekend.

There were five of us children, four boys and one girl. I was the eldest and was always the one expected to “do something.” In a strange way, after 1986, I came like the eldest of the Trinidad family. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people expecting me to make good music every year, expecting me to do al kinds of things. I might come home and see two-three people who expecting me to give them a little change so they could go and buy milk because they broken. It travels in so many different ways, that kind of expectancy, after a while, you just feel tired. You’re drained.

Even now, when people know I’m in Trinidad, they call, “I want you to do this, I want that.” My greatest line from Trinidad – and they actually say this – is, “I want to use you for something.” They actually use the words, “I want to use you” – but like they don’t hear them. It’s something else.

There’s a whole area of Belmont, Upper Davis Street, where I spent part of my life, where you’d swear you were in Central Trinidad. Most people there were Hindu. Out on the Valley Road, the whole area was African. You go round the [Long] Circular [Road] and see all these gingerbread, European-style houses. We had the most steelbands, all the calypsonians, mas men – Ken Morris, Jason Griffith – all the great footballers, Jim Harding, Gerry Brown, Horace “Pepper Wine” Lovelace, who was also a mas man. Everything that was magical about Trinidad was in Belmont. I wrote the song “Belmont” trying to capture the history of the place in six verses.

I was doing the Trinidad Stories album cover shoot on a part of Cadiz Rd called, “the Front Road.” One of the youths – he was like a scout, they send him to find out what going on – came up to me and said, “You’s David Rudder.” Apparently they were selling a variety of drugs and wanted to know who is this man taking pictures here. But the joke was, that was what the Front Road was famous for selling: drugs and revolution. Militants, bad men, a lot of the guys who ended up as Muslimeen, came from that Front Road. It’s just so funny that, at the end of the day, the only thing that remained constant was the drug dealers.

Thiefing mango in Fondes Amandes, everybody in Belmont “nearly get catch” by the watchman. Two things everybody in Trinidad do at some point in their life: “nearly drown” – they call it that or “drink water” – or “nearly get catch” thiefing mango.

When I came on the scene, it was like, “Something new is happening here. Let’s hope that this is what the society going to be!” But people are always comfortable in their old skin and Trinidad is a very “one step forward, two step backward” kind of place. Look at [the national football team] the Soca Warriors: we actually got to [the 2006 World Cup in] Germany! The average society would say, “What’s the next step forward.” But we are in the two-steps-backward stage.

Arranger Duvone Stewart, right, with composer Mark Loquan. - Gary Cardinez

Normally, every nine months, I put out an album in Trinidad. I have over 25 albums. Now I look back and think, because I felt I had to please people and try my best to make them think, feel good, everything else, I would "hustle out" the work. Sometimes I listen to a piece and there’s a little "coulda-shoulda-woulda." Now, I don’t have that worry. I just do the work for myself, do things that I might have, before, “No, I won’t go there.” Now, I’ll easily “go there.” Write what I want to write. I suppose I always had that but now there’s an "extra" that I’m very happy with inside my own spirit.

Trinidadians always talking about “give back.” You work hard and give-give-give-give-give. And then they want to know what are you going to “give back.” That is up to me! If I feel I’ve learned this and want to give it to someone I see fighting up, I can say, “Listen, you could move so.” But there’s a demand to “give back.” Sometimes I ask [them], “What have you given?”

Canada is a very neutral space. I could always just relax and melt into my environment. Where I live in Toronto has more roti shops than you could find in Belmont. It has more snow than snow cone, too, but that’s the time I usually come down to work for Carnival and miss most of it. I hate to think I going to say this but, to a certain degree, I enjoy some of the cold sometimes.

The song, Trini to D Bone, was written by Ian Wiltshire. I just readjusted it. But, to me, it’s a compliment when someone uses your song, like how this newspaper series is called, “Trini to D Bone.” That was how they closed off the commentary on the Trinidad v Sweden match in Germany, the commentator saying, “Trini to the bo-wan!”

If I could eat only one thing between now and death, it would be stew fish, pigeon peas, plantain, callaloo. With some good pepper.

I started writing songs when I was around five, six. I’d listen to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and say, “If was me, I wouldn’t write, “Oh yeah, I.” I’d write, “Oh yeah, so-and-so.” I used to “correct” the Beatles’ songs. I might pass down the road and hear somebody say something. [My song] Longtime Band came from this woman saying, “I going and wine like I never christen.’”

With Charlie’s Roots, we used to produce the music on our own. When we got Joe Brown, who did the Calypso Music/Haiti era. After that, I did my own thing with Wayne Bruno, some with Pelham Goddard. Wayne has been my right-hand man for a long time now. In Canada, there’s a young man called Jeremy Ledbetter, very talented. But, basically, I know what I want in my head, so it’s just to get it on to the tape.

Bob Dylan is the ultimate American calypsonian.

I prefer club performances to stadium gigs. The big shows, yeah, you control the masses and it’s very powerful. But in a club… Look, I did a show at Martin’s on the Boulevard, the band jammed up in this little backyard, the place packed and, in the middle of it, [then Cabinet minister] Bhoe Tewarie and Deepak Chopra came in. After three or four songs, I started Calypso Music. And like Bhoe & Deepak had to go somewhere, they got up to leave. Over the whole sound system, a man bawl, “Nah! Nah!Nah! My king on the stage and Deepak F****** Chopra walking out? While he singing the great Calypso Music. F*** you, Deepak mother-**** Chopra!” You couldn’t get that in a stadium!

When, sometimes, just one person comes up and says, “When you say, so- so-so-so-and-so, do you mean, so-so-so-so-and-so? And that’s exactly what I meant — that is the best part of the job.

The bad thing about the job is I’m getting tired of the drudgery of the road, the 10,000 airport security searches and, when you reach, somebody is two hours late. And things aren’t exactly as the contract says. I’ve cut a lot of that out of my life. But, with our people, you always bounce it up again.

A Trini is, “One plus one equals 11”; “One from ten is zero”.

Trinidad is a rumshop where you watch Argentina v Germany and Argentina loses 4-0. And the DJ plays three versions of Don’t Cry for me, Argentina, starting with the Dennis De Souza one!

Trinidad is the only place in the world where people don’t eat food, they declare war on it. They lash a roti! They put some blows on a pelau! They leather the dumpling! They murder the pudding! Trinis don’t eat food, they’s fight it. And win!

Trinidad & Tobago is my heart and soul. It’s my home, my spirit. Even though it gets me tired sometimes, there’s a laugh in the place that makes you say, “All right. Let me go again!”


Read the full version of this feature on Saturday at www.BCPires.com


"Where the Man with the Mirror Gone?"

More in this section