TT’s Kees Dieffenthaller’s rendition of When the Saints Go Marching In was a pleasant surprise at the end of a combined medley of videos featuring the carnivals of Trinidad, Brazil and New Orleans, which was featured on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on US network CBS on Tuesday.
The TT segment of the carnival feature showed Dieffenthaller singing his immensely-popular hit, Savannah Grass, accompanied by jazz musician Etienne Charles and percussionist Ajibola Richardson on the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain, with Steffano Marcano and Stephanie Bailey of Paramin’s Next Level Devils in full costume and blowing fire in the background.
The TT segment, produced by Charles, was the culmination of an idea by saxophonist Louis Fouché, who Charles said has been coming to TT for Carnival for the last five years.
Fouché is part of the Colbert Show’s in-house band Stay Human, which is led by musician Jon Batiste. “Batiste and I were classmates at Julliard and we played in the same ensemble. I know Fouché from being in New York playing music and he called me and said he had this idea to do this piece where we connect New Orleans, TT and Brazil, and he spoke with Nêgah (Santos), his percussionist, and we basically figured out we could do it where it starts in New Orleans and then goes to Trinidad and then to Brazil, and we decided to do it with percussion breaks in between. The percussion break was when they showed a plane going from one country to another, so the music never stops as you go from place to place.”
Fouché, Santos and Batiste are featured in the video, which begins with New Orleans’ musicians Herlin Riley and Shannon Powell before flying to TT for Dieffenthaller and Charles’ performance, and then to Brazil for a performance by Santos.
The accompanying musicians are featured in individual videos which switch around depending on who is performing. The last part of the video has all the participants performing the American Negro Spiritual, When the Saints Go Marching In, with Dieffenthaller’s vocals soaring over all.
The arrangement of Savannah Grass may not be the one most listeners are used to, as Charles said he wanted to give it an old-school soca feel. He said he was lucky enough to be able to record in the Savannah.
“I wanted people to see Trinidad, to see the landscape, especially that part of the Savannah where you see the hills, and it was a beautiful day, blue skies. The reason I got the devils is because I wanted them to see traditional mas as well, and I had them spitting fire, and then Ajibola Richardson was playing percussion, she’s a great young percussionist from TT, schooled in the Orisha tradition and the parang tradition and Josanne Francis who lives in Washington DC played steelpan. So it was great to not just get Trinis in Trinidad but also a Trini musician in the diaspora, who lives and works in Trinidad, who couldn’t come home for Carnival like she normally does and it came together nicely. NH Productions TT was nice enough to shoot the video and it was a great time.”
Charles said this was his first time producing for major television, and he was grateful to be able to put Trinidad music on a global stage, which he tries to do year-round. He said the response to the segment has been great.
“People really gravitated to it. What we really wanted to do, and I think we did, was to give people a taste of home that they weren’t going to get for the Carnival because of travel restrictions etc. I’m a Trinidadian, so you won’t find me in Brazil for Carnival, and you won’t find me in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, but I’ve known Herlin Riley and Shannon Powell for many years and it was nice to be able to connect with them musically from their Mardi Gras perspective to our calypso perspective to the samba perspective, so from that aspect it was really fulfilling to have a multi-country connection musically,” Charles said,”
Dieffenthaller said participating in the project was one of the many ways this year in which he was reminded of why he loves Carnival.
“Carnival, no matter what is happening in the world, no matter what’s going on, she reveals herself to you in her own special way. I definitely felt like this feature wraps it all up in a nice way and it again is a part of that same concept of keeping that flambeau lit, and the flambeau as we see it is not only lit in Trinidad, it’s in New Orleans and in Brazil, it is everywhere that uses that time to get back to self and to the spirit of who we really are. We’re grateful that Jon Batiste and Louis and Etienne and everyone who said this is a project we want to put our energy behind, it’s exciting to know these people exist and these people are dreaming in this way. So, I was very grateful to be a part of that vision and being a part of it.”
The video can be found on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s social media channels, where they have already gathered thousands of views.