LAST year was a difficult time for the local entertainment industry with the pandemic and associated restrictions. But, despite the virus, musician D Piano Girl Johanna kept busy on various projects, including a collaboration with Vincentian artiste Skinny Fabulous.
In an interview with Newsday, D Piano Girl Johanna (real name Johanna Chuckaree) said music has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember.
"My two siblings, Christine and Johann, and I grew up playing music. We grew up in Woodbrook, in the heart of Carnival, surrounded by many panyards and cultural festivities. We would fall asleep to the sounds of the now HADCO Phase II Pan Groove practising for Panorama and the unmistakable rhythm of the 'engine room'."
Her brother Johann, a pannist, would go on to become an instrumental part of this group, and "an amazing musician on his own." Since her teenage years, she has performed at various private events as an accompanist, and would also perform with other professionals on stage, including Johann, Len "Boogsie" Sharpe and Issac Blackman.
"However, it wasn't until around 2016 that I started presenting myself as a soloist, while still continuing to collaborate with others."
Johanna said the pandemic has been a tough time for everyone.
"It's a time when you really have to pick yourself up and keep going. On the other hand, the pandemic has broken down some barriers and we are seeing a lot of collaborations between artists and a strengthened spirit of togetherness and unity."
Venturing into virtual
She recalled when the pandemic hit and all of her local and international performance bookings got cancelled, it was a really difficult time.
"Thankfully, I am also a music educator and I was able to keep having virtual classes. This has been one of the most rewarding activities for me during this time. Delving deeper into music education allowed me to learn a lot more about myself and has improved my performances. It's also very fulfilling to impact the lives of musicians of all ages and to be part of their musical journey."
Johanna also put on some virtual shows, the first of which took place on her birthday in May 2020 and was called Keys to Life. It featured guest artists and her dear friends and family, Kyle Richardson, Wendy Sheppard, Roseanna Hernandez, and her brother Johann. They performed a mix of contemporary, inspirational, calypso and soca music.
Her second virtual show took place on February 8, during the lead up to "Carnival" 2021 and was called Socapianist.
"As the name suggests, soca performed on piano was the main feature of this show."
Erphaan Alves, Ravi B, Joshua Regrello and Johann were some of the guest performers.
"This is a show that I plan on having yearly, and hopefully in-person next time!"
She also hosted a Piano Students' 2020 virtual end-of-year concert that featured performances by her local and international students.
Making sweet music
Johanna also released her EP album Socapianist Volume 1 which features four piano instrumental soca songs, and her classical/contemporary piano instrumental Stargaze towards the end of 2020.
"As a pianist, I am comfortable playing several genres of music so the two releases are very different! However, they both portray my love of music and culture."
She explained one of her passions is setting music to beautiful scenes in TT. The music video for Stargaze was filmed by Antonio Achee at the historic Chaguaramas Tracking Station in partnership with the Chaguaramas Development Authority.
"There are always logistical challenges with video shoots like this, but luckily I'm blessed with a small adventurous team who really support me. For this music video, we spent all night at the Tracking Station as we wanted to catch some sunrise shots! This song symbolised hope in a time of darkness and a reminder that we are all under the same sky looking up to a universe of possibilities."
The skinny on the Skinny collab
She followed up Stargazer with We'll Go On, her second original composition and first in the soca genre. She co-wrote it with Gamal "Skinny Fabulous" Doyle.
"With the cancellation of many global events and specifically Trinidad Carnival 2021, We'll Go On is a tribute to performers around the world, to our Caribbean culture and to soca music. The lyrics of the chorus are '
Soca (a-woah) we will not let you go. For the love that we know, we'll go on with the show.' It is a message to all of humanity that we will get through this difficult time and that we must go on, no matter what.
"The verses pose the question 'what brings us together?' and speak of our unity which is far stronger than any trial we can face."
She described writing the song as "pure joy."
"It brought a feeling of happiness and high energy. Music can truly be powerful."
Johanna said she has always enjoyed Skinny Fabulous' music, but it wasn't until Ubersoca Cruise 2019 that she met him in person and collaborated with him on an acoustic introduction to his hit Road March song, Famalay, which he used to open his performance on the last night of the cruise. She noted they used some flashback scenes from this performance during the music video for We'll Go On.
"When I met Skinny in 2019, I felt like I was meeting an old friend, and I knew then that I wanted to work with him again."
She explained all the collaboration with Skinny Fabulous took place over the phone as he resides in St Vincent and neither of them has been able to travel to, or from Trinidad due to covid19 restrictions.
"I learnt a lot about the production process and the work that goes into releasing a song like this. Working with Skinny taught me some important lessons in collaborative projects and I look forward to working with him again."
The song, We'll Go On, was mixed and mastered by Precision Productions with background vocals by Denice Millien, and Johanna said she was also happy to collaborate with these talented creatives.
Johanna explained We'll Go On is soca presented in a different way, and has been referred to as a "soca ballad."
"The contrast of Skinny Fabulous' powerful and commanding voice (that we are used to hearing in Power Soca) set against a classical/contemporary piano is a beautiful thing to witness."
She reported the music video was again filmed and edited by Antonio Achee and featured nostalgic Carnival scenes set against the backdrop of her performing the song on a baby grand piano to an empty Grand Stand, where the Savannah stage would have been.
"The song is still catching on and the response to the music video has been very positive. It has definitely inspired many and reminded us of our love of Carnival. I would love to hear a power soca remix of this song, so maybe that is something for the future!"
Pushing the culture
Johanna also recently launched D Piano Girl Shop on Instagram (@dpg.shop @dpianogirl) which sells D Piano Girl Johanna merchandise. One of her most popular items is the SMH – Soca Might Help T-shirt. She plans to continue adding merchandise to this store.
"I want to uplift and inspire people through my music and my brand. I plan to continue creating original music, continue arranging existing music and collaborating with other artists to broaden my brand and my musical scope. I want to see the Socapianst show grow to be a yearly show held in different countries where the Caribbean diaspora exists. I plan to keep pushing Caribbean culture forward and I'm grateful to all my listeners and followers for sticking with me through this journey. Their support means the world to me."
You can find her on Instagram @dpianogirl, and Facebook and YouTube as D Piano Girl Johanna. The virtual shows are available on D Piano Girl Johanna Facebook Page. The Stargaze music and We'll Go On videos on D Piano Girl Johanna YouTube channel, and the Socapianst Volume 1 EP is on all online major streaming platforms.