Of the highest order

David Rudder - Photo by Jeff Mayers
David Rudder - Photo by Jeff Mayers

“ARE YOU ready for a brand-new discovery?” David Rudder asked in his 1987 hit Calypso Music.

By that stage, the world was only just coming to grips with the talent of a truly unique calypsonian. Mr Rudder, who was on Wednesday bestowed with the Order of the Caribbean Community, would prove himself a formidable discovery, changing the face of calypso forever.

It all began in Belmont. David Michael Rudder was born there on May 6, 1953. He attended Belmont Boys’ RC School and then Belmont Boys’ Secondary (now St Francis Boys’ College). He spent much of his childhood with his grandmother, and was exposed to several religions, including the Spiritual Shouter Baptist faith as well as Anglicanism.

But the soul of Carnival coursed through Belmont’s lanes. Mr Rudder was an apprentice to masman and copperwork craftsman Ken Morris. Jason Griffith was not far away. Soon, Mr Rudder started singing with a group called The Ink Spots on Boissiere Lane. And then he began a professional singing career as a back-up singer in Lord Kitchener’s Calypso Revue. His first big break came when Charlie’s Roots needed a vocalist in 1977. He would sing with the band for years, meanwhile funding his career by working as an accountant at the Public Transport Services Corporation.

When Mr Rudder went solo in 1986, he rocked the calypso world. In a single year, he was crowned Young King, Calypso Monarch, won the Road March and his song was the winning arrangement at that year’s Panorama.

It is a special talent that could tell the story of calypso within a calypso that is itself worthy of the canon. But 1987’s Calypso Music is not Mr Rudder’s only classic. His list of great compositions includes The Hammer, Bahia Girl, Madman’s Rant, Trini 2 de Bone, Ganges and the Nile, and High Mas. Each song is brought to life with a distinctive voice, instantly recognisable, capable of drawing on a range of styles and shades.

Mr Rudder’s lyrics, too, bear witness to such versatility. Songs like The Ballad of Hulsie X, Rally ’Round the West Indies, Haiti, and 1990 – which remains the most powerful artistic response to the events of that year – prove him a master of social commentary.

This artist is also an inspiring advocate, only recently opening up about his childhood experiences with polio in an effort to encourage people not to fear vaccines.

The timing of the bestowal of Caricom’s highest honour on Mr Rudder could not be more poignant. Coming during a week in which Belmont was rocked by the murder of two taxi drivers, celebration of his achievements is not only a cause for hope. It is a reminder of the immense talent nurtured on this country’s soil.


"Of the highest order"

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