Mr Killa evolves; touched by Shadow's spirit
IN 1974 Winston Bailey, The Mighty Shadow, sang about hearing a voice in his head every night in the song, Bassman, which captured the Road March title that year.
Ah don’t know how dis t’ing get inside me.
But every morning, he drivin’ me crazy.
Like he takin’ me head for a pan yard.
Morning and evening, like dis fella gone mad.”
Almost 49 years later, soca artiste Hollice Map, known as Mr Killa, in a tribute to Shadow, almost five years after his passing, said he had a similar experience.
He told Newsday in a phone interview, his deep respect for Shadow’s contribution to the art is why he felt Shadow’s spirit found him, "got inside his head" and lead him to produce The Spirit of Shadow.
This song mimics the style of the late calypsonian.
At first listen, one would think parts from old Shadow hits were doctored to create the impression that Shadow was featured in the song. But, Mr Killa adjusted his voice to imitate the pitch, monotone, croakiness and every shrill of Shadow’s vocal capabilities.
He explained there was “a strong voice in his head” telling him to do a song that would honour and embody the art of J’Ouvert – Shadow style.
The Spirit of Shadow is about revelry in paint, mud and powder among traditional Carnival characters, to the sound of a vibrant bottle and iron rhythm section.
“This, I cannot completely explain. It was so strong,” he said, adding, “I felt like Shadow himself say ‘Hey, I’m still alive.’ I’m not pushing this, it's Shadow... This song felt so to me, the energy felt so right and good.”
The initial plan for Carnival 2023 was never to pay tribute to Shadow in song. “I just know I wanted to do something authentic for this Carnival. Something in the old-school range, something coming out of calypso into soca.
“I started thinking about doing something that would reflect the foundation of soca.
After listening to the instrumental a few times, Mr Killa said he kept hearing “this is a Shadow style, do something for Shadow.
“You still hear my voice in between (in the song) but it’s like Shadow was singing with me.”
He studied Shadow’s technique and lyrical terminology. And in two days, he wrote and recorded the song with backup vocals from Calypso Queen Terri Lyons.
“At this moment, I still have questions to ask myself when pertaining to this song.
“Over the couple of years, you would hear a lot of complaints about the authenticity of the music and the culture and it's dying because it’s changing. We know things have to evolve but we have to keep a big piece of our foundation set.
“That was the plan in my mind. But the universe listens to you and how deep that thought is the universe starts making it a reality. My thoughts were deep.
He said, “When we turn on the riddim I say ‘hey you hear that?’
“Later that day while in my studio at home, when I turn on the riddim I felt somebody sit down next to me my skin start to rise... Soon after I could almost hear a voice say, “This one is mine.”
“I’m saying I feel like the spirit of Shadow literally chose me. I don’t know why. I can’t explain why but the man is alive in spirit and strong.”
The song was released on January 17 and in one week had 28,000 views on YouTube. Comments described it as a “brilliant work of art” and thanked Mr Killa for “bringing the spirit of the legend Shadow alive.”
Unable to describe the emotions while constructing each verse, Mr Killa said, “His style and all that we know about him just flowed. It wasn’t hard to sound like him. Even when I try to put my style I hear the voice say, ‘No, not that, bring it down, simple.’”
“I like the power-soca, cross-soca kind of vibe, making it spectacular but this one, to pen this and have the words Shadow would use. The vibe kept flowing, it wasn’t hard. My (hair on my) skin kept rising and I recorded this song by myself, at home in my room. I didn’t want to go to a studio.
“While voicing it I hear a voice say, ‘Go for the iron.’ I went and get a tequila bottle and tequila cup, a flowers vase, a pot cover and an acoustic guitar. That is how I created the iron rhythm section.
Mr Killa said Shadow had always been a mentor but he never had the opportunity to meet him.
“Shadow is an artiste I had always loved and admired, Sparrow, the Black Stalin. I loved these people. They are my champions. They opened that gate for me. Their work was so unorthodox. They were the pioneers; I have a deep respect for them. I think this is why the spirit of Shadow found me. He knew I wanted to give something to the culture to remind the young artist of the style of those before us."
He said the last time he had such an overwhelming response to a song was when he released Run Wid It in 2019. He captured the International Soca Monarch title that year.
Mr Killa said he plans to reach out to Shadow’s family to work closely on more projects in honour of his memory and contribution to music.
On January 20, when he was interviewed and before the ISM was cancelled, Mr Killa had not yet made up his mind on whether or not he was going to participate, however, he had this to say:
“There are some things I see happening in Trinidad that I felt sad about. Trinidad is the big brother and needs to wake up and preserve the music that is its most valuable asset.”
"Mr Killa evolves; touched by Shadow’s spirit"