Celebrating David Rudder

Iconic calypsonian David Rudder moves the crowd  at the I Love Soca series at Shaw Park Cultural Complex, Tobago on January 31. - File photo/David Reid
Iconic calypsonian David Rudder moves the crowd at the I Love Soca series at Shaw Park Cultural Complex, Tobago on January 31. - File photo/David Reid

We can only imagine the magic David Rudder plans to conjure up for his 70th birthday. That he chose to celebrate this milestone on May 6 with a spectacular show, 7.0 the concert, should be no surprise. Rudder, one of the most creative, selfless and positive people I have ever known, always thinks about bringing people together to celebrate TT’s music and culture.

How privileged we are to have spent all those years since he won every calypso title in sight in 1986: national calypso monarch, Road March King, Young King and winning Panorama song. We have been recipients of Rudder magic, marching down Laventille with Rudolph Charles and The Hammer; dancing the night away with Rudder’s Bahia Gyul and celebrating High Mas. Rudder’s Calypso Music paid homage to calypso’s roots, which he always honoured while injecting it with his own jazzy, soulful, Baptist rhythm-induced calypso music.

His soca music comes from the heart and soul. He is a generational talent. I remember sitting in Growling Tiger’s home on George Street and hearing the joy and excitement in the first national calypso monarch’s voice as he spoke of Rudder’s talent. He believed Rudder’s music tapped into old calypsoes that Rudder could have never heard. It was the first time I had heard someone explain Guyanese writer Wilson Harris’s theory of fossil memories applied to Caribbean music.

For years, I had the privilege of typing Rudder’s lyrics and writing the liner notes for his albums. That space between working in the studio and releasing his songs to the public felt like a world in its own lit by a shooting star arching its way across a night sky. There was so much beauty and light when the feeling of another Rudder hit was on the horizon.

Who can ever forget the energy and excitement Rudder spread from the fetes to the traditional calypso stage when he paved the way forward for lead singers in brass bands to sing in calypso tents? He broke down boundaries that divided calypso and soca; traditionalists and progressive music lovers.

He made us feel the importance of celebrating our history in his 1987 hit Calypso Music. Rudder channeled the energy that defines calypso, soca and Carnival when he sang, “From the time the first bamboo cut and we dragged it down from the St Ann’s hills…” His sweeping history of calypso packed in one bouncy song is so spiritually uplifting.

We would be hard-pressed to find anyone who loves this country and its people more than David Rudder so it’s no wonder he has chosen to make his 70th birthday a musical celebration of his life and ours. He says this will be his last long concert as he faces the challenges of dealing with Parkinson's disease, but this will undoubtedly be a concert meant to propel us forward with hope and the indomitable spirit that has always defined this place.

I know how special a David Rudder birthday bash can be. I am thinking about this upcoming concert, but I am also remembering a time when Rudder convinced me that 40 would be the coolest birthday ever. Soon after he turned 39, he began planning that 40th birthday with effervescent excitement. Everyone I knew felt depressed just thinking about 40. This meant middle age, introspection and wondering what we had accomplished but Rudder promised it would be a defining point.

He held that birthday party in his backyard, and the energy felt as palpable as any one of his concerts. He was right. Forty was the best birthday and a totally freeing experience. I no longer cared what people thought about me. I stopped worrying and learned to take one day at a time. Life was better after 40.

I am imagining that Rudder will find a way to convey that feeling to everyone at this concert. There will be rhythms to move your feet, melodies that will linger in your mind and words of wisdom that will make you consider the privilege we have experienced living in the era of David Rudder music. Rudder has always made us feel this is a magical place with humour and soul like nowhere else in the world. It is a special place, therefore we are a special people. Through his music, he made sure everyone felt their roots and everyone had a sense of belonging here – even an immigrant like me.

Happy birthday, David Rudder, from a grateful nation. We love you, and we cherish the memories.


"Celebrating David Rudder"

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