Initially conceiving the idea some twenty years ago Barbados businessman/promoter Tom Hinds saw his vision of more than 20 years become a reality last month when he debuted the first of a series of Caribbean music festivals titled The Naniki Caribbean Jazz Safari.
His concept was to take a simple plan that worked for many years at his Naniki Amphitheater/Resort and expand it throughout the Caribbean islands, particularly those islands that have not hosted music festivals in the past.
Endorsed by the Caribbean Tourism Organization and sponsored through the cooperative efforts of the Barbados Tourist Authority, Traveling Guitar Foundation, BulLion Entertainment, Liat Airlines, Hilton Hotel and many others, opening night kicked off the inaugural show at Charles Fort (The Hilton Barbados Resort) in swinging style with a dose of European vocal styling’s from Barbados born Patricia Lowe (now residing in Italy). Lowe’s performance was followed by headliner T.S. Monk’s Quartet (featuring special guest R&B/Jazz vocalist Alyson Williams), who created a “Jazz Paradise” with a sprinkling of spicy solos from Helen Sung on piano, Willie Williams on sax, and Erik Privert on bass. On the grounds, where canons still lay, the fireworks provided on the drums by the young Monk showed off his skills taught to him by his mentors Art Blakey and Max Roach. After sensing the crowd’s pleasure in the abilities of pianist Helen Sung, Monk promptly turned it over to her for a solo where she performed her own original medley of well-known selections showcasing her ability to play stride mixed with swing and classics with a twist. After her blistering pace Sung slowed it down but lit another fire ending her solo, much to the crowd’s delight.
Willie Williams (formerly of TSOP – The Sounds of Philadelphia) was an added featured guest tenor who astounded the standing room only audience. The bass assignment was held down by a young and aptly seasoned Erik Privert. He provided the swing keeping up with the stick and beautiful brushwork of T.S. The night was completed with the jazz vocal styling’s of Alyson Williams, who is better known as the R&B singer discovered by music mogul Russell Simmons (founder, Def Jam Records).
After an opening night like this one would think nothing could top it… wrong! The second night was “Heaven on Earth” with a birthday celebration for NEA Jazz Master Pianist Cedar Walton. At Frank Collymore Hall the island’s premier concert hall with acoustics likened to that of New York’s Allen Room (Jazz at Lincoln Center) and St. Louis’ Sheldon Memorial, MC (Mistress of Ceremonies) Caribbean Radio Network personality Carol Williams opened up the night by honoring the jazz master who appeared as a special guest with Barbados native David “Happy” Williams’ Quartet. On sax the amazing Antonio Hart was the perfect pearl to add to the compositions performed that night. During the break Barbados legendary musician Ebe Gilkes was awarded the Naniki Caribbean Jazz Safari Legend Award. On hand to present the award was promoter Tom Hinds, former Chief Justice Sir David Simmons and Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson. As the “Father of Barbados Jazz” Mr. Gilkes displayed the graciousness of a Count giving further validity for their selection.
After a brief intermission, the audience returned to a special treat. If a stellar performance by NEA Jazz Master and special presentation was not enough, the night was capped off with Nnenna Freelon’s Trio.
The six-time Grammy Award-Nominee conducted her band including Brandon McCundon on piano, Wayne Batchelor on bass and Adonis Rose on drums through precise and fluent movements with her inimitable elegant style. Ms. Freelon’s superb repertoire began with the classic “God Bless the Child” followed by “Close Your Eyes”, “Balm In Gilead”, “The Very Thought of You” and ended with a stirring rendition of “Moon River,” executed in a Caribbean-styled rhythm, which had a few fans swaying and swooning.
Day three brought us to a memorable and gorgeous venue at the Harrison’s Cave. The concert at this exotic site showcased top local attractions displaying delightful helpings of jazz fusion, Cuban salsa, Trinidadian Steel Pan Rhythms, as well as representatives from Martinique who satisfied the hardy appetites for great music in an equally unique setting. Those featured during this presentation of a blissfully, tasty musical gumbo were Peter Bernard, Relator, Shakura S’ Aida and Mario Canonge, to name a few.
The fourth day was unprecedented simply in the fact that for the first time ever anywhere in the Caribbean a Prime Minister opened the grounds to his home to host a music fest beyond anyone’s dream… except that of Producer Tom Hinds. In talking with him after opening night he admitted “I have always had a unique rapport with those artists I love and have worked with in the past.
This time when I told them what I needed they did not hesitate helping out with this first effort”. It shows the credibility this Barbados born former Cricketer from Combermere School has with the highest officer of the island. He is gracious, warm and engaging when exposing his dream to unite the islands with a special series of music festivals. This plan gives an entirely new meaning to the term “Island-hopping.”
This music lover put together the perfect day on the lawn featuring gigantic balloon slides for the youngsters, along with food and souvenir vendors. This played right in hand with a stellar musical treat starting off with Soul/blues/rock guitarist/vocalist Derek McKeith featuring Van Taylor (keyboards) and Brazilian (pandairia) drummer Gilson Silveira.
McKeith, who is also Director of West Coast School Programs for the Traveling Guitar Foundation, conducted a special musical assembly /workshop for students from five secondary schools. The program included a presentation from the TGF team (Sandra Trim-DaCosta, Executive Director; Anre’ DaCosta, Director, Business Development; rapper Stereo H. and pianist Van Taylor) of brand new Schecter acoustic/electric guitars provided by TGF Founder/rock guitarist Damon Marks.
McKeith’s high energy performance was followed by Smooth Jazz violin master Michael Ward. Barbados native son Elan Troutman took stage late in the afternoon and kicked it up a notch with his alto and soprano sax as he played tunes from his upcoming CD and a special song about his beloved Barbados and Boston “Beantown”. He was aptly supported by his good buddy and special guest Jeff Lorber. But hold on to your seats, as the night went into higher gear as the stage changed once more.