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The return of Merchant

By Terry Joseph
December 06, 2002

MerchantCalypsonian Merchant who passed away on May 01 1999, will next week release a brand new song and of all the unlikely competitors, his work is already being touted as a "dark horse" in next year's Pan Kaiso joust.

Titled "Pan on the Rise", this latest release from one of calypso's finest tunesmiths is included on Alvin Daniell's 2003 Compilation CD, Trinidad & Tobago - The House of Music.

Speaking to the Express on this new approach to preserving calypso's fine or forgotten works, Daniell described the success of the Merchant project as the result of dedication to hard work.

Indeed it is, for the singer left him with nothing but a demo, sung in zestless delivery and with equally lazy guitar accompaniment, which had to be synchronized with a recently recorded music bed and chorus.

"It was bringing that basic tape to the status of a full-fledged calypso recording that provided the major challenge," Daniell said, "reflecting on what Natalie Cole has been able to do with her late father's tracks on "Unforgettable" and other songs. I thought, why don't we do this with calypso."

The result reflects weeks of work on a single song, with arranger/engineer Leston Paul taking up the challenge to fit a band and chorus behind the guitar and voice, coming up with a work that sounds as if Merchant came back and did the studio version afresh.

Merchant intended "Pan on Fire" to be sung by someone else, as he had long stopped performing live when he penned the work. "Actually, I had put it aside because I couldn't find the right person to sing it and did not revisit it until this year when I was looking through a set of cassette tapes," Daniell said.

"I told Leston all we had was him singing around a guitar and master that he is, Leston said he would accept the work involved, the actual task of turning it into a studio produced calypso, building the whole piece around the basic material that we had.

"Of course, to keep the timing meant bending a few notes to get them sustained or back on track with the tempo. It was a surreal experience, working with chorus groups or horn players who recognized his voice immediately and you could see them wondering.

"But it was a special something and Leston's enthusiasm helped push this piece to the success we are now hearing. Leston said it took him back to the 1980's and he welcomed working again with chord progressions that were exciting," Daniell said.

The 14-track CD, arguably Daniell's best production in the genre, also features songs vocalized by Eunice Peters (House of Music), Super Blue's Masters, Tunapuna Scanty's Panorama (which is already among the favorites of New York's pan jumbies).

Then there's Kurt Allen singing the Mark Loquan/Daniell composition Killer Instinct, a song that must inspire bands who have repeatedly failed to make it to the final and Tony Prescott's infectious Iron Band, its music written by Renegades arranger Jit Samaroo.

Roger George's Get Involved, one of two written by Blackstone, should ideally be adopted by Pan Trinbago as one of its anthems for the Pan for Carnival Thrust. The song argues inter alia that involvement in pan works as musicianship and diversion for youth, one way to reduce the lure of the underworld.

In the sum, Trinidad & Tobago - The House of Music is not a compilation of pan songs but a calypso CD dedicated to the steel band theme and one which has kept musical integrity intact while making its core point.

But Merchant remains the surreal trip among its gems, if only because Daniell and Paul may have hit upon a goldmine, even if we are for Carnival 2003 only discovering the first vein know now that the motherlode simply awaits our picks.

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