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Moving music from Signal Hill

BY ANGELA PIDDUCK Tuesday, June 23 2009

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TWELVE HOURS after the Signal Hill Alumni Choir (SHAC) had excelled in their 25th anniversary Gala event, Jubilee! The Concert, on Saturday night at Queen’s Hall, John Arnold, founder/artistic director of this world-recognised group was still on cloud nine.

This was the second of four celebratory performances from the musical group that Arnold has enjoyed “moulding into an entity completely different from all the choirs on the national landscape”. In 2001, the choir stood out internationally, placing second in the folk song category at the Llangollen Eisteddfod Festival in Wales, having been edged out by one point from the first place by Ukraine’s national choir.

In a wide-ranging programme performed in Signal Hill’s “folk operatic” style, Jubilee! brought the group together with guest artistes Rooplal Girdharrie, five time Chutney Soca Monarch, former Calypso Monarch and Road March King Shadow (Winston Bailey) and the much-loved Marionettes Chorale under the direction of Gretta Taylor.

Wearing beautiful wine-coloured outfits with lemon grass and yellow trim, the choir opened the gospel section with “Lovely Day”, went on to “Swing Down Chariot,” its first Music Festival winner in 1984, “Because of Who You Are”, and ended gloriously with the very apt piece “Glorious”.

Rooplal G sang his first chutney tune, and the choir now changed into one of many beautiful outfits, designed by member Neave Mc Kenzie, joined the chutney monarch in “Jhalek,” a tune depicting his love for “sexy” Trinidad. As he left, SHAC gave a rousing rendition of “Bring Down De Power”, followed by “Fly Me to the Moon”, “I Feel Good” and the song of the night for me “Morena Osha”.

The Marionettes chose music to suit the mood, and vibes which had also guided Arnold in his choice of songs for the gala event. “I want Jesus to walk with me”, was followed by two solos — Tahirah Osborne’s spiritual “You can tell the world” and Feryal Qudourah’s beautiful rendition of the operatic aria “The Laughing Song” otherwise known as “My Dear Marquis”. The “Battle of Jericho” was next and the chorale ended with a delightful Brazilian samba “Salguiero”.

Taylor later remarked: “When I look at Signal Hill on stage, the first word that comes to mind is their vitality. I also find their choreography is always very tight.”

Signal Hill was back on stage for the folk section with “Everytime Ah Pass”, “Come Leh We Go”, the most amusing “Dem Buccoo Gyal”, “Marriage Sweet”, “Pacro Water” and “Tek Em go Way”, before a short 20-minute intermission.

The second segment opened with the choir dressed in authentic African wear for powerful African music: “Vuma”, “Slyaku Bonga”, “Bayette”, “Cho Choloza” and “Zanele”. It was time for the man the audience had been eagerly awaiting — Shadow, a commentator on life and social issues, in his traditional black garments and with his signature dance. He sang “Everybody is Somebody” and “Dingolay”, followed by “One Love” with the choir.

Arnold made a token presentation to the calypso bard for his contribution to “Signal Hill’s music that moves.... I have no problem with using his music as it allows us to create”.

The curtain never really came down. After performances of Shadow’s “Stranger”, Rudder’s “Oil and Music”, “Marriage Recipe” and tunes from the choir’s Soca Medley 2009 CD, the performers moved into the audience and out to the foyer to bid their guests farewell, with help from NP Ultra Sounds Ensemble, who played sweet music outside of the Hall.

Five months of rehearsals went into this production with help from member Georgina Peterkin, known as “Gidge”, who for the past 15 years has been SHAC’s choreographer.

“We started learning new songs, and we had to have movement, that became the critical issue so I volunteered,” says Gidge who derives her inspiration from the choir itself.

“As well John and I have brought our communication to a place where we look at our work, and ourselves exclaim ‘wow, amazing’ especially when we have had no discussions and all is conveyed through our non-verbal communication.”

Gidge feels a sense of accomplishment when she hears Arnold say: “You did exactly what I wanted.”

Jubilee! ends fittingly on stage at the Signal Hill Comprehensive School on Sunday from 6 pm with guest artistes David Rudder, the Tobago Academy of Performing Arts and Music Amateurs.

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