3 Canal's Freedom.com stage, Normandie Hotel, Trinidad (31 July 2013)
3 Canal’s Freedom.com stage, Normandie Hotel, Trinidad (31 July 2013)

A solid night of entertainment: comedy, fashion, poetry and the always energetic 3 Canal

Rapso group 3 Canal holds their annual Emancipation Day concert at Port-of-Spain‘s Normandie Hotel this year. To say that the first impression of the venue’s layout is confusing is an understatement. But their show delivers on more than just good music. Much more.

Chairs are only laid out for the right of the stage under the trees at Hotel Normandie; almost as if the other half is missing. But in true ‘Trini’ fashion, patrons fetch seats from the bar, ‘borrow’ random seats from around the hotel and one couple even brings their own beach chairs! The seats don’t matter anyway, because by the end of the night, the stage gets packed with people who clearly brought their dancing shoes.

Starting off the night with the question, “Who [you] voting for?!” is not exactly what you would expect from a live music event. But this question does not come from the night’s main feature, 3Canal. It’s not from the opening act, The 2 Cents Movement. And it’s not even from the man behind the music, DJ Rawkus. No. This is the kind of question that only Philomena Alexis-Baptiste could throw at a crowd of Trinidadians amidst of slew of nationwide political scandals.

Philo’s famous words

Recognised by her bright green and blue eye shadow, the entertainer and TV personality better known as Philo comes cleaning her way onto the stage. Wearing her janitorial outfit, hair net, fanny pack and rags, she releases the unfiltered sense of humour that she is notorious for.

Here’s some of her most memorable quotes from the evening:

Comic relief from Trinidadian TV personality Philo
Comic relief from Trinidadian TV personality Philo

“When I go to prison, I going [to] find the biggest, blackest, butchest women to protect me.”

While sliding past someone, she touches their skin and exclaims: “[You] cream up [your] legs boy, she stick to meh!”

“You’s always know when people married, yuh know, the husband does be ‘cunumunu” (A stab at men who become more reserved, or as they say in Trinidadian Creole ‘cunumunu’, after marriage.)

While dancing closely in front of a lucky member of the audience, she stops to clear the air: “Don’t worry my fanny pack was in between… his face… and my…”

With the concert held the night before Trinidad and Tobago’s Emancipation Day, Philo engages the audience and plays with the event’s tagline ‘Heroes of Wha?’ She asks “Who feelin’ free?” After witnessing the antics she gets up to – like spreading her legs out and having a dance off with someone- yes, the mood is free indeed.

Spoken words

Up and coming group, The 2 Cents Movement is quickly establishing themselves as a multi-talented act determined to share their message. With their aim ‘to produce a video every month that would feature a Spoken Word artiste speaking passionately about an issue personal to them yet relevant to society’, their YouTube videos are going viral.

Vocalist Jean Claude Cournand and guitarist Pauliana Padmore open their acoustic set with ‘Music and Me’.

The group explores themes of class struggle, youth stereotypes, cultural erasure and identity.  They maintain an intimate sound with Guanfranco and Derron Sandy on rain stick and bongo drums.

Cournand channels a warm, raspy voice that has everyone singing along for their ‘Redemption Song’ cover. Not many people can pull off a Bob Marley cover but this Trinidadian performer beat the odds. He proves that he is just as much a vocalist as he is a spoken word artiste.

The recipe for their poetry is simple; equal parts creativity and comedy. In their piece ‘If Love Was’, the group of 20-something-year-olds keeps the ball rolling with an ever-changing analogy. Using local references, their verses reveal:

“Some say love too abstract; it too hard to extract and exact what the meaning of the word love is…”

They elaborate saying that if love were a dog, love would be the most common breed, a pothound.

If love were a biscuit, it would be the crackers you are sure to find in every Trinidadian household, Crix.

If love was something to eat in Trinidad, love would be the most popular, most sought-after and most obsessively consumed delicacy in Trinidad and Tobago; doubles.

Spoken word artist Derron Sandy takes the lead now. Varying his speed to evoke different emotions, he brings drama but does not overwhelm. He touches on a mixture of themes and world issues: the holocaust, genocide, government, love and sex. Sandy’s performance remains on point, even when he has the venue erupting into ‘ooh’s and ‘aah’s from lines like:

“And no one can please my empress like my own.
 And no one can please a black woman like our black testosterone”.

Sandy turns his performance into a comedy show, closing with a piece about the government, entitled  ‘The Worst Poem Ever’:

“This poem has no climax.
It has no sexual content.
Nobody climax.
This poem is repetitive.
It has no context.
This poem is repetitive.
It has no context.”

Despite being “nervous”, Padmore handles her solo performance ‘Fall Again’ without a glitch. With an effortless voice, she adds a delicate touch to romanticise the evening.

Fashion Politics

L-R: Models for: 'Green Envy', 'Wimpy White', Philo, 'Clown Red' and 'Vanishing Yellow'
L-R: Models for: ‘Green Envy’, ‘Wimpy White’, Philo, ‘Clown Red’ and ‘Vanishing Yellow’

The comedy continues with Philo’s return. This time she debuts her fashion line, ‘House of Philo’, unveiling her fictitious political party ‘Party with Philo’. But the focus here is not on design or trends or couture –even in the slightest.

This ‘fashion show’ is political satire at its best. With four main political parties splashing allegations, scandals and corruption across Trinidad and Tobago’s headlines, Philo uses this as inspiration for her t-shirt line.

First is ‘Clown Red’, which is a not-so-subtle blow at opposition party People’s National Movement (PNM). Philo says this outfit is “only available while stocks last” and “might be an antique soon”.

Gracing the catwalk next is ‘Vanishing Yellow’ which mocks the majority of the current coalition government, the United National Congress (UNC). According to Philo this yellow might fade until it becomes white and “might only last until 2015”.

‘Green Envy’ is next in line. Modelled after Jack Warner’s newly formed Independent Liberal Party (ILP) which famously won a seat in central Trinidad, Philo tells us this is “currently only available in the central area”.

All of these outfits are paired with short khaki trousers. All but ‘Wimpy White’. Poking fun at a smaller member of the ruling coalition government, Congress of the People (COP), the model awkwardly makes his way across the stage in ‘tighty whities’ because he “did not deserve” any trousers at all. He looks so embarrassed that the audience overflows with raucous laughter.

To ensure the crowd is pumped and ready, DJ Rawkus gets everyone in tune for the ultimate Caribbean sing-along.

For a single moment, everyone comes together to sing calypso legend Mighty Shadow’s ‘Dingolay’. Middle-aged parents, teens, young adults, those of African, Caucasian, East-Indian and Chinese descent, spoken word fans, concert-enthusiasts and the guys buying beers at the bar; everyone joins in for a single moment.

The real definition of ‘genre-bending’

3Canal takes the stage with their five-piece band The Cut + Clear Crew. Fans start jumping out of their seats, opting for the stage front experience. Arms in the air waving from side to side and hips and waists swaying to the beat all night long.

3Canal celebrates their powerful rapso style, with elements of soca, calypso and reggae. The Trinidadian band revamps rapso to fuse traditional Caribbean sounds with international elements like drum and bass, latin and soul. This right here is the real definition of ‘genre-bending’.

Widely considered to be a derivative of Trinidad and Tobago’s calypso music, rapso can even be traced back to pre-slavery African music. This music came from the need to rise against the oppressors. And it may have been centuries ago, but with societies across the world demanding change and fighting for freedom, this music will never die.

Wendell Manwarren
On stage: Wendell Manwarren for Freedom.com

Dressed in vibrant tribal-printed shirts, the trio, Wendell Manwarren, Stanton Kewley and Roger Roberts hit the ground running with songs like ‘Can’t Done’ which inspires the event’s tagline ‘So much things to say’. They follow up with more from their 2012 release The Reckoning like ‘Sacrifice’.

Formed in the late 1990s, the group pulls the audience like magnets with crowd pleasers ‘Boom Up History’ and ‘I Am’.

Then ‘Talk Yuh Talk’ begins and half of those who were seated, no longer are. As if the crowd wasn’t hyped enough, they restart the 1999 single from the top and even more patrons rush to the stage.

This song encapsulates the dynamism behind the trio; Manwarren and Roberts’ perfect harmonies and Kewley’s necessary roughness. Their voices organically complement each other’s. It gives them a sound like no other.

They end their two+ hour long set with the song that started it all in 1997, ‘Blue’, giving everyone the desire to paint themselves blue and become a ‘blue devil’ for J’ouvert.

And it’s easy to tell why this music is so good. When you see the looks on the faces of 3Canal and the Cut + Clear Crew, it is no secret. They are immersed in their music. Fully committed. They embody their instruments with their eyes closed and their heads tilting back in euphoria.

The passion from the band members and the message of positivity from 3Canal translates into a night of indisputably good music and thought-provoking themes.

The night ends leaving you downright entertained. 3 Canal’s Freedom.com is more than just a concert. It is an experience. And it is one worth looking forward to each year.