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Thursday 15 November 2018
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ROY CAPE HIS STORY IN HIS WORDS

When Roy Cape sits down to tell his story he sometimes asks one simple question: “How much time do you have?” The man and his years on the music scene are legendary, and it could take hours to just trace his early beginnings in the industry.

It's the kind of storied career that needs documenting, from his knowledge of the role an orphanage played in his music education to his collaborations with cultural icons the likes of Clarence Curvan, Ron Berridge and the Dutchy Brothers.

Cape is a reservoir of stories, rich and important stories that chronicle not only his life but draws also on the contributions of many key players who were instrumental in shaping the musical landscape in the country since the ‘60s.

"It's a long story and I've told it so many times...where do I start?," Cape told Woman’s Weekly recently as he launched his book, Roy Cape: A Life on the Calypso and Soca Bandstand. The book was in development for a few years and according to him, the time has finally come for people to hear Roy Cape's story without him actually having to sit and tell it.

For the project, Cape turned to his friend, Jocelyne Guilbault, an academic and musician by heart not trade. The collaboration started four years ago and during that period professor Guilbault spent time listening to Cape, interviewing him, and immersing herself in the world he has created and lived in since the early ‘60s.

She documents Cape's musical career and takes a critical look at his style and technique. Writing in the book Dr Guilbault says: "My approach focuses on stories. Stories do memory work and they transform memorable experience into a vocal performance...Taken together, creative collaborations like this involve improvisation.

So Roy is not simply or strictly recounting his life for me to write down. And I am not the sole author or teller of the stories written here about Roy. Every detail in this book is a negotiated text..."

Cape launched the book on September 26 at the Woodbrook Playboyz Pan Yard, Woodbrook and he described it as a tribute to music and the people who paved the way for him.

Cape told Woman’s Weekly that the book has been translated into eight different languages which are all available on Amazon.

In addition, he said, it is available on several other internet sites and based on early numbers, post-launch sales are strong and climbing.

"I am just humbled by all of this and if it were not for you the people I would not be here...I feel like I have a duty to pay respect to all those who came before me and helped me to get to where I am," Cape said addressing the audience at the launch.

Cape recalled his humble beginnings in the business and the early days of playing music when he was still unable to afford personal instruments. He said it took years before he could buy his own saxophone.

He paid respect to his friend Clarence Curvan, who joined him at the podium during the launch. "This man right here was there with me from the beginning and I want to publicly acknowledge all he has done not only for me, but for music in Trinidad and Tobago," Cape said.

Cape also reminisced on his days of growing up in an orphanage and being exposed to "music, God and learning discipline." How he ended up at the orphanage is quite a story, but Cape was born to a Grenadian mother and an American father, whom he never met.

He recalled being around the music, mostly steelbands in the Port-of-Spain area where he lived his early years, and how he would go against his mother's wishes to "follow the music around". When she passed, he ran away with his brother and was living the life of a runaway street child until the authorities caught up with him. He was later sent to the orphanage which is now known as St Dominic's Home.

Cape also reminisced on his time at Carnival during the 60s when his earnings during the season "was a tiny sum but the music, the atmosphere and the company was great." He said working with Sparrow was one of the high points of his career.

During his long career which continues to this day, Cape has worked with a number of cultural icons. He has worked with Frankie Francis, Clarence Curvan, Sparrow, Fitz Von Bryan, Ron Berridge and the Dutchy Brothers.

He has also played at the Revue Calypso Tent and for the competition at the Queen's Park Savannah, and he worked on Sniper's "Portrait of Trinidad".

Dr Guilbault, who has authored several books and built her career studying traditional and popular music of the eastern Caribbean, praised Cape for his "momentous contributions to Caribbean music" when she spoke at the launch.

She said Cape has been a giant in the business yet his contributions were not documented "until now". Dr Guilbault observed, "The focus is usually on the stars, the people in the forefront...they don't know what they have been missing." She added that the book tells Cape's story and "also your story".

Playwright Rawle Gibbons reviewed the book and he praised the collaboration between Cape and Guilbault for filling the gaps in the cultural history of the country.

The book, he said, highlights the roles of orphanages in music education and development, noting that apart from private piano lessons, formal music education in Trinidad was undertaken through the Orphan Home Bands since colonial days.

In addition to Cape, other outstanding players to have emerged from these bands include Frankie Francis, Errol Ince, Ron Berridge, Roderick Borde, Fortunia Ruiz, Major Eddie Wade and Inspector Anthony Prospect.

According to Gibbons, the book also tells the fascinating story of Cape's musical development from the steelband yard to the Belmont Orphanage to learning from the great musicians whose bands he joined. Cape also shares the story of how he sustains his band of some 15 members for 30-plus years and what they all learned from the experience.

"In a country richer in music than even its mineral resources, the writers have introduced a field and level of exploration, research and analysis absent from the academic and popular discourses," Gibbons said of the book.

Dr Rhoda Reddock also offered brief remarks at the launch and she praised the authors for "giving us a bold and imaginative text that documents the contributions of an outstanding and well respected icon."

She called it an important and long-awaited book, and expressed hope that it will inspire others to document the musical performance history of the country.

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