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Scakes captured sentiments of time

Scakes captured sentiments of time

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by Colin King

One of the most memorable events arising out of St Vincent and the Grenadines Independence in 1979 was the release of a special song from Vibrating Scakes (Kenneth Alleyne): ’Our Nation is Born’.

It has become the hallmark for Independence time celebrations, of which I can only think of two pieces which come close, Joel Miguel’s anthem and Becket’s ‘St Vincent, I love you’.{{more}} It captured the sentiments of the time, “one history, one ecstasy, one destiny for all o’ we,” “colonialism is gone.” As Scakes said at the beginning of the track, gist: The future is a question mark…

Scakes has been a competing calypsonian, as of 2015, thirty years in total. He has lived up to the traditional role of calypsonian, as commentator, observer, and reporter, in fine style that has seen him a player and a winner in the calypso game several times over. In St Vincent and the Grenadines in the new millennium, when we are being besieged by a different sort of ‘foreign culture’, a musician and thinker such as Scakes is a dying breed, as Vincies embrace ‘fun in the sun’ with no regard for the consequences of the issues plaguing Vincentian nationality.

Scakes traces his roots of interest to 1956 and Sparrow’s ‘Jean and Dinah’, which was one of the first songs he performed as a youth, playing and singing it mostly in family moments. Scakes’ home at that time was the fifth building from the courthouse, where his father, a photographer from Trinidad, ran a photo shop ‘Alleyne’s Photo Studio,’ adjacent to a candy shop.

Scakes first career was, however, not in music, but in education. He started teaching at the Richmond Hill Primary School in 1970, and kept that gig for 10 years. All that time though, Scakes was hardly ever without his guitar, and he would play with friends, fellow amateurs, and this grew into a musical group, ‘Fort Charlotte Redemption’, which featured rival ‘Patches’ Knights’ brother – Kent Knights.

Scakes was discovered by impresario Cameron King, who at the time organized a very popular musical showcase – ‘Firestick’, says Scakes.

“In 1972, we were playing our guitars and singing next to the pavement….and here comes a gentleman (King) in a red car, who told us we were sounding very good.”

That led to an appearance at Firestick.

Scakes was also affiliated with King’s cultural group ‘Vinifolk,’ which produced a number of cultural musical recordings (one of which is the memorable ‘Back to the Land’). Says Scakes, “We joined the group, played in hotels in the Grenadines and on the mainland…. I made my first recording with Vinifolk in 1973 (four songs recorded in Barbados). The songs included ‘Spirit in the Dark’, and ‘Rising and Falling’, which featured my vocals and also Crispus Creese’s ‘Back to de Land’ and Earla Sutherland’s ‘Care your Love’ (these songs are played on ‘cultural’ radio up to today).

1975 saw Scakes using one of these songs, ‘Spirit in the Dark,’ as his debut in the Carnival calypso competition.

Here is a blow by blow (mostly) of Scakes’ career as calypso competitor.

In 1976, ‘Revive Carnival’ won him third place. In ‘77 he made the semi-finals with ‘Scanking’. ‘78 was a milestone for him and part of a very productive period and post-debut success, as he topped the list with ‘Bionic Man’ and ‘Music in Me’. ‘79 of course featured the most memorable Independence song (he topped that competition also) with ‘Our Nation is Born’. He made finals again in 82 and copped the Road March with ‘Mambo in the Disco’ in 83.

The list continues highlighting his placements: ‘84, third place with ‘Hula Hoop’ and ‘150 years Emancipation’.

Of these songs, Scakes evoked a black consciousness mindset, with a Marcus Garvey reference. ‘85, he continued the streak, just shy of the top spot in second place with ‘They go love you’. In ‘86, he was once again conscious, message oriented with ‘Who help to make my Calypso’ and ‘Big Deal,’ which highlighted the controversial sale of the Orange Hill estate.

From 1987 and onwards for the next few years, Scakes maintained that calypsonians needed to be, or to sound and impact ‘in disguise’ and to seem oblivious as to what the selection was ‘all about’. In ‘89 ‘Rise to the Occasion’ saw him at the finals, but he failed to place.

1991 signalled a return to the top of the game, where he placed third that year with ‘Principles’ and in ‘92 with ‘Stand up and fight,’ which delivered a non-violent solution to the problem of exploitation of women and children, which garnered a second consecutive third place.

In 1994, his third Calypso Monarch crown was won, cementing his participation as a force to be reckoned with over time, just shy of 20 years since his debut in the mid-seventies. The songs were ‘A Time of Healing,’ which featured the case of a girl who was murdered in Calliaqua, and ‘No Boundaries,’ which lamented the ‘nature of life’ (in SVG) and the tendency towards separation, tug-of war, rather than unity, as SVG began to embrace external mores, more and more.

1995 was probably the most controversial year of the calypso competition thus far. All 10 finalists (including Scakes) scored within one decimal point of each other 154.1 to 154.9. It was also the year a judge walked out. Scakes returned the following year with a satirical piece aimed at judges: ‘Coffee for the Judges’.

In 1998, Scakes stayed out of the competition, but took on the role of producer, producing the Queen of Calypso show.

His next win took place in 2007, with the songs ‘Build Bridges and ‘The Challenge,’ which addressed escalating crime, making it four-time monarch for Scakes.

2010 saw Scakes’ work reflecting prophesy in ‘Sue,’ aimed at what he viewed as Ralph Gonsalves’ poor ‘financial management,’ in which he predicted that NCB would be sold, which in fact it was, three months later.

Just this year, 2015, Scakes was placed third with a double entendre piece ‘Dancing at 64,’ reflecting the view that ‘old school calypso run things’ and a comment on the direction local music is taking in the ‘Here and Now’.

Scakes’ advice for young would be calypsonians is that they should not pray for genius for them to evolve; they should be geniuses in themselves.

Scakes has been married for 21 years, with four sons and five grandsons and with his own little dynasty in place, makes his own lifestyle a reflection of someone with values.