By RON FANFAIR
Aaron Seunarine was raised in a family that embraced steelpan and soca music.
Born in Toronto to Trinidadian parents, he started playing the pan at age three and, as he grew older, his desire to play more musical instruments increased. In addition to mastering the only new acoustic instrument invented in the 20th Century, Seunarine is also a proficient percussion and piano player and a useful back-up vocalist.
He’s also a member of Archie Alleyne’s Evolution of Jazz Youth ensemble, which was launched last Friday night in Toronto.
Seunarine met Alleyne, considered one of Canada’s top drummers, about a decade ago while he was performing at the Muhtadi International Drumming Festival, and was the first Archie Alleyne bursary award recipient in 2006.
Alleyne has awarded the Fletcher’s Meadow Secondary School graduate a scholarship for the past three years to help enhance his musical career.
“Archie has been a mentor and inspiration for me over the years,” said 20-year-old Seunarine. “To have such a talented musician like him in your corner is priceless. My goal is to become a music teacher and get young people to understand that they should put down their guns and pick up drums.”
Seunarine and the other members of the ensemble, with the exception of Cuban-born trumpeter Alexander Brown-Cabrera who settled in Canada five ago, are either enrolled in or graduated from Humber College’s three-year music diploma program in jazz and commercial music which is the longest running of its kind in Canada.
The co-creator and leader of the popular Kollage jazz sextet, Alleyne said the nine-member youth ensemble represents some of the best and most talented young musical minds in Canada.
“They have already being exposed to Humber which is considered the school of choice for serious musicians looking to advance their careers in a professional manner,” he said. “What I am doing is broadening their scope and allowing them to become familiar with other musical styles. One of the first things I point out to youths with an interest in music is that when you go to the Prince of Wales or Royal Alexandra theatres and you look at the pit band in front of the stage, you seldom see a Black musician there.
“There is a reason for that. You have to be versatile and that is what I have tried to instill in this group. They write their own compositions and they can play more than one instrument. This is what a professional musician does and this is how they can make a living.”
La-Nai Gabriel, 25, is excited to be part of a local jazz ensemble.
“This is a great opportunity for me,” said Gabriel who plays the piano, saxophone and clarinet. “It means a lot to me to be part of a group of young persons showcasing our musical talent in a unique form of music such as jazz. What we are doing here is special and I hope people appreciate it.”
Brown-Cabrera does not feel that he’s an outsider even though he’s the only group member that did not attend the prestigious Humber College program. He graduated from the celebrated School of Arts in Cuba and is following in the footsteps of notable Cuban trumpeters Julio Cueva, Pedro Knight and his idol Arturo Sandoval.
“This is a great collection of talent and we are going to make waves in this city,” he said.
The other group members are Archbishop Denis O’Connor Catholic High School graduate Kamil Andre who is the co-musical director and arranger and a vocalist; Mayfield Secondary High School graduate William Heslop who plays the alto sax, clarinet and flute; drummer, organist and vocalist Jasmine Jones; bassist Alex St. Kitts and brother and sister Thomas and Shelkah Francis who play the piano and sax respectively.