A working class community where slaves and migrants from neighbouring Caribbean islands settled in the late 19th and 20th centuries respectively, Belmont – the Port-of-Spain borough in Trinidad – has produced many outstanding citizens.
The list includes jurist and politician, Sir Hugh Wooding, whose name is attached to a law school in the twin-island republic; civil rights activist, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure); the Mighty Shadow, who won the calypso monarch crown in 2000 and the road march titles in 1974 and 2001; governor-general, Sir Ellis Clarke, who was one of the key architects of the islands’ 1962 independence constitution and the Davis brothers – Bryan and Charlie – who played a combined 22 cricket Tests for the West Indies.
Greater Toronto Area resident, David Rudder, who will receive a University of the West Indies honorary degree for outstanding achievement and service to the Caribbean, is also on that register. He will receive his degree in October at the St. Augustine campus in Trinidad.
“I am honoured that my work has been recognized by the university and also that the Caribbean sees validity in my work,” said Rudder, whose music blends pop, jazz, blues and calypso and has been considered a bridge between modern pop and world class beat. “Sometimes you really don’t know where your art and what you create will take you because you are just doing what you believe you are here to do and then people let you know that you are appreciated. This honour says to me that people are paying attention to what you are doing.”
While admitting that he wanted to attend UWI but didn’t get the opportunity, Rudder said Belmont was like an open university.
“The amount of knowledge I gained in that community is invaluable,” he said. “In a sense, I lived in an environment that was like a university campus.”
Rudder said his passion for the creative arts started at age nine, the same year he was diagnosed with polio that has left him walking with a slight limp.
Raised primarily by his grandmother – a Spiritual Baptist – near a pan yard and a Shango yard, Rudder was a back-up singer in a calypso tent run by Lord Kitchener and a lead vocalist with the Charlie Roots brass band prior to soaring into rare air in 1986 when he became the first calypsonian to win the Young King, Calypso Monarch and Road March King titles.
That was the last time he took part in a mas’ competition.
“That was really a stepping stone for me to see what I could do and it worked,” he said. “I didn’t want to limit myself. It was a case of me getting recognition and then moving on to spread Caribbean culture and my music across the world.”
Frustrated with life in T & T, Rudder – one of the few calypsonians to write his own songs – has been living in the GTA with his Guyanese-born wife and their children for nearly a decade.
“You see something falling apart in front of you and there is nothing you can do about it,” he said. “You give so much energy trying to stem the tide even though you know you are fighting a losing battle. I just had to get away for a while. My wife is Canadian and this is a great place to raise children.”
While much of his life has revolved around music, Rudder points to a poignant cricketing moment as one of the high points in his life.
While in the Caribbean for the 2007 World Cup, Sir Garfield Sobers – considered the world’s greatest cricket all-rounder – and Rohan Kanhai – one of the best West Indian batsmen – invited him to take a photo with them.
“I was flattered because I thought it should have been the other way around with me asking them for a photo,” said Rudder, whose song, ‘Rally Round the West Indies’, is the West Indies’ cricket team’s national anthem. “The next thing I knew I was standing with all the greats of West Indian cricket for a portrait.”
Rudder will headline the Organization of Calypso Performing Artists (OCPA) calypso and soca concert this month end. He promises to thrill the audience with a wide range of his music.
“There will be something old, something new and some of my favourites,” he said. “That’s all I am going to say for now.”
He will share the stage with six-time and reigning national calypso champion, Macomere Fifi; four-time champions, Structure and Jayson, who is the only calypsonian to win a Juno award; Susan G, who was the third runner-up in 2005; Connector, Web, King Cosmos, Love Bug, Yellows, T & T schools’ national chutney soca monarch, Aaron Duncan and British groovy soca monarch, Sheldon Skeete.