Paradise imagined isn’t necessarily paradise realized. From a distance, the oceanic embrace of a small plot of volcanic inspired land awakens the senses and instructs the mind to contemplate the beginnings; first people, the history, their culture and what can be gained from the experience.
It was 1989, and my first invitation as a photo-journalist to travel farther south to the island of Aruba to cover the Aruba Jazz Festival; featuring Wynton Marsalis and Dianne Reeves, amongst a roster of star- drenched talent.
James A. Michener’s historical novel Caribbean had just surfaced in airport kiosks. Somehow, this seemed a fitting read for a first-time traveller to the region. Caribbean is a fictionalized account of the pre-Columbian period of the native Arawak tribes and island life through the centuries up until 1990. Each country comes with a richly-textured story depicting a period of it’s history in conflict; colonization, the slave trade, religion, ceremony - even the trials of Columbus for genocide. To this day, I’m grateful I read this before landing on my first tropical island. It has served me well decades thereafter.
Isle of Saints is an aural composite of all my travels throughout the region as heard inside my head and felt in the heart. From Aruba to Barbados, St. Kitts, St. Vincent, Dominica, St. Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Virgin Islands, Tortola, Grand Cayman, Antiqua, San Blas, Panama, Jamaica, Santa Domingo, - Cuba. In fact, the cover art was purchased in 1998 in Santa Domingo from a street vendor and proudly hangs from one of my music room walls. It’s credited to Haitian artist; Laurent Casimir, who passed in 1990.
I rode the scribes bus for a quarter century photographing and writing - rarely mixing professional worlds between musician and journalist. I was there to listen, to feel, sense and absorb – then relay those experiences in thoughts and words. It’s the number of unforgettable people I encountered and the shared experiences, I will forever savor.
The Uprising is a name I chose to address this project. It’s about our times – a world in crisis, yet it’s us, the world’s people, who can derail the rampaging “greed” train. We can do this thorough our music – the marriage of cultures, ideas, and relationships.
I’ve been fortunate to have a twenty-five-year relationship with Cuba and its people. The three musicians who grace Isle of Saints come from Havana and Santiago de Cuba. They all entered my life at various time periods. Bassist Roberto Riveron and I played in Jane Bunnett’s, Afro/Cuban Blues Project some years back. Percussionist/vocalist Magdelys Savigne and violinist/vocalist Elizabeth Rodriguez are currently members of Maqueque, Bunnett’s award-winning back-up band.
This project evolved from producing Mags and Elizabeth’s project, OKAN. I played them a new original composition and expressed a concept I had in mind and they threw themselves wholeheartedly into the project. Through the generosity of Slaight Music; funding arrived as quick as the project was approved. This happens when Gary and Ali Slaight and Derrick Ross hear something and green light.
Everton Paul has been a music soulmate of mine for a good forty-five years and his home studio Side Door Records is the most inviting living room for making music anywhere. Along with two great engineers; Shane ‘Shakey J’ Forrest, who presided over the recording and my long-time recording engineer friend, Michael Haas from Inception Sound, - did the mixes.
When things feel right –they are usually right. I’ll be forever indebted to all who contributed to this – the many pauses to perfect lines, the joy of laughter between Elizabeth and Mags – the serious intentions that rumbled through the main room and the final out come. The ingenious contributions of bassist Roberto Riveron and my desire not to recreate or impersonate indigenous music, but to bring artists together and encourage them express themselves in their own musical vocabulary, and breathe life into the notes I scripted on manuscript paper. We are the best of friends on this musical journey – the long conversation. Welcome to our journey to the – Isle of Saints!
Bill King – Producer/arranger/composer/keyboards
Elizabeth Rodriguez vocals/violin
Magdelys Savigne – drums/vocals/percussion
Roberto Riveron – bass
Engineer – Shane “Shakey J” Forrest
Mixing Engineer – Michael Haas
Recorded at Side Door Records, Toronto – 2017
1. Havana Odyssey
2. Isle of Saints
3. Carmen’s Veranda
4. Ivory Town
5. Clear Mountain Moon
6. That’s the Way of The World