Andre Michael Tanker drew on the many cultural influences swirling through Trinidad and Tobago to create an indigenous sound, which he called Caribbean World Music, confident in its power to speak to the world on its own terms.
His willingness to experiment and take risks in his quest to create a truly Caribbean music, earned him widespread respect as one of the region’s most committed, innovative and talented musicians.
Andre Tanker came from a family with a tradition in the Arts. His mother was a dancer and a descendant of Trinidad and Tobago’s renowned 19th century painter Michel-Jean Cazabon. While genes may have provided his artist’s instinct, Andre Tanker’s deepest influences came from the culturally dynamic environment of his hometown, Woodbrook, during his formative years.
Living within earshot of Invader’s panyard on one side and Beryl McBurnie Little Carib Theatre on the other, the young Tanker was inside the rhythm of the place from the beginning. At the age of seven, already a devotee of the music, he was given his first steelpan by the legendary pannist Ellie Mannette.
By the time he was a teenager at St Mary’s College, he was already on the music circuit, playing the guitar, flute, cuatro, vibraphone and blue harp alongside pannist extraordinaire Ray Holman. The next step was his own band, Andre Tanker and the Flamingos.
In the late 1960s, he spent time in the United States, exploring Afro-American, Latin and other types of music, including Ravi Shankar’s sitar music coming in from the US west coast. Back in Trinidad, his first hit, “Forward Home” (1972), suggested that he had settled the question of identity and his life’s purpose.
Over the next 30-plus years, Andre Tanker produced a body of rich and powerful music, including the musical version of Derek Walcott’s Ti-Jean and His Brothers in New York, the soundtrack for the Sharc Productions movie, Bim, Mustapha Matura’s Playboy Of The West Indies in New York, and the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Measure for Measure, presented in a Caribbean setting. Among his classic works are “Sayamanda”, “Basement Party”, “Ben Lion”, “Hosanna Higher”, and “Forward Home”.
On Carnival Friday night, 2003, at the age of 61, Andre Tanker succumbed to a heart attack.