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David Michael Rudder

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David Rudder is hailed as the poet philosopher of Calypso who reached back into the art form’s past and drew deeply from the roots of African culture to inspire it with new relevance, creativity and musicality. Celebrated by his fans as King David for his transformative impact on the 100-year-old narrative of the recorded art form, the calypsonian chose to break sobriquet tradition by presenting himself, unadorned, as simply David Rudder.

His musical instincts were honed in Belmont where he was born. His songs carry the influences of his grandmother, a spiritual Baptist, the neighbouring Shango yard and the community pan yard. He began singing at the age of 11 with a group called The Solutions but entered the public imagination in 1977 when he joined the popular brass band Charlie’s Roots. His own sound is dipped in the sounds of Africa, jazz, blues and folk rock.

At a mature 33 years old, David Michael Rudder stormed into the calypso arena in dramatic fashion in 1986, sweeping all before him with The Hammer, a tribute to the legendary pannist Rudolph Charles, and Bahia Girl. He copped all three major titles on offer: Young King, Calypso Monarch and Road March King, and walked away for good measure with the runner-up prize in the last-named competition as well as the honour of having composed the winning Panorama tune. Had there been a People’s Choice contest too, there is little doubt that he would have added that title to the list of his triumphs that year The next year, he delivered the immortal Calypso Music, an ode to the history of calypso.
Having cut his teeth in the backstage areas of the calypso tent singing back-up to some of
Calypso’s headliners, the Belmont-born former accountant eventually made the highly successful transition to the calypso centre-stage. His lyrics attested to a perspective that was much broader than was the norm, a concern with the world beyond the confines of the two islands that constitute the Republic.

Rudder once confessed to an interviewer that, were he to write a calypso about someone being killed on a public roadway, he would try to do so neither from the point of view of the perpetrator or of the victim but of the bloodstain on the pavement. It was that refusal as an artiste to be constrained by convention, as opitomized in his “Hosay” commentary on the 1990 attempted coup that won him accolades from acknowledged experts for the originality and depth of his oeuvre.

Over more than 20 albums since his arrival on stage in 1986, Rudder has produced work that has won sustained critical acclaim. Before it was adopted as the official anthem, his “Rally Round the West Indies” became the widely acknowledged theme for a fading regional cricket team. His “Haiti” album raised the visibility of a regional challenge that many would have preferred to ignore. Through his collaboration with Mas man extraordinaire Peter Minshall, he has created calypso music themed specifically for Mas bands, a hitherto unheard of phenomenon.

In summing up David Rudder’s career, calypso critic Keith Smith wrote: “Rudder has refused to turn his back on the great calypso tradition he has inherited, but the measure of his art is how he has remained unconfined by that tradition, yet secure in the foundation...”Rudder once confessed to an interviewer that, were he to write a calypso about someone being killed on a public roadway, he would try to do so neither from the point of view of the perpetrator or of the victim but of the bloodstain on the pavement. It was that refusal as an artiste to be constrained by convention, as optimized in his “Hosay” commentary on the 1990 attempted coup, that won him accolades from acknowledged experts for the originality and depth of his oeuvre.

Over more than 20 albums since his arrival on stage in 1986, Rudder has produced work that has won sustained critical acclaim. Before it was adopted as the official anthem, his “Rally Round the West Indies” became the widely acknowledged theme for a fading regional cricket team. His “Haiti” album raised the visibility of a regional challenge that many would have preferred to ignore. Through his collaboration with Mas man extraordinaire Peter Minshall, he has created calypso music themed specifically for Mas bands, a hitherto unheard of phenomenon.

In summing up David Rudder’s career, calypso critic Keith Smith wrote: “Rudder has refused to turn his back on the great calypso tradition he has inherited, but the measure of his art is how he has remained unconfined by that tradition, yet secure in the foundation...”