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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Kitchener 100 – celebrate the Grandmaster of calypso at the Tab

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Calypsonian Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts) was born a century ago on 18 April 1922. In the UK he’s best known now for his 1948 homage to the capital, London Is The Place for Me (used in the Paddington Bear films), but over his lifetime Kitchener penned a string of hits that sound as good today as the day they were written. He had a special talent for composing witty calypsos that were ideally suited to steelpan; arguably, nobody did it better.

Naturally, London is the place to celebrate the life of this charismatic and stylish composer and performer, and where better than at The Tabernacle in Powis Square? As his birthday is today Easter Monday, the organisers are holding the show the following evening – and entry is free!

This will be an informal evening of calypso, steelpan and other tributes to the Grandmaster. MC for the night will be Kitch’s friend, Tobago Crusoe. He’ll be backed up by a great team of UK-based calypsonians, who’ll narrate their personal experiences and pay tribute to Lord Kitchener through the evening, while Smokey Joe will be taking us through the decades with a mix of music.

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The organisers plan to live-stream the event, and there’s an open invitation to fans to post anything appropriate – song, poem, painting, pan, mas – on Facebook to make this a truly global celebration between 18 and 19 April.

Surely every reader of Soca News has seen the iconic photograph and newsreel footage of the sharply dressed 26-year-old Kitchener singing his newly penned composition on the gangplank of troopship Empire Windrush when it docked at Tilbury on 22 June 1948. His astutely timed bit of self-promotion was effective, for young Aldwyn soon found work in high-end clubs and society events; calypso became the music that everyone wanted to dance to; and the song itself became an enduring hit.

Three years later, steelpan made its first footfall in the UK and Britain was soon in thrall to Caribbean music. In 1960, Lord Kitchener took part in the second of Claudia Jones’s indoor ‘Caribbean Carnival’ shows, which indirectly laid the foundation for Notting Hill Carnival.

Kitchener’s memory will be invoked again on 22 June, when the Basil Watson-designed monument to the Windrush arrivals is unveiled at Waterloo station. Will London Is The Place for Me be played there? We shall have to wait and see! We’ll certainly hear it, and another Kitch composition, Pan In A Minor, at Buckingham Palace, when 100 steelpan players will be performing for Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations on Sunday 5 June. Listen out too for the Grandmaster’s inimitable style at Notting Hill on 28-29 August, where his music is always guaranteed to get people dancing ‘down de road’.

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The Tabernacle show is being organised by Professor Haroun Shah (of Nostalgia Steelband) and the team behind the successful International Journal of the Carnival Arts (IJCA) and the Biennial (hopefully now annual) Steelpan Conference. They are linking up with Henry Saunders, chair of the Arima Rebranding Team in Trinidad. Saunders is leading the centennial events in Trinidad & Tobago and plans to carry celebratory events through to 17 April 2023. Arima was Kitchener’s hometown, which he put on the musical map with Trouble In Arima.

Show starts 7pm, Tue 19 April 2022, entry free. The Tabernacle, Powis Square, London W11 2AY. For more details, see Steel Pan Conference or contact Haroun (harounnshah@gmail.com) or Laila Shah (lailamnshah@gmail.com), especially if you’d like to contribute an item about Lord Kitchener in the May 2022 edition of the IJCA (Vol 5).

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