Cleveland Watkiss is on stage. He’s standing with a mic in his hand. Beside him is a mic stand with an effects unit attached to it with which he will loop and effect his voice. There’s another mic clipped in the stand. He’s dressed in black.
Balanced. Relaxed. Focussed.
Cleveland is about to sing. Tonight he is in Colwyn Bay, in an occassional room upstairs above a bar. It’s the first Music beats and Flow session. He’s here at the invite of the Colwyn Bay based arts activist Ali Carter who is producing the event. There are about 40 people in the audience, which, for Colwyn Bay, on a Sunday, at an alternative music event is, as all us locals agree, amazing. The room is silent. All eyes are on Cleveland Watkiss. There is a sense of grace around him in this moment. Attentive. Listening. Alert. He’s poised on the breath before the song and no one, not even Cleveland himself, knows what it’s going to sound like. This is freedom. Extemporaneous performance in it’s purest sense. The actualisation of time through shared human experience: improvisation as the highest form of art.
A few moments before, Cleveland said – Martin, you wanna come do something? And now, I’m up here on the stage standing alongside him, the latest in a decades long and illustrious line of people whose voices have blended with Cleveland’s; I’m here with Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, The Who, Wynton Marsarlis, Robbie Williams, Bjork, Courtney Pine, Lisa Stansfield and now, at the end of the long, long line, me, mic in hand, being treated with same collaborative spirit and gentle generosity as all those other stars that have passed this place next to him. I’m inside the music now. Looking across at one of the UK’s greatest vocalists. Waiting for him to sing. Trusting that the words will come to me. Trusting he will be my guide.
Cleveland begins to sing a rhythmic melody.
Doon Doon Doon Doon
I hear Africa. Sun. Earth. Mothers and Children. Laughter. Water.
From somewhere inside myself I hear the words Teach Me.
I hear them in my head, in my mouth, in the mic, in the music, in the room.
Deh teach me Doo teach me to Speak
Doon Doon Doon Doon
Improvisation is the highest form of art
CW: I got that from Daniel Barenboim. He’s a famous conductor and pianist – from Israel, I think – I saw a video of a lecture, or maybe it was on the radio, and Julian Joseph was there, and he asked a question about Jazz improvisation. And Daniel Barenboim replied “improvisation is the highest form of art.” And of course it is. To come up with something in the moment, you’re composing in the moment, and to come up with something that connects with people, that has all the elements of great music; it has rhythm, it has harmony, it has a message, it’s got powerful content, and you’re coming up with that in the moment, that requires great skill. Whether you’re a rapper, or you play saxophone, or you’re a speaker, it’s irrespective. If you really think about improvisation in it’s purest form. It’s actually what we do second to second. It informs everything we do. It’s what we do right now. If we had a beat going and I’m just talking like I’m talking then it’s all rhythm, it’s all vibration it’s all sound, it’s all creativity, it’s all music. I’ve sent you a video. It’s a Daniel Barenboim lecture. Check out the answer to the first question. His answer is so profound. He goes straight to the core of the matter when he starts about music and it’s effect, and society and the way music is deprogrammed in schools. I think the kids that got that answer where so lucky to get that answer.
speak my heart speak Deh
Inside myself I hear your heart beat Doon Doon
Doon Doon Doon Doon teach me to feel it
I will listen
The Music was always the Orator, the Sage, the Griot
When I was about 14 I was in a record shop and I saw this record with a tribal African and a spear on it, and they were playing it in the shop, and I bought this record. And that’s how I learnt about my history: from Winston Rodney and Burning Spear. So yet again music is the educator for a lot of us in understanding what is going on in our time. The music was always the orator, the sage, the Griot. For me politics is life. I can’t separate music and politics. For me its one and the same thing. When I listened to Winston Rodney singing as a 14 year old kid, to me that’s everything; music is life, is politics, its what’s going down. When I’m singing a love song, to me it’s still politics. That’s why I say again that’s it’s all politics.
We’re going through a crazy period again in the UK with this Govt. With Theresa May coming out the other day saying that if you consider yourself a citizen of the world your nowhere, it just sounds fascist, man. You know I think, where have we really moved?
Whatever they’re doing right now in the houses of commons it all affects all of us. Were all part of it. Whether we want to believe it or not we’re all in this society. Everything that they do, everything they say, everything we do, everything we say – it’s all politics. It all effects all of us. I don’t necessarily think of it in too negative a way, it’s like, as a society, we’re still learning to be human.
I can’t be free unless everybody else is free
How can I talk about freedom if other people are in chains?
my heart felt me Deh
teach me to myself Doon Doon
Deh Doo makes me more than I am
Doon Doon Doon Doon
I feel that Jamaica’s neck is still under the noose of the Empire. But out of that is coming all this great art, and fashion as well. It’s amazing how powerful and influential that little island is. Take Marcus Garvey. What he was talking about is still unprecedented. He was talking about Black people in the West being self sufficient in every form. And a lot of the artists and musicians were big followers of Marcus Garvey. He was really about uplifting Black People. About Black people taking pride amongst all the brutalisation that was going on in the system he was coming out saying this is where you’re from, this is your history, this is who you are, you’re Kings and Queens. Black history doesn’t start with Slavery.
I think from a historical and documented sense, it’s unspoken in a lot of ways, how influential the Caribbean has been on Jazz. When the music left Africa the first stop was the Caribbean before it got to New Orleans, but stuff wasn’t recorded then because it wasn’t that age. But we know that a whole lot of stuff was going on, like they weren’t allowed their drums.
There’s a certain energy
in that little island
that ricocheted across the planet
Duke Ellington’s Orchestra was made up essentially of Caribbeans. They called it the Jungle Sound. mid-twenties bands. That real kind of brassy, rip roaring, throaty sounds that a lot of those musicians had (he sings a raw wah heavy trumpet lick). Ellington speaks a lot about that connection and gives a lot of props to that connection.
The foundations of the roots of Hip Hop come from Jamaica. Kool Herc was a Jamaican and he took the idea of the Sound System to New York. They skate over that a bit. The whole idea of the street party, of the sound clash, that came from Jamaica, you know the mic man, the toaster, the rapper; Iroy, Uroy.
Is it to do with the crossing? Remember, the first stop was there. An important element of what was birthed was the synthesis of Africa meets West. We in the UK have a different take on it because of our background. People coming from the Afro-Caribbean community are bringing a whole different mix to the sound.
Deh Doo Deh
Doon Doon my heart felt me Doon Doon teach me to myself
my heartfelt me makes me more than myself Doon Doon
Deh Doo I hear myself through you
Doon Doon Doon Doon my voice speaks true you teach me to speak
Cleveland Watkiss Album “Diaspora Songs” is released 26/10/16
fiurther info www.clevelandwatkiss.net