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A celebration of Bahamian composers

JoAnn Callender hopes to touch people’s hearts with her fusion of classical vocals with strings and rake n’ scrape
  • Joann Callender.

  • These are some of the Bahamian composers and artists that will be honored this Saturday at "A Celebration of Bahamian Composers". From left: Top: Timothy Gibson, Kayla Lockhart-Edwards, Keysha Edwards-Taylor, Meta Davis-Cumberbatch, E. Clement Bethel. Bottom: Eric Cash, Cleophas Adderley, Franz Hepburn, Audrey Dean-Wright, K. Quincy Parker.

Guardian Lifestyles Editor

Published: Jun 14, 2013

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For more than a decade, JoAnn Callender performed recitals of Bahamian composed songs to the world — the songs brought attention to the beauty of Bahamian music; the stories told of a Bahamas filled with vibrant colors and friendly people; they told of old folk tales and bragged about a climate that embraces visitors and makes them feel restful and refreshed. As the country celebrates its 40th year of independence, Callender will take to the stage and share these songs at home with a concert to celebrate Bahamian composers.

Callender will be in concert in “A Celebration of Bahamian Composers” on Saturday, June 15 at Christ Church Cathedral, on George Street at 8 p.m. What patrons will hear will be the classically trained singer fusing her vocals with Bahamian rhythms over the course of the 21 songs she will deliver and which have been orchestrated for string instruments, rake n’ scrape, electric bass, drums, choral and piano music.

“We’re going to fuse it all together — classical with strings and rake n’ scrape,” said Callender of this weekend’s concert.

A five-string ensemble from Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Maryland — two violins, a viola, cello and double bass — will accompany Callender, along with a rake n’ scrape ensemble and her husband Lee Callender on piano. The Highgrove Singers will also provide backup vocals. Despite the fusion of sounds, to ensure the authenticity of the Bahamian sound, jazz artist, Henry Moss was engaged to write the scores for the ensemble.

“I’d never done a concert of just Bahamian songs in The Bahamas ever, and so this is the perfect time to reintroduce Bahamians and the composers to hear how their songs sound — the songs that I present to Europeans that they go crazy over. Songs like “When the Road Seems Rough” and “Nassau Moon” and “Bahama Moon,” said the soprano singer.

At the end of her hour-and-a-half long performance her expectation is that patrons will leave feeling the proudest they’ve ever been to be Bahamian.

“I’m hoping that they feel light because they chuckled a bit, they smiled, or that they may have shed a tear through one of the songs,” said Callender. She expects to touch people’s hearts and move them towards being more patriotic and more accepting of who they are.

The classically trained singer said there is a tendency for Bahamians to accept other nations and their styles of music and try to emulate them, but after this weekend’s concert she hopes Bahamians will listen to what they have and see how brilliant, versatile and different Bahamian composers are and what they can do with the Bahamian repertoire.

“I’m hoping that they leave happy and really prepared to celebrate 40 years and 41 [years] and 42 [years] and keep going to a better Bahamas.”

Cleophas Adderley, Clement Bethel, Eric Cash, Meta Davis-Cumberbatch, Kayla Edwards and Keysha Edwards-Taylor, Timothy Gibson, Franz Hepburn, K. Quincy Parker and Audrey Dean-Wright are the 10 composers Callender will honor when she takes to the stage. The honorees she said are friends and mentors to her.

During this weekend’s performance, Callender will be accompanied by her husband Lee Callender (pianist) who also did 80 percent of the arrangements for the concert, Dion Cunningham (guest pianist), Bahamian percussionists, Fred Ferguson (guitar), Ralph Munnings (saxophone), along with the rake n’ scrape band ensemble, the five-piece string ensemble from the Peabody Conservatory of Music, and the Highgrove Singers.

Callender says taking to the stage this weekend will be an honor for her to share the music of her country with her countrymen.

“It’s a pleasure because I feel that this is the time as we embark on the second generation of Bahamians after independence that it is important for us to stand strong and take a part of our history and the part of the present — because five of these people [composers] are alive and it’s important to take them as our leaders and role models into the future because we are fusing with so many nations as a Bahamas. In 40 years it’s going to be looking very different here, and if we don’t take who we are now and grab a hold of that historically it will be lost. And this is my part to lay a foundation for history to be made,” she said.

Callender who believes in Bahamians celebrating Bahamians will perform her new arrangement of the National Anthem for the first time at this weekend’s performance.

With songs like “Pretty Boy”, “Brown Girl in a Ring”, “Sapodilly Woman”, “Sponger Money” on tap for the concert, Callender said this weekend’s performance is expected to be “fantastic”.


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