Shangoya: Hot Fun In The Summertime
Wednesday 19 June @ 10:27:51
by Tom Hallett
Today, you can see and hear Trinidad-to-Twin Cities transplant Aldric “Peter” Nelson’s musical legacy across Minnesota, the midwest, and America in general- from world beat-friendly Minneapolis clubs like The Cabooze and The Red Sea to local and internet radio programs hosted by Caribbean natives to national all-ages stages teeming with rhythm-influenced, teenage punk rockers. When the fiery young musical dreamer first emigrated to America at the dawn of the ‘70’s, however, things were very different.
John Lennon had yet to embrace/endorse reggae; Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer were struggling young unheard-ofs, and Westerners still had a nasty habit of diluting and polluting pure South Seas and West Indies music (check out Richard Berry’s original version of “Louie Louie”). Most Americans thought Harry Belafonte had invented calypso, and very few record stores or clubs featured South Seas/African music. Sure, Desmond Dekker and a select few others were making inroads, but music fans in the States were still heavily enthralled by the Anglo-cized American blues and R&B streaming over from the U.K.
Luckily, visionaries like singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Nelson were on hand to change all that. By 1972, he’d founded the seminal world beat outfit Shangoya with a loose-knit group of other Caribbean and African expatriates, worked up a respectable batch of originals and covers, and begun storming local and regional stages with his fresh combo of reggae, soca, and American soul music. The band paved the way for countless past and present artists to carve out a niche among the midwest’s cornucopia of sounds- big band, polka, country, folk, rock-a-billy, metal, pop, R&B, and punk now had a formidable (albeit joyous and spiritual-based) compatriot, and locals gravitated towards the hot island sounds as if born to them. Shangoya went on to open for such reggae-influenced punk legends as The Clash, release five albums, feature local legend Peter Himmelman (Sussman-Lawrence) as a member for a time, and become a veritable musical institution.
This weekend, Nelson and the current band members will celebrate 30 years of electrifying, enlightening, and entertaining the American public with a very special gathering at The Cabooze in Minneapolis. Members of the band’s classic line-ups throughout the years will be on hand to assist, and many special guests and friends will be present to suprise, delight, and move the audience. Whether you’re a longtime fan who wants to congratulate one of your favorite acts or just a curious world beat fan wondering how you could’ve missed such a musical treasure over the years, this show is guaranteed to leave you uplifted, full of summer joy, and bathed in healthy, dance-induced sweat.
Pulse recently spoke with Aldric “Peter” Nelson about the past, present, and future of Shangoya, and found him to be much like the music he’s so tirelessly championed for over three decades—bright, witty, deep, spiritual, positive, honest, and determined. Here’s some highlights from that interview:
Pulse: Tell us a little about your early musical developments, and your first musical influences.
APN: My influences in my youth in Trinidad were the great Calypsonians such as The Mighty Sparrow, Lord Kitchener, The Mighty Duke, and other world music such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Jimmy Cliff. American/English musical influences included Sam Cooke and Bob Dylan, and I also liked The Beatles.
P: How much did politics influence your music?
APN: As you may know, calypso music is the way Calypsonians sent out political messages to the whole nation. People who didn’t have access to newspapers got the current politics via the music. So politics is ingrained in and inseparable from the music of Trinidad. So yes, politics play a part in most of my lyrics.
P: People know quite a bit about reggae these days, which influences your music to some degree. But you name soca as your primary influence. Tell us about the style, and a little bit of its history.
APN: Soca is a high-energy dance music. Soca is short for “soul calypso,” and is the modern form of calypso music. The lyrics are not necessarily as political as traditional calypso- it’s more of a dance groove. The music is prepared mainly for the Carnival festivities.
P: What musical instruments did you gravitate towards in the beginning, and which do you feel you’ve mastered?
APN: The steel drum or “pan,” which was an instrument developed in Trinidad & Tobago, has an influence on all Trinidadians, myself included. I also play tenor sax, flute, some keyboards, guitar, and definitely percussion, which includes my hub iron.
P: Tell us a little bit about your move to America, and what the scene was like in Minneapolis as you tried to bring world music in.
APN: Before I came to the U.S., I was in a small musical group called the Southern Gestures. I originally came to the U.S. in 1969 to study as a medical technician, which I accomplished. After that, however, I met a number of West Indians and American musicians in the Twin Cities, and we formed a group called Shangoya. At that time, no one knew about reggae, they knew a little about calypso from Belafonte. We were the first Caribbean musicians in the Twin Cities.
P: How have things changed since then? Do you feel that people are more curious about and accepting of world music these days?
APN: People are much more aware and knowledgeable about world music today, and Shangoya has been a big influence in the Tri-state area and beyond. The music speaks to people in a very positive way, and people are naturally drawn to it.
P: You’ve worked with some pretty famous people over the years. What was it like opening for The Clash?
APN: It was an unforgettable moment. The crowd was huge- the first time I saw a crowd that large!
P: Tell us about meeting and working with Peter Himmelman.
APN: We used to play Lake Harriet every 4th of July many years ago, and (one year) in that large crowd at the old bandstand, was Peter Himmelman, checking out Shangoya. After we played, he introduced himself, and said he was the missing piece that we needed. That impressed me, and I gave him an audition, and that was it. He was really good, yes. He brought the American side of our musical fusion. We’re hoping to get Peter for a reunion one of these good days.
P: You’re celebrating 30 years as a band at this weekend’s Cabooze gig. Tell us about who’s coming, and your feelings about the reunion. You must be very excited.
APN: Besides the current members of Shangoya, there will be several original band members at the show, including bassist Lloyd Cordner, guitarist Stephen Scott, keyboardist Cherly Davidson, tenor pan player Cliff Alexis, bassist MP, and drummer Aaron Jenkins. I’m very excited about the reunion, which we’d like to have as an annual event to get all the Shangoya alumni together with the newer members and jam. It will bring back all the good memories of years gone by.
P: What do you feel your musical legacy is, or will be, here in Minnesota and beyond as time goes by?
APN: I have produced a lot of musicians and spawned other world beat groups. No matter what happens in the future with them musically, Shangoya will always have an influence within them. All my old friends always remind me of the happy times they’ve had with Shangoya.
P: What does the future hold for you and Shangoya? Fill us in on your upcoming plans.
APN: I have a new CD coming out soon, which is being produced in my own studio. It will be a collection of new compositions. Shangoya is booked every weekend into the fall, so fans will have many opportunities to come out and experience a tropical vibration. Our calendar of events and other information about the group is available at http://www.shangoya.com.
Shangoya’s 30th Anniversary Party will be held at The Cabooze in Minneapolis on Saturday, 6/22. 9PM-1AM, 21+. Call The Cabooze for more info at (612) 338-6425.