Listening to the music of Roland Edward Marc Yearwood, aka the artiste known as RemBunction, and affectionately called Remy, it’s obvious that he’s a versatile artiste.
From his popular, cheerful Soca Parang tunes “Mr Santa Claus” (aka Socks and Drawers) and “Macafouchette”, to the groovy ole-time Soca “Ah Diggin’ Horrors” – featuring the Mighty Sparrow, the waistline-moving “Roti & Kuchela”, the melodious, pan tune “Tell Dem”, and the introspective “A Quiet Evening”, he definitely knows the art of mixing the rhythms of Trinidad and Tobago’s diverse cultures to create a sound that is absolutely rembunctious.
Remy’s musical journey started as a young boy, singing in the school choir, and going on to win the “Boys under 11” solo category, at age 11, at the Trinidad and Tobago Music Festival. In his secondary school years at Trinity College, he sang, joined the pan side, and performed with friends as part of the R&B-tinged, quintet M.D.E., which was part of the original Kiskadee Caravan in the early 90s.
A creative multitasker – who holds Bachelor’s in Visual Communication and Business Administration from North Carolina Central University (US) – he dabbles in more than music. From his legendary and much loved Reminabox cartoon strip that ran in the Vox Magazine (published by the Trinidad Express Newspapers) in the 90s, to the animations featured in his videos, and his video production for artistes like Bunji Garlin, Fay Ann Lyons-Alvarez, Machel Montano, 3Suns, Ziggy Rankin, Ghetto Flex, Lil Bitts, Dawg E Slaughter, Denise Belfon, Shadow Man (out of St. Marten), and Isaac Blackman – under the umbrella of his company RemBunction Productions – he’s a master of many trades. Oh, and he does commercials too.
With two albums under his belt – “It Starts… Now” (2004), and “The Return of the Calypso Man” (2010) – and a slew of singles, embraced here in Trinidad and Tobago, in sister isles like Jamaica, and even in North America – Toronto and New York, specifically. He’s also currently working on two, new albums, and says we can look out for his new singles “Play on Player”, “Rudey”, “Oh Lover” – with Nehilet Blackman, “Sweat”, “Cool Wid It”, and “Who Loves Yuh”.
Check out what Remy had to tell Outlish about his new music, why he prefers digital distribution, if he’ll bring back his popular cartoon “Reminabox”, and whether his Soca Parang tunes could pigeonhole him as a parrandero.
O: First off… Yuh still getting socks and drawers?
Remy: (Laughs). Well yuh see… in all fairness… the funny thing is, the hardest thing for me to come by is socks and drawers. So now I have a shortage… yuh know. “Socks and drawers” was never literal socks and draws eh. It’s tongue in cheek in the sense of… sometimes you get gifts and you’re like, “C’mon, you couldn’t get more creative than this?” But I get that question all the time, and funnily enough, I doh get no socks and drawers no more, because like people ‘fraid they get pong.
O: What are you up to these days?
Remy: Right now we in the Christmas season, so I’ve been paranging a lil bit with the same side as in the music video, so we just hit a few locations, and I’m just performing here and there. Apart from that… always creating music, so I’m working on material, not necessarily for the Carnival season. Sometimes depending on how the energy hits it might end up in that kind of space, but most times I’m just bringing out music continuously. On the other side of things, as the videographer, director, editor guy, I’m doing some work for fellow artistes, so right now I’m finishing something for a guy in St. Marten and doing stuff for a couple calypsonians and Soca artistes. So just look out for different stuff.
O: You’ve got a lot of talents. How do you decide when and how you use them?
Remy: I always explain to people the pursuit of creativity is all related, so whether I’m doing music, art, or visuals it’s an opportunity to express myself artistically. So you’ll find that things go in a cycle; there will be times when I’m extremely ripe, musically, and then the other times the energy shifts and I’m painting, and then another time I’m in a more comic zone and I’m animating. And then of course, there’s the video production stuff, so that’s how it goes for me.
O: You’ve had a lot of success with “Mr Santa Claus”, and now you have “Macafouchette”. Is it that you’ve decided to do a Soca Parang every year from now on?
Remy: Well no. That’s just accidental. The first Soca Parang was “Mr Santa Claus”, and it happened because at the time I was doing a lot of work with Isaac Blackman, moreso on the production and artwork side of things. They were bringing out a Christmas album, and Isaac had this rhythm and when I heard it, the words just came to me, and it built from there. That year I brought out two songs – “Mr. Santa Claus” and another song on a rhythm called the “Stagger” rhythm with myself, Isaac and Sheldon Blackman “Oh no ah hadda be home for Christmas” (singing), and that was fairly liked as well.
I guess once you open up a creative channel, more starts flowing…
O: So it’s a creative vibe…
Remy: Yeah. Sometimes you would write a song and… you need to work on it. I have more songs that I’m just waiting for the right time to bring out. This year, I wasn’t going to release a Christmas song and I actually got a call from my buddy in New York, Sean “Ma$tamind” Noel. He’s de guy responsible for de riddum for “Macafouchette”, and this one was like “Mr Santa Claus”, where I heard the beat and the words immediately came. Anytime that happens, yuh cah fight it.
O: Back in the day, your cartoon “Reminabox” was a huge hit. People want to know when you’re bringing it back.
Remy: (Laughs… Heh heh heh). Well you see de ting with Reminabox… again everything in its time and place, and that was a period… I mean the energy of that was just right… that era of the Vox Magazine. When that came out, my mind was there. I’m not saying that in years to come it might not swing back that way, but right now, I don’t really have any intentions of doing that, but I’m quite flattered and honoured that people remember it to this day.
What I’ll tell them is, aye we still have a bit of that energy when I do the cartoon stuff for my videos… so sorry to disappoint, but for right now I doh think Reminabox coming back anytime soon. Maybe I might do a lil compilation and put it in a book or something ‘cause that might be fun to do. But right now… Rem outta de box.
O: So your videos always have cartoons and animation. You do all of it yourself?
Remy: Yes. So basically you’re still seeing Remy drawing, but now we just translate things from the page to the moving object. It was always a natural progression for me, because even when I was doing cartooning, I had always been fascinated by the moving image as well – motion picture and animation.
O: That’s a lot to take on creatively. How do you manage?
Remy: I’ve sat down many sleepless nights and sometimes I doh understand why I do these things that I do, but it’s for the love of it. It’s just to step out in faith and do your thing. As the old saying goes… “find something you love to do and you’ll never work a day in yuh life”. That’s a happy go lucky version of how it works, because sometimes yes you have to work, but for the most part, I love to do it.
I’m often like a man possessed. When I get an idea, I doh feel tired. So I’m going. But when I get the opportunity to sleep, yuh better believe… ah does sleep. You see when it’s my off period and my rest time, don’t call us; we’ll call you…
O: Ok. So we talked about your other projects. With the songs, you say it’s what comes to you. It’s easy to bob your head from the first listen. Do you purposefully try make infectious music or music that will make people dance?
Remy: Well I guess a part of it is that, but first and foremost it’s just what comes because at the end of the day you have to do something that people want to listen to. So I’ll get a vibe, but after that now, I have to put myself in the position of a listener as well. That’s where the structure and arrangement of a song come in, where I now have to find a way for this song to connect, because although I had fun writing it, will they have fun listening to it?
My Christmas songs usually come in the happy, happy, joy, joy zone, so I guess they can’t help but be easy to stick in your head and bring the sing along vibes.
O: What’s next? New album?
Remy: Right now I’m working on several projects. I have a very interesting concept album, which I wouldn’t divulge just yet. I’ll just say that the concept is a bit ‘out there’. It’s very different from a lot of the stuff you’ve heard from me. If you’ve followed my career, my first album was more introspective, soul-searching stuff. Then my second album harkened back to the calypso of old, where I did an updated version of calypso riddums and that kind of vibe.
I’ve never really been one to stick in a genre, but with everything, it always has that voice. You’ll always be informed by my experiences as a Trinbagonian… and again life. I have another album in the works, as yet untitled. So it’s two albums. And then apart from that, I’m bringing out singles all the time.
O: The second album… what kind of music or what kind of feel are you going for?
Remy: It’s going to be a kind of eclectic feel, but the common thread is going to be a kind of groove, Soca undertone in it, because I’ve never really been the rag and flag type of guy.
O: With “Santa Claus” and “Macafouchette”, do you think you run the risk of people, pigeonholing you as a Parang singer?
Remy: Well I could run the risk, but I think there are a fair amount of people who also know my other stuff. You have to give thanks for every group of people who embrace you. So if a group of people embrace me as a Parang singer, by all means, love up all my Parang music.
There are those who kind of see me as this introspective, lyrics man and I love that too. I also had a Chutney something earlier on called “Roti and Kuchela”, so wherever it touches I am glad that it connects with people on some level – whether it make yuh laugh, lift yuh spirit if yuh feelin’ down, or the message connects with you… I’m happy.
And this is also what also gives you the energy, and the motivation and the drive to continue doing this… ‘cause let’s be real, it’s not the easiest thing to do all the time, right – sometimes just hearing from a fan or someone who appreciates your work, gives you the encouragement to say, “Alright, it have a purpose to doing this, other than just that creative outlet”.
So I could be a parrandero, a caballero, a whateverero… if that’s how you feel de vibe, by all means, that’s no problem. Love is love.
O: You had the hit pan song “Tell Dem” for Carnival 2010. What are your plans for Carnival 2011?
Remy: “Tell Dem” was me helping out a good friend from Trinity back in de days. He had the melody and he needed somebody to add words and structure to it. I enjoyed “Tell Dem”, because I enjoy exploring all aspects of the culture and all aspects of my creative potential. It did very well in Panorama, and it was also well received in Toronto, and New York. Then people started requesting it, and I had to put it up for download. As I say, doh rule out anything…
O: On the topic of digital distribution…
Remy: That has been working better now. I doh really put a lot of stuff in stores anymore, just a few physical copies for tourists. It’s not really feasible anymore for artistes to concern themselves with physical copies, because people will always find a way now to get it online and download it.
You’ve probably heard a lot of artistes complain that they do their music, send it in, and it magically disappears and floats off in a dustbin somewhere. If the music’s good, it will play. It have too many avenues now to be fussin’ about if this particular station eh play yuh or that station doh play yuh.
O: You worked with Sparrow. Is there anyone else you want to work with?
Remy: I will work with any of de greats, as I have loved them for a long time. It was a great honour to work with Sparrow. I actually did a piece with one of the Mighty Duke songs, but unfortunately he passed before we could get to do any visuals with him. The list of people I would love to work with is a long one. I could think of David Rudder, Shadow, Brother Resistance… yuh know, all the guys who stood out for having something powerful to say and they made a lasting impression on me… Scrunter… all those guys. I have long loved the culture, so if the opportunity was to present itself, by all means.
As of this year I eh really have no collabos, but like I always say… you never know…
P.S.: Oh, and for the ladies who asked us to maco his business, he’s not married, but he has a significant other. He never really realised he made some of you swoon so – “if people think I cute, thanks”, he says, and, for those who want to know if he’s a Christian, because he works closely with the Blackmans, he avoids labels, believes in God, is working on his spirituality, and makes music for everyone.
Photography by Mark Lyndersay of http://lyndersaydigital.com. Mark Lyndersay is a professional photographer and writer working in Trinidad and Tobago since 1976. His column on personal technology, BitDepth, has been continuously published since 1995. He is currently pursuing a photo essay series about how Trinidad and Tobago pursues its culture and festivals called Local Lives. Both series are archived on his website at http://lyndersaydigital.com.
Check out the rest of this week’s issue (12/20/10; Issue 37). It’s our Christmas issue: