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Musicians Think There's #NoGreaterTime to Advocate for Change in Trinidad & Tobago

The group of creatives behind the musical initiative for change, #NoGreaterTime. Photo courtesy the group, used with permission.

Just about a year ago, soca singer Kees Dieffenthaller, spoken word artist Muhammad Muwakil, designer Anya Ayoung Chee, music producer Keron “Sheriff” Thompson and other Trinidad and Tobago-based creatives came together to create the project, No Greater Time.

The collaborative musical undertaking features over 35 artists, including calypso legends David Rudder, Chris “Tambu” Herbert and Ella Andall, contemporary soca stars like Destra, and the new generation of soca and calypso artistes, such as Voice and Aaron Duncan.

Heavily influenced by the 1986 calypso classic “Now Is De Time,” the Trinbagonian response to “We Are the World”, which raised money for Africa, the #NoGreaterTime music video has already been viewed over 19,000 times on Facebook alone, and close to 15,000 times on YouTube. The underlying message is to “unite people across the country rallying our citizens to collectively create a more peaceful, prosperous and unified Trinbagonian society”.

Some of the artists are now trying to make the project (which thus far, has included the song, a video and a website) more tangible by performing and sharing the message behind the “pore-raising anthem”. The concert is scheduled for November 26, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Port of Spain, Trinidad's capital city.

To learn more about this inspiring project, Global Voices interviewed the music producer, Keron Thompson, better known as Sheriff, to talk about #NoGreaterTime's genesis and mission, as it picks up momentum with the upcoming concert.

Composer Neel Dwala and producer Keron “Sheriff” Thomson recording the track to #NoGreaterTime. Photograph by Kibwe Brathwaite, used with permission.

Global Voices (GV): What was the impetus behind the #NoGreaterTime initiative? Kees said all the artists were “feeling like something had changed and something needed to be said” — what was the tipping point? And how do you go from saying something (which the song and video accomplish very well) to doing something?

Sheriff (S): I think I remember the defining moment being the murder of a female Republic Bank Employee. She was missing for a few days and when she was found, the entire country just felt heavy. Muhammed and Anya had started the conversation and Kes had joined in. My inclusion was rather serendipitous. The conversations echoed between them and other creatives, people of that ilk, so it was only natural that we all used our gifts as the best medium to do something. We all felt like we [had] had enough and it was time.

GV: Can you talk about the process of assembling this group of amazing artists to create the song and video?

S: The artists were meticulously chosen. It was difficult because with the wealth of talent we have here, it was hard to be able to include all the artists and musicians we wanted and not miss certain key people. We tried to cover all genres and all generations and get the people we believe who would echo the sentiment of the words we wrote. We still didn't get everyone we set out to get, but the energy of everyone involved seemed to align in the right way.

Soca singer Kees Dieffenthaller (R) recording his parts of the song. Photo by Kibwe Brathwaite, used with permission.

GV: What were the actual recording sessions (for both the song and the video) like and how long did they take to complete?

S: We were recording the demo for about three months, but the bulk of the song and video were recorded simultaneously over a two-day period at NAPA sometime in April 2017. The remainder of [the] artists recorded at studio express and at my studio for an additional couple of days. Ollie (the video's director, Oliver Milne) and his team were present for all of it.

GV: What outcome do your hope the #NoGreaterTime campaign will achieve?

S: Personally, I never really thought of it. Just getting to the finish line was success in and of itself. I think I just hope it has a snowball effect and many more good things come out of this as a result.

Spoken word artist Muhammad Muwakil, of the group Freetown Collective, pores over the sheet music at the recording session. Photo by Kibwe Brathwaite, used with permission.

GV: Muhammad Muwakil said it's important for artists to give answers to the problems of their times — what are the answers that this song/video puts forward? And how does it move from conversation to action?

S: There are too many problems in our time to actually list, but as he said we each have our duty to do what we can in whatever capacity we are able to. I think the fact that the question, ‘There's no greater time for…?’ made each of us think about that honestly and our responses echoed our varied views and beliefs.

GV: I assume everyone contributed their time and talent to this project gratis, but is there a charitable aspect to it? Is there some sort of built-in mechanism intended to raise funds for worthwhile causes, and if so, can you give us details?

S: We collectively decided to [let] @TOGETHERWI_ be the arm that helps deal with that. We know that there's only so much we can do and that organization has their ears to the ground in more ways than we collectively could.

GV: How do you think this initiative impacts the socio-political climate in Trinidad and Tobago?

S: At this point I don't know that it will, but I know we all hope that it does in a positive way. I hope [it] brings more initiatives like this to the forefront. A lot of good people in society have great ideas and are willing to give themselves and their time to help make even the smallest change.

GV: Measurability and transparency are important in initiatives such as these. Are there tools in place to measure the effects of this campaign? (e.g.: comparing its success with the 1986 Calypsonians for Africa song “Now Is The Time?”)

S: I, for one, didn't measure it in any way and I can't recall anything being measured apart from taking note of the traction we were getting and how far we were from where we wanted to be. I don't think we made any direct comparisons to anything else or measured the success to that extent. We were all so focused on the task at hand which was getting the project done successfully and efficiently and making sure it made it to as many eyes and ears possible.

Members of the rapso music group, 3 Canal, sing their part of the song, #NoGreaterTime. Photo by Kibwe Brathwaite, used with permission.

GV: What has the social media impact/response been so far? And how do you expect your audience to take the message from a virtual space to a real life space?

S: The response has been great. So many [people] have been a part of the cause and shown so much support. I can't count the amount of people who told me they loved the song and video and gave endless compliments. I, for one, am a bit selfish and think we can can get greater impact or do more, but with a project like this it's important to have longevity rather than great impact for a short period of time.

GV: Can you give us tangible examples of how this song is uniting people, which we understand was one of its key goals?

S: I don't have many examples, but there's just something that resonates in the video that highlights the things that we may not see otherwise. The love. The togetherness. The unity. So many people have said how proud they feel after seeing it and how much it strikes [a] chord with them. The video is the thing that makes people feel. It's the the first thing that makes people want to help, change and do/be better.

GV: “Together we aspire, together we achieve // and oftentimes I wonder is it something we still believe” — Based on these lyrics, do you feel like Trinbagonians have lost their way? What are some concrete ways to fix this crime problem, which has got so out of hand? And how can this project — and the people involved — begin to lobby for implementation? Or does the project just stop with an inspirational message?

S: It isn't so much that we lost our way as much as we need to have more people taking action. Not just talking about change, but being change or being a part of that change. We have a way here of chiming in with opinions and not much action to support it. ‘Together we aspire together we achieve’ is our motto but, given the way things are here sometimes with all the crime and negative stories, it feels like we don't practice what we preach and we all fall short in some way or another. We can do better. All of us.

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