David Bitelli Interview
Hi, my name is David Bitelli, I’m a Londoner and let me give you a little background there. I’m a professional musician. And I’ve always been interested and moved by music; what you might call back music, music that has its roots in the African continent. And I was lucky, when I left music college and came back to London, I was lucky to… with a friend of mine –I was lucky enough to go down to ta pub called Cole Han (Coal? Coal mine?) on Northcote road, I think it was the Coal Han and this was like a gay – it was a gay pub, it had a theater if I remember but anyway there was a lunchtime session featuring jazz but musicians from Trinidad (I think they were from Trinidad) and the pianist was the great Russell Henderson and Russell Henderson is a fantastic person who did so much for cultural life in Britain and we were just young guys and they were so… it sort of moves me to think about it now to be honest, they were so generous with the music– they’d let us play, you know, and if you couldn’t do it, you’d have to get down and if you could, they’d encourage you, it’s a very beautiful thing. There were percussionists there, Daryl the Q I think was still around, the drummer – I’m sorry I can’t remember, a great big guy, looked a bit like Charlie Parker actually, fantastic – and there were just this whole thing, like I suppose Monty Alexander where they’re taking jazz but also that very Caribbean thing which is a fantastic combination. I knew a lot of tunes and also, there was a vibe, this is the thing, there was a vibe, it talked to the people and yes, we got to learn something of the music. And I suppose this was…uh… there was also great, the Bayley brothers and (Anni Shidad?) Ishidad – they were fantastic, there were younger generations of musician from Trinidad, like you have today, you have Ruiz, Felix and Curtis Ruiz, you have fantastic musicians and a certain feel that they have. And of course I’m living here in Harlesden and I’m just up the road from the Carnival and my wife’s a Ladbroke grove sort of born and bred and yeah, so.. and then luckily, I was, through the professional circuit, I was called to back some SOCA artists, some visiting Soca artists, which is again, it was fantastic to play with like Calypso Rose (laughs) and uhm,, Sparrow, Baron, I played a lot with Baron and people like…sorry I just can’t remember I’m terrible like this… There was a scene in South hall at the…uhm, the Rose… uhm I can’t remember the place but anyways there was a club in South Hall, they’ll know it, and various other venues. There was also that scene in Hackney, I think it was Dougie’s so we got to play with the visiting artists and they’d come with their charts, it was fantastic and then of recent times, I’ve been involved with the Calypso tent coming down to help out there and so I suppose I had that experience and knowledge of music and I suppose I must talk about Trinidad because…
As a child you heard this sort of funny this calypso on the radio and you… uh… So yes so you see he was called Lars Percival or something like that – terrific – so yeah, people had heard the calypso and you’d get this watered down version of it you know. In the states you went to New York and you had Lou Jordan playing his sort of version of what he thought Calypso was and you know, you always get this in popular culture and there’s a whole big issue there, I guess you call it cultural appropriation now, anyways , in the end you sort of get to the real thing and again I must thank Alex. I actually got to know him though his sister in fact, and she was working in a jazz club in London and we got to be friendly and she said “oh my brother, my mother’s record collection, you know they’ve got…” and I said, “Ok lend me the records” so she lent me the records and I made cassettes of them, you know, which I’ve still got, you know I still got there was “Kitchen O” and Sparrow and some Kaiso and all sorts of stuff like that and this is just a fantastic collection and, so again that goes into your musical DNA and by the time I suppose I got to playing with the tent, I knew something of the music and had a feeling for it, and so that I could be sympathetic and you know, it’s a fantastic thing to be involved with… uhmm, uh, where you see this sort of form of art that is for the every person and I suppose this is in some way, if you think about European art, where you put an artist, which is great you know and I love like Chelsea Covitz and all the rest and the opera, I’m passionate about classical music and there is a whole thing of amateur classical music and working class classical music in Britain and used to be quite strong and I suppose it still is in some ways but you know, not so much working class now but for the middle classes there is a whole thing of amateur music making..uhmm, the beautiful thing about the Calypso art is as it should be, it’s for every person and people that have got jobs, that work for the police , that work for, whatever they do, they may be a civil servant or they may work, you know, as a receptionist, they’ve got something to say, they’ve got a song to sing and then you know, helped by professional musicians to help them put it together in a format, they can do this. This is a fantastic thing. So it’s a great privilege to do this and this is something that has enriched our country. People forget this but when I think about Russell Henderson and his contemporaries, you know, you go to a school, and you know, you see kids playing steel drums, at the funeral, there were so many people and you go to carnival, you go to the panorama, and young people playing this music with such passion, it’s almost like a seed is planted by 1, 2, 3 people and by chance and they pass this on with such generosity and it’s, what can I say, it gives us so much. That’s all I have to say.
Here’s the generosity of spirit that’s coming out of its history, its naissance, its genesis was a terrible event in human history, you know, slave trade, it’s the most, what’s the word, exploitation with barbaric cruelty for material gain, you know and it’s not the only instance of such in human civilization but you know, it’s in recent parts you might say and it’s still with us today and you know, places like Brazil, USA, they all have different history and legacy and somehow they all have this generosity of spirit, somehow survives through all that. I would say that the European culture is lucky to have been given this gift and I hope Europeans can understand how lucky we are to have been given and to appreciate it. It’s not we have to be it, I’m not from Trinidad and we live in a different climate and… so yes, then we come to I suppose, what is Notting Hill Carnival, I suppose then people understand, they think it’s like a free night club in the open air and in some ways, because carnival changes in different parts of the world and I’ve got to say my experience of carnival is only in London and I’ve never been to the Caribbean, I know quite a lot about Brazilian music because again, I have a lot of friends, I’ve worked in Brazilian music, fantastic but my experience of carnival is in London and I suppose the people, they don’t understand what carnival is and what it could be and what it, perhaps, should be, and the idea that you stand in front of a loud speaker, with very loud music and get a bit drunk, you know and that’s part of it, and that release is important but the idea that it’s a creative art and I suppose the bigger London gets, the harder to involve people and I suppose they do it in Brazil, it becomes quite formal in Rio and I suppose people don’t understand what it really is and we are in Europe and that’s interesting to think about and we should be grateful for it, I think. And the organization. Yes, this is what I’d like to do. I’d like to pay tribute to the musical directors, that would be with the tent and the drummers that come and have that feel, musicality, which they play, I’m not going to name any names because I think that would be unfair but all of them, just amazing and then to the organization you know, just incredible, yeah, let’s get together and do something, you know, do something amazing you know. It’s fantastic to be part of that, it’s a great privilege, a great honor.