edge

No Millionaires

Because Trini to the Bone is an individual feature, all six members of Freetown Collective will appear one-by-one over six weeks starting with co-founder Loy Lyons on 30 May and ending with co-founder, Muhammad Muwakil on 4 July.


Pictures courtesy Mark Lyndersay

Picture courtesy Mark Lyndersay
My name is Malene Joseph and I am one-sixth, or at least one part of Freetown Collective and Trinity, the three supporting vocalists.

I’m also a consultant for cultural and creative industries and manage small and large local and regional projects and contracts. It makes my brain keep working. On days of long Freetown rehearsals, I think, “Should I pack my laptop? Are we going to have downtime?”

I’m a West girl. Born, grow and schooled basically between Diego Martin and the Savannah, Bishop Anstey. Our year at Bishop’s was the last to do Cambridge A’Levels before the switch to CAPE. I almost didn’t escape the “corn-vent girl” accent. Mummy and all her family went Convent. It was a battle but I broke the pattern because all of my friends were at Bishop’s. I was the youngest of our Diamond Vale Government Primary group. [Writer] Ayanna Lloyd was one. It’s important that I went to Woodbrook Sec for form one ‘cause I identify with both school experiences.

My life has been music. We are in a house of music. My parents met playing music. My dad Richard was the drummer with Panazz Players. My mom Yolande is a music teacher. So we in this thing. I begged to go to a Panazz show when I was six. I’m the eldest of three girls and a boy Kemba is after me, then Shanna, then Joshua.

I’m not sure I want a family of my own. I’m in my mid-30s and already have a LOT going on. And my family stays close, I see a lot of them. And, yes, I know I look like 12. But, if you look closely, you’ll see the greys.

I don’t have pets. I have plants. Lots of plants. I’m a plant mummy. I have other herbs, BC Pires, but not marijuana. Plants are a way of slowing down, becoming more mindful, taking care of something. I thought, “I can’t even take care of myself! I’m always going-going-going!” No time for stillness. And then, in 2018, I ended up in hospital. Coming out of that surgery, someone gifted me a lone orchid. And I was, like, I am NOT killing this plant! I’m going to prove I can take care of myself and things! I got lovely blossoms and I was, like, okay, I can do this. I got a succulent – another plant you can’t kill. I eventually graduated to the softer ones that need more attention.

Oh, yes, I’m a reader. Books are my children, actually. I love Lorna Goodison’s work. Her complete poetry collection is always right there. Chimamanda Adichie. Salman Rushdie, that opening of Midnight’s Children where he talks about Partition. We could be here all day.

I’m not vegetarian – but maybe vegetarian-adjacent. I prefer not to eat meat and I don’t miss it. But oh gosh, you have to have a pastelle at Christmas! And DON’T give me any lentil pastelle!

This one time, I was reading one of my favourite books, One Hundred Years of Solitude. And, none of us knew but Tishanna [Williams, the third part of Trinity] and Muhammad were too! We sometimes swop around books we like and that’s how we found out. All three of us independently reading the same book at the same time!

In Lydian Steel Ensemble, I saw a lot of Pat Bishop. I always tell people she saw my trajectory before I saw it. Doing big performance things now, I always think Pat would say, “Look at her! Look at this little one!” I’m sure she’s watching down at us.

It feels like a long time ago but it was around May 2013 I joined the band. I’d just come back from my masters in creative and media enterprises at Warwick University. My cousin and I drove down to Point Fortin to see Freetown, just Muhammad and Lou. They might have had Alternative String Quartet doing something. Somebody I knew from Woodbrook Sec was working with them and he asked, “Do you still sing?” A week later he called and asked if I wanted to sing with the band.

I knew Muhammad from our final year at UWI. I thought, it’s one thing to be a friend of someone in a band, another thing to get into a band dynamic. And your friend’s band! I like being on the outside of things and telling people, “Hmmmm. You need to work on that!” They asked, “Do you know anyone who can sing?” I said, “I can’t speak for her, but I can ask my sister.” Shanna came to rehearsal – she didn’t have her daughter yet – and it worked! And then we thought we needed a third layer of harmony. And then Muhammad said, Tishanna!

Somebody on the outside might see us, and see the supporting singers as being on the side of the stage – but the way we rehearse, the way we work through creative challenges, often tends to be a wide net. Even if a song starts with the nucleus, by the time we come to stage arrangements and such, you rarely find that we are told, “You all are singing this!” We get a lot of creative leeway to arrange.

Whitney Houston! Whit-ney Hous-ton! When I was younger, I thought I could do what she did. I didn’t think I’d be famous or under lights but I thought, if music had to happen, it would be like that. Corinne Bailey Rae. Esperanza Spalding. India Arie. Jill Scott. Anita Baker. Very powerful lead voices. How does that gel with being a supporting vocalist? Well, I’ve never thought about being stage-front. A lot of the time when I tune into my favourite singers, I’m keyed in straight to THEIR supporting vocalists, listening to what they are doing and understanding the vocal elastics behind it.

Working as a team is a great thing and we’ve been working as a team since 2013, 2014. People have good days and bad days but we don’t quarrel. We know what we came here to do! If we did quarrel, people on the outside would NEVER know.

The best thing about being in Freetown is that it’s lovely to see us ALL growing as a part of this journey. We all met it at a different part of our lives and at a different level of music experience and professionalism. So I can see us all kind of fitting in and figuring out, “Okay, what is my strength, what is my weakness? Who can I lean on? What do I bring to the table? When should I keep quiet?”

The bad thing about Freetown is that it’s not what we all do, full-time. When you do something that you love, you will find a way. But do I even want to do this full-time? Who knows? Maybe if things align themselves as they should. But then, we all are really active in and contributing to other spaces in very valuable ways. So it might be a loss to those spaces if we just did Freetown.

At our show at Sound Forge this year, I’m onstage, I’m so happy to be singing for live people again. And I thought I was okay. And then we started to sing our closing number, Feel the Love. I looked out and the lights were on, dancers in white skirts, everybody singing, I was overwhelmed. I was, like, I hope nobody can see me crying! It reminded you why you do what you do, what it means to people, what it’s like being together in community with live performance after so long! I was beside myself and crying and thinking, my makeup! My makeup!

I’m going to be real-real. Trinidad and Tobago is not easy. For some of us, stable job, retire with a pension, doesn’t exist. At home in Belmont, after midnight, pan semi-finals night, I heard a pan-rack rolling by. I went outside and watched the pan-rack going up the road. I couldn’t see the people pushing it, just saw the roof of the pan-rack moving like a ghost. It was so quiet. I called my father and said, “Daddy, Trinidad okay. We okay. We going to be okay.”

A Trini is a very multi-layered person, not a single thing. We come with the bacchanal, the joy, the sadness and the laughter mixed-up together.

After having lived and studied abroad and travelled, Trinidad and Tobago is where I’m from. I’d rather figure it out together here thanPicture courtesy Mark Lyndersayin isolation outside. I am so grateful to be born here and be in the space here. I don’t know if this was the plan I had for my life but I’m here and I’m doing it in Trinidad and Tobago.




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No Millionaires

Because Trini to the Bone is an individual feature, all six members of Freetown Collective will appear one-by-one over six weeks starting with co-founder Loy Lyons on 30 May and ending with co-founder, Muhammad Muwakil on 4 July.


Pictures courtesy Mark Lyndersay

Picture courtesy Mark Lyndersay
My name is Malene Joseph and I am one-sixth, or at least one part of Freetown Collective and Trinity, the three supporting vocalists.

I’m also a consultant for cultural and creative industries and manage small and large local and regional projects and contracts. It makes my brain keep working. On days of long Freetown rehearsals, I think, “Should I pack my laptop? Are we going to have downtime?”

I’m a West girl. Born, grow and schooled basically between Diego Martin and the Savannah, Bishop Anstey. Our year at Bishop’s was the last to do Cambridge A’Levels before the switch to CAPE. I almost didn’t escape the “corn-vent girl” accent. Mummy and all her family went Convent. It was a battle but I broke the pattern because all of my friends were at Bishop’s. I was the youngest of our Diamond Vale Government Primary group. [Writer] Ayanna Lloyd was one. It’s important that I went to Woodbrook Sec for form one ‘cause I identify with both school experiences.

My life has been music. We are in a house of music. My parents met playing music. My dad Richard was the drummer with Panazz Players. My mom Yolande is a music teacher. So we in this thing. I begged to go to a Panazz show when I was six. I’m the eldest of three girls and a boy Kemba is after me, then Shanna, then Joshua.

I’m not sure I want a family of my own. I’m in my mid-30s and already have a LOT going on. And my family stays close, I see a lot of them. And, yes, I know I look like 12. But, if you look closely, you’ll see the greys.

I don’t have pets. I have plants. Lots of plants. I’m a plant mummy. I have other herbs, BC Pires, but not marijuana. Plants are a way of slowing down, becoming more mindful, taking care of something. I thought, “I can’t even take care of myself! I’m always going-going-going!” No time for stillness. And then, in 2018, I ended up in hospital. Coming out of that surgery, someone gifted me a lone orchid. And I was, like, I am NOT killing this plant! I’m going to prove I can take care of myself and things! I got lovely blossoms and I was, like, okay, I can do this. I got a succulent – another plant you can’t kill. I eventually graduated to the softer ones that need more attention.

Oh, yes, I’m a reader. Books are my children, actually. I love Lorna Goodison’s work. Her complete poetry collection is always right there. Chimamanda Adichie. Salman Rushdie, that opening of Midnight’s Children where he talks about Partition. We could be here all day.

I’m not vegetarian – but maybe vegetarian-adjacent. I prefer not to eat meat and I don’t miss it. But oh gosh, you have to have a pastelle at Christmas! And DON’T give me any lentil pastelle!

This one time, I was reading one of my favourite books, One Hundred Years of Solitude. And, none of us knew but Tishanna [Williams, the third part of Trinity] and Muhammad were too! We sometimes swop around books we like and that’s how we found out. All three of us independently reading the same book at the same time!

In Lydian Steel Ensemble, I saw a lot of Pat Bishop. I always tell people she saw my trajectory before I saw it. Doing big performance things now, I always think Pat would say, “Look at her! Look at this little one!” I’m sure she’s watching down at us.

It feels like a long time ago but it was around May 2013 I joined the band. I’d just come back from my masters in creative and media enterprises at Warwick University. My cousin and I drove down to Point Fortin to see Freetown, just Muhammad and Lou. They might have had Alternative String Quartet doing something. Somebody I knew from Woodbrook Sec was working with them and he asked, “Do you still sing?” A week later he called and asked if I wanted to sing with the band.

I knew Muhammad from our final year at UWI. I thought, it’s one thing to be a friend of someone in a band, another thing to get into a band dynamic. And your friend’s band! I like being on the outside of things and telling people, “Hmmmm. You need to work on that!” They asked, “Do you know anyone who can sing?” I said, “I can’t speak for her, but I can ask my sister.” Shanna came to rehearsal – she didn’t have her daughter yet – and it worked! And then we thought we needed a third layer of harmony. And then Muhammad said, Tishanna!

Somebody on the outside might see us, and see the supporting singers as being on the side of the stage – but the way we rehearse, the way we work through creative challenges, often tends to be a wide net. Even if a song starts with the nucleus, by the time we come to stage arrangements and such, you rarely find that we are told, “You all are singing this!” We get a lot of creative leeway to arrange.

Whitney Houston! Whit-ney Hous-ton! When I was younger, I thought I could do what she did. I didn’t think I’d be famous or under lights but I thought, if music had to happen, it would be like that. Corinne Bailey Rae. Esperanza Spalding. India Arie. Jill Scott. Anita Baker. Very powerful lead voices. How does that gel with being a supporting vocalist? Well, I’ve never thought about being stage-front. A lot of the time when I tune into my favourite singers, I’m keyed in straight to THEIR supporting vocalists, listening to what they are doing and understanding the vocal elastics behind it.

Working as a team is a great thing and we’ve been working as a team since 2013, 2014. People have good days and bad days but we don’t quarrel. We know what we came here to do! If we did quarrel, people on the outside would NEVER know.

The best thing about being in Freetown is that it’s lovely to see us ALL growing as a part of this journey. We all met it at a different part of our lives and at a different level of music experience and professionalism. So I can see us all kind of fitting in and figuring out, “Okay, what is my strength, what is my weakness? Who can I lean on? What do I bring to the table? When should I keep quiet?”

The bad thing about Freetown is that it’s not what we all do, full-time. When you do something that you love, you will find a way. But do I even want to do this full-time? Who knows? Maybe if things align themselves as they should. But then, we all are really active in and contributing to other spaces in very valuable ways. So it might be a loss to those spaces if we just did Freetown.

At our show at Sound Forge this year, I’m onstage, I’m so happy to be singing for live people again. And I thought I was okay. And then we started to sing our closing number, Feel the Love. I looked out and the lights were on, dancers in white skirts, everybody singing, I was overwhelmed. I was, like, I hope nobody can see me crying! It reminded you why you do what you do, what it means to people, what it’s like being together in community with live performance after so long! I was beside myself and crying and thinking, my makeup! My makeup!

I’m going to be real-real. Trinidad and Tobago is not easy. For some of us, stable job, retire with a pension, doesn’t exist. At home in Belmont, after midnight, pan semi-finals night, I heard a pan-rack rolling by. I went outside and watched the pan-rack going up the road. I couldn’t see the people pushing it, just saw the roof of the pan-rack moving like a ghost. It was so quiet. I called my father and said, “Daddy, Trinidad okay. We okay. We going to be okay.”

A Trini is a very multi-layered person, not a single thing. We come with the bacchanal, the joy, the sadness and the laughter mixed-up together.

After having lived and studied abroad and travelled, Trinidad and Tobago is where I’m from. I’d rather figure it out together here thanPicture courtesy Mark Lyndersayin isolation outside. I am so grateful to be born here and be in the space here. I don’t know if this was the plan I had for my life but I’m here and I’m doing it in Trinidad and Tobago.




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