In Conversation With Juliet Robin
  Aryana Mohammed
FEATURES
June 2016

One might pass Juliet Robin in the grocery or at the mall without a double take, not associating the fresh-faced sprightly beauty with the perfectly made-up avatar of her live performances. Besides, a lady never tells her age, but when she chose to divulge said information to me, I must say: Juliet’s got it going. Not just a pretty face, born into a musical family, Juliet is a very talented singer and musician, being classically trained in the piano, violin, viola and clarinet. After all, the former Director of Culture, Melville Robin, was her father. She begins with the statement, “We had no choice, we had to do music.”

Former Director of Culture, Melville Robin

No choice was no joke. Her siblings, a family of four girls and two boys, were all exposed to music. Even her mother, Rosalind, who no longer plays, wasn’t exempt from learning, becoming a pianist, cellist and singer. Coming from a deep-rooted Anglican background, at a young age she and her siblings were coaxed into playing the organ and singing for weddings and funerals at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port of Spain. They were also involved in the Trinidad and Tobago National Symphony Orchestra, indirectly founded by her father who arranged for foreign musicians to come to Trinidad to teach master classes and hold workshops in different instruments.

She continues, “We did not know anything about looking at television. No, we don’t know about that. You had to read and if we wanted pocket change, we would be paid for every hymn that we learnt. So we had to work. We had to work for our money, learning the hymns and the psalms.”

The piano was the first instrument she picked up, being taught by her father. Proudly she says, “He had an ability to play a whole bunch of different instruments but not only would he play instruments, he could teach an instrument whether or not he could play it.”

However, for her to have the best training, he hired tutors such as Stanley Roach for the violin, Daphne Coward for the clarinet and Noelle Barker (who once taught at the Guildhall School of Music) for vocal training. Juliet is currently learning to play the drums and bass guitar but confidently says, “As I got older I realized what I liked. I really, really like the piano.”

It’s her go-to instrument for her solo and band performances with the added benefit of being easier to work with for studio recordings when using MIDI. “I would play the piano and sing along and also do my background vocals and I would do solos on the clarinet but I prefer to just stick with piano because you see, when you put on your lipstick and then you know...I just prefer the piano,” she says shyly, revealing her girlish side and womanly reasoning.

Speaking about her other passions, she says, “I grew up in music but I always liked to do acting or something having to do with being on television. I never was interested in being a doctor or anything like that.”

“I liked being in the limelight, in the spotlight, so I like television, I like radio, this is the kind of thing that I like and I’m actually involved in it now,” she explains.

She refers to the fact that she now co-hosts two radio shows, “With Men in Mind” and “The Indigenous Music Show” on Power 102 FM.

We then stray to talking about her most loved musical genre, Latin, or rather, Latin Jazz. She doesn’t describe herself as a Latin jazz musician because although she composes, sings and plays the chords, she leaves the soloing to the other musicians.

She quotes international producer, Roger Ryan, saying, “You leave people to do what they can do.”

Artwork done by Neil Jason Alexander for his collaboration with Curtis Bling on “Strange Things” featuring songstress Juliet Robin

What peaked her interest in this kind of music? The radio and word-of-mouth recommendations by familiar musicians sparked interest for the music she would eventually consider her own. At that time there were no computers, which meant no Internet, yet still, she started noticing artistes like Antonio Carlos Jobim and Sergio Mendes and songs like “Girl from Ipanema” and “One Note Samba”.

Reliving her realization she says, “Then I just listened to a lot of Latin music. It’s what I really really love.”

In a common attempt to “pigeonhole” herself musically, she remembers, “From a child I was always trying to write soca songs because I thought that is what a writer did, write soca songs and I couldn’t do it. And then I thought, ok, well then I can’t write music.”

She has now disproved that theory, composing other styles of music such as R&B, Reggae, Latin Jazz and Latin Samba. In fact, she was approached by producers Curtis Bling and Neil Jason Alexander to compose the melody and lyrics for “The August Riddim” and out of that creative collaboration birthed “Strange Things”, produced at Star Studios in Santa Cruz. The song has topped Power 102’s “Indigenous Charts” four times to date - which she clarifies that she had no hand in- and a music video has been released on YouTube.

Another accomplishment came for her this year at Panorama 2016 when the Sangre Grande Chordettes, arranged by first-timer Khion De Las, got to the semi-finals in the “Large Band” category by playing “A Groovy Pan Song”, composed, produced and arranged by Miguels Camps for whom she also did the vocals.

Previously, Juliet has worked in the capacity of both vocalist and keyboardist with the bands, Charlie’s Roots, Roy Cape All Stars, Shandileer, Andre Tanker, Mano Marcelin, Prophet Benjamin, The Jazz Pickle, The Ruiz Brothers and Kelly Green and Harmony Band. She has accompanied popular artistes such as David Rudder, Machel Montano and Destra Garcia. She has also worked with Jarmo Hoogendijk, a jazz trumpeter from the Netherlands, (because of whom she has visited Holland a few times), and even Terry Brock from the band, Kansas, who she met while performing solo on a cruise ship for ten months with two keyboards and a drum machine.

She reassures those considering music as a career path by saying, “I tell anyone, music and sports will take you anywhere.”

She first began travelling because of music at the age of fourteen when she did a tour to Europe with the St. Martin’s Choir, playing the guitar, cuatro and singing. Then at age eighteen, she was invited to perform in Venezuela, for about a month, with the Caracas Youth Symphony Orchestra. Through touring with other bands, she has visited North America and the Caribbean. Juliet is also the only female musician to be featured in the book, “A Life on the Calypso and Soca Bandstand” based on the work of Dr. Roy Cape by Berkeley’s Jocelyne Guilbault and Dr. Roy Cape.

Juliet Robin and her keyboard as featured in Dr. Roy Cape’s book, “A Life on the Calypso and Soca Bandstand”

She has taught at different institutions including Morvant Anglican School, Malick Girls RC School, Trinity Junior School and St. Charles’ High School. Giving up her full-time job several years ago to pursue her dream of being a full-fledged, financially independent musician and bandleader, she generally supports herself through her paid gigs. Through the support of her friends and family (especially her “biggest supporter”, her brother, Haydn, who is generously furnishing her band room), she can fully achieve her vision for her newest endeavour, “Juliet Robin the Band”.

“Personally I always wanted to sing but because I could play, they wanted me to play,” she recounts, speaking of other bands that she has worked with. “Years ago when I couldn’t get to sing, I got a couple of drum machines and a rhythm machine and a piano and I would play and perform,” she says, describing her solo performances. But now, she’s got a band to back her up, with Sean Friday on bass guitar, Derek Cadogan on piano, Tamba Gwindi on percussion, Richard Joseph on drums and interchangeably on guitar, Neil Payne, Dean Williams and Theron Shaw. She articulates that she works with “the best” and even though she doesn’t have work for them all the time, they can do one to two rehearsals and “mash up de place”, noting that “there’s nothing better than having a live band.”

With the band, she has done a number of covers such as Kerwin Du Bois’ “Bacchanalist”, “Raze” by Fay Ann Lyons and “Fever” by Lord Kitchener. She even has a few “ready” compositions of her own, like “Samba” and “A Thousand Dreams” and has collaborated with Miguel Camps for “Take It Higher”. She has also collaborated in studio separately with Michael A. Edwards, Gabriel Pierre and Druce Joseph on the “Melanin Riddim” produced by S.I.L.O Productions.

We get to talking about the “freeness” culture in Trinidad and she states firmly, “I did it and I’m just getting tired and fed up of it now.” She hopes that things change with the new connections she’s building, namely in Kenya, as John Gitonga and Joseph Murimi who work at a television station there are trying to promote her. Long term, she plans to work on creating her own website, funding and branding, recommending to the up and coming artists to learn as much as they can about the entertainment business.

Her goal is to perform in jazz festivals around the world, making Trinidad and Tobago proud of her. She advises to be serious about the audience’s time and money so they will always want more. She also prescribes going with your “gut” feeling and one day she hopes to help others carve their niche in the industry by educating them through her experiences.

Reflecting on how her sister once described her music as sounding like “authentic Brazilian music”, Juliet sums up her passion by saying, “When you have people like my sister, who is such an accomplished musician, tell me that, or international producer, Joe Brown, you know, tell me about my music, then I will really pay attention.”

Juliet performed at TUCO’s Kaiso Karavan and held her first concert for 2016 at Kaiso Blues Cafe on 13th February, with her next concert to be held at the same venue on Saturday 11th June, 2016. Show time is at 8 pm. Tickets are $100 and to book in advance, you can contact her at julietrobintheband@gmail.com. Be sure to check out Juliet Robin on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to continue to follow her story and her music.

Juliet Robin the Band: from left to right; Derek Cadogan on piano, Sean Friday on bass guitar, Richard Joseph on drums, Juliet Robin and Dean Williams on guitar

 

 

By: Aryana Mohammed | FEATURES | June 2016


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