Arts & Entertainment

Carlton ‘CR’ Roberts on a Dynamic Musical Journey

By Reginald Andrew
Carlton “CR” Roberts aspires to take his music to the top of the charts.
Carlton “CR” Roberts aspires to take his music to the top of the charts.

Carlton “CR” Roberts and his crew have been ‘rocking down the house’ in Toronto, Canada with their dynamic and spicy, groovy Caribbean rhythms.

But the versatile Saint Lucian artist is more than just another member of a jam band – as he has also weaved his way into the competitive, up-tempo Soca arena.

Ever since 1994, when the young Roberts left his homeland shores, he has been on a musical sojourn, jamming with his band – Moses Revolution, and as well, making waves doing back-ups for such greats as David Rudder, Mighty Sparrow, Baron , Calypso Rose and Bunji Garlin among other top artists.

In an exclusive with THE VOICE, CR spoke about his love for music, the passion and drive it takes to stay afloat and keep up with the ever evolving and developing musical landscape; his aspirations for future growth and promotion into the wider world of music.

No Stranger to Music

Carlton is no stranger to the music vibes. A Sagittarian by birth, born December 16 and from as early as eight or nine years old, he was already intrigued with the sounds of music and the different genres that caught his interest. And more so, with the early influence of his uncle, George “Haggai” Alcee, a former hard-hitting social commentory calypsonian – the young Roberts would go on to hit the ‘junior calypso’ big stage some years later as a teenager Kaiso contender.

Being involved in the music scene for the past 35 years, enables Carlton, a cheerful, jovial and good-hearted character by nature to fully portray his dynamic, well-tuned and well –refined personality.

“My early influence was my uncle and he actually wrote my first calypso song, and I started off as a calypsonian under the sobriquet ‘Dr. Carlton’,” declared Roberts.

He grew up in the Leslie Land, Castries area “with music in the house and there was Sparrow, Chalkdust, Kitchener every Sunday and my uncle cooking …and there’s music and more music, and music in my blood.”

Alongside Haggai, he also had the support of another writer, Kentry Jn. Pierre, his former Anglican Primary school teacher “and he helped shape the writing, while Haggai put in the bug, but he (Kentry) helped shape the direction of the conversation and from there we started pushing.”

CR comments that in some circles, he is referred to locally as ‘the Prodigal Son’, due to his absence from stage performances at home, but “because of the trajectory that my music career was taking , I decided to come back home.”

In the early days, Carlton was initially attuned to playing the key boards, but later divulged into writing calypsoes. He adds, “My calypso writing was top notch…and from Form I at the Castries Comprehensive, every year I wrote for myself. And I got to the point where I became so prolific.”

With a backup band Rhythm Krazy in CR’s corner, it made his workload easier, and the song that he won his first Junior National Monarch, in 1994 was called Discipline. He refers to that early stint with “the back-up band …as those guys that really planted the band bug in me”.

The song highlighted the need for “discipline at school” after he witnessed a physical confrontation between a Form V student and a young first-year teacher on the school compound.

Carlton recalls an interesting storyline to penning his second song at the junior Kaiso contest was entitled Back to School. As a youngster growing up in the Leslie Land, CR spent some of his free time ‘hanging out’ with kids from the area.  But that did not go down too well with some folks and they wrote to his uncle who was studying at UWI, in Trinidad, to speak to the young man.

Haggai wrote a letter in the form of a ‘X-mas card’ to his nephew, encouraging him to “go to school …since excuses makes no sense, and don’t fall to peer pressure”. Carlton says that experience jolted his senses and so he decided to pen that song.

Venturing into Greener Pastures

About a year later, he ventured into ‘greener pastures’ in an effort to help build up his music career.

Because of the contract that Roberts has with his group in Canada, and the unpredictability of staging carnival this year, he was committed to the band’s contractual arrangements to perform at scheduled events. However, when he did apply to register to compete, the calypso association personnel stated that it was too late and did not sign him up.

What was the experience like for a young artist, touring with such legends in the music industry?

“It was a humbling experience to begin with, because I couldn’t read music, but I had the ear for sounds (musically),” says Carlton.

“My vision is to uplift the standard of music in Saint Lucia. I find that for a nation that has so rich a history, we’re too far behind the other islands,” declared Roberts.

He adds that, “we’re supposed to be right up there with Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados …we cannot be so far behind.”

CR spoke about big name stars like Sparrow, Chalkdust (Chalkie) and others that “paved the way” for other acts such as Bunji Garlin, Machel Montano to follow.

“And not just going international, as in performing internationally, but making that mark internationally,” added Roberts. “But going on the charts and doing things that are worth something.”

He declared: “To date, our biggest international song is Walk and Wine. That cannot be … when now you have St Vincent coming and give us licks, Grenada giving us licks with “Mr. Killa”.

Also , Roberts feels that though Saint Lucia has produced some artists of ‘notoriety’ , yet they have not been able to command the attention like other top regional artists that have performed on BET, You tube and at other major entertainment spots .

CR purports that some of Saint Lucia’s big name artists should be in position to help “propel and empower the other artists…let’s go fellows, you all couldn’t do it on your own, let’s go now.”

He cautions that Saint Lucia “is doing the same thing with our talent …as we are doing with our natural resources” and not capitalizing on the opportunity to develop and excel with our artistic products into the wider world.

“That is why Saint Lucia will love me because they know I have that appeal,” says Roberts. “They know if we send mate (CR) to represent us, they know he can conduct himself in an interview, we know he can manage himself …we know he can go out there and fly our flag properly.”

He adds: “So, for me I was tired of flying under the radar…so, I will come to expose myself now, let’s go.”

CR admits that the experiences along the journey has helped to boost his musical career, since “performing and touring with top artists …and I had greatness all around me. And again like that person who wants to learn, you take and take and that’s where you build your vibes.”

Grateful for Family Support

He is also grateful for the support of his parents, siblings, uncle and wider family with helping to pursue his dreams.

Rehearsals for band members are held every Sunday , and according to Carlton, “that’s what keeps the chemistry moving …and the rehearsal is like a lime , it’s like a vibe and we do that every Sunday , religiously (no pun intended). Even during the off-season we get together and just keep pounding it in.”

On making preparations to perform at events, he said, “We have an extensive repertoire …and that’s because we have songs in the bag and that preparedness is always there.”

In 2000, he toured with David Rudder and Sparrow, performing the opening act with his backup band Moses Revolution, in Toronto. This hookup led to a three-year stint touring with Sparrow and his troupe, which led to Carlton gaining much exposure to the finer rudiments of live entertainment and show business.

CR says the Sparrow tour, “was part of my coming of age…that complete musician.” He later went on tour with Calypso Rose and had the honour to perform alongside the legendary Percy Sledge, of  R&B/Soul.

Along the way, and making acquaintance with other artists, he was urged to become a full-fledged musician. A musical producer aware of his vast talent encouraged him to delve into the wider spectrum of the music realm.

CR is very keen on participating in this year’s carnival season and plans to perform in all three genres, taking in; Soca, Groovy and Calypso. “One of the things that I do best is write calypso and I’m sure I can give them a run for their money, performance wise,” he declared.

Carlton has never lost touch with his roots and unknowing to some persons; he has written songs for local calypsonians such as Robbie, Lady Lynn, Minel, Taker and others.

These artists have gone on to deliver top hits in the local Kaiso arena, such as Suicide, and Message to the Youth performed by Lady Lynn, and Power of Words, and Letter from Sir John with Minel, which led her to capture the Kaiso Monarch title , that year.

Referring to the Power of Words song , he said , it was intended to stir the consciousness of local calypsonians to cut out the smutty lyrics from their tunes and act more as ‘role models’ for young and aspiring artists…

Added CR: “Music is a potent mechanism, so writers should exercise good reason when they pen their next hit to throw their fans into frenzy. They need to plot and cultivate accessing artistic mastery and then we can see a change in the culture.”

Stressing the need for an overhaul and refinement of the messages portrayed by artists in their lyrics, he laid out the lines for the Power of Words tune:

“It’s high time we realise that we don’t have to compromise our young generation

They are the future leaders of this nation

So leh we bring back a little common sense and stop singing songs of six –pence. “

Carlton, this year, released at  least five songs for the season that all turned out to be ‘hot soca tunes’ ; with the chart buster Wole getting maximum airplay locally , and in the wider region.

He eagerly looks forward to the next season, and declares, not too boastfully that, “I have about 20 songs for next year.”

However, CR says, he released the most songs by an artist /writer for the year that included; Wole, Run Dem, Dansee, Santa Say and Pray.

And he has more songs in store, from his large compilation. Come next February, Carlton intends to release at least three songs.

Speaking about the local music scene, CR, in typical Kaiso bravado declares: “There’s a need for me now …and it’s time for me now, because there’s a void at the top …and I’ll come and fill that void for them.”

He urgently wants to inject a boost into the local musical landscape.

Roberts has established a music label – Riddim Nation and is supported by a competent team, which includes Mackel John, and Juan Paris – Haggai’s son.

His band – Moses Revolution operates as a separate unit. CR says they have already been booked to perform for next year’s Caribana festival.

Typifying a real Caribbean outfit, the band is made up of artists from different islands;

CR – lead vocals/ keyboards – Saint Lucia,  Mackel John – keyboards – Dominica,  Moses – drummer – Trinidad,  Leon – bass – Dominica,  Yellows – accompanying lead singer – St Vincent, and Jad – guitarist – Trinidad.

The band has been together for the last 20 years, and have provided immense support for Carlton, along the way.

“And that’s why we can go anywhere and take on anybody, because of the chemistry …and we know how to support each other,” declares CR.

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