Mavis John Sings. She sings above the din and
grin of our opinionated city. Her soul is a migrating wounded
bird. Can't you see that woman there - an injured wing of a boat
that has taken off. Rather, has been wrenched from the roots of
her womb, to find another place. Can't you see the smoldering
flame peep from the rust-bound blade, still steeped in the chord?
She is peopled by the voices of many that died
without uttering the promised word! Their presence is rendered as an
enduring fact, not fiction; without artifice or nostalgia, for, she
seeks after something else. She is the believer, the willing
receiver, the seed is sown!
Get it in our hardened hearts, she has not yet
found it. Hers is an all-strident longing, a longing for the "word,"
but first, she must taste the blood that was spilled for it! A blood
that when it is gathered, swells the breasts to break the suburban
and urban complacency of fashionable intelligence, in order to
What we must tune our ears to is the incessant
longing in a child's disbelief that her mother is dead! She hugs
herself as if to say, my beloved is right here with me, he has not
left me, can't you see!
In her longing, she gathers. In that manner known
to love and separation, she sings, which is to gather a community,
it's pure moments of weighing marrow for marrow in a devotion to
rendering the tenderness of that woman in her that will not go away!
She sings as if to make that time live again in a stroll where
romance ripened like unfolding petals. Knowing him again, as he
patiently unsheathes the single rose of her wondrous heart!
Over the years a legion of women, all daughters of
our rich earth, have come forth thus, their voices raised above the
roofs, with parasols lifted to the endless reaches of the skies!
Didn't our abuse of women start with our neglect and ignorance of a
legacy, set in motion by Charmaine Forde, Charmaine Yeates,
Ann-Marie Inniss, Ella Andal, Jennifer Pakeera, Carol Addison,
Melanie Hudson and Singing Sandra. There are others we think we
See her there, if you know what Eye am aiming at!
You must be familiar with that genre that includes the likes of
Miriam Makeba, Cesaria Evora, Billie Holiday, Yma Sumac, the superb
and extraordinary Nina Simone, Etta James, and distinguishes itself
by the extents that have need to be delved deep-deep in order to
attract the musings of those who, because of their incomprehensible
solitude, move, so invisibly among us.
"Mavis John Sings" is Mavis' first comprehensive
album. The selection of compositions, but for a few, has long been
the signature and repertoire of her style. It is a precious, gemlike
representation of some or our best composers. The honors list
includes Tony Wilson, Slinger Francisco, Andre Tanker, Gregory
Ballantyne, and others. Among a battery of sound specialists and
arrangers are Roger Israel and Pelham Goddard. All coming together
to make of this, not only an historic event, but a signal to what
degree of uniqueness is possible through expressions of artistic
commitment and devotion.
Hers is a supplication - ours too - before the
riddles of life that beg to forget, beg to forgive! She assures us
in the open: The Time Is Now. She convinces: You are what love is.
She admonishes: Slipping Away. She wonders: How can I love Again!
For me she rises up from the bowels of our earth to kiss the
sunshine of tomorrows in Tony Wilson's Song - We Will Make It. Let
us welcome, let us celebrate her with a glad heart! [LeRoy
Clarke, May 15th 2002]
The Time Is Now For Mavis John
By Terry Joseph
Trinidad Express December 2001
Normally, music released at this time of the
year reflects either the spirit of Christmas or advent of
Carnival, but Mavis John's new CD panders to neither emotion
Among the even more valuable things the CD Mavis
Sings does, is rescue a bundle of timeless musical values that
were risking extinction in the face of todayís preferred styles.
For openers, she sings flawlessly.
To add variety, John and executive producer
Margaret Gittens used four different engineers, as many studios
and three arrangers, delivering several distinct moods, without
sacrificing the albums fundamental sweetness and sincerity.
Even in her calypso cuts, Sparrowís Education
is treated to a sparkling bounce rhythm by arranger Pelham
Goddard, who also enhanced the contemplative value of Gregory
Ballantyneís Calypso Rising by decelerating its tempo to
that of a slow-dance.
Roger Israelís arrangement of Andre Tankerís
Morena Osha takes the listener in yet another direction and
on Tony Wilsonís Will We Make It? Ming Low Chew Tung and
Wilson deliver a touch of good olí fashioned funky stuff without
the hoopla of crashing cymbals, bells and whistles.
The result is an 11-track CD that has already
enjoyed the attention of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, New York
mayor Rudy Giuliani and even local political parties wishing to
adapt her performance of Release the Dove to their own
All this from a lady who retained no airs from
success and massive shows of adulation through almost four decades
of singing professionally. As a pre-teen, John so loved
entertaining that she sang in nightclubs robust men feared and
spoke about only in whispers to carefully selected friends.
"I actually worked in The Pepperpot and
sang for sailors at the naval base in Chaguaramas as a little girl
and performed on Sunday Serenade at an innocent age", John
said in her most matter of fact tone," because I wanted to
sing at any and every opportunity".
By the late 60s, John was a teen idol and after
growing up to wed popular radio announcer David Elcock in 1970,
teamed with him to release a fresh wave of hit songs, followed by
the first of three periods of self-imposed hiatus. "Trying to
balance my teaching career (in the sum, she taught in primary
school for 35 years) with being wife, mother and entertainer was a
little more than I bargained for", she said. But when she did
release a song, it went directly to the top of the local hit
parade, enjoying equal rotation on the party circuit. In fact, on
Mavis Sings, she restores a couple of her hits from the period,
soothing reminders that there still exists the pure form.
Mavis Sings also makes quite another kind of
statement. Itís a kind of stocktaking, she said. "Iím not
a teenager anymore and it might appear ungrateful to retire from
this plain without leaving something as testimony to the gifts God
so kindly gave me in the area of interpreting words and
reproducing melodies". In full and final settlement of that
requirement, You Are What Love Is and The Sun Didnít
Shine fill the need exquisitely.
By the same opportunity, they also provide
earliest recollections of her career. Being a neighbour of Jeffrey
Turpin, who then managed popular singing group, The Strollers,
John was proposed for the flip side of one of their singles. She
sang Itís a Mans World, and when the recording was
released, the popularity of her cut rivaled that of her host. She
became part of Turpinís caravan and recorded a second song, one
that had been refused by several performers, called The Sun
Didnít Shine. That too became an instant hit.
In the long interim between those early
successes and Mavis Sings, she took two extended vacations from
the stage, bouncing back most recently in 1995, in a dramatic role
in the play Shades of I-She, then hitting with a comeback concert
called Overdue, a title that reflected widely held sentiments.
Now retired from teaching, son Jason (currently
Parliamentís communications officer) settled at age 29 and
giving her a grandchild in the process; John sees herself doing a
little more work under the bright lights.
"For everything there is a season",
she says in deeply philosophical tone. "I prayed for guidance
as to when the time would be right and when the response finally
came, I wrote the song Time is Now. In the circumstances, I
make no apologies for slotting it as the first track on the CD, so
it would set the tone for the entire recording. It was the nucleus
of the spiritual process that started me on this project.
And I have been extremely fortunate, she said.
My manager, Margaret, identified and pursued the corporate help
that came from BPTT, Algico, Watkins and Associates, the National
Lotteries Control Board and a number of people whose inputs were
invaluable to the production.
While the CD carries my name, it really is a
combined effort, because these productions are expensive and to
have people taking the kind of time they did to ensure it was
properly done, is something I treasure.
The concept of remaining within the Caribbean
region for inspiration from our composers and being able to record
the work of writers like James Lloyd, Clifford Wilson, Christophe
Grant, Sparrow, Andre Tanker, Tony Wilson and of course, Jeffrey
Turpin was "another kind of joy altogether", she said.
Today John does a private launch of Mavis Sings
to say thanks to all those who helped her put it together and
publicise the final product.
[Reacting to comments about her recent
appearances] "People ask why not go to a bigger venue, but I
have always liked audiences whose eyes I can see", John said.
"I like warm and intimate venues, because I like to be able
to read what people feel when I perform live, so I can incorporate
as much of that as is possible when it comes time to record those
And don't even think another furlough will
follow the current wave. John recently purchased a keyboard while
in New York and plans to resume piano lessons abandoned early in
her childhood. "God has been good to me, she said. I canít
disappoint Him now".