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Profiles of Caribbean Artistry

The Man - The Arranger - The Composer

The Man

Jit Sukha Samaroo was born on 24 February, 1950 in the village of Surrey, Lopinot, one of the most elevated valleys in Trinidad’s Northern Range. This valley was settled in 1805 by the French soldier, Charles Joseph, Compte de Lopinot, who established a thriving cocoa plantation. Lopinot’s home is now a famous tourist attraction and the valley has inherited his name. Today it is inhabited by people of different races - East Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish and African, whose cultural influences have all enriched Jit’s music.

Jit attended St. Pius Boys’ Roman Catholic School in Arouca, journeying six miles daily to and from, on foot. His love for music manifested itself at a very early age and was influenced by his mother, who was a versatile dholak player. It was also particularly influenced by Parang, a Spanish-derived musical art form for which Lopinot is famous. On evenings, Jit would play his cuatro or guitar and at Christmas time, he would accompany the village parranderos with traditional house-to-house serenading into the wee hours of the morning. While barely a teenager, he formed a combo with some of his brothers and sisters. Baboolal played the maracas, Girlie the cowbell, Vidya the drums and Sonalal the scratcher. Jit played the guitar. This group eventually disbanded in favour of the steelband. However, Jit’s knowledge of the cuatro and guitar continues to influence his complex arrangements of chord progressions for steelband music.

Jit’s involvement with the steelpan began at the age of ten when he joined the Village Boys, a pan-around-the-neck steelband. At fourteen, he became a member of the Lever Brothers Camboulay Steel Orchestra. His role models are steelband arrangers Tony Williams, Ray Holman, Clive Bradley and Earl Rodney. Ironically, his arrangements have won the National Panorama Competition on nine occasions, more that any one of them. His specialty instrument is the tenor pan. In 1972, he won the Ping Pong (solo) Category at the Steelband Music Festival. As an arranger, he is intimately familiar with all other instruments of the steel orchestra. Occasionally he plays bass for the Samaroo Jets. Jit has no formal training in music. Much of his knowledge has been acquired from music icons Dr. Gordon Maliphant, Landeg White, Winifred Sitahal, Pat Bishop and the late Fr. John Sewell. As a reward for his outstanding contribution to Trinidad and Tobago’s culture, he was awarded the National Hummingbird Medal of Merit (silver) in 1987, and further honoured with the National Chaconia Medal (silver) in 1995.


The Arranger

Landig White, musical director of Lever Brothers Camboulay Steel Orchestra, recognised Jit’s outstanding skills and allowed him to help with arranging the band’s calypsoes. Jit feels that this opportunity has contributed significantly to his success. From its inception, he has done the arrangements for the Samaroo Jets, but it is his work with the Renegades Steel Orchestra that has forcefully demonstrated his genius. The year 1971 marked the beginning of his long association with them. Bertrand ‘Butch’ Kellman, the band’s pan tuner, was instrumental in making the necessary connections. From that time Jit has been largely responsible for Renegades’ achievements, winning nine Panorama Competitions between 1982 and 1997, thereby becoming the most successful steelband arranger.

In 1984 Renegades won by the widest margin ever in Panorama, 17.5 points, scoring 476 out of a possible 500 and beating All Stars into second place. In 1989 with Baron’s calypso, Somebody, Jit silenced the critics who said, "Jit can only arrange Kitchener’s calypsoes." For the first time he used as many as six rhythms in one calypso arrangement - soca, merengue, samba, zouk, calypso, and disco. It is my belief that this is one of the most formidable steelband arrangements of all time.

Over the years, I have worked consistently with some of the world’s top steelband arrangers, Leon ‘Smooth’ Edwards, Clive Bradley, Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharpe, Ray Holman, Pelham Goddard and Jit Samaroo. I met Jit in 1987 when I was introduced to the Renegades by Patrick Hamilton. He and I have worked well together since then. Someone once asked me to summarise my relationship with the major steelband arrangers. "I will seat them all at a round table, but Jit will be in King Arthur’s chair", was my reply. In 1997, Jit became the first arranger in the history of the Panorama Competition to achieve a hat trick (while simultaneously being on a hat trick of hat tricks). I hope that I am around when he attempts the beaver of beavers.

It is my belief that Jit Samaroo is the most ‘clinically accurate’ steelband arranger of all. He is capable of realising the true potential in a calypso and structuring it in a very exciting and dynamic way. His unique style is derived from the way he optimises the middle and background instruments of the steel orchestra. Execution of Jit’s arrangements literally leaves musicians drenched in perspiration.


The Composer

Jit is also a very versatile composer. A Day In Surrey and Song of Lopinot were composed for steelband music festivals as a tribute to the place that nurtured him. He also composed Saaj Sameelan for the Indian Orchestra Festival, Pan Parranda for the Parang On Steel Competition, Steelband Coup, Panman Vibration and ‘The Gaping Season’ for Panorama, as well as La Trinité for the National Steelband Pan Is Beautiful Music Festival in 1994. Noted musicologist Pat Bishop acknowledges his potential in the following words: "Jit is a very hardworking person. He has a unique arranging style, which is like his fingerprint. His family band brought him his first acclaim and it is the one thing that will bring him his major success. When this will happen I don’t know, but I hope I am around to witness it."

Jit himself is modest about his achievements. On reflection, he sees that they have all enriched his life. To him, forming the family band, winning his first title both as leader of the Samaroo Jets and as arranger of the Renegades are milestones. Another important achievement was performing in France with Renegades before a live audience of over two million people, almost twice the population of Trinidad and Tobago. "So you see," he says modestly, "to choose a main one would be quite difficult, there are so many."

© 1994, Revised 2001, Simeon L. Sandiford


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