Ella Andall: spirit dancer

Written and published in CariVele Magazine for their special issue commemorating the 50th anniversary of Trinidad & Tobago’s independence 

“I am not afraid to sacrifice for my fellow man

Prepare me now to dance this dance, spirit hold my hand…

I could make de grade, I could make de grade, I eh ‘fraid…!”

            – Spirit Dancer

Ella Andall first captured many people’s attention en route to the Calypso Monarch finals in 1996. Several of her songs had already become local and diaspora hits over the previous two decades, among them “Black Woman”, “Different People”, “Hello Africa” and “Bring Down the Power”. Many in the music industry also already knew – and sometimes feared – the power, presence, and passion of this unique singer-songwriter who so many lovingly refer to either as “Queen” or just “Ma”.

But the road from the calypso tents to the semis (Calypso Fiesta) and then the finals on the Dimanche Gras stage brought this musical warrior to the eyes, ears and hearts of a much wider audience. There was nothing and no-one else like her in the competition, and perhaps never had been. The dignity, pride and power of her voice, in her lyrics, and in her very presence were undeniable, and left an indelible impression on the consciousness of all who bore witness.

Now nearly 50 years into her trailblazing musical career, Ella Andall is a living legend. Both the woman and her music defy definition. Fiercely connected to herself, her heritage, her music, and the people around her, Ella simply is. And what she is brings light and healing to many, rejuvenating the spirits of individuals, communities, and even a diaspora.

Music was both in Ella’s spirit, and in her blood. Growing up in Grenada and then Trinidad, it seemed everyone in her family sang or played an instrument. And unlike many in the new world who made a conscious decision to identify more strongly with their African roots after the 1960s and 70s, it has always been a way of life for Ella. How she dresses, her beliefs, and most importantly what and how she writes and sings have all been a part of her since childhood.

Andall was raised on Orisa praise songs or oriki. She incorporated them, and of course African drums, into her recordings over the decades. But it was in 1999, with her recording of oriki to Ogun, Orisa god of iron and war, that she began recording a series of albums dedicated to various Orisas. As a cultural archive of praise songs that survived the Middle Passage, these Orisa suites are perhaps Ella’s greatest contribution not just to Trinidad & Tobago, but the Caribbean diaspora. They have become the soundtrack for every context calling for an authentic African vibration – from Best Village to the national Music Festival, from children’s dance classes to international films, and invariably at emancipation and abolition celebrations throughout the Caribbean diaspora and as far as the African continent.

Following the success and appeal of Oriki Ogun, Ella went on to produces five more collections of oriki, to Sango, Esu, Osun, Osain and Yemoja over the next 11 years. In fact, this is another area in which Andall is uncompromising and fairly unique in the Caribbean. She has always recorded sparingly, limiting the trips to the studio to when she had both the inspiration and financial means to follow through. She has always has been executive producer on her recordings, and remains one of the few Caribbean artists who has retained ownership of her work. She produces her music from composition to delivery, and on occasion literally has gone door to door marketing her recordings. Indeed, over the last two decades, she has been a tireless campaigner against music piracy.

Music piracy is but one of many causes dear to her heart. Of great concern to her is what she sees as the devastating impact of slavery, and the marginalisation of both black people and women in the Caribbean. She sees it most clearly in the dynamics between men and women, and in the breakdown of family and community. Implicitly and explicitly in all her recordings, there is a call for self-awareness, respect, and equality. A mother figure to many, her “children” run the gamut of age, sex, gender, class, sexuality, and creed. While her life and music are intrinsically pro-African, her humanity and sense of family extend to all.

Ella Andall remains a singular figure on the Caribbean cultural landscape. As yet, no-one has emerged to match her unparalleled talents as a singer and songwriter, her wealth of cultural knowledge, her community activism, or her style and grace. She has walked her talk and been, as Gandhi called us to be, the change she wanted to see in the world. Hers is a resplendent life force, with an ability to turn heads, shake bodies, open hearts, and heal wounds with her uncompromising commitment to her own authenticity, and to “bread, peace and justice for all”.

“Bring down the power of love I say

The power of love I say is the greatest power

Stop hell and damnation

Love to heal a nation is the greatest power”

— Bring Down the Power

AWARDS

  • 1996: Trinidad and Tobago’s Best Female Artist
  • 1997: Caribbean Entertainer of the Year
  • NACC (National Action Cultural Committee) Top 20 Stars of Gold Award for “Say My Name”
  • 1998: COTT (Copyright Organisation of Trinidad & Tobago) Female Composer of the Year Award

RECORDINGS (CD)

  • 1999: Oriki Ogun: a Suite of Chants to Ogun
  • 2000: Bring Down the Power
  • 2004: Sango Baba Wa: a Suite of Chants to Sango; and Healing Fire
  • 2007: Moforibale Esu 

  • 2008: Osun Bamise
  • 2009: Osain Ade 

  • 2010: Iba Yemoja

THEATRE

  • Carnival Messiah (1999, 2004, 2007), United Kingdom and Trinidad & Tobago
  • Yaa Asantewaa: Warrior Queen (2001), United Kingdom and Trinidad & Tobago  

     

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