The power of the word in the rhythm of the word.
That is Rapso music and Brother Resistance was its chief proponent.
Born in 1954 in East Dry River, Port-of-Spain, Resistance saw Rapso as a vehicle to uplift and give voice to those who couldn’t be heard.
“Rapso would be the music that we use to re-educate the nation, re-educate the communities as a whole, to re-educate the world to live a better life. We talking about a music that would essentially break down the walls, build bridges across humanity, a music that would lead the way to stamp out oppression across life,” he said in an interview with Rituals Music in the 90s.
Though Lancelot Layne is widely regarded as the originator of the genre, it was Resistance, who changed his name from Roy Lewis to Lutalo Masimba, and his band, the Network Riddum Band, that coined the name Rapso.
Resistance and Everard Romany, who went under the sobriquet Brother Shortman, founded the band which comprised a collection of musicians from the Laventille and East Dry River communities.
As a teen during the Black Power Revolution of the late 60s to 1970, which mirrored the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, Resistance was one of the young black men whose African consciousness was fuelled by the movement.
He was proud of his African roots, growing up in a community once settled by freed Yoruba slaves, where elements of African culture such as drumming endured and oppressive laws against such music forced the invention of the steelpan.
Karega Mandela, who joined the Network Riddum Band in 1975, said the Black Power period had a major impact on them.
“1970 was a significant space in the country, it had a lot of influence on the younger ones. We wanted the music to be conscious, to be something dynamic and to give people the full realisation that they are beautiful,” Mandela said.
Lancelot Layne’s groundbreaking song “Blow Away” in 1970 reinforced the idea that it was okay to be themselves.
In the song, Layne rapped: “Doh believe what foreigners do is better than you, because that ain’t true, and is a mental block you have to unlock, yuh hard like a rock. You will live an illusion trying to be another man.”
Mandela, who moved from Blanchisseuse to Tunapuna met Resistance when he linked up with a DJ group in Tunapuna. Resistance, he said, was a DJ in Queen’s Royal College and actually won an island-wide DJ school competition.
“He was always into music and was always in the record stores trying to find out what’s happening,” Mandela recalled.
In 1981, Network Riddum Band recorded and released its debut album, a 45 inch record titled Busting Out on which the word Rapso was used for the first time. The album contained two tracks “Squatter’s Chant”, penned and sang by Shortman and “Dancing Shoes” by Brother Resistance.
“The band was based in East Dry River and he had an obsession with promoting the area, he didn’t believe everything was bad. He called it EDR,” said Mandela.
He said the band practiced in an empty lot that they cleaned up but someone called the City Corporation and claimed they were trespassing. Police showed up and threw all their equipment away. A Wikipedia post said the police action was taken because the band’s music was considered subversive.
Undeterred, the band continued to practice on the street until someone offered them a garage to use.
Busting Out and subsequent songs such as “Ring de Bell” (1987) in which he unabashedly showcased his African roots, put Network Riddum Band on the map, particularly with foreign promoters and the band toured extensively through the USA, Europe and even parts of Asia.
Mandela said at home, however, the music was considered Carnival music and didn’t get the same recognition as it did abroad.
Resistance’s sound and lyrics influenced a younger generation leading to a rapso resurgence in the early 90s through the popular Kiskidee Karavan.
Omari Ashby, half of the group Kindred, one of the first groups in that movement, said while rap and dancehall appealed to him as it did so many of the youth of his era, Rapso resonated with him.
“Resistance’s entire life could be distilled in a decolonisation project where he was looking to mash up the colonial order. I was doing A’levels and I was starting to rebel against the education system, we were becoming conscious of our African selves in Trinidad and the man name was Brother Resistance, it right there in his name…you have to resist first and make a stance. Resistance is the spark of revolution. His lyrics were exactly what I needed to hear as a young revolutionary youth. Between Public Enemy and Brother Resistance I was gone. It was perfect for me at this time,” he told Loop News.
Resistance’s messages of empowerment and self-love found its way into Kindred’s hit song “This Trini Could Flow”, which, said Ashby, was literally an affirmation of talking and singing in their own Trini voices.
Ashby met Resistance when he performed a Rapso song he wrote and performed at an event at the Woodbrook Secondary School where he was a student.
Brother Resistance was present and seemed impressed with the young talent.
“He is a guy who does cheer you on, the song wasn’t that good but in terms of his reaction, I felt I wrote the best thing in the world. That confirmed that this is us and it felt so right doing it,” he said.
Ashby said while he and his partner Akinde did Rapso with the attitude of a hip-hop performer.
“Brother Resistance and Karega embraced us. I know they were getting flak from radio DJs who were saying these young boys come to mess up the music but they were not just for us, they actively fought against that narrative,” he recalled.
“It made us feel at home, it wasn’t like these lil boys coming to do hip hop with a Trini accent, it was come and do the Rapso, allyuh welcome. We had all the attitude but in our own voice and we were celebrated in the camp.”
3Canal’s contribution to the art form was also a result of Brother Resistance’s kindness and welcoming nature.
“The first thing I observed about Rapso, apart from me liking and respecting Resistance and the Riddum band is that it was embracing, encouraging, non-competitive. He had the biggest heart in the world. He didn’t cut people and say we weren’t good enough, everyone was good enough in his eyes and that is what I took from the Rapso vibration. It was a community and the non-competitive nature made it a solid entity,” he told Loop News.
Rapso’s revival through Kindred and the other groups that made up the Kiskidee Karavan paved the way for 3Canal.
In fact, Manwarren said that were it not for Resistance and Mandela they may not have been a recording act.
“It was ‘96, we were doing our J’ouvert band, it was a small, homemade affair and I was writing some text, shaping that 3Canal speech and one day I gave Resistance something and he said you wrote this? This is Rapso. I get pulled into the Rapso workshops helping them with their performance because I come from theatre and I got introduced to the fraternity. That spark started to kindle with myself, Roger and Stanton and we started singing on a couple of Resistance tracks first,” he said.
Stating that Rapso is more a philosophy than a sound, Manwarren said they were drawn to it because it was about using the voice you had to speak truth to power, challenge authority and give a voice to the voiceless.