The trinidad Guardian / Janine and Janelle Xavier, the sisters who are the faces and voices of music duo Xavier Strings, have been travelling the region sharing their music making talent.
They recently headlined New York’s celebrations of Caribbean-American Heritage Month at the Rum and Rhythm Festival hosted by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) and debuted their live album, Xavier Strings: Live at Fiesta Plaza at the event. That performance followed festival appearances in Tobago, Barbados, St. Vincent and Trinidad, and kicked off their 2017 tour through the region.
The aim of the duo, who made their debut in 2011, is to represent T&T, broaden foreign audiences’ experience of the Caribbean, violins and style. The sisters took a moment from their schedule of performances for this Q&A with the Sunday Guardian:
When you started years ago using classical instruments to play pieces indigenous to the Caribbean that was new to most people. Are people still surprised by this?
Yes it still surprises people but we can only be who we are. We represent a love for the island life of our people and our culture with the instruments and mechanism that we love. For us that is music, violin, viola and voice.
What is your preference when it comes to music, classical or the more indigenous pieces?
We love both classical and indigenous music. Our music is generally more rhythmically complex, while western classical music is more harmonically progressive. Classical music is an art music. Composers took the folk music of Europe and built on it over many generations, adding layers of complexity. Popular music of every art form is usually easier to digest and less complex, making it more inclusive for larger numbers of people.
Describe what it’s like to bring regional music to international audiences and the response you get.
When we play, foreign audiences find a rhythm within themselves that they did not know existed and they are always surprised by it. They enjoy the experience of something familiar (violin) that is also new. Soca, calypso, reggae are and will always be popular to niche audiences and the diaspora. Regional artists like Machel Montano, Bunji Garlin, Allison Hinds, and Sean Paul have put our music into the mainstream. Electronic dance music producers also use rhythms and beats from our music, further establishing it in the psyche of global audiences, so when we get out their people feel an affinity and familiarity with the sounds even if they don’t know the song. From a Caribbean perspective, people stand in awe that the violin can play our music.
Do you feel you have attained the level of success and recognition you aimed for when you began? What else do you want to achieve?
When we first started our goal was to experiment and explore sound and create arrangements that we enjoyed. We started this while in Europe and were surprised our music ended up on BBC radio and at jazz and Caribbean music festivals. We realised that the indigenous sounds that are normal and natural to us are novel to global audiences. The Caribbean point of view is not yet fully mainstream over the airways. Our ability to make their instrument, the violin, speak with a Caribbean voice is exciting, so one of our goals is to take our music to world arenas.
We enjoy creating interesting arrangements such as we have done for the Ministry of Culture request for the Miriam Makeba Click Song or K2K’a commission of an arrangement of Coldplay’s Clock for their band launch. Our purpose now is to reach as many audiences as possible with the possibilities of the Caribbean voice in violin form
What’s next for Xavier Strings?
We have recorded our first live album, Xavier Strings Live at Fiesta Plaza, which is now available. We have also recorded a few other singles, including our original composition Calming River which is poignant now with all the natural disastera affecting the Caribbean and the wider world. We are in the process of setting up a mechanism whereby the proceeds for the sale of our single Calming River from now to December 2017 will go towards those charities involved in the relief and recovery programmes of the affected Caribbean islands. We encourage everyone to make contributions towards this worthy cause. Our neighbours are in fact our friends.