Prompted by her Independence tribute song, I did an interview a while back with Antiguan-Canadian pannist-vocalist-composer Joy Lapps for an article in the Observer newspaper. I thought I’d post the full text of the interview here. Enjoy!
Me: I know the song is on You Tube, but is it available for sale or download anywhere?
Joy: Yes the song can be downloaded for free at www.joylapps.com.
Me: Who was involved in the creation of the song?
Joy: I composed and wrote the lyrics and melody for the song. My husband Larnell, who is an accomplished musician, is my springboard for all of my compositions and arrangements. He definitely helped to tweak things when I first wrote the song last year. And when we had gone to the studio in late September everyone involved Andrew Stewart (the bass player) and Elmer Ferrer (the guitarist) also made a few suggestions to change a few of the chords.
Elmer Ferrer: Guitar – http://www.elmerferrer.com/
Andrew Stewart: Bass –http://www.myspace.com/stewbassart
Percussion: Larnell Lewis – www.larnelllewismusic.com
Composer, Lyricist, Steel Pan and Vocals: Joy Lapps-Lewis: www.joylapps.com
Me: The song has an easy breezy quality to it and very positive vibrations – what were you thinking of when you created it?
Joy: Musically, I was hoping the song would feel like it was recorded on the veranda of my Grandma Morrissey’s house in St. John’s, Antigua…. minus the speeding cars… lol. She lives on the main road in St. John’s. I was also thinking of how I feel when I’m just relaxing near the rocks that hug the shore of Turner’s beach near my Dad’s family home in Johnson’s Point. I wanted it to be simple, acoustic, raw and fun! I wanted it to feel like a familiar calypso, but was also open to letting the other musicians involved participate without putting them in a stylistic or genre-specific box. I think music doesn’t always have to be technically over complicated, but no matter what you have to feel it and connect with it.
Me: You sing and play pan on the track – and do both beautifully – can you speak to were you think your creative strengths lie and what fed/feeds it?
Joy: Well, thank you. I think that my strengths lie in composition and writing lyrics for music composed by others and by myself. My inspiration comes from my lived experience and some things I read about or see on the news, my spirituality and love of God, falling in love with my husband, the everyday challenges of life…etc. I’m currently in Houston for the week and spent last weekend in New Orleans. Just being in a space that has such a rich history especially as an African descendant and a musician and not to mention the tragedy of Katrina is really heavy. That travel experience is a source of inspiration,… at least I think it will be once I get over the shock of the entire experience.
Me: Tell me about your Antiguan roots?
Joy: Well I have 100% Antiguan heritage, not something that is very common to first generation Canadians living in Toronto. My mother is Mauline Morrissey Lapps, daughter of the Vilma Morrissey and the late Ossey Morrissey. My father is John Lapps, son of the late Jim and Edna Lapps. I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada and raised in a town just east of Toronto and recently moved back into the city. I can definitely say that my parents made a consistent effort to ensure that my sisters and I knew where we came from. We were made very aware of our Antiguan heritage and African roots. Even though I lived in Ajax, my parents would have the Observer website as the homepage on our computer so every day, I knew what was making headlines back home. They would also blast the radio shows from Observer and ZDK. I knew about elections, celebrations and the potholes that people would call in and complain about… lol. Not to mention attending and being involved in activities put on by the Antigua and Barbuda Association of Toronto and the Antigua and Barbuda Consulate in Toronto.
Me: When and how did you start playing pan? Singing?
Joy: I started playing pan in 1997 under the direction of Vince Cato at the Anglican Church of the Nativity, whose Senior Pastor at the time was Rev. Donald Butler (another Antiguan). They offered lessons to the congregation and community. My godmother offered to pay for my first set of lessons and my parents continued to nurture my love for the instrument.
I used to sing in school choirs and would participate in musicals at school and at church. More recently I’ve done some vocal training. I love to sing and on occasion insert it into my performances.
It usually enhances a performance. And sometimes you just need words to tell a story and that’s what I do tell stories through melodies, mostly with my pan, and sometimes with my voice.
Me: What do you consider to be your major accomplishments?
Joy: Major accomplishments –
– I would say finding my voice and developing the ability to express myself in my personal relationships as well as creatively
– Receiving the Access and Career Development Grant from the Ontario Arts Council
– Being nominated for a Harry Jerome Awards as well as a Caribbean Music and Entertainment Award
– Being invited to play in Moods of Pan 2004 and being invited to play in various festivals in Toronto, including Island Soul, Afro Fest, Muhtadi’s International Drumming Festival etc.
– Winning Pan Alive with Pan Fantasy in 2005, 2006 and 2012 under the direction of Al Foster
– Releasing my three CDs (How Great Thou Art, Make a Joyful Noise and It’s Christmas Time)
Me: Where does this song ‘Happy Anniversary’ fit in terms of those accomplishments?
Joy: This tribute song is really important to me. I mean what I say in the song. And although I wouldn’t typically compose in this style, it’s very important to recognize the type of music that has come from Antigua and Barbuda and the greater Caribbean and honour it.
Me: What are you creating these days? What’s next?
Joy: These days I am writing music for my trio and larger music project. I’m hoping to release an EP by early Spring and then release a full length album in 2014. I was very fortunate to record songs written by others in the past, and really look forward to recording my original works. I’m also working on different arrangements of more popular songs for the purpose of teaching the students I work with on a weekly basis.
This next year is really focussed on professional development from my musical skills to the business side of things. I’m also trying to support my husband in his musical career. I’ve been doing work in the arts over the last few years but more teaching and administration and so I didn’t put as much time into practice that I would have liked to, so now is the time for that. I plan to be in Trinidad in late January to early February to play in my first Trinidad Panorama. I was also awarded an Access and Career Development Grant from the Ontario Arts Council to study with Andy Narell in Paris next Spring. I’m really excited to study with Andy and chose him because he has carved the career path as a musician, producer, clinician and arranger that I would most like to emulate.
I’ll be back in Toronto for the summer and hopefully performing at many of our local festivals. I’ll also be preparing for Pan Alive with Pan Fantasy, the steelband I play with in Toronto.
I’m really hoping that by the summer of 2014 I will be able to tour with my band.
I’m thinking I might apply to Grad School in the next few years and somewhere in there have a baby or two.
Me: When will we get a chance to see you perform this song in Antigua?
Joy: My dream is to bring my band to Antigua to play for the Moods of Pan Festival; because it takes place in November, I think the event and the time of year would be perfect.
Me: As a member of the Antiguan diaspora working in the arts and in arts education especially what would you like to see happen in terms of exchanges and sharing between home and the diaspora in terms of the creative arts?
Joy: Well I think that the dialogue needs to stay open and remain relevant and I would definitely like to see more musicians, band and artists of various disciplines from Antigua and Barbuda visiting Toronto and other international destinations and vice versa.
It’s so easy for pop culture to dominate especially when you live in a place like Toronto. And so my generation is almost forming a new cultural identity taking into consideration our roots, but also the norms of where we live and who we are exposed to. In a situation like this my generation and the generations after me can end up having little interest in being engaged in activities and events that celebrate the Antiguan and Barbudan culture.
Me Why do you think the creative arts are important – especially in these times when they tend to get sidelined for more bread and butter economic concerns?
Joy: The creative arts are crucial because this is one of the primary ways that we are able to tell our stories and telling our stories is crucial in itself. Furthermore, I’ve spent the last 6 years freelancing as an arts educator as well as working with Drum Artz Canada, an arts and music charity committed to making arts and music education accessible to all especially children and youth in priority neighbourhoods. So I know what kind of results the right kind of arts education can yield. I work at a school where last year alone, I showed up at work and was turned back by the cops because someone had been shot at the school. At that same school, I had a student whose brother had been shot and killed. The following week I took all the youth in the program out to dinner to celebrate the year and to my surprise this student really wanted to come to take her mind off of the tragedy she had experienced. My work is done in a non traditional classroom setting, no credits. But the arts provide an opportunity for our youth to experience success, success that they might not otherwise experience in a classroom setting. But the success they gain when playing pan or participating in other artistic disciplines help to build self-esteem, they take it right back to the classroom and to their daily lives and become our beautiful and positive young leaders. The creative arts provide a vehicle through which we can invest in and positively engage our youth. And investing in and positively engaging our youth should be considered the bread and butter of our economic concerns, we just haven’t all clued in.
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