MEET BALTIMORE’S “PRIME MINISTER” OF MUSIC, NEIL MATTAI!

(Originally published at OnePaper.com)

by Jessyca Stansbury-McCargo

Xtra: Visit “The Caribbean Affair” Saturdays from 3-8pm EST on WEAA (88.9FM) in Baltimore, Maryland via the Socalypso Splashdown Page of: www.tntisland.com – Follow Trinidad Carnival highlights and much in the interest of Trinis everywhere on the Main Page – WebMaster: Roger Eric Vernon James
Visit Morgan State University, home of WEAA and “The Caribbean Affair: MorganStateUniversity.edu
Visit WEAA.org

The following includes an interview conducted by Jessyca Stansbury-McCargo. Her subject is Neil Mattai, Producer and Engineer of “The Caribbean Affair”. Then, Stansbury-McCargo offers a review of “The Caribbean Affair”, introducing us to the potent combo of Mattai and DJ (in the house) Smalley with “D” Golden Touch. She met with the gentlemen at the grand opening of Baltimore’s Caribbean Kitchen Restaurant (353 N. Calvert Street, Baltimore, Maryland), in September 2001.
PART ONE: Interview with the Prime Minister

Jessyca Stansbury-McCargo: When exactly did The Caribbean Affair begin?

Neil Mattai: We started somewhere around ’70 or ’77, but at that time I was not the host person, but I did that for a few years, and ah, then the program went off the air after a couple of years. And in (19)85 brought it back on. And I’ve been the host from that time. And so we’ve been on straight since ’85, and we grew from three hours to seven hours, you know; so that’s what were we stand right now is seven hours on Saturdays one to eight.

Jessyca Stansbury-McCargo: Now, we didn’t have a marathon this year. Why? What happened?

Neil: We didn’t have a marathon because of a change over in the promotional/development department. It was planned but, well actually we are right in the middle of quite a drive, but we will have one this year.

Jessyca Stansbury-McCargo: I have another question for you, but I have forgotten what it was.

Neil: (laughs) You forgot?

Jessyca Stansbury-McCargo: Yes! Oh, I know what it is… The only way that we are able to tape music and put it online is if someone is talking over it, otherwise we will all get into trouble. The sharing of music is a very touchy subject these days.

Neil: Oh really? Oh… Well you know, it’s the whole thing about, the musicians and artists. I think it’s about their interest there’s so many people are actually copying their music and broadcasting their music also. I am listening to the issues, but I am kinda, you know, leaning toward the artist’s side of it. Because I really have a problem with copying and selling music, don’t mind for personal use, you know… But folks today are copying music and selling it for $5.00 and so. But that is hurting the artists directly though, because the artists don’t benefit or anything from those deals. That’s the only part of it, you know? But, ah… Now I can use my voice to play a major role (laughs).

Jessyca Stansbury-McCargo: Yeah! Now I realize, though I didn’t realize it before, but was I inadvertently being a pirate when I was taping your shows and sending them to people?

Neil: You thought you were sharing the music. You weren’t selling, you were sharing the music. That was different because, you were supporting the music by sharing it with others. Ah, to me is not really a problem there. You know, OK, they might find that you’re copying it off and maybe you’re doing something else with it, you know, the right and ethical thing to do is if maybe it is something that sounds good, you’re to go into the store and buy the CD, you know, that’s where… you ought to be with that. To me it’s a good thing when some people expose other people to Caribbean music because when they get exposed to it they look forward to it. But, it is about buying, picking up the CD at the music store, not illegally pirating, that’s the point which needs to be understood, you know. That’s what the radio is about, putting the music out there. But you’re supposed to go to the music store and buy the CD. Therein lies the problem. That’s what’s happening. The problem is the legalities!

Jessyca Stansbury-McCargo: Are you comfortable now, knowing that people are listening to you and the crew in so many different places? (refers to the show being heard via the internet)

Neil: (Laughs with Gusto) It’s a little scary sometimes, you know. Knowing that people are listening to you.

Jessyca Stansbury-McCargo: Why?

Neil: When you do a show you are in a little booth by yourself and you sometimes don’t have any idea who’s listening and the types of persons. And when you go out and you learn the many different types of people in as many places who are listening, it can be a little (disconcerting for the) moment, you know. But we are receiving calls now from people who are all over the world and we just have somebody listening to us, you know, in Queens or in L.A. or in Miami, or wherever, you know. It just gives it a whole new dimension, it is just not local anymore, you know. Now you have to… I think about people in… even about people around the world. But still, my focus is still Baltimore, about my area! I just kinda stay with that, you know. So, if they’re listening, fine (he grins boyishly), I love the fact that they are listening and I hope they keep up their listening, but we are still a Baltimore Radio Station.

Jessyca Stansbury-McCargo: Then, I guess you’re not bothered by the fact that it is the internet?

Neil: No, the internet doesn’t bother me. It takes it all up another level altogether and ah… it’s interesting, it is interesting, but I can’t worry about that fact. You know still the paying audience is the Baltimore audience and when they hire me, they let me know that… But its all good, you know.

Jessyca Stansbury-McCargo: And you have no intention of getting any other appointments or taking any other offers to go to another city are you?

Neil: (laughs heartily) No, right now I’m in Baltimore, you know! Ah… I don’t think I’m going anywhere right now, you know. A couple of years ago maybe, I wanted to go to a bigger market or something…

Jessyca Stansbury-McCargo: The internet is really in response to the large number of people living in remote areas with no access to their Caribbean Heritage and music. Did you know that you were their musical life-line?

Neil: Right, right… You know well, that’s true, I really don’t have a problem with it, you know. I am kinda proud of it actually, you know. I’m proud that people are actually listening because that’s what we want. We want people listening. It would be a sad thing if nobody were listening, you know.

Jessyca Stansbury-McCargo: When, exactly, is the WEAA – Caribbean Affair fundraiser?

Neil: WEAA usually have a fundraiser every year in October once a year. We have a fundraiser. We have the listeners to support the radio station. We also have something called underwriting, which supports this station. So, our fundraiser is usually in October every year, you know. So, we are gearing up, right now. We also have sponsorship of events throughout the year as well. Like the Domino Competition last July.

PART TWO: Partake in “The Caribbean Affair”

For many, Saturday is the day reserved for performing domestic duties: shopping, washing, house cleaning, etc. But it is also the day to have an affair like no other: a Caribbean Affair, that is.

It’s 1:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard time), and it time for The Caribbean Affair, hosted by the dynamic duo Prime Minister (of Music) Neil Mattai (Engineer/Producer), and DJ Smalley with “D” Golden Touch (Productions). And a golden touch he has! He will touch us in areas of our psyche, which we, the audience didn’t know that we had, and he shall do that non-stop until 8:00 p.m.

Master Interviewer Neil Mattai

This intriguing pair has managed to play, jab, jive and mix its way into the hearts of listeners in an unprecedented manner. If you are faint of heart, anti-social, a wallflower, or a hermit, then this show is not for you. These seven straight hours of high energy, are the best (no exaggeration), only the best of the many flavors of Caribbean music. Each Caribbean island is represented via the musical forms specific to its respective republic. Many artists appearing at the various venues around the Baltimore/Washington area, appear on “The Caribbean Affair” prior to making their appearance on stage. One by one, they come before the Prime Minister. With their music playing as a background setting, Mattai guides each performer into the world of his audience.

The interview is a fine art that not everyone is equipped to perform. Like a master weaver, Mattai weaves the story behind the man, woman, or culture that is in the spotlight. With the rhythms that ushers the artist in, the Prime Minister has already set the tone for the interview. After this “Caribbean Affair”, the listener will truly feel that when they see the act in performance, their two worlds will mesh.

DJ Smalley Works the Vibes

The “Young Genius”, DJ Smalley, is truly one of the greatest talents alive today. Don’t let his innocent, youthful appearance fool you! He wields his magic wand like Merlin the Magician right before your very eyes. The genius: creates. None listening to The Caribbean Affair has to be told when DJ Smalley is “in the house”. He has a style all his own. His talent for “mixing” music is brilliant, captivating, unique, exciting, burning and once it gets into your mind and soul, make no mistake about it, you succumb to his magic. Soca, Kaiso, Calypso, Chutney, Bouyea, Reggae… all manner of Caribbean vibes take on a different sound while in the hands of the “Young Genius”. For the moment, time belongs to him, and like the wizard he is, he transforms it and gives it a “new” life all its own. Self-transcendence is the word which comes to mind. The music and the listeners are transcended, they become one, it is then no longer (just) music, it is an experience.

An “Affair” for all Seasons

It is 1:00 p.m., on WEAA (88.9FM). One program ends, and there is the requisite pause before the next one begins. Then comes a pulsating and distinctly Caribbean Rhythm… there is no doubt… the “Prime Minister” is in the house: OUI!

“Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello… Hello,” says the opening tune!
“Hello Baltimore!” The Prime Minister breaks into the musical whirl. The song accompanies him, “Hello Hello, Hello, Hello…” The Prime Minister wants to know: “Baltimore… ha yuh doin’?” The music rises anew: “Hello, Hello, Hello…Hello.”

Riding the rhythm with ease, The Prime Minister asks: “I said… Baltimore… ha yuh doin’?” With his inviting, teasing persona he laughs to signal that “We’ve come to do again for you today… it’s the Ca-r-ibbean Af-f-a-ir… Yes!” Be it rain, snow sleet or hail, the Prime Minister is in the house, dedicated, committed to the culture, upbeat and ready to “let it rip”. Many times he has to “hold down the fort alone”, but he keeps his audience engaged with much aplomb. As a listener, this writer can say sincerely that “The Caribbean Affair” has been a lifeline. But not for me only; “The Caribbean Affair”, which had its beginnings as an obscure radio show among many shows now, enjoys a worldwide (international) audience, thanks to the new realm of cyberspace.

What separates the Caribbean Affair from so many other radio programs is the vibrance of its personalities and the superb music. The show is powered by a crew of five. Claudette Lindsey is the moderator of the hour long “Caribbean Exchange”; Donna Powell and Yvette Lawrence-Hood present news and sports. Alongside The Prime Minister and DJ Smalley, they contribute a well-integrated program to the Baltimore/Washington area. For one day a week, the Caribbean Affair is able to do what the United Nations struggles to do, and that is to bring widely divergent peoples from the Caribbean around the world together. Indeed, the many customs, traditions, languages and cultures create a wondrous tableau. For that one day, Saturday, from 1:00 pm. to 8:00 pm (Eastern Standard time), the Prime Minister holds court, there is “Real Unity” in this world.

Jessyca Stansbury-McCargo is a new transplant to the city of Baltimore, and has only lived in the city for 2 years. She is a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and is the product of a Trinidadian father and an African-American mother. She identifies strongly with her West Indian/African heritage.

“The Caribbean Affair” she says, is Baltimore’s “Best kept secret”. In fact, upon her arrival to Baltimore, she inquired as to the whereabouts of the Caribbean/West Indian Community, and was told, “There is none.” “The Caribbean Affair” audience, which extends from the Pennsylvania State Line to encompass the State of Virginia, as well as Baltimore, Maryland, begs to differ.