Eastmond the expert

by Latoya Burnham

randyeastmondHe’s teacher, mentor, “daddy”, youth development advocate, musician, producer, arranger, songwriter – you’d probably run out of breath before all the words that could describe Randy Eastmond stop flowing.

Add to that list a man who does not talk about himself unless directly asked and you are left with an early 30-something year-old enigma.

I’d heard the name before, but I actually met the man himself about a year ago, when I was contacted to do a story on a project the students at Parkinson Memorial Secondary were involved in with an international group called the Catch Project. The students were creating projects based on the principles of the Olympic Games, using technology and their own skills to create a video, and Randy was the facilitator and all-round go-to guy at the school as far as the project was concerned.

Then earlier this year I was contacted again about the school’s upcoming pageant and found out again that Randy was involved with a team from the school, in putting the show together, and none can argue about the professionalism and high quality of the pageant that was. It was also at that pageant that I heard the band Revolution for the first time – and they were awesome, not only because they were a bunch of school children, but by any standard. And yet again, Randy was one of the two band directors/leaders.

And here was where I also heard about his studio, Quantum Productions, which recently released Parkinson’s first calypso CD, with nine tracks sung by students, background vocals by students and partially produced by these said young people.

Those who know him joke that he’s a man who seldom sleeps, and after listening to others and then forcing him to talk about himself, it is actually quite close to the truth.

Sitting in an office on the school’s compound earlier this week with Amber Amber Orano Barrow, Parkinson’s first calypso monarch and Randy’s prot√g√, I managed to pry some of the details about him. He’s been managing Amber’s musical career since discovering her about two years ago, trying to ensure the talented young 14-year-old, whom he admits is extremely grounded and level-headed thanks to her mother, does not flame out too early.

His interactions with her, outside of being her music teacher and pop band director, reveal an almost father-like figure, and one whose advice she welcomes. Perhaps his careful attention is because they are actually quite alike.

Amber has been singing since age four. Randy has had a love affair with music since age eight.

“From school, I would say and primary school, Wilkie Cumberbatch, singing in the choir, also doing square dancing at school, yeah imagine that; and I actually was able to host Fun School at eight years old. I guess they saw something in me that they liked and they asked me to do this and do that and it just went on.

“From there I went to Combermere School… and from first form I remember being very enthused by the music programme and the cadet corps; hearing the school band playing and hearing the cadet corps playing. So I took an interest in both bands at the same time and I joined cadets and then went to the office and said I wanted to join the school band and the guy said, ‘Ok, what instrument do you want to play?’ I said I don’t know. He looked around, picked up this big saxophone and put it in my hand and said go and learn it.”

His mother would be shocked at the instrument he brought home, and Randy would spend weeks learning to play because he just had to get it right. It was from here that his blood would be infused with a love of music.

Randy says he could have done better musically at school, but being the poster child for extracurricular activities – cadets, sports, choir – he was not singly focussed on music at that time, though he loved it.

He became the lead singer for an a cappella group formed at the school called Assured, which he says won several medals at NIFCA, performed at Teen Talent, the Opening Gala and even sang for the Governor-General. Calypsonians Lorenzo and Fabee are former members of the group which started with seven members but eventually became 11.

His first experience playing sax in a calypso tent was 1999 in Lion’s Den, a feat that several of his school colleagues had also achieved. It was then on exit from Combermere that two band mates approached him and a few others about forming their own band.

“It was music, so I was like, leh we go. That’s how Electrik was formed. We came together and started to rehearse… and we started to bring in some females. As you know Electrik became a household name in about three years … and from there I developed a love for something else musical. I also loved the bass guitar, so I would fool around on that.

“While in Electrik, we were part of a programme called Youth Achieving Results, which was an initiative of the Ministry of Culture and the NCF and the Ministry of Education, and we all then honed our craft in the various instruments through that programme. You had instruments, tutors all available to you and you could do your music theory. I earned Grade 1 to 3 at Combermere and when I joined that programme, I did Grade 4 with them.”

As a member of this young band, hearing music on the radio, Randy would go on to explore the other side of music making – production. Because the band needed to record some of its songs, he met Chris Allman of Slam City Studios, and Anthony Lowhar of CMI Studios, who would then allow him to come in and learn the ropes. It was not long before Randy was exploring his own options of having a studio and with some remodeling at home, his mother supplying him and his brother, Nitro, with some basic equipment, that he was eventually able to turn an old bedroom into his own Quantum Productions.

Having struck another chord in him, his exposure to Youth Achieving Results would leave behind the desire to do more for young people, and as a teacher he decided music being what he knew well, he could help youth develop their skills in that area.

Through former Youth Director Colin Clarke, Randy has been involved in several initiatives, including at Government Industrial Schools and he also got the opportunity to travel for conferences, seminars, and even to address the UN and the OAS at one point on youth development in the region.

“That was pretty epic, shaking in my boots and thing,” he laughs. “And then coming back here, because they challenged us to do something for the youth and I come from a small community, Vauxhall, Christ Church and I don’t remember seeing any shows or anything happening there. So I said I’m a musician, an entertainer, what can I do?”

So he consulted Clarke and came up with Vauxhall Youth Explosion, a massive youth development day of events ending with a concert featuring Buggy Fully Loaded; Mikey, Lorenzo, Blood, Jegna, which he was a part of at the time and the event was a success.

His success triggered yet another element – his production side and so far has led to several shows at the Parkinson School, the last of which was Kaiso In De Pine last Friday night.

“So I got roped into the band Jegna; I got roped into De Big Show and other tents and I would get little responsibilities to deal with various parts of the production. Then coming to Parkinson in 2008, meeting Sheldon Hope, we saw the talent in the school and I said we have to do something here, something to [create] change… I told Sheldon, we have to do something to bring out the talent and show these kids a new way of thinking because they were limited in their vision and mentality and I told Sheldon we have to show them what their possibilities are.”

And the duo of Randy and Sheldon has not looked back since. They turned students into a band, teachers and students into a production staff and in the coming semester, Randy, through an initiative of the principal Jeff Broomes, is hoping to kick off the virtual studio that will form part of the curriculum for senior students.

It’s another element he’s fully looking forward to: “In five years I would hope that I can contribute to the development of more youngsters. I get intrinsic value from seeing them grow and flourish and make their mark for people to see. I feel good to know they can go out there and command an audience, both in Barbados and the region.

“For myself, I want to leave a greater mark on the musical landscape, the songs that I write, produce, arrange. Hopefully gain some recognition and be known as one of the better producers or musicians not only in Barbados, but the region and maybe even internationally. At the end of the day, my thing is development. As long as there is development, as long as I don’t remain stagnant, I’m good.”

So his plate is full to overflowing, but Randy’s arm is long enough to catch the spill-overs. It might mean more work with the children, more commitments, longer hours planning and executing, but what’s less sleep for a man who does not understand or accept the concept of rest? latoyaburnham@barbadostoday.bb

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