Caribbean music icon Desmond Waithe to give 2009 Lise Waxer Memorial Lecture

Caribbean music icon Desmond Waithe will be the featured speaker for the 2009 Lise Waxer Memorial Lecture in the Department of Music at York University on Friday, Oct. 23, at 7:30pm. His talk on “Steelpan and Calypso – Trinidad and Tobago’s Troubadours” will be framed by vintage calypso music performed live by a guest quintet comprising keyboards, bass, pan, percussion and quarto.

Waithe’s lecture will cover the history of steelpan and calypso, from the pan’s "tamboo-bamboo" roots in the 1920s and 1930s, through the evolution of the instruments using oil drums in the 1940s, to calypso’s important role in spreading news about current events, fighting the censorship of the British government and pushing the boundaries of free speech.

A native of Trinidad, Waithe is an internationally recognized expert in calypso and pan music. His career spans well over four decades of composing, arranging, teaching and promoting steelpan music. Currently on faculty with the University of Trinidad and Tobago, he is also a regional coordinator for Trinidad and Tobago’s (T&T) Ministry of Education, developing curriculum for pan in the classroom. As a musical director, he leads the champion Exocubs Junior Steel Orchestra and the Renegades Steel Orchestra, who recently performed to standing ovations at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, with T&T’s finest opera singers in celebration of the 47th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

"I have had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Desmond Waithe for over four decades as friend and as a mentor," says Lindy Burgess, who directs the Caribbean ensemble in York’s world music program. "He’s an extremely talented, accomplished musician who has travelled the globe promoting the music of Trinidad and Tobago. Along the way he has amassed numerous awards and accolades for his contributions. His visit to York University will have a lasting impact on those privileged to hear him."

"Bringing this world-renowned musician to York is a natural choice for the Lise Waxer Memorial Lecture, since Ms. Waxer’s primary area of research was Latin American music," says Professor Michael Coghlan, director of York’s Graduate Program in Music, which is hosting Waithe’s visit. "We are honoured that our students will have the opportunity to learn directly from a true pioneer of T&T’s most treasured instrument."

The lecture commemorates musician, ethnomusicologist, author and educator Lise Aerinne Waxer, an alumna of York’s music program who passed away in 2002. Waxer’s work in ethnomusicology included producing and hosting one of Toronto’s first world music radio programs on CIUT 89.5 FM and conducting fieldwork on salsa music in Cali, Colombia. She was the editor of two books: Situating Salsa: Global Markets and Local Meaning in Latin Popular Music (Routledge 2002) and the authour of The City of Musical Memory: Salsa, Record Grooves, and Popular Culture in Cali, Colombia (Wesleyan University Press, 2002), which received the 2003 Alan P. Merriam Prize and the 2003 ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for popular music. At the time of her death, Waxer was a faculty member in the Music Department at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

Waxer’s family, friends and colleagues established the Lise Waxer Memorial Lecture at York University to celebrate her love of music of all cultures and her joy in sharing that passion with others. Previous speakers in the series include acclaimed Canadian jazz artist Jane Bunnett; York music Professor Michael Marcuzzi; T.M. Scruggs, professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Iowa; and Gage Averill, then chair of the Music Department and director of the Program in Ethnomusicology at New York University.

The lecture is free and open to the public. It takes place in the Sterling Beckwith Studio, 235 Accolade East Building, on York’s Keele campus. For more information, click here.