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Salon Sessions: Etienne Charles on the Roots of Carnival, and the Drive Behind 'Creole Soul'

Etienne Charles with Salon Sessions host Sheila Anderson.

The ebullient Etienne Charles does a masterful job explaining the history of the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival that goes back to African enslavement.

His new album, Creole Soul, traces its musical roots — from when the bamboo drum was banned in Trinidad to the development of the steel pan drum. Carnival is a celebration of emancipation as well as a dialogue between a society and its past and present, at the same time.

Charles also shares stories of when he met trumpeter Clark Terry, who taught the likes of Quincy Jones and Miles Davis, and his importance to the lineage of jazz. While in college, Charles was blessed to work with Roberta Flack and Ralph MacDonald. Now an assistant professor at Michigan State, he insists on teaching his students the past by making them learn King Oliver’s solo on “King Porter Stomp.”


As Charles puts it: “Jazz is Creole music — music of the new world, music for everybody.”