Multi-talented Ajamu lets ‘Compassion Reign’

Grenadian calypsonian, Ajamu. Ritchie Francis/Ritchimage
Grenadian calypsonian, Ajamu.
Ritchie Francis/Ritchimage

Grenada’s pre-eminent calypsonian, King Ajamu, is urging nationals to show compassion amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a recently-released video, “Let Compassion Reign,” Ajamu, a former perennial Grenadian calypso monarch, collaborated with 25 other Grenadian artists in a masterful production that has received rave reviews and is being featured as a promotional video for Grenada’s independence.

“I think this project is the most significant project of my entire career, because of the situation the world is facing right now, with this global pandemic, and the collective effort from all the players to get this video done even when our country was on mandatory lockdown,” Ajamu told Caribbean Life in an exclusive interview on Monday.

He said the idea behind the project was initiated by his friend Troy Garvey, a former program director of the Grenada Broadcasting Network (GBN), in a telephone conversation after releasing two compositions soon after his dad died on April 2, 2020.

Ajamu said one of the songs was a tribute to his dad, entitled “Rudolph Mitchell,” and the other was on “COVID-19.”

“At the time, the country of Grenada was on lockdown,” he said. “So, when the frustration of dealing with the loss of my dad and the pandemic started getting me down, I took (went to) my recording studio and started doing music.

“Troy thought I was in creative state of mind,” Ajamu added. “So, he suggested that I write a song of inspiration that I can get some of our local singers to perform with me. So, this is where the idea of the song came from.”

The musician – singer, song writer and composer – said “Let Compassion Reign,” seeks to convey the message: “If tomorrow should yield another chance for us to be in this life, we should try to make the best of that chance.

“So, bringing compassion to each other is a perfect way to start,” he said.

The 25 Grenadian artists who joined Ajuma on the video, released on July 23, comprise: Christy, Boyze, Black Man, Val Adams, Stumpy, Mr. Legz, Randell Thomas, Randy Isaac, Speckey, Brother B, Tall Pree, Otis, Rita Augustine, Kerleen Duncan Lewis, Arlene Joseph, Melanie Frazer, Beverly Victor, Young Sound, Pappy Boy, Valene Nedd, Akeem, Smallies, Riggy Derigs and Reggie Charles.

In 2016, Ajamu said he was hit by a potentially life-threatening illness in which many doctors predicted the worse.

But, he said, his “warrior lion spirit prevailed,” clawing his way back from the deadly grips of the Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) to make a return to his love and passion — creating world class music.

According to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, GBS is a rapid-onset muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the peripheral nervous system.

“Typically, both sides of the body are involved, and the initial symptoms are changes in sensation or pain often in the back along with muscle weakness, beginning in the feet and hands, often spreading to the arms and upper body,” Wikipedia said. “The symptoms may develop over hours to a few weeks.”

During the acute phase, it said the disorder can be life-threatening, with about 15 percent of people developing weakness of the breathing muscles and, therefore, requiring mechanical ventilation.

Wikipedia said some people are affected by changes in the function of the autonomic nervous system, “which can lead to dangerous abnormalities in heart rate and blood pressure.”

Ajamu, who is also known as “Kingman,” said he has been working diligently on his reggae album, carded for release this year.

He said his music reflects the variety of spices and musical art forms prevalent in Grenada and the Caribbean. Ajamu is adept in calypso, soca, parang and reggae.

As a truly multi-talented entertainer, few Caribbean entertainers arguably can match Ajamu for his ability to write and arrange music, and compose sharp and deep lyrics.

Ajamu, whose real name is Edison Mitchell, said he began singing calypso in 1983 after a one-year stint in Trinidad and Tobago, where he experienced firsthand “the great calypso stars in action.”

Once he arrived on the calypso scene, he said Grenadian calypso aficionados welcomed “this breath of fresh air,” dubbing him “King Ajamu.”

Ajamu has been hailed by both Calypso Rose, the Calypso Queen of the World, and the Mighty Sparrow, the Calypso King of the World, as “a gifted, talented and top-class calypsonian.”

Sparrow, who was also born in Grenada, has said that Ajamu reminded him of himself when he started his career.

Ajamu has many titles under his belt: He snatched the Grenada Calypso Monarch title eight times – in 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1995, 2004 and 2014.

He also has a soca and a road march title under his belt.

Ajamu said he has written, arranged and produced songs for several top Grenadian calypsonians, and has transformed many calypsos with his finishing touches.

He concluded what he described as “a great year” in 1997 by winning the coveted “Male Vocalist of the Year” title at the impressive “Sunshine Awards” in New York, beating out other calypso stars like Trinidadian David Rudder and Barbadian Edwin Yearwood.

Ajamu said his musical efforts have been recognized by the international music community, as he has been featured regularly in the “Bible of the Music Industry” – Billboard magazine.

For his services to the calypso art form, Ajamu became a member of an elite group of three calypsonians honored by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, with the prestigious title “Member of The British Empire” (MBE), in December 1998.

But, although Ajamu is recognized primarily for calypso/soca music, he said he is “equally at home” in the reggae genre.

With the release of his first reggae CD, “Jah is my King”, Ajamu said audiences “got a taste” of his versatility.

“Jah is my King” was followed in 2005 by the long-awaited release of “Living Water.”

The gifted musician is well respected by his peers and has performed in the Caribbean, the United States, Canada and Europe to sold-out audiences.

Ajamu said he continues to travel year-round using his voice to “croon uplifting songs that traverse musical genres.”

He said audiences and fans are captivated with his “simplicity yet intensity.”

Though a gentleman, with a down-to-earth charm, letting “Compassion Reign,” Ajamu is, unequivocally, a very serious professional.

With a discography that spans many 12” releases, and 21 albums and counting, one can safely say that music is definitely in Ajamu’s blood.

More from Around NYC