Gary Hector is Doing Trinicana

Trinidadian singer-songwriter Gary Hector has always loved American music. For more than two decades he fronted a pair of Caribbean rock bands, Oddfellows Local and Jointpop, touring the U.S. and Europe, even playing the famed New York club CBGB, and being an active participant in the underground punk scene in Trinidad and Tobago. But since 2021, with the release of his solo album National Trash, Hector has been making exquisite, honest, American roots music, informed, naturally, as the genre dictates, by his lived experiences and the region from which he hails. In Hector’s case, the lost highway is more like a bridge.

Trinidad has its own roots music of course. Calypso originated there in the mid-1800s before spreading out to the Caribbean and beyond. In the 1970s, its popularity lagging, Lord Shorty reinvented the genre with a variant known as Soca, Soul of Calypso. It is dance music, to be sure, but also known for its lyrical beauty. Even Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan was taken by it.

“The calypso poets phrased much differently than the rest of the English guys. Because they can take words that you don’t really think of as being rhymable words and they make an entirely different language out of it,” Dylan said.

In Gary Hector’s case, the influence ran in both directions. When I asked about his path towards American roots music he paused, reverently, and said, “At the top of it all is Bob Dylan. I am a disciple of Dylan.” You can hear it in Hector’s latest singles, “Time Flies, Time Lies” and “Waitin’ Around to Go Viral,” tracks that feel like they could have leapt out of the late-stage Dylan canon. The new singles have been released in advance of Hector’s latest album Memphis Medicine, which is due out in the fall.

Hector’s education on American roots music didn’t end with Dylan. He explored other greats across this broad tapestry of American music, going on a journey that eventually led him to today’s generation of artists reviving these traditional sounds and stylings.

“I went deep down into Gram Parsons, Hank Williams, the storytellers, Waylon and Willie. I went headlong into that kind of songwriting. I wanted to how they do it, how that simple brilliance was done. I would study it. I wanted to know. I have to respect the actual traditions. It gave me some kind of new life, some kind of new oxygen to keep me going, and led me to Sierra Ferrell and these new singer-songwriter-types that I’m stumbling onto now. I had no idea they were around. I had no clue this was going on.”

Hector’s new music fuses these North American musical traditions with his island identity, and can’t resist referring to it as “Trinicana.” The blending doesn’t occur so much soncially—the steel in the music is decidedly pedal, not drums—but it’s there in the lyrics, the vocals, and the overall vibe. “The Streets of San Fernando” takes us through Trinidadian streets and neighborhoods. On the insightful “Waitin’ Around to Go Viral,” Hector sings, “He gets into his beat up car, it never made it too far, was only 81 miles down the road.”

In a genre that tends to elevate young artists who inhabit old souls, Hector offers the perspective of a soul who has also aged—he’s had a 32-year recording career—but exhibits the bustling, hopeful energy we associate with the young, or those who convert to a new cause.

Music is always a cause, a cause that is continuously moved forward through innovation and fusion, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to feel the energy in Hector’s immersion into Trinicana music.

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