When it comes to a city that never sleeps, New York wants nothing with Port of Spain’ says Merten Kaatz, driving force behind Cree Records who is on his way to another event, the third for the night.
Cree Records the Trinidad/Germany based independent record label founded (in collaboration with German music company Bear Family Records) is focused on re-issues but also on curating events that celebrate Trinidad and Tobago’s rich and diverse cultural offerings.
It’s low season in Trinidad, which means that Carnival is not a few weeks away. But the streets are still abuzz with activity, there’s a steelband street festival happening on the Eastern Main Road in Laventille and the streets are jammed with people and the bands are playing a mix of Calypso, Bollywood classics, Funk, just about anything that will get the crowd moving. It’s nights like these that caused Merten Kaatz to decide to move Cree Records operations to Port of Spain in 2017.
Merten, who spent his nights DJing the music that he had developed a passion for in his teens – Ska, Reggae and Northern Soul- approached Bear Family Records in 2013 with some ideas for rereleases of Northern and Modern Soul records and the idea for Cree Records was born. The first release, John Harris and the Soul Sayers, was a huge success and was sold out within days. The next output was the highly acclaimed compilation “Step Inside My Soul” a collection of rare Modern Soul tunes from the vaults of Polydor Records. At this time Merten also started to work with British Reggae experts Steve Barrow and Noel Hawks on several heavyweight Jamaican releases including the compilation album “Doing Our Thing”, a follow up to Steve Barrow’s selection “Darker Than Blue” for Blood And Fire Records.
From European dancefloors to the streets of Port of Spain, Merten pursues his passion for Caribbean music. He first came to Trinidad soon after on the trail of “Wajang Woman” by Embryo/Nappy Mayers which was originally planned as a single release and turned out to become a full various artists compilation. He stayed with the late musician‘s family and got re-Christened with the nickname ‘Liming’- a Trini word for loosely sociali- sing with or without rum, music, food or the beach.
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That first trip opened the way to the next project “Lancelot Layne – Blow ‘way”, a compilation of works of Trinidad’s unsung hero and founder of the Rapso genre. This project also was the beginning of the collaboration with Trinidad based Scottish painter and record collector Peter Doig who provided the artwork. Port of Spain is far from your typical Caribbean island city – built on oil money instead of tourism – but the oil is only part of the story. The land itself is fueled by culture – masquerades, festivals, food and especially music. There are as many types of music in Trinidad and Tobago as there are festivals that celebrate the mix of peoples who were brought here, many by force, others in search of fortune, some escaping war. Indians, Africans, Portu- guese, Chinese, Europeans- whatever the circumstances of their arrival the mark they made on the land and the world was in their creative output.
‘Trinidad is a perfect storm of culture, history, business and and bacchanal – in other words it’s the perfect environment to run a record label. As much as there is go- ing on on the surface, there’s so much more that’s hidden in plain sight. It’s present in the daily lives and in the recorded music.’ Other critically acclaimed reissues by artists from Trinidad saw the light of day including Clive Zanda’s Caribbean Jazz album “Is Here With Dat Kinda Ting”, Michael Boothman’s Balearic stepper “Can’t Stop Dancing” or Leston Paul’s Boogie tune “Let’s Party Tonight”.
In early 2018 Merten took things up a notch with a collaboration of inter- national DJs and music producers on a 5th Anniversary 12” with edits and re- mixes of track from the Cree Records catalog. The result is a compilation of scorchers including Berlin’s enfant ter- rible Nomad, Lion’s Waxist, Glasgow’s Disco specialist Al Kent and Trinidad’s producer/percussionist Keshav Singh. In addition to working on reissu- es Cree Records, is also involved in cultural events like “Blow ‘way, the legacy of Lancelot Layne”, the club night “Wajang Diskotheque” as well as now collaborating with Peter Doig’s Studio Film Club project.
‘Being in Trinidad makes for two levels of operation, keeping grounded, taking an active part in the local music scene while also producing the highest quality re-issues of music from all over the world. The best thing about being here, about traveling and finding common ground through music is that it has helped me to learn and understand more about my own country and culture.’ Of course Cree Record’s release plan is not focused on Trinidad alone, other countries and musical genres are represented as well, for exam- ple Namibia with The Ugly Creatures, Ghana with Umoja I-Nity, Germany with the “German Measles” compilations, the U.S. with the “Cole Slaw” album, Jamaica with Sly & Robbie and Sweden with the Modern Sound Quintet.
‘We’ll always have an eye on the dancefloor whether it’s in Port of Spain or Hamburg, Accra or Stockholm. It helps when you’re in a place that never sleeps.’
Cree Records Newsetter
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