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Songlines special on Ronald Snijders The World Is My Home
Ronald Snijders (1951) is the Suriname-Dutch ambassador of kaseko. Over the past five decades he has played his funky flute on four continents. Azymuth, Bassekou Kouyate and Orlando Julius recently joined Snijders on his latest kaseko-adventure.
Stan Rijven reports.
It sounds like a Monty Python sketch. Paramaribo, 1942. A colonial army unit is parading on a sweltering day to the strains of the Wilhelmus, the Dutch national anthem, being played on a 78 rpm record. Halfway through the needle gets stuck repeating the same phrase. Losing face again was not an option for the Dutch rulers: “That is why the military band of Surinam was reunited. It allowed my father Eddy to leave civil service and play music professionally” remembers son Ronald Snijders with a smile, adding: “He later became leader of the TRIS-Kapel, Suriname’s military band.”
In Ronald’s youth Anglo-American music was paramount: “Unofficial radio stations were the only ones who occassionaly played kaseko or Hindu wedding tunes. And winti-pre, our ritual religious music, was seen as idolatry and therefore forbidden.” That was until 1966, when the sixties also hit Surinam and a new consciousness grew among intellectuals. By then an esteemed bandleader, Eddy Snijders began composing marches and tunes “to which he added slight touches of Surinamese rhythms and harmonies.” Teenager Ronald started his beat group The Jewels and topped the Surinam charts in 1969 with Soul Believer: “I already played the flute but for this reason I switched to lead guitar.” However his love for the transverse flute prevailed: “It is more physical, you breathe and blow at the same time. The flute connects you directly to your subconscious”.
Suriname is a country whose unique ethnic and cultural makeup has continued to influence the music scene of its former colonizer, even since gaining independence in 1975. In the early seventies Jamaican reggae arrived in England, Surinamese kaseko in The Netherlands. While reggae conquered the globe, kaseko developed as a subcultural style in the suburbs of Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Its Latin and calypso tinged beat creolized with both pop and jazz. Besides resulting in several pop hits, in the jazz scene such substyles arose as Paramaribop and Kawina Jazz.
One of those responsible is Ronald Snijders: “I settled in the Netherlands in 1970 to study at the Delft University of Technology, my father knew all too well how difficult it was to make a living from music”. Instead of becoming a technical engineer Ronald turned into a musical pioneer. He developed his unique eclectic style while self-releasing a wide range of albums: “From the very start I tried to mix funk and fusion with my own compositions. Instead of playing Charlie Parker to a kaseko-rhythm, which happened in the Paramaribop, I choose the funky side while blending it with kaseko and kawina. As a matter of fact, kaseko and funk are not that different. They both have an angular structure, sounding rhythmic and direct. To my mind James Brown is akin to a kaseko- or kawina band.”
It proved a successful musical breed as evidenced by his tours in West and South Africa, Cuba and Eastern Europe: “Can you imagine. Playing at a festival in Lithuania, by the second song 10.000 people were already starting to dance”
In 2013 he celebrated his 40th musical anniversary with the 20 CD-compilation Made For Music, ofcourse released on his own label. A Pandora’s box full of funk, chamber music, kaseko, Brazilian, rap, winti and jazz: “People tend to forget my love of Brazilian music, and European classical music as well.”
Once sought out by Chick Corea, today Snijders’ music is hot among deejays and record collectors. His early albums are hard to find on internet, the reason why the edgy producers Nelson & Djosa honoured him with the biopic Easy man: The Story of Ronald Snijders. The film accompanies Snijders’ latest cd, The Nelson & Djosa Sessions on which nine of his classics are revived. Funky flutes and Suri sounds crossover with- among others- Azymuth, Bassekou Kouyate, Orlando Julius & The Heliocentrics and Ed Motta. Snijders: “I’m not a Surinamese musician in the Netherlands. I am a musician and the world is my home.”
ALBUM Ronald Snijders- The Nelson & Djosa Sessions (V2) | BIOPIC Easy man: the story of Ronald Snijders (46 mins) is available online
Kaseko is a fusion of African, European and Caribbean styles such as calypso. A central role is played by the skratji drum and the snare drum that constantly interact in complex ways. Songs are performed in call-and-response, backed by a horn section. (The term kaseko probably derives from casser le corps (break the body) which referred to a swift dance during the period when slavery was legal in the region.)
Kawina consists mainly of call-and-response singing accompanied by a percussion-based ensemble. There are two basic types: prisiri-kawina for secular entertainment using lyrics dealing with everyday life, and winti-kawina, used in Afro-Surinamese rituals.
Old & New Amsterdam
2017 marks the 350th anniversary of the transition of New Amsterdam into New York, commemorating a phase in the colonial competition between Holland and England. The Dutch Republic exchanged its North American colony- today’s Manhattan- for Suriname (situated between British and French Guyana) in the aftermath of the Second Anglo-Dutch War of 1665-1667. Those slaves subsequently transported from West Africa to Suriname by traders from old Amsterdam, were followed after abolition in 1863 by indentured labourers from India (Bihar, Uttar Pradesh) and Indonesia (Java). This veiled slavery economy resulted in the creolization of musical traditions from its Amerindian, African, Creole, European, Hindustani and Javanese population. Today Suriname can boast of such unique music genres as kaseko and kawina as well as its own style of gamelan derived from Javanese roots. Migrant Surinamese musicians began influencing the Dutch music scene from the 1930s onward, though mainly after Surinamese independence in 1975. Suriname’s music heritage is currently being rediscovered by a young generation in search of their roots. In the same vein as such crate digging indie labels as Soundway and Strut, the Amsterdam label Top Notch has issued re-releases from the Surinamese musical past to coincide with a new awareness of Dutch colonial history. Besides their Sranang Gowtu compilations, the 2-CD that accompanies the book 40 Years of Surinamese Music in The Netherlands offers a teasing intro to a rich but overlooked genre.
CD V.a.- Sranan Gowtu- No 1 & 2 (Top Notch, 2013 & 2016)
BOOK & 2 CD 40 Years of Surinamese Music in The Netherlands (In De Knipscheer-2016). An English language edition can be ordered directly from the publisher’s website www.indeknipscheer.com
Translation- Scott Rollins