He’s a well-known journalist and actor who has made his mark in local theatre.
But Keino Swamber is also an accomplished singer, who has been entertaining audiences since he was barely more than a toddler.
“A lot of people know me as a journalist, fewer know me as an actor and even less know me as a singer,” he said in a Sunday Newsday interview.
“But I have been singing pretty much all my life, since the age of five when I entered primary school at La Romaine RC School.”
Swamber’s vocal ability will be featured on Sunday in It’s My Turn, his first, full-length solo concert, at Kaiso Blues Cafe, now located at 1D, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain (Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union compound).
He said patrons will experience a range of musical genres.
“The concert would be a melange of everything – a little bit of calypso, gospel, jazz, pop, R&B, some Broadway, just to show off my versatility.”
Swamber said several guest artistes are expected to perform at the event, including saxophonist Jassiem Williams, vocalist Shannon Navarro and Carissa Floyd, who had her own showcase at Kaiso Blues Cafe, several months ago.
The event, scheduled to run from 5pm to 7pm, is being hosted by his friend, singer Malika Joseph, a former member of the San Fernando-based Genesis Chorale.
Swamber was once a staple in music festivals, calypso competitions and school plays in south Trinidad and other parts of the country.
Over the years, he also acted in several musicals and concerts but has never embarked on a full solo project, until now.
He joked that he had attempted to “bandwagon”on a concert, hosted by a friend Lois Lewis, a Point Fortin resident, some years ago.
He said, “She had challenged me to do something on my own but acting and doing a full, solo performance are two completely different things and I have always had this fear of exposing myself like that, because there is a level of exposure that comes with singing in particular that I have found I wasn’t ready for.”
After deciding to pursue the project, Swamber said he was also encouraged by Simply Put musician Keron Daniel-Ferreira, who agreed to assist with the concert.
“I told him what I wanted to do and without even hearing me sing, he decided to embark on the project. So, I just decided it’s my turn to show people what I could do now.”
Having Ferreira on board, Swamber said, is a plus since he already had a band and was eager to share his expertise.
“I did not have to go searching for individual musicians to pull together for the project and we went and started exploring some songs and the project just took off.”
In the realm of theatre, Swamber’s first professional role came in 1992 with the play, The Love Nest, performed by the then San Fernando City Theatre Movement.
However, he said doing the play Beef No Chicken with the Trinidad Theatre Workshop, in 2006, has been the highlight of his acting career, thus far.
Swamber said he shared the stage with luminaries in the industry – an experience on which a price tag can never be put.
“Sharing the stage with stalwarts like Stanley Marshall, Glen Davis and Susan Hannays-Abraham, that was pretty much one of the highlights of my acting career.
“You grow up seeing these people on TV, on Westwood Park and other plays and I was sharing the stage with these people. It was a very surreal kind of moment working with them and being encouraged by them as well.”
But Swamber’s acting career has not been all smooth sailing.
The Princes Town Secondary School alumnus recalled an occasion in which he was involved in a heated exchange with a foreign director who was brought in for a specific production.
“We didn’t hit it off very well because I found that her vision for the particular piece we were doing was pretty much skewed. That was the consensus among most of the cast but I was the most vociferous.”
Swamber also recalled performing a role on crutches after fracturing his ankle during the opening night of a production.
Despite the feelings of nervousness performers often experience before and during a production, Swamber said acting offers a thrill that cannot be denied.
“You always have that bit of nervousness before going on stage but theatre, in particular, is like walking a tight rope in a circus in that on any given night, something could go wrong.
“You never know what each night would bring and there is somehow a thrill in living in that moment.”
Saying there were many occasions where stage props could not be found, Swamber said actors have also been known to “go blank” on stage.
“In that split moment, you have to find a way to bring things back without letting the audience know. To me, when it works, it is absolutely thrilling.”
Swamber enjoys getting into the character of his portrayals.
“I try to make each character as different as possible from the ones before. It gives me a chance to live in someone else’s space.”
He told Sunday Newsday because he has not had formal training in drama or theatre, it was an honour to have worked with several outstanding directors.
“I think that, in itself, is a schooling on its own. That is what has helped me continue to get roles, even up to now.”
He dismisses the view, in some quarters, that the theatre fraternity is elitist.
“I think there is a space for everybody. I have seen a space for everybody.”
He argued that community theatre spaces, be it in church or Best Village competition, must not be discarded but are as important as any other formal production.
Saying the theatre landscape is very active, Swamber added, “You always have some production happening. There is a space for the very experienced to those who now want to get into it.”
Asked if he felt the Government could do more to encourage a greater appreciation of the performing arts, Swamber recalled efforts during the former Patrick Manning administration to introduce tax incentives for business people who contribute to not just theatre but cultural events.
“But I don’t know if that was ever really actioned, and of course, you really don’t hear anything about that now.
“I am not sure how successful artistes were in getting increased sponsorship from the business sector who would then seek out the tax benefits.”
Noting the majority of actors hold full-time jobs, Swamber said very few of them are able to live solely on theatre.
“Theatre, for most of us really is a hobby and we can’t necessarily see it as a career.”
He said the local fraternity simply could not sustain actors working exclusively in theatre
“It is not like if you are in Europe where you have touring companies going from one gig to another gig. We just don’t have the amount of audience going to different theatres all the time to sustain such a industry.”
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