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A ‘gittarman’ for all seasons

By Lara Pickford-Gordon,

You may have spotted Enrico ‘Rico Di Gittarman’ Camejo at one of the many fêtes during the Carnival season jamming on stage or leading a solo with the Viking band led by husband and wife Soca stars Ian ‘Bunji Garlin’ Alvarez and Fay Ann Lyons-Alvarez.

Over the years, Camejo has seen some of the pitfalls that come with the entertainment industry—the drugs and promiscuity for example, but says “You have to find and maintain your Catholic identity in this thing…”

Maintaining his Catholic identity keeps those negatives at bay: “People realise it is a different spirit with me …a lot of people did not come around me”.

For those who think Camejo should just stay away from Soca, he says, “We have some beautiful Soca music out there and it is not a promiscuous thing.” It is “stress relief” to be dancing and having fun.

These days a full night’s sleep is a luxury for the senior officer of the Copyright Music Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago (COTT) however, obligation to his Catholic faith is important.

Camejo’s talents support Church music ministry. Enrico, his wife Akella Hughes-Camejo and their four children – Sharissa, 2016 Junior Calypso Monarch; Stefan and Sergio—Junior Soca Monarch winners; and youngest, Shane – attend Mass at St Patrick’s RC church, Newtown on Sundays, except the third Sunday of the month. He also plays at various Church events. When his schedule is “pushing it a bit too much”, Akella reminds him of the need to focus on the more important things.

Three strings

Camejo’s first instrument was the guitar. He played chords but “did not take to it” so he learned piano which he played from age six to 12, before returning to the guitar. By then, he says, “things just started to come to me”.

Rough-and-tumble play with his brothers reduced their father Milton’s six-string to three strings but this did not deter Camejo.

“The three strings that remained on the guitar I actually made sense of …probably from my music, piano training, I was able to understand the guitar. It just appealed to me,” he told the Catholic News via voice notes (Camejo was so busy it was difficult to meet for a face-to-face interview).

His familiarity with the guitar led him to other stringed instruments, the mandolin and cuatro. The former earned him best instrumental player at the National Parang Association of T&T competitions. His “main instrument” remains the guitar.

Camejo’s first stage performance was at St John the Evangelist Church, Diego Martin. “While I would not call church ‘stage’, you are …playing for God’s people offering music ministry.”

As a Confirmation candidate, he was influenced by Allan Kelly and Allison Diaz, guitarists with the church choir. “Allan used to play a 12-string steel guitar which was really beautiful and when he played and sang, it really touched my soul. I would watch his chords and I would try and make the chords even though I had three strings,” Camejo says.

He sought Kelly’s assistance to repair his three-string guitar and after a couple weeks it was returned. When he asked about payment, although he did not have money, Kelly said the only price was to join the Sunday evening music ministry.

“Of course I was very backward” he laughs. “When I’m strumming second and third chord, the rest of the musicians gone on to chord 10 and 11 but I kept on practising and was able to keep up.”

Amazing E-Major days

The choir and musicians were asked to play at different events and their repertoire included Parang at Christmas. In time, Camejo became the leader of the musicians at St John’s.

The first band he played with outside Church was E-Major in 1995. It was an “amazing experience” performing with fellow musicians Raymond Edwards and Elliot Francois.

His experience playing with a Soca band started with Kalyan in 1997. “I really learnt a lot there. I kept to myself most of the time because I was the youngest and, being a Catholic, there were so many things I saw and really did not take part in. I exerted my energy when it was time to hit the stage.”

Camejo’s awareness of being a professional guitarist came when he was contacted to do studio work and play at shows. After Kalyan, he played with Atlantik, then Surface, and Shurwayne Winchester and You.  In 2011, he was asked to join the Asylum Family, now called the Viking Band. “It is the longest band I have been with in all the bands I performed with,” he says.

Camejo explains he got the ‘Gittarman’ title in 2001 while playing with Surface. People on the street would call out, “Aye, look de gittarman.” ‘Rico’ was the name used by friends. When he started his Facebook account, he combined the two.

An older musician once questioned his use of ‘Di Gittarman’. “Frankly, I am not the only guitar man. I am not the best guitarist. I offer something… I am just an energetic performer. When I play, I play in the pockets and try and make sure I do my part to make sure that the outfit/entity I am playing with sounds good…”

After Carnival, ‘Rico di Gittarman’ will switch focus once again. He’s looking forward to Lent and Easter. “I can’t wait to play all that beautiful liturgical music and to get into that mood…”