Drummer Juanita Clarke. (Picture by Dominique Bonnett.)
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Drummer Juanita Clarke has proven time and time again that she is good enough to hang with the best of the boys. While female drummers aren’t rare, they are the exception, and “Juanz”, as she is affectionately known, has had to make her presence felt rather loudly to be given a spot on stage.
“I am respected now. But at first I would say I was a bit shy and people would always second-guess whether I could play or not, but I think I’ve grown to a stage where I have proven myself. People were a little iffy at first at booking me for gigs,” she said.
Juanita started drumming when she was 11 years old. And by drumming, that meant banging on tables with her fists and pencils in the classrooms at her alma mater Queen's College.
“My interest in drums started when I was around 11 at high school. I met up with Daryl Springer, who is still my best friend to this day. Basically he started playing on the table with a pencil in one hand and his folded fist and the sounds he produced on that table, I was, like, ‘Yo, I like that’. So I went home and practised it so that every day I could come back and show him I could play too and it grew from there,” she explained.
The 25-year-old said everything didn’t always come naturally.
“I could always hear things but to transfer it to the hands to get it played was a bit difficult at times but somehow I always got it done. Naturally, I could always hear the beats and rhythms though,” she said with a chuckle.
Juanita said her mother recognised her raw talent and love for drumming and enrolled her in drumming classes.
“My mother got in touch with James Lovell who owns Foundation Groove Drum studios. I went to drumming lessons every Saturday and then I got involved with the steel pan group at QC and then I played in a group called a Bunch Of Bajans And A Trini. We did NIFCA for two years and from there I got tired of steel pan and took up drumming more seriously,” she explained.
Drumming has been a full-time career for her. However, she told EASY no two days were alike and some days were difficult.
“It’s a rollercoaster of emotions. Some days all you want to do is play drums . . . . Other days you think maybe I should go do something else. Most days are up, though,” she said.
At present, she is the resident drummer with De Big Show calypso tent, since 2013, and has backed many local and regional artistes since she began her career seven years ago.
“In Big Show I would have backed the likes of Red Plastic Bag, Edwin Yearwood, Mighty Gabby, Grynner, iWeb, the whole host of them and much more,” she said.
As recent as last year, Juanita worked on the Gummy Bear rhythm which was the beat for Marzville’s song Give It To Yuh, one of the biggest songs for Crop Over 2017.
And she has now branched off into producing as well.
“I have a studio called Lot 88 Productions and I’m looking to release another set of songs for Crop Over 2018. Last year I released a rhythm called Dirt Rhythm but it came out late so it didn’t get as much airplay so it was a little rough. It’s been circulating on YouTube on some vlogs though so it’s an indication for better things to come,” she said proudly.
But, one might ask, is this career choice profitable?
“Sometimes it could be profitable. It depends on how much jobs you do,” she said.
For the down-to-earth musician, it’s about much more than money for her.
“Some gigs you do are more fulfilling and that is profitable to me too. The other day I was playing and this guy who was in a bad accident six years ago, the music was so good he got up and danced and he would have been struggling to walk before. Something like that is profitable to me because the music really touched him. That meant a lot to me,” she said while reflecting.
And because of her love for being able to touch others though her work, she works extensively with special needs children as a way of giving back.
“I’m currently doing a session at The School House for the Special Needs, doing drumming and percussion with the youths there. I’m also going to be starting back at Springer School soon doing drums and percussion as well. For the special needs it’s basically to show them that despite their disabilities they could try to do something else. Playing drums is a way of expression. For the special needs also, it helps with their motor skills and for some it helps them to count and so on. It’s much more than learning a beat. At Springer it’s for inspiration so other girls can see there’s a career to be made from drumming. You can make something of yourself no matter what school you go to. If you are good at something, work hard at it and you would get through,” she explained.
From here, she is hoping to spread her talent with the rest of the world.
“I would like to travel and perform because I feel like I should share my talent with the world and not hold back. I also want to get into producing some more,” she said.
Juanita also had some words of advice for young females who would want to get into the industry but were sceptical.
“Don’t ever let anyone get you down. Don’t let anyone stop you from reaching your goals. Practise hard, hard, hard. Practise every day if you could and things will work out how they’re supposed to,” she said. (DB)