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Sealed with a song

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

Sealed with a song

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They are seen and heard, clear and strong; but they do it all in the background. Who are they?
Backup singers of course, and Ian Sealy has sung with some of the best.
He is the musical director of House Of Soca (HoS), a post he took up officially back in 2009 after working with the tent for several years. He also often lends his expertise in the areas of site management and event planning for popular shows held throughout the year.
He has always been involved in the performing arts in one way another and during a recent interview, he spoke of his life-long passion for the performing arts, and how his family, including his two sisters, have also been involved.
Back in 1966, at the age of ten he entered The Lodge School and started singing in the school’s choir.  
“Also, I went to St John’s Anglican Church. At the time, my mother was the head of the Mother’s Union and as a family we used to perform at harvest festivals and that sort of thing, singing old time gospel songs. Then at the age of 14, I kinda created a l’il history. As a 14-year-old I went straight into the church choir singing tenor,” he recalled, adding: “I never really had a soprano voice, my voice broke early.”
With the help of others, he learned to follow the music in the hymnal and how to sing tenor. Also at 14 he joined the St John Dramatic and Folk Singing Group and spent ten years with them. There he learned how to play the guitar, and he was part of a contingent that represented Barbados in Guadeloupe at a folk festival. He later became a member of Sing Out Barbados in 1980. By the time he left in 1996, he had served as musical director and executive director.
“It was while I was in Sing Out Barbados that I started doing backups with the late Rosemary Belgrave and Valerie Clarke,” he recalled, looking off into the distance, no doubt picturing those early days. They started doing backups Victor Pigeon Agard who is now Dr Victor Agard, a Pic-O-De-Crop judge. Over the years, he also provided backing vocals for the likes of Romeo, TC and Kid Site.
Eventually, he went on to sing backups for three kings of kaiso on their big nights. He was part of Joseph Invader No. 3 Hughes’ big win in 1992.
Explaining that they were good friends for a very long time, and that he often did back ups for him, he said: “One of the hardest people to do backups for was Invader because he was very precise as to what he really wanted you to sing and I learned over the years that with him you had to do a lot of singing. You had to be on point and learn most of his songs.”
He was also part of the ten-voice choir that backed up Edwin Yearwood in 1995 as he sang his heart out with Voice In My Head on his way to winning the crown.
He described it as “an enjoyable moment”, and recalled the rehearsal time spent in Nicholas Brancker’s studio.
But the most fulfilling moment for him providing backing vocals for an eventual monarch, was in 2011 for David Popsicle Hall.
“At that time I had become part of the management of House Of Soca. It was so much teamwork that brought him to that stage, because at the first audition I sent him back to the drawing board, especially with the song Cornwell… .”
Suggestions were made and Popsicle readily accepted the advice. With minor changes and the addition of a few lines, the song went on to become a huge hit with audiences and helped take the crown.
While he clearly enjoyed being a part of those big wins as a backup vocalist, Ian’s career in culture involves so much more.  As musical director for House of Soca he has been working diligently with executive director Sharon Carew-White to mould the new brigade of talent. He takes care of the auditions that are mandatory for anyone – veteran or newcomer – who wishes to perform in the tent.
He provides feedback, sometimes sending people back to the drawing board with their material. He makes sure the backups gel; coordinates rehearsals with the bandleader; ensures people bring in their music scores and any other thing necessary to ensure that there is quality material coming from the House Of Soca stage. Ian explained that a turning point took place in the tent that caused management to go into rebuilding mode.
“There was a mass exodus of experience in House Of Soca and we found ourselves with a lot of unknowns. Therefore we determined that in order for House of Soca to continue to exist and for the art form to keep replenishing itself, [we would] embrace the young people and we started then to showcase a lot of them because we saw their abilities and we felt they needed to be channelled and guided and remain a part of the art form,” he said.
“For about four years we were in a rebuilding process,” he said. “In our fifth year we were able to have an unknown win the crown so our efforts were not in vain.”
The juniors, especially, have been making the tent’s management proud, with Samantha Sammy G Greaves claiming the Junior Calypso Monarch title again this year. It’s her second win in the competition and she was also named as a reserve in the recent  Pic-O-De-Crop finals. Sir Ruel and Honesty, both former Junior Monarch winners, as well as Shaki-K, have all been in their line up. For a time, they also worked with Aziza – another former Junior Monarch winner and a budding contender in the Pic-O-De-Crop competition.
“When you give young people responsibility, they take it,” he stressed.
“Sammy G used to open our show from the time she was 13 years old,” he said with pride, explaining that this year, however, the rising star decided that she wanted to go before the judges for Pic-O-De Crop. He maintained that that was her decision alone and evidence of her growth and maturity.
Ian intends to continue making a contribution to culture for as long as he can. It seems that it is in his blood as several other members of his family are, or have been, involved in the performing arts.
His twin sister Jennifer Sealy, for instance, has worked tirelessly with Dancin’ Africa and has also sung in Sing Out Barbados and the St John Folk Chorale. Although his other sister Angela has gone on to do other things, he says she was once heavily involved in the arts as well and she acted in one or two of acclaimed actor and director Tom Cross’ productions.
 Meanwhile, his niece Toni Thorne is also a wellknown dancer, designer, and bandleader, as well as the creator of the West Coast Carnival.
Referring to his niece, he explained: “In a lot of ways I have been there to support her. I have pretty broad experiences when it comes to event planning so in her first year I was very instrumental in assisting her in putting together the concept. But she is a quick learner, so nowadays she would only ask me for a little advice. But she has been able to pick up and run with it. ”
One might think that in a family so involved in the arts, discussions always tend to gravitate towards culture. However, Ian made one thing abundantly clear regarding his sister Jennifer who also serves as a judge during the Crop Over season.
“We have made a pact that at Crop Over, we don’t discuss calypso,” he said pointedly.
Ian loves working behind the scenes, and clearly he gets to do and see quite a lot from that vantage point. However, he says his mother always reminds him that amidst everything, he needs to make time for God.
“I don’t disagree with her . . . . Whenever possible, I go to church. In fact, I still have a hymnal with the music, so when I go to church I still sing my tenor according to what is there,” he said with a smile. (Green Bananas Media)