The Life and Times of Donald “Junior” Noel
Donald “Junior” Noel, percussionist and master drummer of the Northwest Laventille Cultural Movement passed away recently on 28th November, 2015. Junior Noel, as he preferred to be called, was born on 6th August, 1960.
From an early stage he showed an affinity for drumming and was a foundation member of several cultural groups.
Friends, family and associates of Junior from the cultural industry turned up at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain to celebrate and honour his life.
Calypsonian Michael “Sugar Aloes” Osuna in his capacity as priest officiated at the sendoff ceremony held under Spiritual Baptist and Orisha rites. Following this remembrance ceremony, family and friends journeyed to the Caroni Cremation site for the final Orisha send-off rites.
Junior Noel was remembered for his jovial spirit, and for his ability to make people laugh. He was also known for his disciplined nature. Friends and colleagues attested to his professionalism and his attention to detail. Another admired quality was that any part of the country where his drumming talent was needed Junior was there on time.
The memories of Junior flowed with the sayings that came to be associated with Junior. His favorite sayings were “Drink and forget, eat and remember”, “The only thing I don’t eat are things to drink” and the admonishment, “Sleep and come, don’t come and sleep.”
A main figure in the cultural arena over the years, Junior was a mainstay in the Best Village tradition and in the Calypso industry where he backed many calypsonians with his drumming talent. Junior was one of the founders of the drumming group Natural Expressions, along with Everald ‘Redman’ Watson.
As part of the group, he had a strong influence on the drummer traditions practiced by different groups and later went on to tutor drummers all over Trinidad. According to Everald Watson: “Our first drumming group was Natural expressions where we had at least thirty drummers. We used to play with many groups… five or six groups at one time until they passed a law in Best Village that a drummer must play for one group only…It crashed the group because all of us became tutors going all over the island to teach drumming. It was the close of Natural Expressions but we then were able to spread the traditions all over.”
During his vibrant life, Junior played a major role in molding the lives of the young people and they turned out in their numbers to send him off.
By offering young people a pathway into the cultural landscape and activities that he engaged, Junior may have hoped to steer them away from the violence and gangsterism that pervaded his community.
One of Junior’s brothers, Lorry Noel, who is also involved in the drumming tradition, shared his memories of Junior:
“We started this (drumming) way back in the 1960’s when we were playing with poetry in Woodford square with Black Stalin and Brother Resistance, Brother Mudada, [and Andre Tanker. We were accompanying them while they were doing poetry. Ever since we were small we were musically inclined. We used to take milk pans when our mother threw it out and turn it over and make music.”
Other friends and colleagues also shared their memories of the life and times of Junior Noel.
Gail Marilyn Edenborough, president of the North West Laventille Cultural Movement: I met Junior in 1983 when I started to dance with Straker Silk Cotton Council. He was a drummer with his other drummers. Junior was a jolly fellah who did not skylark with what he was doing. Once it come to dance and drumming. He was a drummer but he was very involved in the dance. Although he was big, he used to demonstrate the step for you. I don’t think there could be another Junior. If the young people around he would involve them in the drumming to take them away from trouble. Although he lived in Gonsalves, we practiced in Picton and everyone knew him… the drum tutor. He always said practice makes perfect. It is a loss. With the drummers he would know who was playing a wrong note. He would play it over and over till everybody got the right pitch. Junior rest in peace; we all love you.
Everald ‘Redman’ Watson: Junior and I were close from school days; we went to the same primary school. He hung out with my brother. All of us were small and we grew up together in the drums and culture. We played drums together… we were members of the Orisha way together. Till the day Junior died he was one of my best friends.
Junior would make everybody laugh… as we say in Trinidad, give everybody fatigue. I see people cry when they make Junior pound them. He always have a good word. He was a fellah who could not say no. People would come to us… they want drums, we could go and help them. He was a stickler for time and was never late. He played in the calypso tent (Kaiso House) and it would start seven or eight and by five o’clock Junior sit down there already. He was a stickler for making things right and keeping the culture alive. He loved the youths and spreading the culture to them so that it would live on. Junior was saving lives because in the Picton area, most people would know you have the borderline areas. Those who living up the hill can’t come down and those who living down the hill can’t go up. Junior had all these youths, many of whom you seeing today, involved in the culture. Many of them could have been involved in crime and dead by now. He kept this avenue open for them so that they could keep themselves occupied. Junior touched the lives of people all over Trinidad. Junior was always willing to help people. We were very serious with the Orisha traditions, because we follow it in depth. Junior would be missed: they don’t make them like that anymore. I will miss my friend. Junior was an example: he loved what he did and he stuck to it seriously. He broke his hand last year, and when you watch videos of the calypso you see him on stage in the calypso competition with one hand playing. Rain, sunshine, or if he not well, he going. He will be remembered.
Seon Nurse: I have known Junior for about twelve years. He was like a father, a teacher and a big brother. The last choreography I did with him was in 2015 for our queen Kelsey John. She did a spiritual dance. He led me through the way and explained everything: he took my vision and turned it into reality. He was a perfectionist. He was someone who would motivate the younger ones and make sure we rehearse. We would do a dance like twenty times before it is okay for him. He said the dance is never done until you go on stage. Picturing him behind the drums you know you have to do your best, so that he could be satisfied and the rehearsals could be over. He said a drummer never beats his drums, a drummer plays his drum. We have younger kids who he was training before he died, and I know they will continue working hard.
Cyril Collier: I have known Junior for over thirty years. I first knew him when I was at Valsayn Teachers’ College teaching dance and he was one of my drummers. Today I am very proud of him. Junior to me was a very good friend and he knew what he was about. I don’t think we will see another person like him in a long while… a very unselfish person. Always willing to help. What I like about Junior is that he had this discipline about him. He was a stickler for time. It’s a sad day for us all.
Gary Haywood (Senior North West Laventille drummer): Junior was a person who always caring. His favorite words was ‘Lewwe go, lewwe go’. He was always on time. He started to teach me at primary school. I know him from small. It was real hard. He was a strict person whilst drumming. We have to carry on the mantle because he taught us a lot. Donald Noel will live on.
John Sterling: Junior was an educator. Some of what I know Junior taught me. He was a cheerful person and would make you laugh, even when correcting you. The rhythm Junior played would make you feel to move. It’s not the ordinary rhythm you would hear. He was a cheerful person and would make you laugh. I am a dancer but I did two drumologies with Junior.
Baba Awodele (Berris Baker): I have known Junior for more than twenty-five years. Since my early quest in Orisha, Junior has been there with me. Junior comes like a pioneer: he is one of the brothers who educated a lot of people where the drum is concerned. I think you heard people saying that he always on time. When I knew Junior, he was a Rastaman, playing with all the different groups you could think about. He was very interested in passing on the knowledge of the drum and we appreciate all he has done for us. In the background you can hear a lot of youths playing drums and that is because of Junior Noel. He will live on through the drum.
I have known Junior since 1994 and since then, it has been a journey. Junior will be deeply, deeply missed; words cannot explain. Junior has taught me so much and showed me so much. The education he has passed down is beyond words. He was a person with which you could never have a dull moment. He knew you more than you know yourself. We built that bond and relationship from then to now. It real hard to come to terms with his death but I know he left a legacy and knowledge for us to carry on. It’s a big loss not just for us, but for culture as well. It shows you that you need to appreciate and love the people around you every day. Don’t wait until something happens or death comes knocking on your door to realise how much that person meant or did. Junior was always punctual and always willing to give support. Junior used to make those drums talk. He could orchestrate a musical salaam without even picking up an instrument. Instrumentally, he was a guru.
The love the community had for Junior was seen in the passion of the performers who came to express themselves to pay respect to the life and times of Junior Noel. Members of the North West Laventille Cultural Movement danced and drummed, with every step and rhythm a tribute to Junior and a testament to his legacy.
Junior was the husband of Beverly Noel, father of Ashaki, Akela, Milika and the late Akelo Noel, as well as the brother of Osmond, Glen, Ann Marie, Lorry, Earl, Shirley and the late Dianne, Ainsley, Claudette, and Roselyn.
Celebrating the Life of Drummer Donald Noel Jr. in pictures: