The Nightshift - a gigging band in Hangzhou, China
The Nightshift: Coming home to a home I’ve never been to.
The Midtown Hotel Bar was the venue for this week’s interview, and in a first for me, I was interviewing a band. The Nightshift is currently a trio consisting of Marlon Ransome, the bandleader, vocalist and keyboard player, his son Micah, guitarist and vocalist and Cherrese De Abreau, the front of band vocalist. Their fourth member is currently a Covid19 hostage to fortune outside of China. Hailing from Trinidad and Tobago they have been on the Chinese music scene for many years with an impressive gig list – from embassies to fashion shows and numerous club openings. They have been the house band at the Midtown bar for the last year.
Marlon has been in China since 1995 first coming as a translator before working as a musician for the last six years. He explains that his mum is Chinese, originally from Hong Kong. He tells me that in fact Trinidad & Tobago is a multicultural society with a big Chinese community. Consequently, the country and people have a close relationship with China. Cherrese mentions that the first time she visited Marlon’s mum she was surprised that they used chopsticks at home as this was unusual.
Chinese people first arrived in Trinidad & Tobago in October 1806. Subsequently, the Chinese Trinidadian and Tobagonian community is a diverse mixture that includes first-generation immigrants from China most notably these immigrants originate from Guangdong Province, especially among the Hakka Han people and Cantonese Han people. And yet as Marlon points out there was no distinct Chinatown in Trinidad & Tobago because the new immigrants integrated with the local community.
The integration was such that all the popular Chinese festivals are celebrated on the islands as an integral part of local life. Marlon underlines the fact that there is a real love for China there. This is what drew Marlon and his son here, they came “because it was China.” The band does not see themselves as tourists, for all of the members the most important facet of their lives here is living with Chinese people. Marlon tells me this “fulfils his soul.” When out and about gigging, the whole band graduates towards Chinese people. Marlon even prefers traditional Chinese to simplified Chinese.
Having only left China twice in the last nine years Marlon tells me coming to China was like “coming home to a home I’ve never been to.” As a lyricist Marlon has a way with words so expect this to be a title of a song sometimes soon! It is important for all the band members to forge relationships with local people, “to understand China you have to breathe it,” they tell me. To do this they include covers of popular Chinese music in their set alongside the ska, reggae, calypso and salsa music they play. Marlon spends a moment or two schooling me on how reggae music would not have hit the world stage so soon if it was not for a Chinese shop owner (Leslie Kong) selling records by Jimmy Cliff and his contemporaries such as Bob Marley and Desmond Decker. I didn’t mind this because, as I told the band, the soundtrack of my youth was ska and reggae music.
For the band the love of China is beyond tourism, it’s about their interpersonal relationships with Chinese people, living with the people, finding a life here. Once you can do that, they tell me you will know yourself better. I asked the band why they stayed in country during the Covid19 issue? They were very clear that they wanted to support the Chinese people – to show the other side of the story. So that people outside China knew what was happening and that much of the mainstream foreign news sources were wrong. During that time in Hangzhou they often played for free to show how we can go beyond the virus. To show how China protects us and allows us the possibility of being ourselves. As we finish up they underline why they continue to gig in China “Our music means more to us because the Chinese people listen to us.”
* Original article published in HangzhouFeel Expat Newspaper. ©2021