By Jacob Katel
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Trinidadian-born R&B singer Trini did a double take a few months ago at the 183rd Street Flea Market. Suddenly the 23-year-old Miami resident realized that the sexy woman in a black tank top and cowboy hat staring out at her from a poster tacked up at a record booth was herself. She had not yet grown accustomed to the fame that began to grow last summer, when South Florida's Arbitron-rated number one radio station, 99 Jamz (WEDR-FM 99.1), put into rotation her debut single, "Simple Conversation." Later she learned her appeal goes beyond fans of reggae and hip-hop, when a borderline psychotic white lady approached her at Walgreen's. "I know you," said the stranger, "and I don't even have any black friends. You're the girl on TV." Recognizing Trini from her music video on The Box, the woman set off a spontaneous autograph-signing session in the pharmacy as other shoppers joined in the excitement. Ian "Dennis" Johnson, CEO of Miami's Finatic Records, reports the buzz surrounding the West Indian singer has generated interest from major labels, including Sony and MCA. If that interest continues to grow, Trini might be the fuse to set off a Caribbean explosion rivaling that of the recent Latin boom.
Born into a musical family in Trinidad and Tobago, Trini has been singing all her life. "Everyone sings except for my brother," she says on a recent afternoon in Davie. Her entire family would join her father and his soca band, Chandelier, to perform in Trinidad's famous Carnival. At first her father pushed her older sister to pursue singing as a profession, but when the sister became pregnant, the focus fell on Trini. Her father exposed his younger daughter to a wide range of music, teaching her to listen carefully not only to soca and hip-hop but also to the very best in jazz.
Even though Trini moved to Florida with her family more than ten years ago, she does not consider herself a Florida artist but rather a true Trinidadian. She does not want to be classified by the region's booty-shaking stereotype, though. The singer goes back and forth between island and mainland cultures, speaking with a heavy Trinidadian accent that seems to disappear instantly when she sings. Ironically Trini fell into her R&B career while fronting a reggae and soca band on Thursday nights at Bayside for two years. One evening her brother met Finatic Records' Johnson in the crowd and hooked him up with their father, who also served as Trini's manager. A few days later, Johnson invited Trini to the studio to provide some background vocals for another female artist on an R&B track. Well-known as a reggae label, this would be Finatic's first R&B recording. Luckily for Trini the scheduled singer had a hard time in the studio, which recording artists refer to as the box. "I don't have a problem with the box," says Trini. Her face serious, she adds, "I'll stay in there and sing that song 25 to 100 times until its perfect." That determination won Trini the job of lead vocalist.
Trini did so well in the studio that Johnson invited her back to record her first album, Like No Other, featuring the single, "Simple Conversation." The song is solid hip-hop-flavored soul, comparable to early Mary J. Blige, with smooth delivery and memorable lyrics over a bumping beat. The singer says the full-length work will feature a mixture of upbeat R&B with a few ballads. She also hopes to throw in a couple of soca tracks, but time will tell if the West Indian music will make it into what will otherwise be a collection of urban U.S. tunes. R&B legend Betty Wright is lending her songwriting ability and vocal coaching to the project.
Trini almost blushes as she reveals she is a poet, though she is quick to point out that her literary endeavors would be better suited for a Whitney Houston ballad than for the type of songs she sings herself. Houston tops the list of women whom Trini admires in the business. Earning Houston's praise has been one of the newcomer's biggest accomplishments so far. After the Bayside gig, Trini landed her current job, fronting a Caribbean-influenced R&B band at Monty's in Coconut Grove. The first time she spotted the troubled superstar dining with her husband, Bobby Brown, and their daughter, Trini stared but did not approach her. When she finally did meet Houston a few months later, she was headed down the narrow hallway to the ladies' room. An odd-looking woman passed her, wearing an fluffy wig, huge dark glasses, and a scarf wrapped around her head and neck, revealing only her lips. "You did good," the disguised personality remarked as she walked by. Trini replied with a polite thank you, wondering whether the weird woman had taken a good look at herself in the mirror lately. Not until she returned to the stage and heard the restaurant buzzing did she learn the identity of her camouflaged idol.
Trini has had to work hard to be recognized herself. Last summer she was at Club 112 in Fort Lauderdale, performing after a variety of no-names opening for Bad Boy Recording artists 112. Impatient to see the headliners, the rough crowd threw bottles at the other opening acts. When her turn came, Trini challenged the rowdies: "You want to see 112?"
"Yes," they screamed.
"Well you have to go through me!" she announced. Ready to command the respect she deserves, Trini declares with a natural diva attitude: "If I have to, I will put you in your place." When she traveled north for an appearance on New York's Metro TV on December 20, she was shunned in the green room by a group of well-known male strippers also scheduled that day. After hearing her sing "Simple Conversation," however, the chastened pretty boys rushed to give her autographed eight-by-tens of themselves.
Trini's stage experience rescued her from disaster at the Pre-Thanksgiving Reggae Bash at the AT&T Amphitheater last November. She earned a prime-time slot on the bill, following established acts such as Lexxis and Elephant Man and immediately before R&B group Next and show closer dancehall DJ Beenie Man. Trini planned to open with the remix of "Simple Conversation," which features rapper Lois Lane on the introduction. But the selector mixed up the tracks and played the wrong song. Improvising with the sentimental "ooohs" and "aaahs" so common in contemporary R&B, Trini pulled together a performance that impressed the crowd, many of whom were witnessing her for the first time. Looking back on that harrowing experience, she attributes her triumph to the words her father has always told her: "Baby, you have to sing. If the guitarist falls down and breaks his leg, baby you have to sing. Even if you forget the words, baby you have to sing!"