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Memories, music, much love at Karla Gonzales’ benefit concert

Julien Neaves Karla Gonzales perfroms at her benefit concert on September 1 at Queen's Hall, St Ann's. - courtesy Maria Nunes
Karla Gonzales perfroms at her benefit concert on September 1 at Queen's Hall, St Ann's. - courtesy Maria Nunes

Veteran entertainer Karla Gonzales broke down in tears when she reflected on all the talent gathered for a concert in aid of her medical expenses.

The veteran dancer, singer, actress and author spoke at the Joie de Vie Benefit Concert at Queen's Hall, St Ann's. She damaged her hip when she suffered a fall while dancing on stage years ago and the concert was to raise an estimated $150,000 for hip replacement surgery and treatment.

She took the stage near the end of the concert on September 1 and told the audience that every genre of music was on show that evening. In a large, multi-coloured dress and holding her cane she performed a couple of zouk songs (zouk is a musical movement with a fast tempo, percussion-driven rhythm, and a loud horn section pioneered by the French Antillean band Kassav' in the early 1980s of which Gonzales was a singer).

After switching to a canary yellow dress, she recalled performing with the group Shades of Black in Guadeloupe and sang the popular tune, Wonderful, in English. She noted she could not do the signature hip-shifting dance anymore but could only move her shoulders.

"I have to behave myself. Next thing I throw out my next hip," she joked.

Gonzales said she was very grateful and overwhelmed by the support from everyone.

"Every single one of my musical friends and family who came and gave of their time and talent and their love," she said, stopping briefly while breaking into tears, "I am forever grateful for every single one of you. And all who came out to support me."

"Love you Karla!" someone shouted from the audience.

This prompted a standing ovation with loud applause, hoots and whistles.

The four-hour concert began promptly at 7.25 pm with the first half hosted by singer Charmaine Forde.

"We are here to show solidarity to a multifaceted, multi-talented sister, Karla Gonzales, who has been part of the cultural landscape for over 40 years."

She described her as the "consummate professional" especially in dance, which is her first love.

"We are letting Karla know she is not alone in this journey of wellness."

The first segment was the We Jazz ensemble led by Michael Low Chew Tung and included a funky rendition of Aretha Franklin's I Say a Little Prayer by Theron Shaw on guitar, Anthony Woodroffe's freestyling with Toto's Georgy Porgy on sax, singers Gerelle Forbes and Candace Alcantara, the former with an original composition, and the rich melodic voice and flute of Ruth Osman, also with an original song.

The segment was closed with a powerful performance by Vaughnette Bigford who deftly transitioned from Diana Ross's Home to the late Denyse Plummer's Nah Leaving and received one of the loudest rounds of applause for the night.

"One love for you Karla," Bigford said.

Veteran actor Conrad Parris then took the stage and described himself as a proud friend of Gonzales. He had the audience cracking up when he spoke of meeting her years ago and his "unbridled lust." During his monologue his microphone began to echo, one of a number of niggling technical bugs during the show.

This would continue when there was no audio during a video of Martinican singer and songwriter Jocelyne Béroard's recorded tribute. The issue was fixed and her tribute was aired later in the show. Béroard, who sang with Gonzales in Kassav', said she was not too worried about her friend's surgery as it was a long-established procedure.

"I believe you will recover, and we will see you on stage."

She added: "When you have a great artist at home, we must support them.”

The next segment was a mix of the arts. It began with veteran calypsonian Llewellyn “Shorts Pants” Mac Intosh and his hilarious performance of the monologue Ma Therese Deposit. He noted Gonzales performed the role of the old woman for his act and helped him win the Talk De Calypso competition for the fourth time. His daughter Heather Mac Intosh next took the stage and jumped into a Spanish song with no intro or outro. After her performance one audience member asked "why?" aloud, echoing the refrain from Ma Therese Deposit and eliciting laughter from the audience.

Next up was musician Adrian Philbert who dedicated Lord Nelson's Meh Lover to Gonzales.

3Canal performs at the benefit concert for Karla Gonzales on September 1 at Queen's Hall, Port of Spain. - courtesy Maria Nunes

"Karla darling is for you."

Closing out that segment was Timothy "Baron" Watkins, who had the audience singing along to the Sweet Soca Man, and Kernal Roberts who kept the energy up with Gonzales' favourite Lord Kitchener song Sugar Bum Bum and had people "tilting" in their seats with his catchy soca tune Tilt.

Veteran actors Kurtis Gross and Theresa Hope also shared their memories of Gonzales with a healthy dose of picong. Hope recalled her fellow Bishop Anstey alum giving her a refined "cuss out" in "Bishopian style."

"She has been my friend for years. She will be my friend forever."

Also appearing in a recorded message on the night was designer Richard Young, who regaled the audience about an amusing trip to Jamaica with Gonzales, and Gonzales' fellow Bishop Anstey High School alum Martina Laird, who recalled their friendship began the first morning they met at the school and later dancing together in leotards to the Fame soundtrack.

"She was always a triple threat and excellent at all three. Acting, singing and dance."

She noted that dancers, like athletes, put a great demand on their bodies and while Gonzales' stylish cane made her look more like Debbie Allen, she expressed hope her friend would receive an ease from her pain.

"It is a chance to rebuild a beautiful career dedicated to the performing arts and Trinidad and Tobago culture.”

Forde closed off the first half with lusty performances of Ben E King's Stand By Me and gospel song Goodness of God by Bethel Music. The second half was hosted primarily by Gonzales' son multi-platinum billboard producer Klase "1st Klase" Gonzales.

"As a mother she was insanely supportive and encouraging. She make you want to believe in yourself."

He interspersed introducing acts with performing his own urban music which received a mixed response from the mostly mature audience.

Receiving an enthusiastic response was Erphaan Alves, who sang Overdue and Forever Love. He was followed by the group Freetown Collective which performed the melodic love song Oshun, the upbeat Shine and the energetic Feel The Love.

Freetown lead by Muhammad Muwakil described Gonzales as "mother."

"Add all the stories about her together and is just love. I have never seen anything from her but love."

He recalled that for people new in the music industry she would pull them aside and encourage them.

Freetown was followed by artist Multisymptom who performed his hit Sonita to loud cheers, and reggae singer Prophet Benjamin for an extended and entertaining set that included his hits Coming From Moruga, Pretty Boy, and What's Next.

The entertainment switched back to drama with Gerelle Forbes and Tyker Phillip in the personas of the 2 Jammettes from their eponymous online radio show. They described Gonzales as the "OG jammette” and recalled her acting in 1980s TT soap opera No Boundaries and choreographing the dance for Colin Lucas' song Slam Bam Thank You Ma'am Soca Jam.

It was then back to the music and guitarist Dean Williams led an ensemble that accompanied Stacey Sobers singing Regina Belle's Baby Come to Me, the Archer Sisters performing a medley and Leandra singing Leave the Door Open with a big finish.

"Bring back that lady!" one man shouted.

The concert closed with Gonzales dancing on stage with the band 3canal during its performances of Good Morning Neighbour, Walk in Beauty and Run de Riddim.