As a young musician, Damel Carayol achieved fame and recognition for his songwriting abilities, soulful tunes and smooth vocals. During the eighties and nineties, he toured and performed the breadth of the British music scene with his Band Clique and other successful funk/soul/reggae outfits like Soul II Soul. He even appeared on stage with the one and only, James Brown achieving more musically than his wildest dreams could imagine.
However, little was known of his gift as a visual artist, until recently when his eye catching painting ‘The Eye-sore. The Final Straw’ captured the devastation of the Grenfell tragedy and went viral. In this heartfelt account of his artistic journey, Damel outlines how the tragedy proved a pivotal point in his life and brought out the multi-talented artist that was buried inside.
In the Beginning was the Music!
Most people who know me both artistically and as a vocalist/musician or even personally, only know the musician side of me. Music is the field I’ve been engaging in career wise for most of my life, since around age 18/19. I first recorded at that age, formed a band, and then joined ‘Clique ’(later Cache) at around 20. I went on my tour soon after and have since continued to record, perform and produce a lot more around the world.
Visual Art is something I’ve always equally had a passion for, but to do both on the same level was not possible. I did a lot of drawing, painting and pastel work over all these years, but career wise, the visuals took a backseat… must add also a third string which is poetry. I have been writing for decades. But the main focus has been the music, with some acting thrown in.
Since May 2016, I’ve had the fantastic opportunity to dedicate myself to Visual Arts. A great opportunity to embrace an even fuller artistic life came my way and I longingly grabbed it… more time, time that was mine, so I undertook a project of painting. Tried to continue with the music, especially as I’d recently finished an album, but I found as I already knew, I couldn’t do both to the deep and passionate level that I know to be my signature. So, music now hopped in the backseat.
I painted for a year, mainly portraiture, as is my main drive and finally put my brushes and paints down. This was about a month before the Grenfell tragedy struck!
Creation of the ‘Eye-sore. The Final Straw.’
With no deliberate intent, but with total anger, I laid down the last canvas I had remaining, grabbed the paints, sprays and brushes that were still around and through sweat and cursing, I restarted painting. “ The Eye-sore. The Final Straw” was done in matter of hours. Two more pieces on the subject of Grenfell quickly followed.
I have two relatives, my cousin and her daughter that lived at Grenfell Tower, who sadly perished in the tragedy, along with all the other people and families who painfully died as the result of Grenfell. I have therefore since that night been involved in the fight for Truth and Justice in the connection with the Grenfell Tower fire.
I along with other bereaved family members as ‘Humanity for Grenfell’ had a chance to meet with the Prime Minister Teresa May. We had a single and poignant demand to put to her, which we did. I had a mind to take a copy of “Eye-sore…” to give to Mrs May, which she received.
A picture was taken by her secretary and the image has since circulated around the world … there are many ways to fight for what’s right, and Art in many forms has its role.
Perspectives on life and art after Grenfell.
The issue of Grenfell has not changed my perspective in life. That remains as it’s always been focusing on Giving – that’s all with love. Humanity is key, humanity comes first. I come from a country where it’s natural, where the culture is to welcome and to give of yourself. To this I have to stay true despite any opposition. But if a fight to defend or protect this is called for, I have to take a stand.
Grenfell is local and now international. The sequence of events that led up to the 14th of June 2017 were so dire, longstanding and devastating in the issues of avoidance, neglect and contempt on the part of the “authority” as to reinforce the fact that it really is time for Community to fight for itself. This really has been the stark and positive outcome of the tragedy, the efforts, love and support of people for each other. We are one, ultimately, no matter the divisions continuously thrown- up in our way!
My Art as a result has undoubtedly been reflecting the depth of my feeling of late. It gets to a stage when Art consumes ‘you’ and does ‘you’ rather than you are doing ‘it’. The aim is to exercise the degree of measure needed for the best outcomes. This has been a strong reminder for me.
Brushes, Paints and Canvasses keep the Protest Alive!
I’ve had 5 Exhibitions since Grenfell last year, when I had my first exhibition of my recent work following my painting project. This appropriately was at the beautiful flower shop that is Mento in North London. This was followed by a further two in north London and another at Goldsmiths College in South London. I had done a total of 13 pieces on the issue of Grenfell by January 2018. So, my brushes paints and canvasses have stayed alive.
My most recent exhibition has resulted from the success of the previous and was held at Karamel through Collage Arts at Wood Green Chocolate Factory. Thankfully it was so well received I was awarded a bursary of a free ‘art studio’ for a year as a result.
Humanity for Grenfell – One Goal. One Aim.
I’m in a leading role in the family, bereaved, survivors, and supporters group called ‘Humanity for Grenfell’ we have the Head of the European Commission for Human Rights as an advisor and advocate. We have held a number of commemorative multi-faith services in the Latimer Road area, churches and mosques. I have put together a gospel choir to perform at the services and I have had the opportunity to also speak at events. As a group we’re also closely linked and affiliated with other groups set up for Grenfell. Our aim is the same. Goal is the same. Actions are together.
I attend a monthly ‘silent march’ on 14th of each month and invite all readers, listeners, carers and lovers of humanity to attend. They’re usually from 6pm, Ladbroke Grove every 14th. The marches have been growing and the anniversary this year coincided with marches in USA, Australia and 15 other towns in UK. I’ll keep doing what I need to give strength artistically, musically and passionately, whilst also giving balance to life which is so necessary.
I have after decades of writing poetry, finally taken part in a poetry recital. This was under a monthly event ‘poems and monologues’ held at The Rocket in Acton, west London. A nervous event for me but so glad to get it under my belt. More will follow though in the near future. I’m a Scorpio by star sign, although full of wit and humour, lol, usually find deep meaning on most things in life. My writing music and art generally reflect this.
The University of Stick and Sand, Sky and Star.
With regards to my artwork I did not receive training in the traditional sense. I did not attend Art school or college or University to study Art per se, although I do have O and A-level qualifications in art.
My university was that of stick and sand, sky and star. I started as a 6-year-old in my birthplace of The Gambia. I believe one is born with a special leaning towards artistic expression and usually starts with creative markings on paper, sand, board or any surface presenting itself. Coupled with this, I believe some people take time to study what’s around them and see the fascination of light, colour, shape and form everywhere. To have a penchant to express this and further to interpret this is the formation and beginning of being an artist. I drew constantly from when I was young, learning different mediums of water, acrylic and oil paintings at school. I’m also reminded of a teacher at my primary school in UK, Mr Cruz, from Gibraltar who encouraged my artistic development.
But importantly and again in my formative years, my parents took me to the museums in Kensington and the National Art Gallery. Wow! What a world was open to me. I looked and studied those masterpieces with huge wonder at the latter. But my practice was at the National History Museum. I would take myself there almost every Sunday with pencil and pad and choose which animals to draw and sketch, take a lunch break with Mum’s banana sandwich and return to finish before heading home. I was around 10 years old. Dad couldn’t draw but could point out and critique. I listened and tried harder. Later, I just carried on drawing, painting and fell in love with pastels. Faces and people became my focus, my Christmas and birthday presents often involved small but significant arty things.
But one persisted throughout all this time … looking! With an ‘artist’s eye’ my Father had once told me about. An eye I looked for and seemed to find.
Music takes Front Seat again!
I have been a songwriter since I first engaged with music as a performer. Lyrically, it was poetry that I first started to write in my mid to late teens. My first band was called Tasha. My first song was called ‘stroll on’ a mess around punk music jam which converted to reggae. I did my first recording in early 80s. I joined the band Clique (later Cache) in Leeds soon after. Clique was a fantastic working, funk band, but mainly did popular covers. When I joined, I adapted poetry writing to song-writing, separated the two and with Clique started to write and arrange songs off tour and off stage, until we gradually incorporated our own material in our shows. I became lead vocalist sax soloist and percussionist with the band. We toured up and down the UK, won best band and began to tour abroad, with our own equipment at first, until we learnt to negotiate better and fly with just suitcases and instruments.
We spent a week recording 6 songs. This led to being signed by a London based leading Soul and Funk record label called ‘Groove Records’ of Soho London. I moved back to London from Leeds and formed a duo- Lifesighs – with a Clique/Cache band mate. I wrote, produced, recorded and released many singles for ourselves and other artists. We did many shows particularly with Tony Blackburn in his ‘Soul Night Out’ tours, but a highlight I would say would be an appearance on Channel 4’s Soul Train in the late 80s.
From here I had prominent and lead roles in the fantastic production that is the theatre show ‘Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame’ which toured the UK, USA and Jamaica. (See interview with JD Douglas).
This led to me joining and touring with Soul II Soul for a period of three years in the mid-90s
I have during that time recorded and released singles and albums, either as a solo artist and with the reggae vocal harmony trio Kwest – a group co-formed with 2 associates and members of ‘Black Heroes’. As a solo artist and with Kwest, most of songs recorded were self- penned.
Living the Dream – Performing with James Brown and other Musical Greats!
Highlights in my musical career I will say are – my first recording of a lead vocal with Tasha. It was a real joy and highlight; my first shows on tour with Clique in Cyprus at an open-air show in Nicosia. When I first bought a saxophone and started to teach myself to play. I had dreamt of hearing myself play and it echoing in the open- air. As we left the stadium and watched the crowds, I realised I had achieved a dream. Our appearance on Soul Train as Lifesighs was a most enjoyable moment and a highlight; appearing on stage with the legendary James Brown whilst touring with Soul II Soul is another highlight. Having a number 1 song in Norway with my song ‘Heaven’ on the album ‘Homegrown’ was a real surprise and highlight, and the release of a first album “Quest 4 Lyfe” was a highlight.
My Musical greats are so many. I’ve drawn and learnt from many artists whether about performance or vocals. As a vocalist I’m particularly devoted to melody and harmony so am grateful to have grown up during a time of great harmony groups from ‘Bread’, ‘America’ and ‘Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’ to ‘The Wailers’, ‘The Abyssinians’, ‘Temptations’ and ‘Four Tops’. But Marvin Gaye has been one of my greatest. He layered his own harmonies and always had multiple melody lines. I learnt a lot from Marvin and equally Donny Hathaway as far as vocal tone and expression is concerned. Salif Keita for vocal power and the spirit of Youssou N’dour for the griot spirit and tradition of home. Gladys Knight for pure soul, Bob and the Wailers for direct ghetto and Rasta reality. The Abyssinians for harmony sweetness, Al Green for Soul tenderness, and Al Jarreau for vocal skills and vocal instrumentation
I really cannot choose between music and visual arts as to which gives me the most joy or satisfaction. I can’t help but get the most depth from both. It’s probably why I can’t do both at the same time to the required level. Both are similar and so rewarding. Both are about reflection, expression, colour and mood. Both can deliver fun, joy, chime with sorrow and sadness, and both can change the world. Both are universal languages, so just as you need to find your own voice in music, so too in art.
Embracing Life Voraciously.
I continue to embrace life. The issue of the Grenfell tragedy is universal. So important for human relations and community that the fight for Truth and Justice needs to emanate from the embers and be continual and consistent. My part has to be played and I intend to do that for the people whose lives were ripped away and for the wider community. This will happen in different ways. Artistically, I have done many on the subject. This is to highlight and keep pushing the issue on the agenda as long as needed. I have a piece in particular as yet unseen which I’m excited about. I hope to reveal that soon.
Further on, I also have a new series of works to be exhibited. The next scheduled is the N22 Open Studios Collaboration with Collage Arts in Wood Green, London in September.
I will be packaging an album I’ve recorded musically and may also do a compilation of previously released and unreleased material. I have a working title for 3 books and need to launch the first.
I’m still voracious and can’t wait to keep exploring. But I need a holiday too and The Gambia awaits.