Caribbean Essence Gets a "Taste" of Multitalented Francois ‘Sonny Meraki’ Clarke
Born Francois Clarke, Sonny Meraki, his stage name, is a multitalented Barbadian artist with a passion for songwriting and live performance. The selection of his stage name is quite significant and says a lot about the artist. He chose Sonny to honor his grandfather who was one of the last guitar builders/makers in Barbados. And Meraki is a word with Greek and African origins which means “To do something with soul, creativity or love, leaving a piece of yourself in to what you are doing”.
Though his mother introduced him to all genres of music, his musical journey began in the Church, like so many other artists. It is there that he began to play the trumpet. He is also a drummer and leader of a cultural group called Tuk Revolution Barbados which performs the indigenous music of Barbados.
Sonny did a virtual concert “Taste of Meraki” which premiered on December 9, 2020. His versatility and unique sound is depicted throughout the 35 minute concert. This unique crooner indeed has soulful and melodic voice and his creativity is apparent in the arrangement, composition and melodies of each song.
Photos provided by Sonny Meraki
CE: What was your childhood like in Barbados?
SM: I have fond memories of playing cricket in the streets, suffering many bicycle falls and getting into trouble for getting home late because I was out with friends picking donks or ackees, or playing basketball way past the stipulated curfew. Above all, I was blessed to always be surrounded by good people, especially my close family. During some phases, I had a tendency to be rebellious and “hard-ears” (as many Bajan parents would call it), so I’m grateful for the growth and for the chance to create better now.
CE: Your mother exposed you to different genres of music, which was your favorite growing up?
SM: My all-time favorite was (and still is) Reggae!
CE: Did you know from an early age you wanted to turn your interest and love of music into a career? And why did you make that decision?
SM: I didn’t have that vision from a young age unfortunately. For a long time, I initially pursued careers in Science, after graduating from the University of the West Indies with a Biology Major. It was only within the last 3-4 years that I started to explore (and subsequently build confidence in) my songwriting and production abilities and recognized that my music and message can truly make a powerful impact in this world.
CE: You have been performing professionally since the age of 19, where do you like to perform most and why?
SM: I can’t pinpoint a favorite. I enjoy both solo performances in restaurants, as well as bigger stage shows whenever there’s a live band, in general. The latter is definitely my favorite because the energy that a live band creates is special. Having the opportunity to be a contributor to that energy while connecting to a crowd that is singing the words of your song is an amazing feeling. I just like to see other people feeling and truly enjoying the music.
CE: You are a vocalist, you play the trumpet and you’re also a drummer. How and why did you select those particular instruments?
SM: When I had the opportunity to join my church band as a youngster, I just remember quickly choosing to play the trumpet, when I was asked to pick an instrument. I’ve never thought about why I chose it. It just seemed to happen. Tuk Band Drumming (Which is not normally performed in churches) on the other hand was a bit different. I was always inspired by the tuk band performances. As a youngster I would literally run to hear them play just to watch and study the snare drummer’s techniques. So when the opportunity came to learn more through school or other avenues, it was a no-brainer.
CE: What inspires you, or better yet what are some sources of inspiration for you while creating music?
SM: It can vary widely. Some of my songs started out as letters to myself or stemmed from a place of guilt within and a longing/desire to create or become better. I haven’t always walked a positive path, so some of my music will highlight my falls and failures with the view of encouraging others to consider a better road.
Other songs are inspired by the greatness, power and beauty of our planet and the Universe. Overall, the greatest inspiration comes from knowing that any song or message I project out to the world has the potential to help to uplift someone mentally who may be suffering through particular circumstances, or hopefully encourage others to improve or be more confident on their own paths.
CE: How would you describe your sound, to someone who hasn't heard your music as of yet?
SM: My sounds can be very diverse. Some of my songs have a spiritual, meditative tone to them. Others are hard core reggae, while some even have a slight hip-hop or neo-soul influence. I believe that experimenting with different genres allows you to reach a wider audience and therefore your message has the potential to resonate with people from a greater number of cultures.
CE: Have you had any formal musical training?
SM: I’ve had some. I’ve only done a practical Trumpet ABRSM Grade 5 Exam while I was a teenager. Back then, I was fortunate to receive some trumpet lessons from a private instructor through school. Since then, I also started to attend Barbados Community College (a few years after UWI) to pursue an Associate Degree in Music, but unfortunately, I never had the chance to finish the program. I only completed one semester, before having to give it up to find work due to financial difficulties at that phase in my life.
CE: Who would you say some of your musical influences are, and why?
SM: Sizzla Kalonji, Chronixx, Jah Cure, Tarrus Riley and IWayne are among my favorites. Reggae is my favorite genre, and I just love the positive messages and the energy from their music. There was a period of my life where I used to have a playlist of Sizzla and Jah Cure songs on repeat daily. I also have great respect for the lyrical styles of artists such as Amy Winehouse, Jay Electronica, Lauryn Hill and Tobe Nwigwe.
CE: Do you ever buzz your mouthpiece? If yes, please explain?
SM: Yes. Sometimes I do it lightly to warm up before a performance or rehearsal.
CE: How did you become drummer and leader of the cultural group Tuk Revolution?
SM: As mentioned, I was always inspired when I heard tuk band performances as a child. I was always into tuk band drumming since school days, especially through performing at the popular Annual Interschool Sports. I also started to perform professionally with other established tuk band groups at hotels and various private functions. This inspired me to eventually register and launch my own entertainment group – Tuk Revolution Barbados - which provides tuk band drummers, steel pan players and costumed dancers.
CE: There is so much to discover about the Caribbean, Tuk music being one of them? Please describe Tuk music and its roots?
SM: Tuk Band music is considered by most as a hybrid between the traditional African rhythms used by our ancestors, and the European marching band rhythms of the Scottish and British influence. The Barbadian genre features three main rhythms: (1) waltz (2) “fassie” or March and (3) “tuk”. The latter of these (tuk) is the most popular and recognized rhythm and can be a considered as an extension of the polyphonic drumming styles our ancestors used on traditional drums such as djembes, which can produce different tones/sounds depending on the technique used. Tuk Bands were also an integral part of the legendary Barbados Landship which was once a more powerful and influential organization for working class society during post- emancipation periods.
CE: What artist would you love to collaborate with most?
SM: Locally, two artists - AquaTafari and Alix Cage. Internationally - Chronixx.
CE: What are some proud achievements thus far in your career, and what are some exciting places you've traveled to and performed?
SM: My most recent achievement was the completion of a project which included a virtual concert, EP/mixtape and other materials/merchandise made possible through a governmental COVID-19 Technical Assistance Grant provided by the National Cultural Foundation. It was done in collaboration with ‘House Of Dae’.
CE: Aside from music, what activities are you interested in?
SM: I’m also interested in swimming, hiking, long distance running, science research and photography/videography.
CE: What do you do to relax?
SM: To relax I meditate and watch comedy shows. My favorite comedians are Bernie Mac and Richard Pryor.
CE: What is your favorite Bajan dish?
SM: Plantain is one of my favorite foods, though it’s technically not Bajan.
To hear some of Sonny Meraki's music click below
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