Remembering Padu del Caribe

The last time I saw Padu publicly was on his 98th birthday at the Mill resort, where a sunset concert was given in his honor by family members and friends.

All of Padu’s CDs were available for sale and I bought the latest, a compilation of 24 songs. I put the CD on in my car. It made me instantly happy. Such joyful music.

Vivian, Padu’s daughter reported she made the selection of songs with pianist Johnny Schaarbay. They listened to all 140 recorded songs and had a hard time deciding which one to dust off, they wanted to include all. Finally, they maxed out the file with 24 tracks, Padu sings on five.

In the good old days, Padu was a favorite crooner on TV, and on vinyl records, delivering sentimental Boleros in an emotional, personal singing style.  The music is soul-soothing and sweet. All 24 tracks feature Padu on the piano. No one plays piano like Padu does, he practically devours the keys, racing up and down the scales, improvising in the most unexpected places, in the most intricate of ways, like the greatest of the great American jazz pianists of the early 20th century.

His music is layered, each hand flying through the notes in complete abandon, playing independently of the other, yet it all fits together, in an unmistakable Padu style. You know it’s Padu when the piano sounds so bright and effervescent.

Vivian told me a story, that Padu was 8, when he wandered the neighborhood streets, two dirt roads down, to listen to 11-year-old Rufo Wever play the piano. That was his inspiration, a boy just three years his senior, and Padu in turn was an inspiration to many young local musicians, who couldn’t believe the confidence and speed with which Padu connects with the ivories.

One and a half years ago on King’s Birthday there was a 98th birthday celebration at Plaza Padu in the afternoon with a giant cake, and well-wishers, I am not sure Padu knew what was going on, he was there in body, not in spirit.

After that I saw him again at his home, he was seated in a chair, on the terrace, with family members around, drinking fresh tamarind juice. We were visiting. I am not sure he knew, but he must have known he was loved and appreciated.

It is good to note that Padu’s music, was finally put on paper a few years ago by Johnny Croes so that 24 pieces are now available to the public as partitures. The rest of the music was recorded on cassettes and vinyl and had to be digitalized and cleaned up for the new CD, by Tony van Veen and Discmakers in NJ, who has also produced the previous albums.

From my article about Padu, written in 1995, from my Book Island Life:

Juan Lampe is the most outstanding nationally and internationally recognized Aruban artist. He is a widely loved and appreciated musician, who in cooperation with the late Rufu Wever coauthored “Aruba Dushi Tera” and many other wonderful songs. “Dushi Tera” was popular among Arubans long before it was officially proclaimed the national anthem in 1976. “It somehow inspires patriotic feelings and expresses our boundless love for this beautiful island,” its humble composer explains.

Nobody here ever bothers calling this national treasure by his real name. It’s his stage personality, Padu Del Caribe, that people are proud of. Ironically, music has always been his hobby, a spare-time activity. A onetime professional electrical installation dealer, Padu also spent a long time with the airlines, officiating over ALM, the Antillean carrier, first as sales representative and later as station manager. To me, Padu is mostly Vivian’s piano-loving father and Ervin and Sonia’s utterly devoted grandfather.

Born in Aruba into a musical family in 1920, he was instantly attracted to instruments, he recalls, expertly playing the mandolin, cuatra, and clarinet. It soon became clear that his favorite form of expression was the piano, though he never learned to read or write music.

May Padu, the Father of our Culture, rest in peace. He left great music behind, and we will remember.  


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December 02, 2019
Rona Coster