This is a story with a number of levels. One is simply musical, in that it involved a number of performers, all living in North America except me, in one concert called Caribbean North staged to help raise funds for the Burn Care Unit at our Georgetown Hospital.
It took place in the theatre of the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts, just north of Toronto, and the crowd just stood up as one and cheered at the end. The lineup included the amusing GT man Bill Newman, known as The Calypso Crooner, who also functioned as MC; the striking vocals of Guyanese-born George St Kitts; and the energetic soca of Mahaica boy Monty Hamma.
The 500 people who paid US$45 each to see the show were also entertained by Bajan Roger Gibbs and the Shak-Shak Band, the one-man renditions of Guyana’s Andy Niccols, a Trini calypsonian named Macomere Fifi, and an Indian dancer Reshmi Chetram.
I played at the end accompanied by my old GT friend Raymond “Chinny” Lee-Own, Bajan bass whiz Brian Huntley, and Vincentian drummer Philip Crighton.
The other level here is the cause undertaken by the two Guyanese behind the concert, Pam and Harry Harakh, who are part of the Burn and Health Care Charitable Foundation, operating in Ontario for some 12 years now, which has made sterling contributions to our GPHC both in equipment and in training of our hospital staff in that time.
Over the years, the Foundation’s efforts have benefited more than 1,100 patients and helped improve the efficiency of the Burn Care Unit. Frequently in Guyana, the Canadian group will be here again in November with their latest contribution – the delivery of three ambulances donated from the equipment pool of Ontario’s York Regional Council.
A third aspect is the significant contributions that have come from the Canadian community to this effort. Medical personnel in Ontario have contributed; government has donated supplies and equipment, such as the three upcoming ambulances that came through the initiative of the Richmond Hill Deputy Mayor, Vito Spatafora; the Mayor of Richmond Hill Dave Barrow was instrumental in securing the professional theatre for the Caribbean North concert.
This entire effort, in fact, is a good example of the positive relationship that exists beween Canada and these migrant people from the Caribbean who have been warmly interwoven in so many Canadian communities where they have improved their lives while adding a new dimension to their adopted home.
For us in Guyana, of course, this diaspora is a very valuable resource, so the benefit cuts both ways.
And that leads me to the fourth aspect which is that in a show like that one can get caught up with the individual performances and not notice that these immigrant people on that Canadian stage are displaying loud and clear the value and the heft of their cultures of origin.
Time and again, from the comments of MC Newman, or the mother/daughter views of Macomere, or the old-time kaiso of Roger Gibbs, or my song I Want To Be A Puppy, or the dance gyrations of Monty, the audience was being reminded, or being introduced, to some germane aspect of the Caribbean culture.
Whether sitting backstage and hearing the performance, or standing at microphone participating in it, one could not help feeling the power of the exchange and how warmly the new Canadians and the born-and-bred ones were taking it in.
Therein is the final aspect: for all those who downplay or even dismiss our Caribbean culture, it is long past time for them to reassess things, because they are missing the boat badly.
All of those among us who hold these negative views, and there are many, are failing to see the power and beauty and sweep of our Caribbean culture.
Ironically, it is often the case that it is when one goes outside the region and lands in an audience in these places where Caribbean people migrate, it is then, and for some only then, that the value of the culture dawns. Artistic strains that we grow up with and take as a matter of course are suddenly seen in the light of what they are – unique cultural expressions that we tend to devalue.
It was an aspect that I noticed very early when I migrated to Canada – that our music, our dance, even our dialect expressions or pronunciations, were being recognised and appreciated by the Canadians more vividly and more enthusiastically than at home.
In encounters I have had over the years with Caribbean people in North America, this precise point of the bulb suddenly lighting up on the worth of our culture, has come across time and again.
I know without asking that many of the Caribbean voices cheering in that Friday night concert in a Canadian town were doing so with a verve for their own artistes that had been strengthened through living in a foreign country. You could see it in their faces; you could hear it in the gatherings in the lobby after the show; it was there in their references to the homeland.
Looking back on it is to see all the ingredients at play – the valuable fund-raising efforts of the Harakh group; the warm acceptance of immigrants by Canada; the professional polish of our artistes honed by venturing abroad; and the realisation for many of the Caribbean people there that we have much to shout about.
For the people involved in it – organising; promoting; producing; performing – it was a memorable evening. Any time you’re treated to a standing ovation at a show like that, you know you’ve done it right. Once again, the culture has come through for you.