Dem Bajans

So It Go

From the start of Tradewinds, I’ve always had a thing with ‘dem Bajans.’  While it’s true that the band initially became popular in 1968 from Trinidad radio stations hammering my ‘Honeymooning Couple‘ song, it was the Bajans who first got on the Tradewinds bandwagon and embraced the group immediately in a way that would only be equalled in time by Guyana.

It was one of those ‘love at first sight things’ that just happen, without one knowing exactly why.  There was an immediate connection between the Bajans and our music.

Barbados was the place we first realised we had arrived. You would hear the band’s music as you passed houses, or going by little drinking spots, or even from the radios of passing cars, with the taxis, in particular, having it at high volume.  In our heyday, with our Bajan man Vic Fernandes organizing the gigs, we appeared in the popular spots but Vic also put us in the countryside venues where few visiting bands went.  We would play Drill Hall, North Point, and a delightful rustic place (the name eludes) on the extreme edge of Barbados’ east coast overlooking the sea.

The Bajans came wherever we played (I remember the LIAT girls trying to slip in from the back wall at Pandora’s; I joked that they were making requests even though they were poping) and part of the pull for me was my affinity for the Bajan personality.  Where Jamaicans and Trinis can be very flamboyant, there is a kind of restrained polish to the Bajans that appealed to the country boy in me, plus I love their British sense of humour as opposed to the vagabond Trinidad picong.

so it goBy Caribbean standards, Bajans have a kind of sophisticated cool (it takes a lot to ruffle them) and will remain apparently immune to behaviours that cause eruptions in other parts of the region.  Their attitude to gay people, for example: behaviour that would cause strong outbursts and even violence in Jamaica will result in a calm stare from the Baje, a slow turn of the head, and a brief steups.  One night at a countryside fete, with our man Vic Fernandes collecting money at the gate, a sharply dressed Bajan came to the entrance, put down his money and told Vic, “Two tickets; for me and she.” He was pointing to the person beside him, who, to Vic’s astonishment, was another man. Anywhere else in the Caribbean a scene of much merriment and tantalise would follow that scene; all it caused in Barbados was a few slow stares.

From the beginning as well you had to notice the Barbadian  sense of order.  I’m going back here now 44 years, but even then it was there. There was order on the streets and in business places; buildings were well lit and maintained, and if you had to do some official business it didn’t take you all day.  In those days, Tradewinds travelled with all of our musical equipment (drums; p.a. system; amplifiers; even microphone stands) and clearing it was always easier in Barbados than anywhere else.

Over the years, in our many visits there (West Indies Records Limited pressed our LPs for the Caribbean market) the relationship deepened, and I made many friends there including an almost brotherly connection with Vic Fernandes that lives to this day.

It is a pleasure to go to Barbados now to see how far they’ve come.  In a relatively small land space, aided by a thriving tourism economy, they have made wonderful progress and simply driving around the island the evidence is there of the First World country they have become.  Although they boast a number of modern high-rise buildings, Barbados has been able to retain much of the beguiling original architecture in its coral-stone buildings and in the striking flat-roof wooden buildings from an earlier time.  The roads, by Caribbean standards, are impressive and have lately been enhanced with a collection of impressive roundabouts (the Bajans navigate them energetically while grumbling “all dese damn roundabouts”).  Good eating places are everywhere in the island. One of my favourites is the open air roadside arrangement at Oistin’s where fish and ground provision meals come to you fresh off the fireside, but good eating places are common, and almost any cuisine you want they’ve got.

“Pon de road,” in their lingo, Barbadians are kind to other drivers and to pedestrians. They will stop and let pedestrians across even with no crosswalk (don’t try that in Georgetown or Port-of-Spain), and in heavy traffic they will stop and let a driver out from a cross street.  Mind you, the road situation is so dense it’s bewildering (when I was there recently a government Minister announced there was no land left to build more roads in town) so maybe the good behaviour is “I help you now, you help me later,” but it is warming to see. There are some outstanding developments, such as the high-end Lime Grove shopping complex, and the apparatus of Bridgetown (signage, parking, lighting, sidewalks) is in fine shape. On the south coast of the island there is now a heavy-lumber boardwalk along the seashore for a mile or so, well maintained, with garbage bins (there is no litter, GT, none) with scores of people using it year round.

Despite its small land space, Barbados is home to a range of communities each with a different ambience and each with its own adherents, one being the area south of Bridgetown. As the columnist Daniel Brettig described it: “Walk down the coast road from Hastings towards St Lawrence Gap and its bars and restaurants.  There is always something to see, always a happy face to talk to. When I attempt to cross the road at one point, the traffic stops for me on both sides.”   Don’t try that in Kingston or in …well, you know.

Although hurting from the tourism downturn of the past three years, Barbados remains a vibrant community with modern amenities and, for such a small area, some very attractive landscapes.  Underneath it all, the Bajan warmth and discipline is probably the main factor in its success.  One final note: amid all the order, Barbados is not without its characters.  One I recall like yesterday was a lady I dubbed the F… Preacher.  This middle-aged woman, spry as a chick, would hold forth on the sidewalk in Bridgetown with the most virulent preaching including an array of cusswords worthy of a drunken sailor ashore. I froze the first time I heard her with the F’s and the R’s flying.  Local folks would stroll by, give her a long stare, and yes, a short steups.   That’s dem Bajans. They’re special.

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