Not a Blade of Grass simply a case of Guyanese fervently expressing love for Guyana and things Guyanese

Dear Editor,


My attention has been drawn to a recent Stabroek News guest editorial (“Really Dr. Dabydeen?”) expressing some dismay over comments from Dr. David Dabydeen, our Ambassador to China, regarding one of my songs, “Not a Blade of Grass”.  The background here is that, earlier this month, in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games, the BBC World Service had produced a programme entitled “Com-monwealth Connections” wherein prominent cultural personalities from the Commonwealth had been asked to choose a piece of their country’s music which had special meaning for them. Dr. David Dabydeen was featured on the programme featuring Guyana, and he had singled out “Not a Blade of Grass” as a Guyanese song that inspires him, and in an introductory comment he cited it as an example of our tradition of social and topical commentary in music. In a somewhat wider view, however, Dr. Dabydeen said “the song was about the independence of Guyana and a resistance to a particular border dispute we had with Venezuela.” The subject of Stabroek News’ guest editorial’s dismay is that he then contends that Not a Blade of Grass “is really a song sung for Britain because it’s about our independence, it’s about the centuries of resistance and collisions we had with Britain before we could become independent in 1966.” He says, “It’s about how, as an independent people, we have to start valuing our landscape, our local habits, our local speech, so that all that shame that we had as a colonised people, as a people who are descendants of slaves and coolie labour, we have to purge ourselves of and really recover our self esteem and self confidence and to create out of that sense of freedom something positive. When this song addresses Britain, at depth, it really is the Empire singing back and saying, look, we are now independent, we will never go back, and we will create new and creative links with Britain…”

I must begin by saying that, putting myself in Dr. Dabydeen’s shoes, I can understand the difficulty he must have been facing in this programme in that he clearly had to come up with some platform of familiarity for his Commonwealth audience. It is a dilemma I have faced in front of North American audiences trying to present Tradewinds songs which are sometimes new to them. One often has to find a premise, or parallel, in order to explain a song like Copycats or Boyhood Days to a virgin audience, and it often proves a formidable task.

On the other hand, still in Dr. Dabydeen’s shoes, I would then have approached the writer of the song in question seeking the verification or otherwise of the premise I had come up with. Nothing like that came my way.  As the owner of the copyright of the song, I was asked by the BBC some months ago for permission to use the music, but no other input was sought from me. Had I been approached, I would have said two things: Dr. Dabydeen is correct that the song was indeed “in the tradition of topical and social commentary in music” (although I would have added that that form is now close to extinct), but I would have been at odds with his contention that Blade was “really a song sung for Britain because it’s about our independence, it’s about the centuries of resistance and collisions we had with Britain before we could become independent in 1966.” This was never even remotely “a song sung for Britain” by any stretch of the imagination. This was not, as Dr. Dabydeen proposed, “an empire singing back, and saying, look, we are now independent, we will never go back, we will never go back, and we will create new and creative links with Britain.” While those may be contentions held by others, I was not engrossed with such missions as I wrote the song. It may have been triggered by a border controversy, but Not a Blade of Grass is simply a case of Guyanese people expressing fervently and passionately their love for Guyana and for things Guyanese. It does not mention “border” or “armies” or “violence”.  The world “Venezuela” is nowhere in the song, nor is the word “collision” or “dispute”.  Indeed, someone can come to that song for the first time with no knowledge of the Guyana/Venezuela situation and still embrace the song totally, even without being knowledgeable about some of the ethnic terms it contains – jamoon; kreketeh; guinep, etc.

Ultimately, a disagreement on how a particular song is seen is not particularly upsetting to me – interesting or amusing but not upsetting.  I have long discovered that (a) the true artist has to find “a way”, or a concept, or an approach to present his/her work and that (b) that way can be interpreted differently by different persons for a variety of reasons which one has to assume are well-intentioned albeit misinterpreted. “Not a Blade of Grass” was a 3-minute song, written on an inspiration flash, in the space of a few hours, as a patriotic love-of-country song.  It came to popularity that way, and 34 years later Guyanese still sing it fervently with me that way.  To interpret it as more than that leaves me to ask, “Are we talking about the same song?”


Yours faithfully,

Dave Martins

Latest in Letters

default placeholder

‘I did resign as Ambassador to China’

Dear Editor, Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge may have been inadequately briefed when he made inaccurate statements about me in Kaieteur News (‘Those ambassadorial appointments…’  June 26).

default placeholder

No good reason was given for scrapping the fuel export licence to the Chinese

Dear Editor, The question is: Why the scrapping of the fuel export licence? A government can end a licence for good cause and according to set procedures which seek to assure fair play.

default placeholder

IDB report looks at housing in Guyana, including hinterland

Dear Editor, During a meeting last week of representatives of the Caribbean diaspora with officials of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) part of the discussions focused on the findings of a study by the bank entitled ‘The State of Social Housing in Six Caribbean Countries.’ One of the countries is Guyana and one of the report’s authors, Michael Donovan was among the panellists.

default placeholder

Low-cost housing for the poor needs to be available for rental

Dear Editor, Tiger Bay has been an age-old concern since I was born, and now I am an elderly person. This community has had a notorious reputation even though it has produced reputable persons.

default placeholder

Does the Roads Inspection Unit still exist?

Dear Editor, Governments and ministers are servants of the populace and definitely not the other way around, and at a given juncture, they must be able to facilitate visits by concerned citizens and community groups, etc.

default placeholder

Life for senior citizens should be made easier

Dear Editor, Our senior citizens are much more deserving of respect than what is currently meted out to them both in the public and the private sectors This is particularly evident at banks and post offices especially at month ends when salaries and pensions become payable.

default placeholder

Congratulations to the WI team and coach

Dear Editor, Praise to the team, and special congratulations to the coach. Home has not been a significant advantage to West Indies for a long time, so there is obviously something else that explains winning against both Australia and South Africa.

default placeholder

All eyes are on Sherod Duncan

Dear Editor, I am concerned about Mr Sherod Duncan on two fronts. Firstly, his meteoric rise to fame and stardom is dazzling and because of this, he has to be wary.


About these comments

The comments section is intended to provide a forum for reasoned and reasonable debate on the newspaper's content and is an extension of the newspaper and what it has become well known for over its history: accuracy, balance and fairness. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments which contain attacks on other users, slander, coarse language and profanity, and gratuitous and incendiary references to race and ethnicity.

Stay updated! Follow Stabroek News on Facebook or Twitter.

Get the day's headlines from SN in your inbox every morning: