So It Go
By Dave Martins
Although I have been a professional musician for almost 45 years, I have never fully understood the power that popular music holds for most of us. People will become enamoured of a certain song, or a certain artist, and that grip never loosens. No other art form – movies, plays, paintings, sculpture; dance – has quite the same enduring hold as popular music. The feeling for these songs is almost a mania. Decades after we’re drawn to them, we continue to be captivated. It’s a mystery to me. Perhaps, it comes from popular music being the only form that is completely aural; you don’t have to see anything in order to be exposed to it or to absorb it completely; it depends on sound, and only on sound, and you can therefore replicate it over and over – at home, in your car, walking the road, whatever. Maybe that’s it. You can be living in a cave in Afghanistan and enjoy Michael Bolton singing.
Although I’m not sure I can explain it, from my life as a performer and song-writer I have come to recognise the condition from scores of situations, in countries all over the map. The revelations of the hold that music has on people pops up in a variety of ways, and are particularly striking when they come, as they often do, from a complete stranger. I’ve had this experience in so many places, ranging from northern Canada to a nightspot in Bartica, and there are two things at play: one is that I’m always a bit taken aback by it – I’ve never seen these people before – and the other is that the sincerity with which it comes is powerful, sometimes even tearful; it can leave you feeling on cloud nine.
Take Bartica, for instance. As a countryman myself, one of the Tradewinds things I’m proud of is that I always tried to get our Guyana agent, my friend Freddie Abdool, to sometimes take the band away from Georgetown to the less accessible places – Anna Regina, Kwakani, Linden, New Amsterdam, Corriverton, etc – and so we ended up one year playing in Bartica. (Another time I must tell you a story about Anna Regina.)
On this night, as they say in Antigua, the place was “ram cram” and hot, and we played a long set. The Bartica people weren’t too happy when we took a break – “Ah hope allyuh ain’t t’ink allyuh done” – but we needed a blow. I was walking by one of the booths set up on the side, and a fellow sitting by himself motioned me over, asked me to sit, and launched into this very moving account of how he loved my music, how much it meant to him, how he used to listen to it a lot of his travels, and – this part always humbles me – how proud he was of me as a Guyanese. I was sitting across from the man, and although the place was somewhat dark I could see he was cold sober. He had that tough porkknocker look about him, but he was speaking very emotionally.
In these situations, people are usually very willing to tell you about themselves; not this guy. He wouldn’t tell me his name, what he did, where he worked, nada. He kept offering to buy me drinks – I’m not a drinker – and raving about the music I had written. He knew the lines of many of the songs, and would quote to them to me.
We talked for about 15 minutes – well, mostly he was talking; I was listening – and as I was about to go back to play he stood up and said, “Ah goin’ home to come back; ah have something for you.” I was curious. “What is it?” He said, “Don’t worry. Ah comin’ back. Look out fuh mi.”
I actually thought that was the end of the incident, but back on stage playing, our drummer, Clive, tapped me in the middle of a song and pointed. Behind us, the Bartica man gave me a smile and a big wave to indicate he was back. After the set was over, he came up to me, drew me to one side, and stretched out his hand. He was holding a small piece of paper. “Tek wan.” In a flash, I could see he had several small diamonds in his hand. I pulled back. “No, man. You don’t have to do that.”
Bartica leaned over. “Look. You do a lot fuh me wid yuh music. I wan’ do somet’ing fuh you. Tek wan. In fact, tek two.”
I tried again: “I appreciate what you’re saying, but you don’t have to do this.”
Bartica: “Yuh ain’t understan’ wha’ ah sayin’? Tex two.” Heavy emphasis on the “two.”
I realized this man was doing something from his heart, and I caved in. I took two small diamonds, put them in my pocket and said, “You have to give me an address so I can send you a little note of thanks.” Bartica put his arm around my shoulder, and almost in tears said. “You don’t have to t’ank me; I have to t’ank you. And by the way: wan ting. Keep dese – once yuh gat diamon’ yuh always gat money.”
And with that, he waved and walked away.
After he left I asked people who he was. People had seen us talking, but nobody knew him or knew anything about him. He had come alone, he had sat alone, he had left alone. I never met him again. I never heard from him again. But that night in Bartica remains vivid in my memory as an example of how powerfully music can affect us.
People in the music business will confirm that it can be a hard, sometimes brutal life, with sleepless nights, living out of a suitcase, pirating, crooked promoters, and the like, but there are many times when it’s all worthwhile; my encounter with that Bartica man was one of those.