A page from the book, perhaps

God knows if I’ll ever finish it, but after several proddings from various quarters I have begun writing a book. I was originally dubious about the idea because I wasn’t interested in simply writing a history of my life in a chronological retelling; I wanted to do something unconventional. So even to interesting offers, including one from my talented friend Glenn Cheong, son of a Vreed-en-Hoop buddy, I politely stalled. But out of the blue, one day, it struck me that the best way to relate the Dave Martins Tradewinds journey was sitting right in front of me all the time; it was a journal that I had kept, writing by hand, during my travels with the band all over the Caribbean and North America for some 16 years. In this process – a day here, a day there – I had been writing about the experiences I had, the people I met, my own personal wanderings, mistakes I made, values I gained, incidents I witnessed – anything and everything. Some of it was poetry, some of it was just a couple of lines, but much of it was in prose pieces of essay length, on every subject under the sun – ironically similar in concept to the columns I would later write for the Compass newspaper when I lived in Cayman and for Stabroek News here now. It is a pile of material, however, as well a huge task involved in putting it together for the flow of a book, so I may well indeed never finish it. I’m using one piece here below, so from the book that may not come out you at least have one page thanks to Stabroek News. The location is St Vincent in the late 1970s. With the Tradewinds Saturday night fete over, and no outbound flights available, I was on the seashore with my Vincy host, the late Stillie Fraser, watching the Sunday world go by. As we sat there, something began evolving on the sea just off the island that ended up leaving a powerful impression on me about the power of nature. In the following week, travelling the Caribbean, scribbling in my journal, changing and revising, I tried to capture the experience. Here’s what I wrote.

 “St. Vincent Shipwreck

so it go“‘What’s a boat like that worth?’ somebody said on shore.

“‘Plenty, plenty money, boy.’ Solemn, informed shaking of heads.

“Across the water, you can tell the man on the bow of the vessel is impatient with the woman at the helm as he struggles with the anchor. His voice is too far away to catch, but the jerking of his body and the flailing of his arms are clear; they are not on the best of terms at the moment. They’re in the blue-water Caribbean, on a beautiful cloudless day, on board what is clearly an expensive sail boat – as the Vincentian said, ‘plenty, plenty money’ – but the two-of-us-together thing is going through a bad patch at the moment.

“However this is a sailboat in motion and you can’t just switch it off and park it, so after several tries, they get the ship turned around and diesel out past the point, with the sails furled, heading south from St. Vincent. It’s a very windy day under the fierce Caribbean sun. The eyes and the conversation swing back to the beach, and the angry man and his woman fade. This is an agricultural island, with a strong marine tradition, and so the news, when it comes, spreads like a grass fire.

“‘You hear? Ship aground on the reef.’

“Stilly drives us around the next turn of the beach, and we climb the hill for a look. It’s the same vessel. The sails are still furled, but the ship is trapped; dead still; impaled on the coral reef. It’s keeled way over on its side with the mast at a steep angle to the sea, and the waves come rolling in – you can count them, every four seconds, here comes another one – striking the exposed underbelly of the sailboat with angry, foaming blows. It’s a painful sight; the people watching hardly speak. It’s no longer a wooden ship; it’s an animal caught in a trap.

“The sea is a merciless hunter. Should disturbance or fatigue distract, she spots the weakness and moves in with quick, vicious strokes to any part of the body she can reach. She is always ready. The coral has the ship in a death grip. Motionless now, she looks exactly like a helpless young deer, shot in the neck, with the rigging like wooden antlers looking to the sky in some final distress signal. As dark descends, the waves are still coming, every four seconds, hammering. One is watching a measured, relentless execution.

“The wind is not as strong the next morning, and the waves have lost some of their fury, but still they come, every seven seconds now, leaping and bounding around this trapped creature, almost playfully, looking for openings, but bent on destruction. Later this afternoon, the wind will pick up again and the waves will return with renewed vigour, anxious to finish the slaughter. By then the body will have stopped groaning. It will be bleeding to death with a gaping mouth some place and with eyes staring sightlessly – one down to the sea, one up to the sky. In a day or so it will start to come apart. The coral will slice open the carcass and spill the innards into the water; the waves will distribute what they can and the brine will attack the rest.

“On the shore, around noon, now into the second day, one of the early watchers, a woolly-headed black man with the squinty eyes of an old fisherman, throws a stone in sudden anger into the water, and turns his back on the scene as if he cannot bear to watch anymore.”


Travelling in the good old days

On the way back from a recent trip to Canada, it occurred to me that although there are still airline problems in the Caribbean, it is nothing compared to the headaches that used to exist.

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A bow to Trinidad

Anyone who writes will attest that one direction leads to another.  In my So it go notebook, for instance, there is this one direction that deals with the origin of the word “soca” and the reminder is there for me because the explanation we frequently hear is that when Lord Shorty combined calypso and American “soul” music in this new rhythm with higher tempos and more emphasis on drum track in the recording, he named it soca from that “soul” American influence and from the calypso origin. 

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Lights dawning

Going back to the ‘30’s and the ‘40’s, an enduring message for young people growing up in Guyana was that the white culture was supreme. 

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We did not want to know

In an earlier comment about song-writing I made the point that while talent has to be there, the more critical quality is observation because that is almost always the ingredient that sets a song apart; the writer has turned a light on something in the society, or in an individual, that would have otherwise escaped the rest of us in the populace. 

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The heyday is gone but the sweetness lives

Calypso achieved popularity with the arrival of calypso tents in Port-of-Spain, particularly from the first commercial recordings in the 1930s, and from the spread of the tents after World War Two ended in 1945.

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