Sometimes, epiphanies come in pairs. A few months ago, for example, after a lovely evening with visiting poet John Agard and his wife Grace Nichols (plus a few local pals) I had this epiphany where I realized how lucky I am in the number of enchanting friends I have living abroad (Henry Muttoo, Vic Fernandes, Vibert Cambridge, Clive Rosteing, Terry Ferreira) plus, and almost simultaneously, I had the second epiphany – that I owe the friendship of those people to the music I’ve created over the years. Of course I have a few here, as well, whom I see far more frequently than the ones away, but the key, in both cases, is that we keep in touch.
Vic Fernandes is a Barbadian stalwart in broadcasting, and that’s how our friendship was formed – first as someone interviewing Tradewinds on radio and then, for many years, as Tradewinds man in Barbados. Vic is close to the brother I never had. We disagree about some things, thank God, but generally we look at the world the same way; we rate the values in human beings the same; the same people irritate us (currently Donald Trump, WICB boss David Cameron); we bring a strong sense of humour to taxing situations; and behaviours he finds ridiculous usually strike me the same way. There’s the basis of comity and brotherhood in there, and that’s basically the story. A criterion of a true friend is the someone in your life you never feel hesitant to approach when you’re dealing with some problem. For me, Vic is one is one of those people. I know I can wake him at 4am with some trauma, and he’ll come to the phone and instantly be with me – no questions asked. And I met him through music.
I saw Henry Muttoo performing as part of a comedy entity in Guyana called ‘All Ah We’ in the 1970s, but it was years later, when we both ended up living in Grand Cayman (he was Programme Director of the Harquail Theatre), that the friendship blossomed.
Henry is a highly regarded director and set designer (he’s also a talented painter) and there is a Guyanese streak a foot wide running down his back. That was the initial glue between us – indeed, the arts people in Cayman referred to us as “the Guyanese Mafia” – but the wider pull was Henry’s character, his love of things Caribbean, and particularly his integrity – when Henry commits to something he sees it through; he doesn’t bail out and leave you holding the wrong end of the stick, as some folks have done over the years. And, if it wasn’t for music I would never have known him.
After the original Tradewinds drummer, Kelvin Ceballo, moved back to Trinidad, the replacement I recruited was Clive Rosteing. I knew him then at a distance as a drummer with a Trini band, but since 1970 I’ve come to know him as a close friend.
We both have a keen interest in sport, we’re both almost teetotallers, and with similar taste in many areas. When you work with someone practically every day for over 40 years, you soon recognize where there’s glue and where there isn’t. Clive is another one of those “it’s okay to wake me in the middle of the night, dammit” folks, ever ready to run down some obscure song I’m trying to find or to send me the latest provocative news item on cricket, musicians, amplifiers, or, his mania, the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL. Clive will phone me, unsolicited, “to hear my voice”. And I came to know him because of ‘Honeymooning Couple.’
Vibert Cambridge is the Professor Emeritus at Ohio University whom I met as a visitor from the US in the crowd at Tradewinds ‘We Place’ nightclub in Toronto in the 1970s. A few years later we came together largely because of the Emancipation Celebration musical I was asked to create for the Guyana Commemoration Commission, and it was instant glue. Our connection began with that work and has grown over the years into a friendship of quiet strength. Neither Vibert and I are rah-rah guys.
We sit quietly, and observe the fray, and suss out who’s the phony, and what the core is, and who’s worth courting and who’s not, and in that process you are seeing how alike you are; you’re building a connection without knowing it, until you find yourself calling on this new friend, or him/her calling you, for reactions or guidance that are always helpful. In effect, you’ve made a friend.
That’s Vibert. I’ve had him to tea, so to speak, whether in Cayman or here in Guyana, and there is always a feeling of family in the encounters. We walk different roads but with the same purpose and the same care for “telling the Guyana story” – not a combination you always find. Music brought us together.
Terry Ferreira I didn’t know from Guyana. I came to know him as another Tradewinds follower in We Place and almost immediately you could see class and integrity came with him. Part of the glue for us was tennis – he’s an excellent player; I was a casual one – and sport generally, but from the beginning his enquiring mind was on view, and his ambition. He was a New Amsterdam boy, and the desire to excel was obvious in him. In laborious and taxing situations where many people would bail out, Ferreira would press on, taking himself to the next level, and, critically, finding laughter all the way. That last quality drew me to him and although we now live continents apart – me here and he in Australia – we stay in contact. From left field, he will send me, as he did today, a technical column on tennis evolution because he knows it would interest me ‒ unsolicited, unexpected, maintenance.
I have a handful of close friends here, too, but these five have endured even though considerable distance separates us, and I guess that’s the aspect I am stressing. This is a column I had pencilled in to do for some time, but it’s appropriate now with the Christmas glue being generously spread.
The time when we offer our good wishes and count our blessings should also be a time for us to give thanks for the friendships life has brought us and have remained constant for us.
In the middle of the Christmas emotion, I have to note that they, along with family, have improved the texture and the strength of my life. They have made a difference. I’m sure you all have persons like that in your own life; find a moment to tell them so during Christmas.