On Tuesday this week I’m walking up Carmichael Street about to turn into Lamaha, and a man comes running out of the business on the corner and hails me: “Boy, I’m glad I ran into you. I am Clifford Fogenay. I was in the GDF when you came to Kimbia to play with Tradewinds. I have a picture from that time, and I want to send it to you; you will enjoy it.” I was stunned. He was talking about something that happened in 1976, but I instantly remembered the occasion and the fervour of National Service and GDF personnel that day: they were encamped far from the city and couldn’t get to hear the band, so we had gone up there to give them a free show. GDF flew us up, there was an impressive amount to eat, they treated us royally – we were even garlanded; a first for me – and we came back to town uplifted from the experience. The picture, when it came, showed the passage of time – it was taken 41 years ago – but it was as thrilling as Clifford had assured me. In it, at the far left, is the late Freddy Abdool, our Guyana agent. Next to him is our bassman, Terry Dyal from Trinidad, and next to Terry is our drummer, Clive Rosteing, also a Trini. I am on Clive’s left, and next to me is Maurice Pierre, of St Lucia, who played keyboards for us before Jeff Japal (Grenada) joined the band. On the extreme right is Vibert Cambridge, now a Professor Emeritus at Ohio University, if you please, a big Tradewinds fan (Vibert, that is, not the university) but back then an Information Officer in the National Service and a hinge for the whole occasion.
I’m relating the encounter with Clifford here to make the wider point that while I can’t say that it came to me when Tradewinds started in 1966, it is true that over the years I have gradually become aware of the variety of blessings that have come into my life from being a musician whose work has been embraced by so many people in so many countries. I have performed on the stage of Carnegie Hall and of Madison Square Garden, and in over 10 Trinidad Carnivals. Along the way, with the exception of Montserrat, I have been to every corner of the region. I have seen from Bermuda and the US Virgin Islands, and the lot southward. I have even been to Bequia and Anguilla; without my music, I would likely never have been on those stages, or seen those islands, or got to know those people in those back-o-wall villages who took to me and the band like we were one of them. My close St Lucian friend, the late Bobby Clarke, took me way up in the hills of the island to a daytime fete held in a schoolhouse at the end of a trail with hundreds of people jammed into the building (no tables or chairs; bar outside) dancing to ferocious zouk in sweltering heat; revellers would take turns coming outside to cool off. Without Tradewinds, I would not have gotten on a first-name basis with persons such as the late Rex Nettleford, St Vincent PM Ralph Gonsalves, or cricket legends Courtney Walsh, Clive Lloyd, and Michael Holding. (To this day, I still hear from ‘Mikey’ occasionally on various cricket matters and on Caribbean frustrations.)
In private life, it was simply from their being in the audiences at our music shows in different countries that I met the three amazing women whom I eventually married, and it was from two of them, Dorothy in Canada, and Angela in Cayman, that I was blessed with the five children (2 Canadian; 3 Caymanian) who have enriched my life so deeply. With my current wife, Annette, an accomplished woman in her own life, who has widened my knowledge of Guyana immensely, it was again a case of her being present in 2007 at a THAG function here in Guyana at the Pegasus where I was the featured speaker.
Minus the music, I would likely have never known those relationships. The honours that came to me, as well – the Cross Canada Song Competition winner in 1970; the Golden Arrow of Achievement in 1980; the Black Music Hall of Fame in 1981; inclusion in a recent book on calypsos with a cricket theme – was a direct result of the music.
Above all, though, the greatest blessing has been the embrace that has come to me in Caribbean culture, Guyana in particular, purely from the songs I have written that have resonated with people.
The connection that leaves a man, completely unknown to me, motivated solely by the music, to take on the mission of getting me a picture he knows I will treasure from an event long ago in a remote place is something singular; it brings a glow into your life on a day when you’re needing one. Even in the course of writing this column, I am in conversation with Vibert Cambridge, now a linchpin of the Guyana Cultural Association of New York, who wants to use one of my songs in an upcoming Amerindian event of theirs. Just this week, after I sent her the old Kimbia photograph I got from Clifford, my Canadian daughter Luana responded with one line, reminding me how blessed I have been in my life. Going back to where I started this gaff, and in the same vein, I’m playing at Palm Court on Father’s Day, 18 June, in the afternoon with my three musical friends here – Oliver Basdeo, James Jacobs, Colin Perreira – and I’m reaching back 41 years to make sure Clifford is in the audience. It’s the least I can do to thank him.