Valuing Ringbang and Eddy Grant’s contribution to Guyanese literature

Eddy Grant

Electric Avenue 

 

Down in the street there is violence 

And a lot of work to be done 

No place to hang out our washing 

And I can’t blame all on the sun, oh no 

 

We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue 

And then we’ll take it higher 

Oh we gonna rock down to Electric Avenue 

And then we’ll take it higher 

 

Workin’ so hard like a soldier 

Can’t afford a thing on TV 

Deep in my heart I’m a warrior 

Can’t get food for them kids, good God 

 

We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue 

And then we’ll take it higher 

Oh we gonna rock down to Electric Avenue 

And then we’ll take it higher 

 

Oh no 

Oh no 

Oh no 

Oh no 

 

Who is to blame in one country 

Never can get to the one 

Dealin’ in multiplication 

And they still can’t feed everyone, oh no 

 

We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue 

And then we’ll take it higher 

Oh we gonna rock down to Electric Avenue 

And then we’ll take it higher 

 

Out in the street 

Out in the street 

Out in the daytime 

Out in the night 

 

We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue 

And then we’ll take it higher 

Oh we gonna rock down to Electric Avenue 

And then we’ll take it higher 

 

Out in the street 

Out in the street 

Out in the playground 

In the dark side of town 

 

We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue 

And then we’ll take it higher 

Oh we gonna rock down to Electric Avenue 

And then we’ll take it higher 

 

Eddy Grant 

 

Edmond Montgomery Grant, more widely known to the world as Eddy Grant, was in the news recently because he was conferred with the degree Doctor of Letters by the University of Guyana at the institution’s 52nd Convocation. 

This honouring of one of Guyana’s greatest musical personalities is a statement about a number of things with wider resonance than the singer, songwriter, musician himself. It speaks about the university, the academy, popular music, and the literature of the country.

Dr Eddy Grant is an internationally renowned exponent of popular music, in the field of rock, reggae, soca and his own Caribbean hybrid Ringbang. This less known form, Ringbang, probably says more about him than any of the better known types that he has produced, because it has something to do with his legacy, the impact of his work and why he was decorated by the university.     

Ringbang may yet be Grant’s greatest achievement as a musician, though it has not been as globally acknowledged. It is yet to conquer the world as he has done, and as his other music called by the names of reggae, rock, soca and whatever else has done. But it is really not easy to separate them and to say definitively which of his songs have not influenced and do not exhibit the strains of this innovative rhythm. Ringbang was forged from the influence of traditional rhythms and defines him and his work more than any of the other forms. Furthermore, it is this definition that would have moved the university to deem that by virtue of the total weight and volume of his art and its contribution to the field he had done the equivalent of a PhD. 

This is because Ringbang is more than a rhythm, it is an ideology, a philosophy. It defines Grant as an experimenting musician, and says something of his ideas, his Africanism, his contribution to Guyanese literature and his overriding themes. The roots of Ringbang are in traditional and indigenous music and represent his innovation and originality. But it is further linked to resistance, to the fact that so much of Grant’s work is in the protest tradition, that he took a stance against apartheid and racial prejudice and resisted crimes against humanity. 

The university’s recognition is reminiscent of the position taken by the Academy in Stockholm in 2016 when the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Bob Dylan. This admitted Dylan, known for his popular and folk music, into the mainstream halls of literature and kept in step with the times and the new frontiers and definition of literature. The popular lyrics were acknowledged as having the strength, the longevity, the depth of meaning and literary merit.

Similarly, Grant’s music has endured. It has not gone stale, nor has it been ephemeral as most popular music, but has transcended the decades like Dylan, like Bob Marley, Sparrow or Dave Martins. The lyrics have had sufficient strength and meaning to have sustained audience interest since the times when they were new, hot off the press and climbing up the popular charts. They might have declined from number one, from the top 20, but not from memory or significance or lasting impact.  

“Electric Avenue” is named after a fairly depressed locality in London, reflecting human struggles in such environments. It is known to have been written as a response to the riots in Brixton, South London, and other parts of England arising from black unrest due to race issues and social conditions. This black problem in Britain blew up in 1981 with a series of riots, prompting Grant’s response. So that, apart from being at the top of the charts in both the UK and the USA, it is one of the most significant contributions to literature. 

“Gimme Hope, Jo’anna” is his most prominent hit aimed at apartheid causing it to be banned in South Africa. It is a thinly disguised allegory, which contributes to its literary strengths. “Race Hate” is a quite explicit addition to this corpus, as is “War Party”. Grant’s range and variety are interesting and lend to the command of literary techniques.  

That body of literature that joins the fight against forms of human oppression has spoken for itself and etched its impression on the consciousness of the world’s population. The statements made help to anchor it as a literature with weight and depth, all contributors to the way it endures.  In recognising Grant, the university has therefore acknowledged the value of this literature. It has identified with it as an institution, demonstrating that as a place of learning with an interest in knowledge and excellence it is prepared to give recognition to this kind of achievement and to have its name and authority associated with it in the granting of an honorary degree. 

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