Singular Guyanese (Part 1 of 2)

In the arena of creating music for popular consumption, it is sometimes the case that a song about which one is very excited, and generating high expectations, will land like a thud – seemingly totally dismissed by the population.  An example is my song “Hit The Road,” which I wrote for a Tradewinds studio session in Toronto, extolling that band-on-the-road aspect of Trinidad carnival. I felt it would do well in Port-of-Spain, but it was simply ignored.  In contrast, I did a column here recently, titled Knowing Our Stalwarts, and the response, frankly, surprised me. Simply put, that column soared where “Hit The Road” crashed and burned. A market vendor in Kitty made it his business to stop me passing and urge me to elaborate on the singular Guyanese I was referring to, and since I pay a lot of attention to what comes from a man of the soil, I’m taking space here today to give my own suggestions for persons we must recognise, apart from the annual awards, in a way that it reaches the population to, in effect, make us all aware of their contributions.

This is obviously a voluminous matter, and there are space limits involved in a weekly column, so what I present here is not a complete list, but I start off with the more recognisable names and retired Major General Joe Singh is one. Folks more knowledgeable about him than I can provide a range of reasons for his value to Guyana, but in my limited interaction with him going back several years now, I was struck instantly how this experienced and esteemed Guyanese figure was always ready to hear the opinion, or even act on the advice, of the range of people he interacted with. In a time when there are a number of dictators about in our public persons, Major General’s openness to suggestion is a sterling measure of the value of the man. Often expected to pronounce or decide, Major Joe is more often listening and absorbing. It’s a quality some of our more high-profile leaders should emulate.

University of Guyana Vice Chancellor Ivelaw Griffith can get very stern about the various projects he and his staff are wrestling with but those who know the man will tell you about the booming laugh that is almost always in play with him; even when it is not present in his voice, it is there in the smile on his face or the waving of his hand.  Over the years, in different societies, it is often true that the man or woman laughing poses no serious dangers; they have long since absorbed the message of life’s daily comedies; they have achieved balance.  Dr. Griffith is a stickler for “raising standards” while seeing the realities in play.

I would be remiss – and I would hear from my wife about it – if I did not mention Merlene Ellis early in my list. She is a gifted artist whose work I was first drawn to seeing a painting of hers in the late Freddie Abdool’s house in Courida Park.  Freddie’s wife, Carmen, hooked me up with Merlene on a visit here (I was living in Grand Cayman at the time) and I travelled back with two of her paintings in tow (which, by the way, are back here with me in Guyana.)  Merlene’s work is powerful, distinctive, and vivid from a distance – an aspect that is lacking in many paintings – as a visit to her gallery in East Ruimveldt will show, and she does masterful work in framing paintings or photographs to a professional standard.  While some artists can be crusty, or even rude, Merlene is a cordial host. Visit her studio (call 626-2754) and see for yourself; she’s a singular artist.

Singular also applies to Dr. Steve Surujbally, who came into my orbit from taking Annette’s German Shepherd to him for vaccinations. As it is with some people, my music was a factor in drawing us together, but there is a kindred spirit thing between us which I don’t really understand but simply accept. As those who attend his animal clinic can attest, Steve has his crusty side (listen: being the GECOM boss would make St. Joseph crusty) but his intentions are always good and, most important for me, you are always aware you are getting the picture clear.  I call him “Suruj.”  No one else to my knowledge does that; it softens the crust.

More than halfway through, I realise I’m going to be short of space to cover the names I have in mind, so this will be a two-part series with the second half coming next Sunday, but for this first bash I must include Brudda (it’s telling that I don’t know his last name) who has been our house painter for over 10 years.  Whatever problems he has with the work, Brudda solves it silently.  He comes, you show him the work, and he produces the finished product without asking you another word.  Critically, his work is flawless; a year after he did it, it still looks great.

If you need someone for an upcoming paint job, call me on 222-2678 for Brudda’s number.

Before I finish this first instalment, since I’m big on paintings and photographs, apart from Merlene, two persons in my arsenal are Michael Lam, part  of Denis Dias’ production team, enlarging photos for me and for his own singular camera work. In that category, as well, is Leon Moore, who I have come to know only in recent times, for striking nature photography.  I have an enlarged Rupununi photo of his, framed by Merlene, hanging in the house – it is a striking vista, one I wish I could share with you here. Singular also applies to these two.

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