We are seeing it starkly demonstrated once again this week: the power of popular music in our lives, and in particular that of the American music format with a product that is embraced all over the world, even in countries where English is not the national language.
I have said it before and often, but some things need repeating: particularly in a time when we see so much to fix in Guyana, we should be also taking time on the obverse to champion what is of value among us in our people.
Living in Guyana again and becoming caught up in grumbling about this or that like most folks, it has begun to occur to me of late (partly from seeing a variety of video footage and still photographs) that we don’t seem to take the same note of the positives that exist here, right under our noses, along with the other stuff that rightfully draws our indignation.
Part of my current stint as Artist in Residence at the University of Guyana, in the time of Vice-Chancellor Ivelaw Griffith, has involved interactions with students.
A few days after my recent column on some good news items for Guyana, I was hit with another example as I found myself as an observer at the National Toshaos Conference at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre at Liliendaal.
Life in Guyana can bring us so many traumas that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there are bright spots, as well, and indeed part of the process of dealing with the days here, as so many of my friends the likes of Ian McDonald and George Jardim are wont to tell me, is to focus on those bright spots, indeed, lean on them or turn to them in the bleak moments.
Hardly a week goes by in the Caribbean without some disappointed West Indies cricket fan bemoaning the slide of the team that was once at the top but now is bouncing around at the bottom.
In a social situation recently, I heard one of our senior citizens relate an incident early in her life where she gained, as she described it, “a lesson I never forgot.” It set me thinking how that applied to me.
Probably because I have spent most of my life in the entertainment business, I am often interested, I would even say taken aback, to see the adulation, I would even say hysteria, that the famous persons in our societies generate.
One of the realities of modern life is the amount of time we spend waiting – for the telephone technician to come; for the traffic jam ahead of you to clear; for the part you ordered from overseas to arrive, and, particularly taxing for me, the amount of time we spend in various customer lines or waiting-rooms.
I spent a week recently in my former stamping grounds, Grand Cayman, doing a spot in the annual stage show, Rundown, which I started there 25 years ago.
Controversy about the changes that come to popular culture are somewhat amusing in that part of the commentary is the ingredient of surprise, even shock and outrage, as expressed in the frequent “what the hell is going on” reaction.
My Artist in Residence involvement with the University of Guyana has produced some very fulfilling exchanges, some of which I had expected but there were some surprises which I’ve mentioned before.
Given that I am known as someone creating music for a Caribbean audience, I am often asked by interviewers, or the general public, what kind of music I listen to.
When I was first approached by Dr. Ivelaw Griffith, Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana, to serve for a year with the AIR (Artist in Residence) programme at UG, I wasn’t sure about what I would be taking on.
Just back from four performances in Grand Cayman, I spent what was truly an exhilarating evening doing what I would have to describe as a “musical presentation” to a great audience at Moray House dealing with my contention of “No Music Like Calypso”.
For someone who grew up in modest circumstances and very limited exposure to what Guyanese in those days referred to eerily as the “outer world”, I ended up in a musical career with Tradewinds (something simply unthinkable for me when I left Guyana) which led me to spend time in a number of places in what is widely referred to as “the West”.
Some time back in this space, I posed the ‘Why we stay’ question for Guyanese choosing to live here while mentioning some of the magnets that hold us to the homeland.
I recently submitted a So it go column entitled ‘How come?’ listing some of the oddities we encounter in daily life (some comical, some not) and, as I predicted, I heard from readers with their own “how come” submissions.
Two days ago, Moray House staged another of their arts-oriented evenings with our revered painter Bernadette Persaud.
I have this Artist in Residence thing (AIR) going with UG via Dr Griffith the VC and as part of that, the band (Oliver Basdeo, James Jacobs, Colin Perrera) and I are doing some gigs around the place.
Some time in the near future I will be doing a session with arts students at the University of Guyana (as part of my Artist in Residence work with UG) as well as a Moray House talk, sometime in May, on being an artist.
From a youth with an interest in reading I was often struck by the confidence with which persons would express a thought or a position on something that sounded impressive at first but, on reflection, proved to be simplistic, if not downright wrong.
Following two recent columns in this space touching on the decline of calypso as popular music, I have heard from several readers in some very interesting exchanges on this subject.
If you pay attention to random things you hear, you soon become aware of the very uncommon intelligence of the common people.
As a voracious reader going back to my school days at Saints (Stanley Greaves had introduced me to the British Council Library to my delight), I remember once being struck by a comment from then US President John Kennedy which went something like this: “Mankind has two things he can draw on to deal with life’s many problems: one is God and the other one is sense of humour.
With Mashramani in the air in Guyana and Carnival winding down in Trinidad, the subject of calypso is once again in the air.
In another time in my life, when I was domiciled in Grand Cayman, I wrote a musical about the early beginnings of development in that country (the 1950s) when the first major tourism hotel, financed by UK money, was going up on the island’s now famous Seven Mile Beach.
I cannot recall who invited me, but approximately a year or so ago I was in the audience when Trinidadian Dr Keith Nurse gave a sterling presentation here dealing with regional issues relating to Caricom.
More and more that’s how I feel: that the traumas besetting mankind around the globe that we complain about are not about to abate.
Anywhere we live, mankind has pressing issues to deal with – it’s not just Guyana – and everywhere as well, there are bright spots in the gloom.
There are two slants to this missive today. The first is that over the years, starting with when I lived in Grand Cayman, I have developed a very productive connection, mostly by frequent email, with some pivotal persons in the Caribbean which has made for some interesting exchanges over time.
Hardly a week goes by without my hearing from some adult person, sometimes several, about the state of our popular music.
By now you may have noticed that I am a dialect man. I’m not sure when that emerged, but it could well have been at university in Canada where, in a linguistics class, the value of our dialect first hit home.
Amid the various discussions of the diverse factors in play, the fundamental piece in mainstream Caribbean tourism is blue water and white sand; traverse the span as I have, from Puerto Rico in the north to tiny Bequia in the south, one will see that, and it is an understandable pull.
Born and raised in Guyana, and coming back every year as a visitor since 1968, I assumed I knew the country well.
I have several friends who are serious cricket aficionados and they are meticulous in sending me almost anything to do with the sport that comes their way.
In countries around the globe, mankind in his diverse locations, is now generally very well served with information about his/her life now and in earlier times.
I’ve said it before; how much an influence my mother Zepherina, born at Hague as I was, had on me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the bewildering variety of things that come over the electronic transom we now have on the internet, there occasionally comes a gem that stops you in your tracks; even more rare is the gem that gives you goose bumps.
This week, in the aftermath of the Category 5 hurricanes ripping up the Caribbean, some gripping videos and still photos are making the rounds, and a standout in the lot is a BBC documentary on Hurricane Irma titled ‘Apocalypse and the Aftermath’.
As anyone who has seen me perform knows, I frequently go off in some good-natured commentary on various things cultural, and one of them is the effectiveness of our dialect, so that a reaction from Bernard Fernandes, a diaspora Guyanese, lauding a point about dialect I recently made, leads me to shout, as I have before, for the value of our dialect and to consequently object when it is attacked.
This past week I found myself once again being asked to explain to someone in the diaspora why I chose to remain in Guyana.
Before I went to live in Grand Cayman in 1980, I felt that I had some idea of what a hurricane would be like – high winds, plenty rain, houses boarded up, stores closed, and, in the case of low-lying islands such as Grand Cayman, a few feet of sea-water coming ashore.
Caribbean media was awash this week with reports of Chris Gayle, playing for the St Lucia Stars in the CPL, as opposed to the Talawahs, the side representing Jamaica in the national tournament, running into some concerted booing from the crowd at Sabina, purportedly because of his disloyalty, or rejection of his roots.