Dave Martins

Dave Martins


Following recent musical explorations in the country, including Dr. Vibert Cambridge’s excellent book, “Musical Life in Guyana”, the current depressed state of our music industry is once again a topic of discussion. We are hearing renewed calls for more music education in the schools, and for ways to make instruments more affordable.

A well-known music teacher stressed the need to identify and foster singular musical talent. Some have called for the creation of a Guyanese “national sound”, and there has been the inevitable shout for government funding for music studios and facilities. It is fair to say that, particularly following Dr. Cambridge’s book, serious concerns have been raised about the state of our music industry today. 

In a discussion at the launch of the book, I made the point, which I repeat here, that while the suggestions mentioned above have some merit, the fundamental hurdle to be overcome is musical opportunity. For musicians to improve, to excel, to originate, they must live a musical life. It may sound simplistic, but to become a professional musician you have to be playing music professionally, virtually every day, over and over. There is no other way to do it.

The best school in the world will never teach you how to deal with an audience, how to learn what you’re best at, how to hold an audience. In other words, you learn who you are as a musician by being a musician, virtually unknown, often for years and years. You learn by doing, and unfortunately the problem in Guyana is that we are grievously lacking in places for musicians to learn. To put it in concrete terms: both Eddy Grant and the Equals, and Dave Martins and the Tradewinds, would not have made it if those two band-leaders had stayed in Guyana. We learned, in the places we went to, by doing.

Take a stroll around Georgetown at night and count the number of places where musicians are doing music, playing live, trying to attract and hold audiences. If you find five, consider that a good night; most of the time it will be one or two. Places where musicians play constitute, in effect, the engine for the music industry. It is so for every country on earth. And Guyana is now sorely lacking in that engine. The few who are “making it” – Jumo; Adrian Dutchin; Tameka Marshall – made their name outside; they went to places with an existing vibrant musical engine.

Trinidad, Jamaica and Guyana are three examples of Caribbean countries with impressive musical talent, but the number of high-profile musicians from Guyana is small compared with the other two countries, and our music industry is miniscule. The reason for the difference is that Trinidad has carnival, and Jamaica has a powerful tourism industry; those two economic engines are driving the music industry of those countries. Tourism in Jamaica engages scores of musicians working in their homeland in a range of groups and venues year-round, in a refinement and exploration of their craft, or they are travelling overseas to play for audiences who have come to know Jamaican music. (I recall joking with the late Byron Lee that when he returned to Jamaica, Immigration would query his passport.) Jamaica has its engine.

In Trinidad, carnival drives the music industry from November to approximately March every year (some bands play two gigs many nights in carnival season) and it keeps Trini performers busy overseas all year in the various international carnivals (there is literally one every month year-round) and soca parties in the Caribbean, North America and Europe. Many Trinidadian performers are abroad from April to November in very remunerative careers feeding the carnival/party demand, some now as far away as Japan.

It is out of that melee of constant and intensive musical exploration with audiences that the popular performers emerge and the music itself is fed and energized and modified by the demand. In Jamaica and Trinidad, it is from that constant work, as musicians are interacting with the public, and each finding a way to success, that the style and content of the music is established; it is from that eruption that a particular genre of music (blue beat; ska; reggae; calypso; soca; cadence; etc) emerges and, consequently, an identifiable product is born with a unique sound or flavor.

Another example of it can be found in Barbados, with its powerful tourism product employing numbers of bands, year round, out of which, in the 1970s came the Barbadian music called spouge. Popular for a while, spouge suffered from a limited musical structure and soon faded away, but it was one more example of an original music, or sound, being generated by a vibrant music industry with its own carnival-type propulsion; in this case, the annual Bajan CropOver festival which is part of their tourism engine.

Guyana has no such engine. We have no world-renowned carnival that attracts volumes of tourists every year and is replicated in cities around the world year-round. Possibly our Mashramani could reach that level in time, but that time is a long way off in both scale and content and recognition. Similarly, if Guyana were to eventually develop a tourism industry drawing substantial visitor numbers it would certainly serve to spur our music production – more singers would be generated; better bands; more polished emcees and dancers – but that time, also, is a prospect and not yet a reality.

The discerning reader will spot the link here: that the success of our music industry is totally dependent on the wider scenario of overall development. Simply put, the engine our music industry needs does not exist now because the circumstances propelling it are just not there. In the immediate term, it means that our gifted young performers, looking to blossom, will have to take their talent and their dreams to those distant pastures, in the Caribbean and beyond, where the opportunity for development exists. Sorry, folks, but so it go.

Source: Dave Martin’s Facebook page – July 26,2015

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  • de castro  On 08/10/2015 at 3:06 am

    Interesting comments from the minister of music….
    High in content low on solutions.Maybe too focused on the “carribean”
    Jamaica/Trini scene (senario)… is international and the point raised
    that musicians must travel outside to make/sell their style of music is a valid
    one. However music comes from within us influenced by where an artist originates….as its part and parcel of our “culture”.
    That originality is unique to a particular culture which Guyana is very diverse in.
    Afro/Indian/Amerindian/Chinese/European/mixed ethnicity.
    Am sure an original style/brand will soon emerge if not there already.
    The education system will soon recognise that Maths and English are
    not the only subjects that are important in schools today. Music has its part to play in the development of Guyana economically/politically/religiously
    eventually culturally. A new Guyana brand of music will emerge if not in its embryonic stage already.
    Am optimistic for the future of Guyana s talent to shine in every aspect of its development ….the ball is in the court of its political leaders to recognise
    and encourage the future generations of Guyanese peoples.
    Talent exists in every culture ….Guyana no exception.”

    If music be the food of love “play on”…😄

    Thanks to comrade martins for highlighting the challenges musicians of the future will have to overcome….just hope the Guyanese talent remains/returns
    to Guyana

    Que Sera sera

  • Clyde Duncan  On 08/10/2015 at 3:25 am

    The Venezuelan Model:

  • Clyde Duncan  On 08/10/2015 at 3:39 am

    TED Talks: High School Musicians in Venezuela:

  • de castro  On 08/10/2015 at 4:06 am

    Comrade Duncan….thanks for info.
    Venezuelan consulate in London has musical/cultural events monthly which promote their musical talented musicians creations. May add no entrance fee.
    An eye opener indeed.
    Cuba a world leader in medicine
    Venezuela a world leader in music
    Guyana a world leader in racial integration ?😈😇

    Nothing is impossible only “unlikely”

    Que sera

  • John JSPS  On 08/10/2015 at 12:51 pm

    An interesting article… I have some colleagues, especially Eric Sayre, who have started a non-profit Music academy in New Amsterdam. Their recent video is at:


    John O’Connor

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