Where High Quality Abides … The Oldsters Tend To Excel – By Hubert Williams +7 Music videos

Where High Quality Abides … The Oldsters Tend To Excel

  • By Hubert Williams

Bridgetown, Barbados. Oct. 21, 2018 – The new musical norm in the Caribbean tends to be men with little or no education, low moral standards producing too much of the music for local consumption… a surfeit of songs about women and sex clumsily presented; often making considerable sums of money out of it, and, regrettably, enjoying great popularity, prompting the question: Whereto is Caribbean culture headed?

A classic demonstration of where we were (in comparison with where we are) was provided last night in Barbados at the Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Conference Centre, a mile east of the Capital Bridgetown, with Dr. Anthony Carter (“The Mighty Gabby”), Stedson Wiltshire (“Red Plastic Bag”), both of Barbados, and David Martins of Guyana, leader of the renowned Tradewinds band, in glorious concert, to a full house.  

Some people tend to the view that comparison is odious; but the more rational ones know well that comparison begets progress, progress ensures stability; and it is stability that these former little British colonies in the Caribbean sorely need to avoid a continuous sliding along the downward trail.

Some might tend to describe their presentations as nostalgia; but it was much more than evidence of a prodigious generation gap. In songs written many years ago they looked at the culture of their homelands, critically examined political decisions, informed the public of important issues that might otherwise have escaped their attention, and entertained… without descending to raw sex and ribaldry.

They looked at our really newly independent societies, examined their cultural richness, challenges, foibles, failures and successes and produced virtual poetry with musical accompaniment that will continue to inform generations yet unborn… because they carry the twin mantle of entertainers and cultural historians.

So much of today’s compositions show little understanding of the political, social, economic, cultural and other critical issues besetting our little Caribbean pseudo democracies. Perhaps it matters little, since mediocrity upon a platform of inept performances can still win a $100,000 motor car as first prize.

So much of the current crop of our calypsonians are like today’s team of West Indies cricketers. They have fallen far from the dizzying heights achieved on a global scale by their predecessors.

Those who recognize that our music, much like our cricket, is travelling deeply into the dumps seek solace in nostalgia… and that is why so many Barbadians and Guyanese resident here flocked to the Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Conference Centre last night for the performances by Gabby, Dave Martins and Red Plastic Bag.

It also afforded me the opportunity of a first meeting and greeting with Dave Martins, though we have been often in written communication for some time now; and also to chat briefly with outstanding Guyana-born musician Eddie Grant who built his remarkable world-acclaimed career  while resident in England.

When the musical preliminaries from a Guyanese East Indian entertainer had been gone through, Mighty Gabby was the first of the night’s three stars to take the stage… and what an opening it was – the remarkable sociological and political outcry on behalf of the rights of working class Barbadians to have full access to all of the island’s beaches.

His song entitled “Jack” targeted Mr. Jack Dear, then a legal luminary also involved in the island’s cultural life, who he understood was attempting to block access to particular beaches for poor Blacks.

Sociologically, it stirred Barbadians to action, put Mr. Dear at the pinnacle of public criticism and likely has ensured for all time the un-privacy of all beaches in Barbados.

Mr. Dear, an outstanding lawyer and public personality with positions of prominence in several areas of national activity, died of natural causes some years afterwards from what I always felt must have been heartbreak, because some time previously an accidental fire had completely destroyed his beloved home with his expansive library, prized legal records and all his many other valued possessions.

After Gabby had set the audience moving with his presentation of “Jack”, he maintained the pace with another social commentary that had galvanized the Barbadian public, with a song called “Boots” in which he had challenged the government’s (particularly the then Prime Minister John Michael Geoffrey Manningham Adams) concentration on developing a local Defence Force, resources which he though could have been better utilized in meeting the population’s growing social and economic needs.

The outstanding lyrics, musicality, dance-ability and survivability of such Gabby songs had endeared him to the Barbadian public, earned him a doctorate from the University of the West Indies; and recently from the Government the accolade of Cultural Ambassador.

When Gabby departed from the stage to the crowd’s loud applause, the cheers were prolonged in welcome of Dave Martins…a songwriter, ace on the guitar, a leader of men, and as much a star in Canada and the United States of America as he is in homeland Guyana and the Caribbean islands. As the focus of the show, his stay was extended. He conversed a lot with the audience, often explaining the history and origin of each song and giving flashbacks of some of the Tradewinds’ very interesting (sometimes humorous) experiences in North America and the Caribbean – with a few tidbits on the Cayman Islands where he had chosen as home for many years, before relocating to Guyana.

Dave’s strengths are many. At heart he is a poet, reproducing in beautiful verse things about life and human interaction that he has observed. And when he has the words down in print, he dresses them up beautifully in a musical arrangement; delighting his audiences with the results.

For all the bandleaders in the Caribbean who were also their bands’ lead singers, I would have to search extensively to find any to compare with Emile Straker of the Merrymen and Dave Martins of the Tradewinds.

Moreso than last night’s other top performers, Dave Martins chats extensively with his audience… explaining the history of his songs, the meaning of those songs, and the environment which led him to compose, produce and sing them. His segment I would think went close to two hours, to everyone’s delight.

He is an intellectual and a scholar, widely travelled and extensively knowledgeable, so a great discussant; and that is why he fitted in so perfectly during his recent stint as Artist in Residence  at the Turkeyen main campus of the University of Guyana.

Last night he spoke of the history of every song before he sang it: the inspiration that prompted him to write it; when it was produced; how it was produced; where it was first sung; and the initial audience reaction. His capacity to recall is phenomenal, and it seemed he has perfectly memorized the words of every song he has ever composed and sung.

He turned out to be the night’s principal performer, rendering song after song after song, in a stream of great hits that had wowed crowds in the Caribbean, Canada and the USA.

He and two band members (all with guitars) filled the big concert hall with beautiful music, delighting the crowd with the undying allure of such favourites as “Honeymooning Couple”, “Cricket in the Jungle” and so many others…… which were high points in the near 5-hour show.

As well, there were times when his musical compositions sought to inspire public fervour in defence of national security, as with his song “Not a Blade of Grass” which spoke out against Venezuela’s attempts to seize two-thirds of Guyana’s 83,000 square miles, declaring that his nation would yield “not one fish… not one korass… not one tree… not a blade of grass.”

And then when the audience might have been feeling that they had gotten more than their $70  (US$35) entrance fee worth, there still was to come another master class in the person of Red Plastic Bag who invited them onto the wide space between stage and seating to dance to the enthralling music as he sang (I too decided to go onto the floor and get a piece of the action).

As I have said, it was a night of remarkable – nay, memorable – entertainment, action and refection on great Caribbean music past and wonderment about what is to come and perhaps the need to keep constantly in the public’s mind the genius of our past entertainers who recorded history in song.

Brief examples: Sparrow’s complaint against American soldiers and Port-of-Spain prostitutes; his recording of women’s advances in Britain and its first female Prime Minister… “one wearing the crown, the other running the town”; Lord Kitchener’s many classics, including “Calypso in A Minor”, and so much more that should serve to inspire new quality productions and put to rest the mediocrity that is evident in so much of today’s output.

Our music, like our cricket, is tumbling deeply down into the dumps, and so we seek solace in nostalgia, reliving the brilliance of the Kitcheners, the Sparrows, the Gabbys, the David Martins, Red Plastic Bags and so forth as we strive to rejuvenate what we are losing and regain the rich character which the world had come to associate with the Caribbean/West Windies, and realise that our entertainment, our Carnival, our Crop-Over and Kadooment are not only about lurid or empty lyrics, skimpy costumes and women’s anatomy, sex and “wukkin up”, for that cannot be truly what we are.

== ENDIT==

The Mighty Gabby – “Jack”

The Mighty Gabby – “Boots”

Gabby:  “Anthony “Mighty Gabby” Carter (born 30 March 1948) is a legendary Barbadian calypsonian and a Cultural Ambassador for the island of Barbados. He is the youngest calypsonian to win the calypso crown in Barbados at age 19 in 1968 and went on to win the Calypso king title again in 1969, 1976, 1985, 1999, 2000 and again in 2010. He has penned over 700 songs and was awarded Folk Singer Of The Year in 1977, 1978, 1979 The “Mighty Gabby” has been writing and singing calypso music for over 40 years, and is known for his satirical songs criticizing politicians and cultural trends. He won the first ever Crop-Over road march title in 1979 with “Burn Mr. Harding” and again in 1982 with “Jack” (dah beach is mine).

Red Plastic Bag – “Something Happening” (2009 Soca)

Red Plastic Bag – “Spontaneous”- (2016 Soca)

Stedson Wiltshire, better known by the sobriquet of Red Plastic Bag, RPB, or merely Bag, is a calypsonian from Barbados. He has won the Barbadian calypso monarch competition a record ten times.   see Wikipedia for more info

Tradewinds – Dave Martins Pt 2 of 3 “Not a blade of grass” & “Is we Own”


Known for their witty and insightful songs of Caribbean life, Dave Martins and the Tradewinds, formed in 1966, have become one of the most revered groups in the West Indies. Led by the versatile Dave Martins (Guyana) with his guitar, vocal and composing ability, the group, like it’s name, reflects the span of the Caribbean.

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