Commentary: Hooper and Chanderpaul — By Dave Martins + video

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“What’s your favourite Tradewinds song, and which one you feel has had the strongest reaction?” I’ve been asked questions like that often; just this week it popped up again.  On the first question, my favourite, it depends on when you ask me; some days it’s Is We Own; some days it’s Angel Wings, a song about my mother and my own life; some days it’s Copycats. On the second question, I suspect Not A Blade O’ Grass would be the answer but Honeymooning Couple is close.

It’s interesting though that only one interviewer – a very astute Guyanese lady – has ever asked me the parallel question: “Which song do you feel had the weakest response?”  The answer to that one, hands down, is Hooper and Chanderpaul, and therewith, as they say, hangs a tale.       

It goes back very many years ago, at the time of the ethnic street clashes here, when a concerned Guyanese government official called me out of the blue in Grand Cayman where I lived at the time.  “Guyanese pay attention to your music, man, so a song on this subject might help to calm things down,” was the way he put it.  My response was that my serious songs did not tackle subjects head on – Blade o’ Grass, for instance, did not even once mention Venezuela or border clash directly – and that I didn’t think his notion would work. But in the week or so afterwards, troubled myself by the incidents, I came up with the idea of addressing the subject through an imaginary cricket match which Guyana could win only by ensuring our team included both Hooper and Chanderpaul – symbols of our two major ethnic groups.

I still see it as one of the most subtle double entendre calypsos I have written – a disc jockey in Antigua radio dubbed it “the best calypso of the decade” – and with the song launched, Tradewinds came to Guyana for one of our frequent Pegasus poolside fetes.

Well, the fellow in Antigua may have loved it, but Hooper and Chanderpaul landed like a ripe breadfruit in Mahaica; it hit the ground and didn’t even bounce. It disintegrated; parts of it may have come down in Lamaha Street. I was stunned. I had been so sure of this song, and I couldn’t believe I was so wrong. One disgruntled Pegasus patron said to me afterwards, “What the ass you was singing up there, Dave?”  I was struck dumb. The silent crowd reaction had been clear.

There are two aspects to this.  The first is that it is proof of what I wrote in a column here recently, which is that song-writers rarely mould popular opinion – we simply reflect it. I learned that at the Pegasus poolside. Blade O’ Grass was a good song, but it became a hit because it coincided with the national sentiment on the Venezuela rift.  Conversely, Hooper and Chanderpaul, also a good song, crashed and burned because the people were not of that mind. Tellingly, you can still hear the Venezuela song on radio, and everywhere I’ve performed in recent years, I have to play it.  On the other hand, Hooper and Chanderpaul is mute, and audiences don’t ask for it.  It died and never rose again. That’s the first aspect.

The second aspect, the one that distressed me the most, was that the reaction was evidence of this condition that pervades our culture, that of two major divided ethnic groups, hampering and frustrating  us as a nation. Furthermore, the division lingers. Some of the attitudes behind the dismissal of the suggestion in my song, so many years ago, are still about. And before you raise it, please spare me the frequent “politicians-created-the-division” canard.  Certainly the ethnic split was exploited by politicians, but they didn’t invent it; it was already there; they simply recognised that and used it for their own ends.  Okay, it hadn’t reached the cussing and beating up stage, but it was there, and many decades later it has not totally disappeared.  Just last week, in a trenchant notation in the online media, someone related a crass incident with an employee in a Georgetown store reflecting the divide in stark simple terms – now.

 The experience with Hooper and Chanderpaul showed me the edge of the division between our two major groups.   It’s likely you don’t remember the song; as some may not remember Ramadhin and Valentine.
Hooper and Chanderpaul never caught on; here are the lyrics:

 

Hooper and Chanderpaul

Ramotar and Joseph Henry, drinking two rum in Unity

Planning a cricket game next day, Ramotar turn to Joe and say

.

We can win it in Guyana, pick Chanderpaul and pick Hooper.

The first time that the West Indies win, it wasn’t just Sonny Ramadhin

When we give England licks that time, it was Ramadhin and Valentine

and now in this time in this country, we have to use the same strategy

.

We must play Carl and Shiv that’s how we have to live

for us to win this game, banna.

.

Guyana must combine Hooper and Shivnarine

This match is make or break, banna.

.

Curry team up with metemgee, Hooper and Chanderpaul

Yellow plantain and dhall pouri, Hooper and Chanderpaul

Roast cassava and fry channa, Hooper and Chanderpaul

.

Evening gown and shalwar, Hooper and Chanderpaul

.

Joe say “Boy I agree with you, we have to play Shiv and Hooper too

.

Jacket and tie alone can’t win, you have to get dhoti to join in,

    and in the pavilion, the menu must feature roti and dumpling too

.

It must be Carl and Shiv, that’s how we have to live,

from Waini to Canje, banna

This place ain’t you and me, this place is all o’ we

from Kaieteur to the sea, banna

Curry team up with metemgee, Hooper and Chanderpaul

Cook up rice and dhall pouri, Hooper and Chanderpaul

Paratha roti and black pudding, Hooper and Chanderpaul

Pumpkin curry and green plantain, Hooper and Chanderpaul

Cumfa and Diwali, Hooper and Chanderpaul

A-line dress and white sari, Hooper and Chanderpaul

From Rosignol to Wakenaam, Hooper and Chanderpaul

Leguan to New Amsterdam, Hooper and Chanderpaul

From Aishalton to Bartica, Hooper and Chanderpaul

Golden Grove to Parika, Hooper and Chanderpaul

This place ain’t you and me, Hooper and Chanderpaul

This place is all o’ we, Hooper and Chanderpaul

.

Let me emphasize: I felt it would be a smash; I was positive; the fans showed me I was dead wrong.  What was the lesson I learned that night?  Simply this: As a performer, you can definitely benefit from knowing public opinion, but don’t ever kid yourself that you can change it.

********************************************

VIDEO: The Tradewinds Dave Martins – Hooper and Chanderpaul

The song isn’t a lament for West Indies cricket or an encouragement to select Shiv and Carl. Guyana has a very diverse ethnic background with the two dominant groups the Afro- and Indo-Guyanese often clashing. As Dave Martins was a very influential figure in Guyanese culture, he was asked to write a song to try and get the people to put the violence behind them. He chose to use cricket players as cricket is pretty much the most popular sport in Guyana. Hooper and Chanderpaul were the two biggest names from Guyana at the time and conveniently represented the two ethnicities Martins was trying to bring together.

If you listen to the lyrics at the end, Martins chooses one Afro- and one Indo- cultural icon for each line of the song in the same manner as representing them with Hooper and Chanderpaul. He’s trying to say put aside the stupid fighting we’re both a part of Guyana – “this place ain’t you and me, this place is all ‘o we”. Unfortunately the song was a massive flop and although the violence has largely stopped I believe the issue of race is something you have to tread very carefully around if you choose to visit Guyana. Martins describes the story of the song here: https://www.stabroeknews.com/2012/sunday/so-it-go/05/27/hooper-and-chanderpaul/

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Comments

  • Andrew (@delcromphoto)  On November 12, 2020 at 10:52 am

    Hi Dave.. It is a wonderful song. Love the lyrics, but too “deep” for many who respond to a more literal lyric. This is like reading poetry to prose lovers. Poetry requires suspension of the obvious. Sadly when people are experiencing the ongoing trauma of division they rarely go beyond the obvious. As a result good material and sane voices are ignored. You are correct. It is not the song writer’s job to make people understand and feel good. That’s the preacher’s wuk. The real significance and value of Hooper and Chanderpaul will emerge and celebrated when the pace is slower. I am sure of it.

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