MUSIC: Feeling Blessed – By Dave Martins + Music video “Civilization”

By Stabroek News –

It’s one of the features of daily living that we often look back at our lives and feel fortunate for some of the things that have come our way.

I have several friends in this category who will, from time to time, make this point about their own situation, and it occurred to me very recently, after a very touching email from my friend and fellow musician George Jardim, who spoke about his own satisfaction with things on his plate, triggering me into reflecting on what he said as it related to my life.     

To look back on it, I am particularly thankful for the inclination to music that I came with.  I have mentioned it before, referring to my very musical mother, Zepherina, who sang constantly around the house, and introduced me to a number of songs from the old days no longer heard on the radio.

Clearly, whatever musical inclination was already in my genes was fortified by her, but my own gratitude for it, as something inbred, came to me much later in my own life after I had moved to Canada in the 1950s and started Tradewinds in Toronto  in 1966.  I have written about that period before, and the two previous general music groups to Tradewinds – the Latins and the Debonairs – and about the 1966 switch to Tradewinds zeroing in on Caribbean material and featuring many of my own songs.  Although I don’t recall seeing it this way at the time, I look back on it and see that I was blessed by much of what ensued.

To begin with, in the very first recording sessions I did with Tradewinds – the band included Glen Sorzano, Kelvin Ceballo and Sello Gomes, all Trinidad migrants to Toronto like me – came four songs I had written, and one of these, Honeymooning Couple, aired on the popular Sunday Serendade programme on Radio Trinidad, hosted by veteran broadcaster Sam Ghany, became a hit all over the region (Sam’s programme was heard on stations from the US Virgin Islands to the north and Grenada in the south).  I have mentioned this development before but the subject of the column today leads me to say that as I look back on that era that feeling of being blessed or fortunate is part of it, but I confess it was not there at the beginning.

Indeed, some of the Trini musicians in Toronto were openly dubious about my undertaking in 1967 of recording these songs and taking them with our small, unknown four-piece band, Tradewinds, to this enormous musical explosion of Trinidad Carnival with 15-piece brass bands, like Mano Marcellin, and of course the enormous steelbands blocking an entire street as they passed. Truth is I had never been to Carnival, and in retrospect, if I had, I would have sided with the doubting Trini musicians and not taken on the venture in the first place. A four-piece band with no brass and no percussion?   You must be out of your mind, Martins.

It was therefore not peculiar that in 1967, actually standing on the stages of the legendary Trinidad event – Queen’s Park Savannah, Casuals Club, in Port-of-Spain, and Pointe-a-Pierre Club in South Trinidad – I remember the feeling of being blessed, as I looked out on those venues, jammed with people, and almost had to pinch myself to believe where I was.  And that was just the beginning.  In the months and years that followed, as the band continued to appear at venues such as New York’s Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden, and the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto, and similar venues in Montreal and Vancouver, it did not fail to occur to me what a blessing it was that this one-time barefoot boy from little Hague village in Guyana, was standing in these hallowed places and establishing my right to be there. I confess I was overawed by it.

I never confessed my awe to anyone, or wrote about it, but the feeling was there big time, and to look back on it is to wonder why the incongruity of it all did not inhibit my playing. Okay, I was now living in Toronto, but I was still very much a country boy from a small village in the Caribbean, playing in a venue where so many musical greats had presided. Indeed, I remember looking up at the higher tiers in Carnegie Hall, in particular, a legendary place for sure, and not only feeling no inhibition, but in fact exhilaration at all the smiling faces in this sold out venue, cheering these four Caribbean immigrants. Blessed is the word that applies.  I felt so then, and feel so now.

And it’s not just the venues.  In this musical journey, now in its 53rd year, I have also been blessed by the associations formed along the way – with Ellis Chow Lin On, Sam Ghany, etc., in Trinidad, and by the one in Barbados with my close friend Vic Fernandes who booked the band there, and by Peter Michael in Antigua, and by the bond with the late Freddie Abdool here in Guyana, who shepherded Tradewinds in venues all over this country where visiting bands rarely went – such as the venues in New Amsterdam and Linden and Suddie, and in Windsor Forest and Versailles.
There were many other key figures and incidents in the Tradewinds story, too numerous to mention here – probably a book in that down the road – but one of my favourites has to do with a performance in Buxton, a few years ago.  Tradewinds had a collection of hits by then, and we had played at this jam-packed school hall, made concert style for our show, and we played for one hour straight.  I had come off the stage, drained; the place was jammed, and I was working my way through the crowd, when a tall man, holding his son by the hand beside him, walked up to me, with a shy smile on his face, and he leaned over to the young man and said, “Look him there, tell him.”

The young man, probably 8 or 9 years old, walked up to me, grabbed me by the hand and said, “Ah love dem songs, bad, man.”  I’m sitting typing these words and the tears are in my eyes now as they were then that day on the East Coast.  I’ve been in prestigious venues, here and abroad, and I have heard lavish compliments from an array of people, ranging from President Forbes Burnham here to the Prime Minister of Canada and all the way down to the donkey cart driver on Sheriff Street who recently shouted out “Dave” across the traffic to me as I passed, and at those moments I confess the word “blessing” comes to mind, but for some reason the one that dominates those memories is the boy in Buxton with “Ah love dem songs, bad, man.”

Probably the context in which it came is in play, and the nature of it, a man encouraging his young son, but that incident left me with this feeling of being blessed.  It’s that way also, for the one I wrote about previously, when a man in Parika, after we had shaken hands, telling me, “Boy when you shake my hand, you give me chicken skin.”  We remember certain things because of the circumstances at the time, and the environment, but those two occasions will remain with me forever, long after my time in music ends, as examples of when ordinary people in simple circumstances made me feel truly blessed.

-Dave Martins & the Tradewinds – Civilization

Known for their witty and insightful songs of Caribbean life, 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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  • Leonard Dabydeen  On 12/22/2020 at 1:48 am

    A delightful read Dave Martin. Very inspirational to immerse into the joyful stream of your music, your songs so full of rich rhyme and rhythm. You always wake up the Guyanese and Caribbean in me with TRADEWINDS! God Bless.

  • Russell and Linda D'Abreu  On 12/23/2020 at 8:54 pm

    Very touching and inspirational Dave. I will always remember your incredible talent, humour and creativity. The Trade winds played at my wedding at the Prince Hotel in Toronto in Sept 1979 and your music was too sweet. Will never forget you and the band.

  • Noelma Jardim Walsh  On 03/10/2021 at 1:13 pm

    Enjoyed reading your life experiences. I remember your sisters at the Ursuline Convent, Imelda and Cecilia. When I listen to your music I become once again a teenager in Georgetown and I dance and wish that those days weren’t so short lived. You have brought so much joy to so many. So happy for you that your hard work paid off for you and for others that joined you.

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