OPINION: A Different Christmas Gift for All – By Dave Martins

Several years ago I played at the funeral of a St Lucian friend who had died after a tough two-year battle with cancer. His name was Bobby Clarke and our friendship began in the early 1970s when Tradewinds were playing all over the Caribbean and came to make the first of many appearances in St Lucia.

During my time in music, I have met, literally, hundreds of people, but only a few have become special. Bobby Clarke was one of those.  In the 35 years after we met, I don’t think any two-month period passed without our talking to each other or visiting each other. I had even played with Tradewinds, as friends, at Bobby’s wedding in St Lucia. The bond between us never weakened. We told each other everything. We had become brothers.             

Something else: many years ago, I had written a song called ‘Living in the Sun.’ Contrary to what people assume, very few songs are truly personal, but this one was. It had to do with my migrating to Canada and of, in effect, finding the Caribbean by leaving it − as Bobby did; as so many Caribbean people do − and there are two verses in the song about Bobby and St Lucia.  So after his wife Angela called, and after I got over the shock of his passing, the thought came that I should sing ‘Living in the Sun’ at his funeral, and that’s what I did at the Cathedral in Castries on that solemn Monday afternoon four years ago. I did it simply. No bass. No drums. Just two acoustic guitars: me and Boo Hinckson – a great guitarist from St Lucia I’ve known for years –who was also close to Bobby.

I’ve never played at a funeral before, and I was very nervous, but once I started, the song rolled out. It was pure Caribbean, in church mind you, but it was a really touching moment because the song talks about the simple joys of Caribbean life, and while it was clearly a sad occasion in the cathedral, it was an uplifting moment. People applauded after we finished – unusual for a funeral service.

There are two other aspects to this incident.  One is that, after the funeral, we went back to Bobby’s house and nibbled and talked to all sorts of people, some of whom I had come to know from our trips to St Lucia. It was beautiful.  I spent some time there with Bobby’s family and with his wife, Angela. She had had a bad time on Sunday and Monday, but she was bearing up well.  She is truly a lovely person, gentle and warm, but a rock.  She pulled me to one side and said, “Dave, you know what Bobby used to say? He used to say, ‘Dave sang at my wedding and he will sing at my funeral.’ ” That shook me. I could hardly speak. She had never said anything about it to me, and neither had Bobby.  Even when she had called and told me he had gone, and I had called her back to tell her I was trying to come, and maybe even sing something at his funeral, she never said a word about it. She obviously didn’t want to influence me. That’s the kind of person she is. That’s the kind of people I have met through music.

And that’s the other thought that subsequently came to me: that through some songs I had written about Caribbean life, I had come to know wonderful people all over this region that I would not have known otherwise.  When I visit Barbados, or St Vincent, or St Lucia, people shout at me in the street or call the radio to say hello; these people have become my regional cousins.  I have come to know the little back-o-wall villages in those scattered places and the solid, genuine people who live there and invite you into their homes and make you feel special – all from the songs.

In Guyana of course, the exchange is more powerful and more widespread and it affects me more, but on the plane trip back from that St Lucia experience it came to me to be grateful to God for giving me this musical gift that has opened windows for me all over the hemisphere and brought me directly into so many Caribbean lives.

Certainly I might have worked at some other career and possibly made enough money to travel to these diverse pearls of the Caribbean, but I would have gone there merely as an unknown visitor.  Because my songs had become popular in those places, I was going there as someone with a connection to those people that I could not have otherwise made. Through the songs, drawn from them, and aimed at them, I had become familiar. They knew Dave Martins as a friend who understood them and was talking to them of their own world, and all that had come from these songs I had written. That realization had never come to me before; on that Tuesday afternoon, in a plane high over the Caribbean Sea, it came and it brought me to tears.

So now as Christmas approaches, and we begin to reflect on the things in life we are grateful for, I remember to give thanks for all these wonderful people in the Caribbean and my homeland whom I have come to know because of my songs. Christmas, for us, as for many of mankind, is a time of true giving and receiving, when families come together, in our case, some travelling from thousands of miles away, to share and exchange and remember.  A time, of course, for the Christmas songs – I even wrote one of my own, called “Bethlehem,” for Tradewinds – and the special things to eat and drink, and of a people sharing and celebrating and remembering those who have gone before us, and of our connection to God, and the Christ child, and to the teachings of Jesus that continue to be pertinent to our lives, arguably one of the greatest blessings we have been given.

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Comments

  • kamtanblog  On 01/08/2021 at 4:44 am

    Nostalgia is a wonderful reminder of where we
    come from and where we are heading. If we know who we are we know where we wanna be.
    Today there are more guyanese in the diaspora than ones living in Guyana. Maybe we should all return one day to celebrate that with a song of unity. A United Guyana is a stronger Guyana.
    Go on it time for that song !
    A United world is a better world.
    Bye bye 2020
    Welcome 2021…year of change !

    Kamtan uk-ex-EU

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