IT WOULD HAVE BEEN NICE by Dave Martins. – June 19, 2016 – Credits Stabroek News
Guyana’s music industry remains troubling to those of us involved in it, and while the issues surrounding intellectual property rights, including the contentious copyright aspect, are a key part of it, the problems are varied and complex. Recently, respected musician and teacher Derry Etkins pointed to one when he spoke out on the need for Guyanese to become more musically literate, and his point is valid – doing a recording here four years ago, I needed a cellist; I could find only one and she hadn’t played in 7 years.
However, the more fundamental issue for music in Guyana is that we lack the infrastructure needed to propel a music industry – essentially, places to play. The foundation, the very core, of any music industry one sees anywhere is that the aspiring talented young hopefuls that Derry is talking about, have places to go and learn their craft.
It is in those places of entertainment – nightclubs; hotels; bars; restaurants; reception halls; etc. – where the construction of the music industry begins as musicians, in effect, become musicians. There is no other way to do it. Despite the long hours a musician may spend practicing his/her instrument or vocal technique, it is only in the encounter with the public that you separate the wheat from the chaff.
When Tradewinds started in Toronto, we were competent musicians, but it was from playing six nights a week, in downtown bars, dealing with audiences up close, hearing criticism and praise, that was behind the successful band we became. It is from that kind of experience that the professional musician emerges. Those musical platforms existed in Guyana when I was growing up here. We had a number of well-known bands here playing in public places, even on week days, and Guyana at the same time had its own coterie of popular vocalists, such as Johnny Braff, Sammy Baksh, Mark Holder, Aubrey Cummings, etc., known across the region.
Over time, those places to play declined with economic hard times, and the real crunch hit when the technology revolution came along with DJs operating music systems – places offering high-quality music could now do it by paying one DJ instead of five musicians. Today, musicians looking for a career are forced to turn to other occupations as they continue to practice privately; it has to be a labour of love or dedication; the gigs are few and far between.
Aside from the Pegasus, and sometimes the Marriott, live music in Guyana is a novelty. It’s a bleak picture for young performers, with the real talent Derry mentions. It would be nice if they could hone their skills by performing, but unfortunately it’s not so. The few making it today – such as Jumo, Tameka and Adrien – got where they are by going outside. Also, unfortunately, I don’t see any shift around the corner. The foundation of a music industry – places to play – is built up gradually over time as businesses needing music come on stream and as disposable income grows, or, as in the regional example, when tourism comes to the land. None of those factors appear even on the horizon for us. It would have been nice if I could move from the negative picture to one that holds promise, but that’s not the case.
While we’re on the subject, it would also have been nice if we had used the occasion of the recent flag-raising ceremony to highlight our history and some of today’s young talents as entertainment pieces in the event. Financial constraints may have been in play, but it would have been nice to see for instance:
A singing group made up of our singers, past and present, including the likes of Sean Bhola, Charmaine, Jumo, Juke Ross, Poonam Singh (the girl with the “Guyana” song), and the veterans such as Johnny Braff, Aubrey Mann, Sammy Baksh and Rebel. Image the impact if they had hit the stage singing an original “50 for Guyana” song.
It would have been nice to see a 30-member dance group put together by Clive Drexler, depicting our early African ancestors, or if Dorothy Faria had brought that powerful Amerindian group, the Sand Creek dancers, to bang their sticks and display their moves at the ceremony.
It would have been nice to see a long, low flatbed, covered with a layer of earth, carrying two dozen Guyanese with shovels representing the slaves who dug our waterways, including Lama, and it would have been more than nice to see a parade of Indian cane cutters and rice planters, with cutlasses and hoes, moving across an open space to the sound of Chowtal singing. People would have stood up and saluted for such things. (Why, by the way, are there no monuments to those two groups prominent in our country?)
It would have been nice to see a small earthen hill created at one end of the park, with a greenheart flag-pole, for the recreation of the hoisting of the flag on Mount Ayangana by the Amerinidian man who did it in the interior at our first flag-raising.
It would have been nice to recreate the lowering of the Union Jack back in 1966. The soldier who did it back then, was actually visiting Guyana for our Jubilee and had made himself known. What a sight that would have been; that photograph would have gone around the world; it would have been more than nice.
It would have been nice to see a massive Masquerade Band – not the travesty that confronts us at Christmas – and, in similar vein, a Phagwah group, merrily dousing folks in the stands. We could have gone home with our stained Phagwah clothes as a memento to show off.
It would have been especially nice if we had produced towering carnivalesque constructions, 8-10 feet high, impressively wide, depicting our Indian, African, Amerindian, European and Oriental ancestors. Imagine this: to the sound of African and Indian drums, and Oriental gongs, the folks in the striking costumes parade between the stands, maybe doing a little jig along the way. People would have stood up and saluted.
I could go on with this – I know there are many Guyanese out there who have great ideas of their own – but it would have been nice if we had been able to pull off spectacles like that, as a powerful celebration splash that, as a man on West Dem put it, would have “made awee skin itch.” We clearly missed the opportunity this time. Perhaps in 10 years, as we celebrate the 60th, we can have another shot at it.
Guyana Is We Own – Dave Martins and the Tradewinds