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On heritage, culture and development

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by Dr. Arnold Thomas Tue, Oct 12, 2010

Last Friday, October 1, witnessed a landmark event in the social and cultural history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines with the launching of the Caribbean Country Music Association (CCMA) under the auspices of the Hon. Rene Baptiste, Minister of Urban development, Labour, Culture and Electoral Matters. To highlight the importance of the occasion, Jaye Albright Director -at- large of the Country Music Association of the U.S. delivered the feature address.{{more}} Apparently, this is the second such association to be formed outside the U.S., the other being in Canada. Carlos Maloney of Cross Country Radio should be highly commended for his initiative in the establishment of this organisation.

For those not familiar with Country Music, this has been an aspect of the Vincy musical scene which we can date precisely to the 1940s, when large numbers of Vincentians headed for the Dutch islands of Aruba and Curacao to seek jobs in the oil refinery on the former island – I think it was called Largo Oil and Transport Company. My father was one of those who took the boat along with several others from Calder, and some even perished on the way when their boat was torpedoed by a German submarine. Many of these migrant workers returned to St. Vincent bringing with them, among other things, some modern articles such as radio, gramophone player and lots of ‘78’ records with mainly cowboy or country music. I well remember the old Victrola/His Master’s Voice (HMV) gramophone and the records by Gene Autry, Jimmie Rogers, Roy Rogers, Jimmie Davis, the Carter Family and others that my father brought back. Everyone knew all the old songs like “You are my Sunshine”, “Goodbye Little Darling” and “Don’t Forget Me Little Darling”. There is one song called “Don’t say Goodbye” which I can’t seem to find anywhere, but which has remained a favourite in the family. In the village, almost all the guys learned to play guitar, quatro or banjo and sang those country songs when we got together.

Long before I left for England in 1962 the old wind-up gramophone had ceased to function, but I did take with me a number of those old 78s which were soon replaced over there with the vinyl variety. Those guys from Calder continued the musical tradition, albeit with modern stuff like electric guitars, and they even formed a group called the Volcanics playing gigs at functions such as weddings and parties.

Mention must be made of two outstanding boys from Calder: Felix ‘Phensic’ DaSilva and Vivian ‘Barbudee’ Thomas who died in High Wycombe two years ago. Although neither had formal music training, they had raw talent, and back in the 1960s they made it on the Hughie Green TV Talent Show in the U.K. Together, they collaborated in writing songs of which perhaps the most well known international hit written by Thomas is “Can’t be With You Tonight”, and sung by our own “Judy Boucher” in the 1980s. Judy has also recorded a number of other Thomas songs.

What is interesting about that Judy Boucher hit song and others on the album is the heavy influence of country music, and some might even argue that it also influenced early Ska and Reggae music in Jamaica. This is not to say that there is nothing new or unique about the latter, but it demonstrates the creativity of local artistes to adapt one genre of music to their local conditions and idiom. This is the very essence of development – to take an idea or an existing object and to create something new and different.

Not everyone is a country music fan; for critics many of the songs are either too depressing, sick or just plain rigor mortis. However, as a musical genre it is meant to capture/reflect every aspect of life from the cradle to the grave and its appeal cuts across colour, class and age as Jaye Albright pointed out in her address.

Lately, we hear a lot about creative industry and creative economy; the formation of the CCMA should inspire local artistes to be creative and innovative. We are at a critical juncture in our development when we must look inwards at all the resources we have and do something that is different and marketable. Wealth creation is what’s it’s all about, and this is one sector that is ripe for development. We should also bear in mind that the Caribbean/EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) does provide space for the creative industry sector.

Finally, mention must be made of October 7 as the officially recognized SVG Indian Heritage Day which persons of Indian origin (PIOs) will be celebrating this week through various activities. We are also witnessing the growth of global configurations based on heritage, culture or ethnic origin thanks to the IT revolution. The SVG Indian Heritage Foundation is part of the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), which represents some 24 million PIOs. Recently too, Africans in the Diaspora have formed their own global organisation with the first international conference being held in South Africa a year ago. These new developments should be seen as opportunities and challenges for all our people.

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