Friday, April 19, 2024

EVERYTHING BUT: Lyrics and letters


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To say Anthony?Gabby Carter has been the very soul of folk advocacy would be a vast understatement. His excursions into militant music via the folk genre are legendary – at times crossing the border.
Lord Nelson drew its own offence from among the conservatives and Royalists:
Take down Nelson/And put up a Bajan man.
And the status quo at first bristled at Emmerton: An uh hope yuh know it’s true/Dat I will nevuh fuhgive you/Because looka looka wha yuh do/To my Emmerton
You tell me to fuhget/Dat yuh bring bulldozers an’ push down de houses so/All right I say I shall go.
Anthony Gabby Carter himself would in a way acquiesce, leaving the Emmerton environs for the less compact Clapham in Wildey, where his mum Rosalie went to live. Still he has roots there: in a gentle, kind and accommodating Aunt Perts and a music aficionado for a cousin, Carol. Their home sits, to be exact, in Lakes Folly that abuts and bounds Emmerton.
In time Gabby’s plaintive Emmerton would become the flagship for rueful, oral, civil disobedience against social and familial disruption and perceived dislocation. It would also become the song of the last century, as voted for by Barbadians with an ear for music. For the love of it, the evergreen and inviting Beautiful Barbados by Emile Straker and The Merrymen would be its nearest competitor by choice of the populace.
In a manner of speaking, Gabby had looked in the “wrong” place and found the right stuff.
The folk and calypso maestro pursued topics and renderings other noted practitioners would rather leave alone (Riots In De Land, John Brown, Black Man, Wake Up and the like), never afraid to establish his point of view; definitely never intimidated by the possible rejection of it by the “bourgeoisie”. Nor was this pan-Africanist ever afraid of work, his hundreds upon hundreds of self-penned pieces attesting to his burning vocation.
Kaiso, the first cousin of Caribbean folk music, has emblazoned Gabby’s name upon nine national crowns – second only to Stetson Red Plastic Bag Wiltshire with ten – and gifted him an enviable collection of classics and masterpieces that include Boots, Calypso, Culture and West Indian Politician.
This distinguished lyricist, picong master and exceptional music maker explored myriad subjects: from the indignities of history, through the intimacies of life, to the foibles of politics. Yet the complexity of his subjects would be streamlined by an economy of language that lessened not the gravity of his work nor the passion of his performance.
Few will mistake Sweeter Than You and Swim as among Gabby’s best works; but even a second-tier Gabby is worthy of a good listen. All his miscellaneous themes – comedy, militancy, reflection, tradition, commentary, storytelling, sexuality – are worthy of collectors’ item status.
See Gabby, hear folk, picong and classic and innovative calypso – and a piquant guitar too! Also, observe a flair for being comic. This consummate entertainer, arguably the most versatile, will offer you a plethora of jokes in one evening – sometimes at the rapid speed with which he composes some of his songs. The experience is always a jocund thriller, refreshingly long on side-splitting anecdotes but not the least shy on interest.
His Bajan humour is matched only by that of an unstudied Smokey Burke, the dry-witted Richard Stoute, the compulsive Trevor Dynomite Eastmond, and the classic Mac Fingall.
To some of us it might have been mind-boggling then that Gabby became bereft of all words – offering not a single joke – as he was seemingly overcome by the awesome circumstance of the conferral of the honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus on Saturday. It must have been humility mixed with elation.
Still he was in good voice and able to ring out a memorable melodic note with the St Paul’s Primary School chorale Rhythms Calling 3 – that which he does much better than most.
I salute you Anthony Gabby Carter, DLitt (Hon), my musical inspiration, my very dear friend!
• Ridley Greene is a Caribbean multi-award-winning journalist.


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