Nation e-Edition

One day coming soon

One day coming soon Gabby says he is eternally grateful for the opportunities and award given by the UWI. ((Picture by Rawle Culbard.) )

Sun, October 28, 2012 - 12:01 AM

It has been a week since outstanding entertainer, folklorist, social activist and calypsonian Anthony Mighty Gabby Carter received a degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, from the University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill Campus. Gabby, also known for his prolific calypso writings, sees the honorary degree as an impetus for greater focus on the arts and the cultural development of Barbados. He sat down with Associate Editor John Sealy last week to give his reaction to the honour and talk about the way forward.  

How did you feel when you first heard you were going to get the honorary degree?

Gabby: It was like you were dreaming. You were so grateful and you kept thinking about your grandparents and parents and saying, ‘This is not really me.’ This is the work my grandparents and my mother did. I know how hard they worked and how generous, loving and ‘open house’ they were. You wish that they were alive to see it happen. And you wished that you could tell your friends because you were told not to.

[Last] Friday when they [the university] had the dinner and you were asked to do a short speech, I was so reflective because I was one of the people who would have been working as an apprentice plumber on the university when it was building. To go from that to there to be [honoured], it was like “Wow!” God is really great.

What does the honorary doctorate do for you personally and the entertainment industry generally?

Gabby: You cannot feel more pleased than to have your highest tertiary institution honour you as an individual. For that I am eternally grateful. However, in terms of entertainment, I know it says someone is being rewarded for work done over 40 years. But I would not look at it as a personal achievement; it would have to be for all of us who have worked over all of these years to build a cultural landscape.

People look at culture as entertainment but I look at it in a wider sense, in that it can be a beginning of something special and different. It can signal a beginning, for example, working towards an [exclusive] school for the performing arts with its own centralized facilities. I have always said that until we have that school, we will not be as serious as we could be in terms of developing the arts. I am not just referring to singing or dancing. And we have to use this also as a platform to refurbish the Empire Theatre. It is necessary that we do so.

The work in the schools also has to be extended. I have been fortunate to be working with St Paul’s School with a group called Rhythms Calling 3 along with group coordinator and choreographer Rochelle Brewster. [It is so called because this is the third set of children who have been in training]. I was very happy when the principal said that they could sing at the graduation. This augurs well for children in the performing arts. We don’t want this to be a programme which just stays at St Paul’s. Yes, we have NIFCA and so on, but I think this can be extended to other schools.

Am I understanding this to mean that you would like to see a more aggressive approach to developing Barbados’ culture?

Gabby: Yes. If people understood what culture is, then there would not be a problem. I have advocated for years that when we annex culture to some other ministry, we are treating it as though it  is a stepchild. You have to clarify that culture means how the people walk, talk, worship; how they do everything. Therefore it has to be number one . . . .

How does the Cultural Industries Bill tie in with your perception of culture?

Gabby: The truth is we have been [talking] for years about this cultural industry. There is no cultural industry in Barbados. We have to build it now. You have to understand you must  hire your finest artistes in your hotels and nightclubs and expose them to the visitors and the visitors to the [locals], so that there is an inter-connectivity and a constant flow. In a country like Cuba the artistes are held in high esteem.

You could not have a hotel that could hold two or three hundred people and not have some kind of live band there during the night, even the day. That would [not] happen in Barbados or even the wider eastern Caribbean because we have not yet said to our people and ourselves that culture is No. 1 and we [should] sell ourselves through what we have to offer.

No longer can we sit back and look at culture as a hobby or a pastime; it is not some kind of recreational thing. It is professionalism, skill and productivity.

What is the next step for you?

Gabby: I would love to continue teaching in the schools and my ambassadorial work, what I have been doing for 35 years officially or unofficially.

What is the status of your ambassadorship? Do you still have a relationship with the Government in that area?

Gabby: I don’t know. Before he was diagnosed [with cancer] the late Prime Minister David Thompson called me in his office and told me he had never fired me as ambassador. He said he was going to reinstall me and he did in fact make the calls to the relevant people at the National Cultural Foundation. Four years later, it has never happened because David died in the process. I don’t know whatever happened to that [ambassadorship] in the official capacity.

In the unofficial capacity, I have been very fortunate in that the Cuban government sent me to Mexico to represent them along with some Cuban artistes. I find that was such a high [honour]. Here is Cuba with thousands of great artistes and they sent me to represent them in Mexico and then they sent me to Havana to perform. I can’t explain it. They sent their deputy president to meet me. And now the Venezuelans are doing much the same.

I am saying the people outside of Barbados have asked me and I will go. I don’t care if it is United States, England, Russia, China; it is about developing the arts and making good connections to people all over the world so that Barbados’ name can continue to be recognized. My work is very simple: continue to go wherever you are asked to go, whether it be on the African continent.

Should you not try to get the matter surrounding the ambassadorship cleared up?

Gabby: I am not one to go to the Prime Minister and ask why they did not reinstall me. I would suffer in silence. Even when I was dismissed and I put in for my unemployment, I was told that I was three days late. I never got unemployment. You wonder why. But you don’t hold animosity. I kept very quiet until now.

I don’t know what can be done with something like that. I was told on the phone. I was not even told to come in and ‘talk to us’. It was like on the phone, ‘Sir, you are late with the application for unemployment; it cannot be done.’ These things are just by the way. The main thing for me is to keep on working, writing; advising young people to don’t carry this thing about you are well established and well known . . . . Keep on helping them. As the Bible said, ‘Cast your bread on the water and it would come back tenfold.

Getting back to Gabby the calypsonian. Your music/lyrics speak to ‘revolution’ in terms of thought process. How do you reconcile your anti-status quo lyrics (like in West Indian Politician and Take Down Nelson) with being awarded an honorary doctorate?

Gabby: The West Indians that I spoke about, the leaders of that time, all got their education in England. Caribbean leaders today got their education in the West Indies. The Errol Barrows or Grantley Adams, Burnhams, Manleys or people of that ilk. Owen Arthur, Ralph Gonsavles were educated in the West Indies and they have a different mindset. The others were post-colonial leaders. This group, with all the mistakes that they would have made, whether Thompson, Mia Mottley, Chris Sinckler or Freundel Stuart, most of them had the vast majority of education in the Caribbean. Their thought process is different and carries more ‘Caribbeanness’ within their framework.

No longer do we have to stand to God Save The Queen or walk up Broad Street to be served by white people. No longer do we have a white fire chief or a white police chief. This current group of leaders met people like themselves who were educated in the West Indies. They might have done post-graduates outside but the root of everything they did right up to tertiary level was done through a educational system that was Caribbean.

I am not saying the politicians honoured you. I just wanted to clarify that kind of militancy in song against what is considered the status quo.

Gabby: It is not militancy. When Queen Elizabeth came here, they asked me, ‘Are you going to meet the Queen? You sing all of these anti-songs.’ I said, ‘Of course; she is head of state. I have to go, in my opinion, to show no disrespect to the head of state. Whether or not you agree that she should be head of state was not relevant. It does not mean you agree it should be like that. My thing is, when I think about Barbados, the Barbados I envisage is at its very small, embryonic stage, because the explosion that I have seen all the time has never been realized. It happened in spurts. But that continuity of growth that I see has never been accomplished.

I think we can do it now. It is not just about funding. It is about attitude. It is like: you want to dance? Re-educate the teacher to the fact that culture is important so that that teacher feels pride in showing that child how to dance and speak.

It does not matter if they have a voice to do it; it is [like how] they commit themselves to mathematics and English. That is the mindset that I want, that you are realizing and admitting that the arts are just as important as mathematics. We need to retrain our people’s thought processes and we need to have that enthusiasm, that willingness, to put forward a case for the arts that would benefit the country. What the country has in richness is art and artistes. They have never allowed one artiste to become rich.

That opens up my next question. Should not the artistes agitate for their share of the economic pie?

Gabby: The artistes agitating will get you but that far. You could not want a more ardent agitator than me in the ’80s and ’90s. I agitated on every front and said this [Pic-O-De-Crop calypso competition] prize money is terrible. Why would the onus still be on me to carry that fight when there are so many young artistes around? I did that when I was young, when I had the energy to fight them every day. There are young artistes now. Some of them are university graduates.

It is still incumbent on the artistes to agitate but they might want somebody to fight for them, if not you.

Gabby: Yes, what is needed is an organization, the Barbados Unified Calypso Association, which we formed. The reluctance of artistes to join I can understand because all the others [organisations] had failed. None of them were able to stand up to the National Cultural Foundation (NCF). The NCF’s strategy, their meetings and way of doing business and execution were far in advance of what we had, so we were not able to match them in that way. But it did not mean what they did was 80 per cent not right for the development of the arts. So we still need that united body that can stand up and say this or that is wrong.

For example, the judging criteria. We have been asking for years that you don’t just throw out the highest and lowest marks and add up the others and you go home. That is madness; you have to have discussion. And all of us - Bag (Red Plastic Bag), Smokey Burke, Kid Site, Adonijah  . . . would make semi-finals and thereabouts. The top 25 or 30 local calypsonians all said, ‘Please, discussion.’ But where the NCF was concerned it fell on deaf ears.

Gabby, is your honour an endorsement of culture?

Gabby: This not the first time UWI has given me recognition. This is continuity. It is not like a shot out of the blue. Bear in mind I would have done a few things at UWI. Also calypso king Red Plastic Bag and Smokey Burke and other artistes would have as well. I have been fortunate to be doing some kind of programme at one time or the other since 1977.  

I am eternally grateful for that opportunity to do so. What it did was to open my eyes to the fact that we do need that school for the performing arts. And we want it like yesterday.

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