Queen of perseverance
VETERAN TRINIDADIAN AND MASTER WIRE-BENDER Charles Mendoza burst out in tears last week saying in a breaking voice, “she had it hard, real hard”.
He sat across the room from Betty West and unconstrained, gave vent to the kind of emotion which the Barbadian bandleader West must undoubtedly have felt as well, as she talked about the many years she endured as the bridesmaid, rather than the deserving bride in the Kadooment band competition.
On Thursday Betty smiled and tears welled in her eyes as she saw the tears of a friend who has been a rock to her, helping to produce the Kadooment band Positive Vibes which won her eight prizes this year, including the most coveted.
Next year marks 25 years West that has been putting out Kadooment bands.
With few exceptions, year after year she has had to settle for second or third places.
But reflecting on Kadooment Day 2015, she said of her band: “I stood up and watched it and I thought to myself ‘Betty you are a winner. Even if I had lost deep down in my heart I knew I had won. I had done my best.”
Positive Vibes depicted things she thought Barbados needed to make it a better place – acknowledgement of heritage, helping each other, stamping out discrimination, protection of the environment and loyalty to citizenship.
Eighty per cent of the band was new members, a result of the impact of the current economic situation on her regulars.
“The night before Kadooment when I realised I did not have that number of 300, I had to give away costumes to make up that section to be in the competition otherwise I would be disqualified.”
But she was spurred on by the positive vibes in her band house; the people who told her “Betty you have to make it.”
It was a sweet victory, especially when she read the congratulatory text from her former partner who walked away from the relationship when she chose Kadooment over him, after the ultimatum he had given her.
Betty turns 72 in November but age in no way dims her passion for what she does. Her life story is one of overcoming hardship and obstacles. At age 16, she was working, building a life on her own, performing as a limbo dancer on the hotel circuit with the legendary El Verno Del Congo. This opened doors of opportunity.
She danced on stages such as the famous Radio City Music Hall, was on the Ed Sullivan Show back when she travelled with noted Barbadian artistes such as the Merrymen and El Verno.
When she moved to England after meeting and getting married at age 23 to her late husband, she was afforded opportunities for wider exposure as a catalogue and exhibition model. She worked in Europe as well.
When she designs a Kadooment band therefore she draws on expertise derived from these experiences.
The fashion and dance combined in successful cabaret shows she produced when she first relocated to Barbados from England, also provided the means whereby many a Barbados Community College student got exposure to the business of fashion back then.
Betty looks back on the day her son Leo and his friends Peter Coppin and Stokeley Murray decided they wanted to put together a Kadooment band and turned to “mums” for help.
The Arrival Of The Mob was the band she created for these young people and she has not looked back since.
Today her band is made up primarily of “mature” members. Based on her early experience putting out a big band, she is always mindful of the “restlessness” of young people when it comes to deciding with which band they will jump.
She reckons her strict stance on costuming, and her refusal to be part of the trend of “skimpiness” may be a turn-off for many revellers in this age group. But for Betty there must be “more creativity on the road” which means more than a skimpy swimsuit and a few feathers.
Though she is constantly told how “good” she looks, she is not about to fool herself, hence the reason Kadooment Day sees her well covered. “I do think when you get a certain age you should have that kind of respect for yourself. I am never exposed and I brought up my daughters the same way.”
Her daughters Harriette and Michelle live overseas and were among the first to send congratulations on learning of their mother’s success this year. To one of them, especially it was a well-deserved reward for the success that she saw eluding a mother following a passion for which the returns were elusive.
Betty is already planning for her silver year of competition next year and wants to return to producing a kiddies Kadooment band.
She is also looking forward to repeating this year’s success, believing in her heart “determination and love for something does it all”.