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Our true, true achievers honoured
The recent recognition by the University of the West Indies and the University of Trinidad and Tobago of significant national and international contributors to the West Indian and world civilisation is one done on our behalf, an acknowledgement we should all take serious note of, be very proud of, and from which we should feel a vicarious sense of achievement.
Hazel Brown, Brother Superior (Andrew Marcano), Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts), Winsford “Joker” DeVine and Prof Clem Seecharan, like a couple dozen other Caribbean achievers, duly recognised in the past by UWI, they represent the best in us; “our truest ancestors,” as said by Prof Gordon Rohlehr of CLR James, arguably the ablest and most penetrating of minds to have come out of the Caribbean.
This society has witnessed first-hand the work done by Hazel to conscientise generations of women about their worth.
She has been consumer rights activist and participant in international fora to establish international frameworks for the treatment of gender issues.
Ms Brown devoted much time and energy to promoting the election of increased numbers of women to Parliament and inside Cabinet where decisions are made. She did it all in an “in-your-face” manner, never afraid to confront power holders.
Bro Superior broke new ground when he refused to take part in the 1957 calypso king competition to sing for the proverbial “rum and roti,” while the Jaycees Queen “gets refrigerators, sewing machines and even motor cars while the all the king gets is a brass crown on his head.”
Along with King Sparrow, Superior revolutionised how calypsonians were conceived of and treated.
In the midst of black consciousness in the 1970s, Bro Superior told black people “no matter where yuh born, Yuh still African.”
As a young calypsonian entrepreneur, Superior broke out of the role of the bard singing for bob and a drink of rum.
He performed for years in the US Virgin Islands, New York and in Europe.
“Supie” dressed the part; he was the first calypsonian I saw driving a Mercedes Benz.
His ambition and efforts were to open a radio station to play only local music.
Only recently, I wrote a chapter on the life story of Joker DeVine, surely one of the great calypso composers of our time.
He spent 13 years of his life on the streets of San Fernando “begging for bob.”
In Port-of-Spain he frequented the night clubs and was part of the creative pool of talented of steel-bandsmen and calypsonians searching for creative distinction.
Joker’s insightful and immortal “Progress” is a classic thesis on man’s destruction of the earth “in his quest for success…time is running out, species on the brink of being extinct.”
His conscious lyrics preceded much of today’s concerns with climate change.
Prof Clem Seecharan, a man from very humble beginnings in Palmyra, Berbice, Guyana, a village of sugar cane fields and indentured Indians.
He escaped his initial environment to achieve the highest academic qualifications and focused his scholarly capacity to research the “Bound Coolies” in his homeland, and to write about Cricket and the Indian Identity in Guyana.
And then Kitch, the Grand Master of rhyme, rhythm and poignant lyrics, whose compositions for “the Road” represent the melodies of our lives as a people.
He cannot be emulated and replaced; a one-of-a-kind genius who took the art form to the clubs and concert halls of London in the 1940s.
It was Kitchener who led a band of West Indians on to the sacred ground at Lords to herald and celebrate our first victory over our colonial masters in cricket.
I mark the spot because as a people seeking to make our way in a world “that don’t need islands no more”, we often fail to see our intrinsic worth as represented by our “true, true” achievers.