Paying homage to two cultural icons

Guyana Chronicle
December 20, 1999

LAST week, the nation learnt with sadness that two men who made important contributions to cultural development in Guyana, had died away from the land of their birth. One man was Mr Tom Charles, the musician and leader of the Syncopators Band, and the other was Mr Sherland Wilson, a calypsonian, popularly known as King Fighter.

Tom Charles was one of the innovative musicians of this country and is probably most remembered for his courageous attempt to give Guyanese music a distinctive sound. He developed the "Boom". As amazing and, perhaps as irrelevant as this may seem in today's globalised culture, at the time of the 1960s, the people of the newly independent nations of the Caribbean were extremely proud and nationalistic and were seeking to delineate their own cultural ideals and expressions from an amorphous world. The Jamaican musicians were developing the "Ska" in the 1960s with the active financial and moral support of the government. The "Ska" would later evolve to the "Rocksteady" and then to the sensational "Reggae". Trinidad was already renowned as the calypso mecca of the world, and little Barbados was experimenting with the "Spouge". It therefore seemed right that Guyana should have its own musical beat. And Tom Charles was the man who supplied the sound. The fact that the Boom sound never caught on does not in any wise diminish the musician Tom Charles and the courage he demonstrated some 30 years ago.

King Fighter, the second Guyanese cultural icon to whom we pay tribute today, can be remembered by the 50s generation for his sweet singing voice and humourous lines. His ballads and calypsos such as "O My Dear" and "A Certain Female Teacher" were very popular and he commanded a place on the local music charts. By the 1960s, he had gained Caribbean-wide popularity and it is said that his "Come Leh We Go Sukie" was the closest King Fighter had come to winning the Road March at the Trinidad Carnival. His lyrics, his tunes, his voice and his deceptively simple but compelling style of singing both singled him out as a calypsonian and put him in the category of the giants of the art form such as Lord Kitchener, Lord Melody and the Mighty Sparrow. The people of Trinidad still refer to his classic "People Will Talk" as one of the best and most enduring calypsoes ever written. They also fondly recall his recording of "A Man in a Pyjama Suit". Yet one of Fighter's most hilarious calypsoes is the one in which he tells of "A Funny Dream (last night)". In this dream Fighter said, Mussolini was QC barrister, Shakespeare was Sub inspector, Sir Walter Raleigh was a labour leader, and he Fighter was offered the post of Prime Minister. In the last stanza, however, King Fighter, who never minded poking fun at himself, revealed a slight change in designations that leave no doubt in the listener's mind of the location of the jobs. "My post was to push de fire!"

In an age when mediocrity is cleverly disguised by slick packaging and ingenious marketing, we must remember and pay our respects to those talented and true artists who have contributed to the cultural ethos of their country and the wider Caribbean while they gave us many hours of satisfying entertainment.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples