Memories of Art Broomes
by Stanley Greaves
March 28, 2003
It was during the first ever Carifesta, Guyana 1972 that I met Art Broomes. The venue was The Green Shrimp where a period of holding reviews at week-end were commenced. Personalities like Vibert Cambridge, Marc Matthews, Ken Corsbie, Henry Mootoo and John Agard performed with power and imagination. Art and The Jazz Messengers - Harry Whittaker, Keith Waithe, Omowale, Adrian Van Sertima Wobbler and other invitees provided the musical dimension with authenticity and verve.
As a dedicated musician Art spared no effort to perfect his craft. He became interested in music theory, an unheard of thing for a drummer at the time, but said that it was a requirement for joining Tom Charles' Syncopators. Drumming ruled his life from childhood when he would use his Mother's cooking utensils as a drum-set while she was out, an event reported by neighbours with obvious results for Art. His musical hero was Art Blakey, renowned American jazz drummer and band leader. Art's performances as a drummer also displayed his insistence on good showmanship. He took as example the famous impresario Ziegfeld of the Ziegfeld Follies of New York. I remember well the acclaim that would greet Art when a drumstick broke during performances with pieces flying and Art, in a kind of martial-arts movement, would snatch up another and continue playing without missing a beat - characteristic smile on his face. During his life he was associated with many bands, some he created. Musicians of all kinds -classical, jazz and folk-without reservation respected his abilities and musicianship.
Art was a very disciplined person with an iron will behind his always pleasant demeanour, a characteristic that was in evidence after he had been in an accident on his P50 autocycle in the 1970's. The doctors did not think he would survive, and during visits to the hospital he would relate to me his near death experiences. His interest in spiritual affairs and the significance of symbols were very important elements which he used as resources for his conduct in life.
His love of children was always evident and he is remembered as "Uncle Art" to mine. Celeste Dolphin of the Broadcast to Schools Unit often asked him in a similar role to relate on radio the Anancy stories he had created. Over the years I found Art to be a very perceptive student of human behaviour. This was a most valuable asset when he became a life insurance salesman in the Lodge Wortmanville Werk-en-Rust areas of Georgetown where he was well known.
I was "tested" from time to time on a private hobby - playing congas made by his friend Wobbler. I consider it an honour to have been invited by Art to play on a few occasions, one very memorable occasion being a "Spiritual Banquet" ceremony when Art advised that we should leave seeing that "...something not nice is about to happen." We picked up drums and left the other musicians. This was part of my initiation into the drumming culture in Guyana. During conversations he often related experiences in bands, groups he had formed, and trips to the gold bush as itinerant musician. I encouraged him to write about these experiences and even presented him with a ledger which I hope is safe with someone.
When the famous British regiment the Black Watch came to Guyana in 1953 Art responded to an audition held for a drummer to work with the Regimental Band. His ability to read music on sight won him the job. Years later in the 1970's he was appointed drum instructor to the Guyana Defence Force with the rank of Warrant Officer, a position that suited his temperament. After his retirement from the GDF Art performed as drummer at services held by The Unity Church of Guyana where he played here on earth for the Angels and Saints and I am sure that his presence now amongst them is most welcome and appreciated. Art was a very moral person, dedicated and loyal to those he admired, and was always willing to share his knowledge with anyone who was responsive. He was a dedicated teacher to those who studied with him.
Personal appearance was very important. We will remember him in his all-whites on formal occasions musical and otherwise, and in his favourite off-white pullover with a dark brown design for less formal events. A lasting memory of him visiting me was Art in white with a red jacket, yellow umbrella and black briefcase - dapper as always. For all of us blessed to have known him I say "Art, you are missed, but your indomitable spirit lives on and remains a force to be remembered."