A writer once said that culture is the intersection of people and life itself. He added that it was how we dealt with life, love, death, birth, disappointment and any range of individual expression. Another writer has suggested that without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. He noted that this was the reason why any authentic creation was a gift to the future.
And if one prefers not to be overly philosophical, the thoughts of Pope Francis were instructive and simple when he stated that together with a culture of work, there must be a culture of leisure as gratification.
“People who work must take the time to relax, to be with their families, to enjoy themselves, read, listen to music, play a sport,” he said.
It is within this context that we congratulate three of our cultural icons – Anthony Gabby Carter, Stedson Red Plastic Bag Wiltshire and Alison Hinds-Walcott – for their sterling contributions to Barbados’ cultural tapestry and for being acclaimed as cultural ambassadors of this island. Collectively, they have given more than a century of their talents to Barbadians at home and abroad and have enriched the lives of millions across the globe with their art.
Too often, we do not appreciate the brilliance, the effort and commitment which it takes to create a piece of music, to write a score, to pen a calypso, to perform on stage, to produce a play. Often, artistes live out of a suitcase, travelling from city to city, country to country, bringing enjoyment to mundane existence, offering respite and encouragement when the pressures of life become too onerous.
And these three have been great standard bearers. Mr Carter has not only been involved in the calypso art form but has contributed to Barbados’ folk music traditions and the theatre. He has been a mentor to hundreds of aspiring cultural practitioners, dedicating hours of his time and energy to teaching on-stage craft, writing of calypsos and most of all, bringing his inimitable quality to the performing stage. Whether preserving Emmerton for posterity, highlighting our West Indian Politicians, stirring social emotions in Jack, encouraging moments of levity with Needles and Pins, or just laying bare before us our Culture, Mr Carter has left an indelible mark on our landscape.
Mr Wiltshire has long stopped being the property of St Philip. He is one of the Caribbean’s finest sons. He has become not only a much beloved exponent of the calypso art form, but he has elevated himself to be a consummate storyteller in song with very few equals. His obvious affinity for poetry and nuances of expression in verse have always been reflected in his penmanship. He has loved Bim with great passion but yet has been willing to point out when The Country Sick. He has inspired those of African extraction with demonstrations of being a Black Man, given social advice on how to Count The Cost, exposed our foibles and weaknesses in Issues of the Day, admonished us about Waste, and all the while, doing it as teacher, entertainer, advisor and raconteur par excellence; never as an adversary. If anyone dares to doubt his impact beyond these shores, it is worthwhile to note that his Ragga Ragga has been recorded in eight different languages.
Mrs Hinds-Walcott is a global artiste who has captured the imagination of thousands of adoring fans. Though born in England, her Barbadian parentage, her more than three decades on these shores and her commitment to placing Barbadian music on the map, qualify her for a special place – like Mr Carter and Mr Wiltshire – in our collective consciousness. She has held us in a song for more than two decades as a solo artiste and with collaborations with some of the world’s best performers. That many Barbadian and Caribbean female artistes have patterned themselves after Mrs Hinds-Walcott speaks to her significant influence and her undisputed acknowledgement as being the region’s, indeed the world’s, soca queen.
The mileage they have given Barbados in their travels abroad and their interaction with their legion of fans cannot be over-emphasized. Often we do not appreciate the attention that cultural practitioners attract. In 1987 the death of reggae artiste Peter Tosh made the pages of the widely published New York Times. The passing of our National Hero that same year did not. The likes of these three Barbadian ambassadors loom larger than we sometimes contemplate. Perhaps, there is a lesson there to be learnt by those who still turn their noses down on the arts and decline to invest substantially in our culture.
Recently, Mr Carter, Mr Wiltshire and Mrs Hinds-Walcott were conferred with their instruments of appointment as cultural ambassadors by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart. At that official ceremony, Mr Carter had this to say: “I would like to thank the Government and the people of Barbados for this great honour.” But to Mr Carter, we say no, no such thing. We the people of Barbados would like to thank you three for the great honour you have brought to us.