Give elders a chance

I had a most pleasant experience last weekend, of the kind which I can share.

I was asked to sing at Elders’ Appreciation Day, hosted and produced by BARP, on Saturday evening at Tyrol Cot.

Quite apart from watching Peter Boyce get his face painted, an experience in itself, I was really impressed with the young talent on show. The idea of bridging the gap between elders and the youth was a very commendable one and I am sure many of the elderly there were seeing the young talent live for the first time.

Mandisa, Young Dia and Dynamo performed and showed just why we can safely say that we have some very good calypsonians in the making. I am particularly impressed with the quality of Young Dia’s voice and his smoothness. If he keeps at it he will be a handful in just a few years.

Just watching the reaction of some of the elderly and thinking of the looks of extreme pleasure on the faces of participants whenever there is a “mini-Kadooment” at some institution housing the elderly got me thinking about how much we stand to benefit from those who have lived a long life.

Many of us tend to think of these oldsters as just shells but they are real people who had and still have real lives, which included music. Whenever someone reaches the ripe old age of 100, reporters always trot out the same questions – what foods they used to eat, where they used to work, questions like that. No one ever seems to think of them as people who at one time probably used to go feteing or its equivalent in their time.

I’d like to hear what was the music they listened to, who were the top musicians of the day, who were the top groups, what were the dances they did. Music didn’t start with Mavado; these people had a life.

I once interviewed an old man from St Joseph, I think. He was one of the few remaining men who used to officiate at services of songs. There’s a name for them but I can’t remember it for the life of me. Anyway, these people used to make long speeches, full of long words and really funny. Mac Fingall or Trevor Eastmond had nothing on this oldster, trust me. It was something like Trinidad and Tobago’s Midnight Robber, who makes the same kind of speeches.

This art has just about died out in Barbados and it would be a wonderful thing if any surviving practitioners could be found and the opportunity created for them to teach younger people just how they did their thing. This is Bajan culture and we would be failing our children if we did not seek to keep it, and similar elements, alive.

Knowing that music still plays a part in the lives of our elderly, what can we do to get them more involved? I almost suggested putting them as calypso judges but even though they would probably do a better job than some we’ve seen, we shouldn’t expose them to so much stress.

At Christmas Terry “Mexican” Arthur gets some artistes together and they visit shut-ins, including the elderly. It’s a beautiful thing but I’m wondering if we can’t do something more systematic, rather than a one-off event. And I’m not talking just about opportunities for the elderly to see and hear more music. What about involving them? I know this may sound strange, but I would not be at all surprised if some of these people are still musically able, even if not at the level of former years.

Let me tell you a story here. As a young boy, I used to be most disturbed in some ways when Christmas came around. Oh yes, I looked forward as all children do to gifts and nuff food. What I didn’t like, though, was the fact that my mother always prepared Christmas lunches for some shut-ins, including those at the District Hospital, or Almshouse as we called it then.

As the youngest, it was my job to take this food to these people on a bicycle, then return for the empty plates and dishes. On one hand, it was cool because I got to ride my big brother’s bicycle without having to tief it out, but on the other it meant I had to come close to these old people who, truthfully, used to terrify me.

That was until the Christmas that my mother announced that Uncle Honey was coming to have lunch with us. Once again, I was terrified at the thought of having to sit close to what I assumed would be a doddering old man who would probably drool on me.

I was pleasantly surprised to meet a gentle old man who did not drool and was very kindly, although he didn’t talk much. After lunch my brother brought out his guitar and impressed us with the few chords he knew. When he had finished, Uncle Honey asked quietly if he could borrow it.

Just as quietly, he proceeded to blow everybody’s mind with a spectacular display of picking and strumming at the same time, as he went through a few hymns. At one point he murmured how many years it had been since he had played. When he was finished my brother scarcely wanted to touch the guitar again that day and no one could blame him.

Do you see what I mean? I am sure there are other Uncle Honeys out there who can pass on so much to younger artistes but do they have the opportunity? I know that the Golden Rock people do some wicked drama but I’d love to see the same done for music. How about it? Can you see a Jerry and The Geriatrics?

Who knows how many oldsters out there always wanted to write and perform a calypso? Wouldn’t it be beautiful for them to have this opportunity? It would also be really cool if the tents decided to offer special rates for the elderly, especially those who are usually shut in. OK, we might have to have the St John’s Ambulance Brigade on standby, so what? The elders deserve it.

I’m serious about this, peoples. We need to make the elders feel appreciated and loved. Let’s bring some more music into their lives.


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