Gabby, a cultural icon
WE BAJANS –– A SERIES TO MARK BARBADOS’ 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF INDEPENDENCE
The stories and controversial issues of early Barbados were all recorded by The Mighty Gabby, in compositions ranging from Emmerton, Riots In De Land, Burn Mr Harding, to Jack.
And he challenged what was considered “traditional calypso” with masterpieces like Wuk Up and Ole Ashe, which earned him calypso crowns in 2000 and 2010, respectively.
The Mighty Gabby, or simply Gabby, continues to leave an indelible mark on the Barbadian landscape as an entertainer, songwriter, folk artist, guitarist and actor, over the last 51 years.
But there is more to the man, Anthony Carter, than meets the eye.
Considered a legend in the entertainment industry – having penned over 1,100 songs – and known internationally for his singing and acting, Gabby has a deep-rooted passion for working with children. It’s no wonder then that he spends much of his time in schools across Barbados teaching Folk and Calypso music. One such school is St Paul’s Primary, where is the musical director and works with the graduating class.
“I always worked with children as far back as I can remember . . . . What I am doing today is not new. I have been doing some kind of programme in some school since 1977 [so] this is 39 years now,” he said in an interview with the Barbados Government Information Service.
So deep is that passion that Gabby could not wait to return to Barbados to continue working with them, following a two-week trip overseas. He recalled counting every minute of the last 45 minutes of the return trip and watching the progress of the journey on the map until the plane finally landed.
“I don’t know what happened this time. [I guess it was] the anxiety of being home. I wanted to be with the [St Paul’s] children,” he said, noting that he had a rehearsal with them that same day.
He is the first to suggest that children’s involvement in the performing arts provides a gateway for education.
“Based on tradition, we focus on English and Mathematics, but the world has changed. In the performing arts you have people who are entertainment lawyers, [involved in] stage management, lighting and sound; you have promoters; you have so many different areas now.
“A child who wants to pursue a career in the arts has a good chance of being a successful human being, in terms of their financial life, just as much as someone who wants to be a lawyer or doctor. In some cases, they do better,” Gabby said.
He maintained that if parents allowed their children to participate in activities such as singing, dancing, painting and sculpting, their academic work would improve.
Born in March 1948, the fourth of five children, Gabby explained that he was driven to work with young people because he did not have such opportunities as a child.
His start in the entertainment arena was no different from many other Barbadian performers –– he started singing in the school choir, first at the St Mary’s School and then at the St Leonard’s Boys’ School. The legend credits his vocal talent to both parents, while he said his gift of playing an instrument came from his father.
By the time he was seven, he caught the calypso bug. That was just the beginning of what would be the start of a cultural path for The Mighty Gabby.
As a teenager, he recalled being inspired by the likes of Sir Don, Sivers, The Mighty Charmer, and Jackie Opel, but was also exposed to other genres of music such as Jazz, Blues, Rock, Soul, and R&B.
In 1968, at the age of 19, he became the youngest calypsonian to win the calypso crown. He captured the title the following year and again in 1976, 1985, 1999, 2000 and in 2010.
However, the music icon recalled that Calypso and Folk music were not considered priorities at the time, because Barbados’ educational system was structured in a way that viewed the arts as almost a non-entity.
“Most people would refer to it as a hobby and not as a vocation or some kind of career,” he recalled.
For this generation, the one thing the Cultural Ambassador wants to see is the establishment of a performing arts centre in Barbados.
“I do not mean a pure arts centre where they could go and draw, but where they could go and learn to play a guitar or play a piano; where you could learn dance; where you could learn about artistes before; have an archive where they could see artistes and what they have contributed . . . . This is important to children and they would love that,” Gabby insisted.
Such a centre, he continued, should give the younger generation the opportunity to meet greats like cricketers Sir Garfield Sobers, Desmond Haynes, Joel Garner, Gordon Greenidge, and Charlie Griffith.
“That is what we are lacking in Barbados. We just need to have a place, a continuum, where our people meet,” he contended.
“Of course the tourists will be happy to meet our icons. It would help tourism, it would help the arts, it would help the economy and it would help us to grow as a nation.”
In fact, he is a firm believer that one of the main highlights of any country is its culture. For him, culture is “how you eat; how you drink; how you walk; how you talk; how you worship; how you teach yourself; how you learn; how you dress. This is your culture”.