Sunday, 22 March 2020

Keeping Indigenous Music Alive Over The Years

A cultural group from Guyana.
It was February 20, 1976, when Neville Calistro, an Amerindian village leader of Kabakaburi, first appeared on stage in Sophia, Georgetown, to sing at a birthday celebration for the now, late Prime Minister Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham.

“I was not the ‘Mighty Chief’ then when I sang at Sophia, and people just saw me as an Amerindian man and kept shouting “Sing, buckman Sing.” So, I sang then as a ‘buck man’,” Calistro recalled. At the time, he was a member of the People’s Cultural Corps, through which he gained exposure at performances throughout Guyana. He eventually catapulted to fame and his name and music became recognised in and outside of the country.

He is Guyana’s first indigenous calypsonian, the man who fused the Arawak style mari-mari with calypso to generate his own musical ‘cali-mari’ genre and who performed for the Queen. The ‘Mighty Chief’ has written and produced numerous songs over the years featuring Arawak and Carib cultures, and he is also versed in the Akawaio language.

Calistro is among a group of popular indigenous musicians who have worked aggressively over the years to preserve the native Amerindian culture, including the language and music.

During the 1980s to 1992, he worked as cultural coordinator in the Pomeroon/Supenaam region fostering and exposing the indigenous culture through songs, dances and the traditional language. He established cultural groups in Manawarin, Akawini, Wakapoa, Mainstay, Tapakuma, St Monica and Kabakaburi. In 1986, he led the Kabakaburi group on indigenous performances in London, Jamaica, Barbados, Holland and Brussels.

In 2003, he guided his five sons and one daughter along with their cousin, to form the ‘Calibro Band,’ which has gained its own popularity as an indigenous musical group.

However, today the ‘Mighty Chief’ is saddened by the fading indigenous music and recalled his memories of the ‘Kayap’, once a tool of social cohesion among Amerindians. His view is shared by several other Amerindian musicians, including Arawak calypsonian Julian ‘The Mighty Pakuri’ Kattow.

Kattow created quite an amusement in the musical landscape with his 2005 release of the song ‘Matapee.’ Whether it’s the hyped mari-mari beats or the catchy Arawak lyrics, the song is noted to quickly stimulate any dance floor.

But while the ‘Matapee’ has heralded its own fame, the Amerindian musicians are worried that indigenous music in its most native form is rapidly fading and may soon become a thing of the past.

Apart from the declining dialects in the lyrics, the beats are becoming more integrated into modern and popular rhythms such as Reggae, Soca and Spanish to match the entertainment demands of the younger generation.

‘Matapee’ and the Arawak composer
It has been observed too that a majority of the younger Amerindians are leaving their villages for the city in search of education and employment opportunities, and have been overlooking their culture and beliefs.

However, the local musicians remain determined to preserve their culture and music and are employing various means to do so.

Originally of St Cuthbert’s Mission, Kattow continues to produce and record his patriotic songs featuring the various indigenous beats combined with the Arawak lyrics. His songs are inspired by the Amerindian’s way of life, culture, beliefs, experiences and relationship to the environment. He has however integrated English translations into the songs along with the native language to make it more appealing to the wider audience. And so far, his method had been proving successful, as his music serves as very popular dance tunes at various cultural and entertainment events around Guyana.

‘Matapee,’ ‘Shifoda’ and ‘Arawak Man’ are widely known across diverse cultures and ethnicities. The calypsonian has already released one album with 10 songs written and recorded over the years and is currently working to record the second volume.

“Now that most of the old musicians have passed away, so have the instruments that they used to make the music and I have noticed that a lot of the bands and singers now are using more of the English beat. You find some of the songs become reggae and rap, which is creative but I think we need to maintain some of the original forms of Amerindian music and this is what I have been doing, using the original beats and just adding different lyrics,” Kattow indicated.

Recalling his childhood in the Pakuri village, he described how the Amerindians celebrated ‘Kayap,’ better known today by the wider population as Mashramani, a celebration after hard work.

“In those days, we had self-help work and everyone would get together to go to the farm to do some community work or help someone in the village. At the end, there was cooking and drinking the piwari and there you had the music and dancing,” Kattow said. The natives used violins, banjos, Kwatro, maracas and flutes to make their music, while the audience danced in various native styles. Kattow started performing at these events and during birthdays, weddings and the festive season. He has since gained exposure across the country, performing at various events including Amerindian Heritage Month observances.

Currently, Kattow is working with a team of other indigenous musicians from various areas to produce a jingle in observance of this year’s Amerindian Heritage Month observances to be staged in September. St Cuthbert’s has been earmarked as this year’s Heritage Village.

Surama preserving its Makushi culture
In Surama, there exists one of Guyana’s largest indigenous cultural groups that feature a wide array of talents including the native Makushi language, songs, dances, drama, designs, and art and craft among others. The group, led by Glendon Allicock and his wife, Jean, have been using music to preserve their culture. The couple writes and composes indigenous songs in the Makushi dialect with native rhythms using traditional instruments such as the shak-shak, drums and flutes. The songs are inspired by traditional stories to which the Amerindians can relate.

“We actually listen to the stories told by our elders in the community and we put these into songs; my wife focuses on the lyrics, while I compose the beats…in addition to the instruments, we use the keyboard to add the sounds of the violin and flutes,” Allicock explained. The couple has been using these songs to verbally teach the Makushi language to the younger ones. Along with the songs, they are taught the use of the instruments and the dance moves.

Allicock noted that some of the costumes are designed with shells and this adds to the creation of the native music, which he said is based merely on chants combined with various sounds. One of the couple’s most popular songs has been “Our way” done in the Shaman chant. To date, the couple has produced over 20 songs and they usually perform these at various events in and out of Guyana. Last December, the Surama Culture Group showcased their talents and culture to Prince Harry on his visit to the North Rupununi community.

Over the years, these and other performers such as Manoel ‘King Perai’ Ferreira and the Couchman Family have represented Amerindians, showcasing their indigenous culture in various musical forms. ‘King Perai’ originally of the Pomeroon River was crowned Calypso King in 2015 and has produced several songs over the years.

He acquired the name ‘Perai’ from a song he sang about the Piranha fish which was composed by a friend from Bartica. Since then, he has performed with many of Guyana’s top bands which included the Melody Makers, the Originals, the Sheriff Deputies, Pete’s Caribbean Fusion and El Sadiek.

•By Ravena Gildharie

•culled from

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