One of my long-time friends, with whom I communicate by email fairly regularly, made a comment to me recently that I should remember to remain grateful for what has come to my life through music, and while I think I have done that to some degree, it can certainly bear repeating. Coming to mind immediately on that topic would have to be the occasions when ordinary folks walking the street stop me to convey their appreciation for the songs over the years, ranging from the first one, “Honeymooning Couple,” going back to 1967, one year after I launched Tradewinds in Toronto, focusing on music for Caribbean people. Those spontaneous outreaches from total strangers were heart-warming from day one and continue to come my way, some 54 years after the band began, and I’m indeed grateful for every one, remembering each time that the praise is being directed not at Dave Martins, the person, but the song-writer guy who has been living in him since I was a youngster growing up in Vreed-en-Hoop with an acoustic guitar given to me by eldest sister Theresa and her husband Joe Gonsalves, the week after I graduated from St. Stanislaus College in Georgetown. A big part of the impact for me is the fact that those personal affirmations in public have come in so many different places, outside and inside Guyana, in almost every island in the Caribbean, and, of course, in North America.
The realisation, I must admit, took some to arrive, but one of the earliest came when Tradewinds’ early popularity led to us being invited to perform at the legendary Carnegie Hall in New York City in a Caribbean variety show. For some reason, the occasion didn’t really strike me until we were on stage and into the music and what triggered it was the remarkably natural acoustic sound of the hall. Probably from the extensive wood paneling covering the interior of the building, including the areas where audiences sit, the sound that comes back to the performers on the stage is clear and free of distortion, almost surrounding you in a kind of cocoon. In that moment, reveling in the acoustics, the thought flashed through my mind: Wait a minute. This is Carnegie Hall. This is one of the most prestigious music performance auditoriums known to man, and here am I, originally a barefoot boy from a little village in a little known country, on the same stage where musical gods such as Menuhin and Caruso have walked. I remember looking up at the wood paneling and thinking: What am I doing here? This is a place I had known only from magazines or newspaper columns, now it was that sophisticated New York audience come to hear us in that very venue. It was the first of many such jolts that have come to me in the years since, each of them stirring the same point of gratitude my old friend mentioned recently.
Another one came some years later, when in the prestigious O’Keefe Centre in Toronto, another celebrated music venue, Tradewinds performed in another Caribbean variety show, along with Sparrow, on a night that had particular impact on me as one of the many of thousands of Caribbean people who had migrated to that city and found good fortune. In between, of course, following our first hit, “Honeymooning Couple,” in 1967, there had been appearances all over the region, starting from the US Virgin Islands, in the north, to Grenada and tiny Bequia in the south, and almost everything in between. In that array, there was a particular surge from our appearances in Trinidad, the mecca of kaiso, where we were rubbing shoulders with such Caribbean legends as Kitchener, Lord Blakie, Composer, Gypsy, Sparrow, etc., up on the stage at the revered Queen’s Hall and, for me, the magical calypso tents of Port-of-Spain, the holy ground for calypso with the most rambunctious music crowds on earth.
Years later, with Tradewinds established in Caribbean music, another surge came for me when, following my dream of returning to live in the region, I relocated the band to Grand Cayman, where our recordings had become popular, and where I found a wonderful satisfaction from the popularity that had come to us, none of us from that island, but wildly accepted and embraced. Cayman became my second home, I later married a Caymanian, Angela Ebanks, and that union was blessed with three singular children – Annika, Janine and Bryan. In time, I became more imbedded in the place, writing songs about it, and eventually taking over as Executive Director of Cayman’s National Festival, Pirates Week. Cayman became a fulcrum in my life – I built my dream Caribbean home there, on three acres, with greenheart floors and a Berbice chair from Guyana inside and with whitey trees and breadfruit and nuff mangoes flourishing in the rich Caymanian soil. It’s a place I grew to love and treasure, and even after my marriage to Angela ended and I returned to Guyana, eventually marrying Annette here in a lovely ceremony at Baganara, I have wonderful memories of Cayman and my time there….all of that, from some songs I wrote, in a corner my myself. It has been indeed, as my friend put it, “a special journey”, with a variety of lovely involvements along the way, including the Barbados one, stemming from their radio guru Vic Fernandes who became our Bajan rep in that island, putting Tradewinds in some classic venues, and from another stellar rep the late Robert Dubourcq in St. Maarten, manager of Little Bay Beach Hotel, who was like a brother, in every sense, to our band. It has been a special journey indeed, one I was fortunate to have, and while there are many examples of it, one that rings with me (I may have mentioned it before) probably because it has do with the homeland, occurred here when we played for an event in Essequibo and a bartender at the function came up to me for a handshake as we were preparing to play and said, “Dave, bai. To shake your hand, give me chicken skin.” Okay, Carnegie Hall is something. And certainly so is Trinidad Carnival and the kaiso tents. But giving a Guyanese chicken skin… that’s a powerful part of the journey, too. Yes, I am blessed.