Words by Jesse Serwer
Photos by Martei Korley
Eddy Grant, Melanie Fiona and Dev Hynes of Blood Orange are a few artists of Guyanese birth or descent who have made their mark on international music, from overseas. For musicians residing and working in Guyana, the avenues to success have been limited. To reach an international audience coming from G.T. — a figurative “island” of West Indian culture set amidst the continent of South America — artists have typically had to relocate abroad, as was the case when the reggae singer Natural Blacks bussed a decade ago while working out of Jamaica.
On the occasion of Guyana’s 50th anniversary of independence this year, a stylistically diverse group of young Guyanese artists and musicians have bonded together for a project that may be the first of its kind here. Golden Children, a compilation of original tracks and covers of local classics from nearly a dozen Guyanese artists, was conceived by promoter Jonathan Beepat of Wildfire Productions, to showcase the breadth of music in Guyana, and to encourage the local music industry forward. Two goals drove the project, Beepat says: He wanted to encourage artists to create reflective, celebratory and inspirational music to soundtrack Guyana’s Golden Jubilee, and to create a template for future releases that can continue to propel local music forward in the coming years.
Though soca and reggae are the prevailing sounds heard on the streets in G.T., Golden Children features artists working in a variety of genres. There’s the introspective hip-hop of Rémar, a rapper who helped conceive the project with Beepat, and wrote the project’s title track. Dublin‘s “GT Woman” blends dancehall with pop on a track celebrating both ocal ladies, and Guyana itself. Juke Ross, a confident young singer and guitarist, puts a soulful pop twist on Dave Martins and Tradewinds’ Guyanese folk classic, “Not A Blade of Grass.” And Gadinelli, an American-born singer from Milwaukee who’s recently relocated to his parents homeland, fuses soca with Latin sounds. The project, which has been available on CD in stores in Guyana since the Spring, is set to be released digitally through iTunes this week.
On Friday, May 27th, the day after Guyana’s Independence Day, five of the artists featured on Golden Children — Remar, Dublin, Poonam Singh, Juke Ross and Gadinelli — took part in the Back to the Future concert at the National Stadium, outside of Georgetown, where they shared the stage with the likes of Yellowman, Spragga Benz and Wayne Wonder. LargeUp caught up with several of the artists backstage, where they shared their perspectives on sound, Golden Children, and what it’s like to be an artist in Guyana.
My name is Juke Ross, and I’m a singer-songwriter from Sophia, Georgetown, Guyana. My music is mostly contemporary pop right now. It’s evolving every day, changing. I don’t know where it will take me but we’ll see in the time to come. I’ve released a song called “Colour Me,” that’s my first single and another song on the album called “Boom,”
I’ve been doing music professionally for about six months. Before then I was a regular kid who loved music and had a passion for it. I taught myself to play the guitar, after being frustrated that I couldn’t express myself as fully as I wanted to. When I decided to learn the guitar, that is when I decided to do music seriously.
My name is Dominic Rémar Weeks, so Rémar is my stage name, but it’s not a moniker or anything. That’s actually my middle name.
I say being a rapper in Guyana is a double-edged sword. For one, I’m not in the American market so I don’t have that influence of trying to dress like everybody else, and sound like everybody else because I’m away from everything. And I’m trying to create my own sound with the reggae fusion. Because that’s who I really am.
Coming from Guyana, the lingo is completely different, so I had to learn everything and keep in touch with the lingo, so when I rap it doesn’t sound like simpleton rap with basic-ass words. I can actually sound like I am a part of that culture, when I really am not. As I am maturing now as an artist, I am realizing that not being in the American society every day is maybe a gift for me… It’s definitely doors to kick down because this is not our first preference musically in Guyana. It’s dancehall and it’s soca, but I think the love for hip-hop is here in Guyana.
“GT Woman” is a song concept I came up with about six years ago while at University in England. However, when I was approached to be part of this unique project, Remar, Darrell Pugsley and I worked together to re-write the song you hear today. The song speaks to my affinity with not only Guyana’s beautiful women, but to the love/hate relationship I have with Guyana itself. Guyana may not always be kind, but nothing will ever change how much I love it. She is my true GT Woman. Happy Fiftieth, Guyana!
I am an international soca Latin artist. I basically have put my focus on this music, because I wanted to pay homage to where my parents come from, which is Guyana, South America. I lean towards soca vibes, intertwined with the Latin culture — basically embracing being both South American and Caribbean. I tried to come up with a fusion, and incorporate Latin into Caribbean soca. So what I did is I took a merengue beat and I tried to lyrically sound as if I am a soca artist, which I am. I intertwined those two beats, and I came up with something called socarengue, so you can enjoy both.
Recently, I have been living in Guyana. I was offered accommodation, however I like to stay with my family. If you are going to come to Guyana, it’s best to get the raw experience from the people. Me, being American Guyanese, I was brought up with the values. It was instilled within me to appreciate where my family comes from.
I’m not opposed to doing American music or R&B. As a new artist, you can always fluctuate between your sounds. That’s the good thing about being new. Nobody’s really familiar with you, as of yet. As I’m growing, I am trying to play with different sounds to see what does Gadinelli really stand for. I am proud to start off in Guyana.
I think it was key to put some time aside, and do some songs for our 50th independence. That’s how the cover of [Dave Martins and Tradewinds’] “Not A Blade of Grass” came around. We worked with Serani on that one. It’s an old, classic song sung by one of our first major musicians out of Guyana. His music really described life in Guyana, the Caribbean, and such.
I decided to cover that song because it’s a popular song, and at the same time it represents the resilience in our people. At its core, it is a love song to our country. I thought it would be good to re-do it, and make it more current, for 2016.
Before now, my mom and my family didn’t really take me seriously. They would literally tell me to shut up when I was rapping, and it would get too loud. But now with the grandeur around the 50th celebration here in the country, and then knowing that I had a part in the music — they’re hearing my name on the concerts, and seeing me on the back of cabs — they are taking me a lot more seriously. This project in a lot of senses was my launching pad. I was bubbling and respected as a hip-hop artist here, but this has really pushed me further to the forefront and given me not an incredible buzz but the hugest buzz I’ve had so far in my career.
[From L to R]: Gadinelli, Dublin, Jonathan Beepat, Rémar, Juke Ross, Poonam Singh