Music and racial unity
November 17, 2003
LIKE other, myriad events, Saturday night's soca-chutney show at Thirst Park gave Guyanese a weekend to remember.
The show, on a moonlit, starry night filled with irresistible music, widened their leisure-time options for sure.
But behind all the music, the fun and the frolic loomed a bigger picture: the bringing together of a multi-ethnic Guyanese citizenry - the descendants of an international spectrum of settlers - to appreciate increasingly transcendent music.
Hits and Jams told reporters in a pre-show briefing that the Thirst Park event aimed to demonstrate that Guyanese are "really united, since soca is predominantly popular with Afro-Guyanese, and chutney is predominantly favored by Indo-Guyanese."
Hits and Jams wasn't creating history, however.
Veteran broadcaster Ayub Hamid might or might not have been the first person to play Indian and English music on a single show called East Meets West. Nonetheless, the program did compel listenership and begin what is now a tradition on radio.
But although Indo-Guyanese had long included reggae and soca playing at wedding receptions and parties, Afro-Guyanese began playing Indian music at their functions only after late President Cheddi Jagan urged such a fusion as an across-the-board acceptance of our cultural diversity and a challenge to explore the limits and potentials of ethnic and racial coalition.
Envisioning racial/ethnic harmony translating in a literal boom of popular acceptance, Dr. Jagan prodded: "In multi-ethnic societies like Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, it is necessary to fight against racist ideology and racial stereotypes which were created and fostered by the capitalist-colonialist ruling class, and later exploited by self-serving politicians. It must be recognized that whatever our racial origin, we have a common heritage. Our forefathers, regardless of ethnic, religious and cultural differences, watered the sugar cane with their blood, sweat and tears."
With elements in our society still perpetuating ethnic cleavage, agencies such as the Race Relations Commission has a lot of work to do for Dr. Jagan's vision to be fully realized.
But Guyanese are coming to grips with the fact that their diverse past, that of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious identity, is imbued with opportunities for the fusion of their culture, mores, and values into a culturally homogenous Guyana.
Music lovers are now buying and enjoying fused music CDs - recordings that combine Indian and English (Afro-Guyanese) singing.
And Bollywood, India's and the world's largest film industry, is including live performances of this fusion in Indian films and music videos, with increased frequency.
Initiatives - inter-faith meetings and prayer sessions - by our religious leaders are also helping to break prejudices against Hindu, Muslim and Christian culture.
So also are intermarriages and ethnic group associations.
If music be the vehicle of ethnic/racial unity, play on.