Michael Currica: 'Little Man' had an important part in a big project
Celebrating our creative personalities
By Dr. Vibert C. Cambridge
November 28, 2004
Michael Currica: 'Little Man' had an important part in a big project
This is the thirty-sixth article in our series on famous Guyanese artistes written and edited by Dr Vibert C Cambridge. Dr Cambridge can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com
The quest to find a national culture was a dominant discourse during the periods leading up to and immediately after Carifesta 1972.
Cultural activists such as Kwame Apata, Peter Kempadoo, Guitar Levans, Marc Matthews, Fred Shaw, and Rajkumari Singh suggested that new forms of expression to celebrate Guyana's diversity were needed instead of copying the styles of Europe and North America.
Michael Currica's engagement in the music scene in Guyana between 1970 and 1990 provides us with a vantage point to explore the quest for a national cultural identity, especially in the sphere of music.
Michael Currica was born on November 22, 1955 to Olga and George Currica in Georgetown.
As a young man, he lived in Bartica because his father, who worked with the Transport and Harbours Department, was stationed there. It was there in the 'gateway to the interior' that Currica started his musical education.
His first music teacher was Mrs Ruby Holland, and she called him 'Little Man'. She taught him piano and theory. Among her other students was her son Loris, who is now a multi-Emmy winning music composer, arranger, and producer in the United States.
Mrs Holland's husband worked with Bookers and was in charge of the power station in Bartica.
After Mrs Holland and her family returned to George-town, Currica continued his musical education in Bartica with Ms Neblett and later with Mr Ruddock, the Latin master at Bartica Government Secondary School.
This phase of his education was purely theoretical as there was no piano available at the school.
The situation changed when Hilton Hemerding, then a recent graduate from the Government Secondary Teachers' Training Centre (Multilateral Schools), joined the school as the music teacher.
While at the training centre, Hemerding had been a member and first guitarist of The Emmel Singers, an innovative folk group that produced in 1970 the influential LP 'Bamboo Fire and Other Folk Songs of Guyana'. It was Hemerding who introduced Currica to the guitar and loaned him one.
When the Currica family returned to Georgetown, he continued his musical education with Mrs Husbands in Second Street, Alberttown.
Between 1970 and 1990, Currica became actively engaged in many aspects of music in Guyana. In 1970, at the age of 15, while still a student at the Bartica Government Secondary School, he became the keyboard player in the El Nino band. Another member of this small band was Hilton Hemerding on the guitar. Currica stayed with the band until 1973.
In 1972, he participated in Carifesta '72 and became increasingly interested in folk music as he saw similarities in the music of the peoples of the Black Atlantic.
Carifesta '72 was organised by the National History and Arts Council, and it was more than a celebration of the region's cultural heritage. It demonstrated that Guyana had emerged as a leader in Caribbean affairs. During the same year, Guyana had also emerged as a leader in the Non-Aligned community of nations.
The History and Arts Council was playing an active role in projecting Guyana's cultural politics at home and abroad. It was also responding to the post-Carifesta discourse on the need to showcase and celebrate Guyanese culture. An immediate response was the Guyana Festival of the Arts (Guyfesta).
During the 1970s, because of Guyana's international profile, it became a destination for many leaders and dignitaries from the Caribbean, the Common-wealth, and the Non-Aligned community. In addition, Guyanese leaders were also travelling extensively. 'Culture' became an important ingredient in foreign policy and the National History and Arts Council, later the Department of Culture was responsible for organising performances for dignitaries and sending troupes overseas.
Currica joined the National History and Arts Council in 1975 and subsequently became a member of the CARI Singers. The CARI Singers started off informally and comprised employees of the Department of Culture. The core members were Michael Currica, Hilton Hemerding, Lucille Williams, Paula Mangal, and Donna Sandy. The group was innovative. Musicians such as Avis Joseph (violin and piano), 'Richie' Richards (flute), and Paul Chung (bass) would augment the group and perform solos, which became a signature element in the group's style.
In addition, Currica worked very closely with Sister Rose Magdalene, recording and documenting Guyana's folk music. His job took him across Guyana.
During the 1980s, the Department of Culture and the Ministry of National Development, organised a range of state-sponsored musical events - mass games, calypso competitions, Indian band competitions, and major pageants and concerts dedicated to Guyana's 'revolutionary' history and the life of Forbes Burnham.
As a staffer at the Department of Culture, Currica transcribed musical scores composed by Billy Pilgrim for pageants and concerts organised to celebrate Burnham's birthdays during the annual Mashramani season.
Because of his skills in scoring and arranging music and an interest in experimenting with Guyana's many rhythms, Currica was recruited to score the music for the band that accompanied the calypsonians during the annual Mashramani calypso competitions.
Currica found opportunities to experiment with a new Guyanese musical sound. One of these was arranging the music Dave Martins wrote for the opera 'Rise Up' in 1988. 'Rise Up' was composed to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Guyana.
In 1989, Currica participated in a project aimed at improving the quality of calypso in Guyana. It was organised by GT Music Publishers, Ltd, Ulric Ceres, and the Laparkan Group.
The outcome was the three-LP set 'Caribbean Shockwaves', recorded at Eddy Grant's Blue Wave Studio in Barbados. Several members of GDF Frontline were recruited - (Keith London (trumpet), Noel Boston (trumpet), Franklin (tenor sax), Celment Brown (trombone), Burchmore Simon (bass), John Matthews and Leslie Mars (rhythm guitars)). The singers included Mighty Breeze, Abida Benjamin, Bright Colour, Blazing Fire, the Mighty Rebel, Popular Jacob, MMA Gregory, A. Simon, and Henry Rodney. The technical team included Michael Currica and Derry Etkins from Guyana, and Tony Gonsalves and Frank Agarrat from Eddy Grant's Blue Wave Studios.
This recording session, which lasted for four days, was done on 32-track facilities and yielded 13 original recordings.
Currica migrated to the United States in 1990. He is still engaged in music but not with the same intensity as when he was in Guyana. Today, he works with his church developing folk masses.
Currica's experiences with music in Guyana suggest many questions. For researchers on Guyana's musical history, there is need to have access to recorded materials. Are the recordings of the music from this era safe and accessible?
Currica recognises the contributions of several persons to his musical journey. He considers Lynette Dolphin and Billy Pilgrim his inspiration and mentors. They were important guides in his academic relationship with music. He is thankful for the patience of his music teachers.
Telephone interview (Vibert Cambridge and Michael Currica), November 6, 2004.
For examples of the discourse on creating, promoting and supporting Guyanese national cultural identity see the following:
(i) Elsa Gouveia cited in "Change in attitudes of Guianese towards one another urged: Effective factor in transformation to independent nation." Evening Post, October 25, 1960
(ii) Folk Development Unit. "The Jari Tapes" (a 17- unit collection of field recording and radio programs produced by Peter Kempadoo and Marc Matthews circa 1971 to 1973). A copy of the collection is accessible at the Alden Library, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701.
(iii) Jerry Daniel, "National Pan Festival: Ignoring our own to copy others." Sunday Graphic, August 1, 1971, p. 3.
(iv) Humphrey Nelson, "Music as a means to educate the nation." Sunday Argosy, April 14, 1974, p. 4.
(v) Sunn E. Lyvan, "On the music scene in Guyana: In search of a beat." Guyana Graphic, June 8, 1974, p. 5.
(vi) Leo Small, "Police Band should gear programmes to reflect Guyana's Cultural Revolution." Guyana Graphic. August 2, 1975, p.5.
(vii) Shirley Field Ridley, "Message." Guyfesta 75. Georgetown, National History and Arts Council, 1975.
(viii) Basil Hinds, "G.N.S. offers crisp collection of Guyanese folk songs." Sunday Chronicle, February 12, 1981, p. 21.
(ix) Dee Jay, "Afro-India beat catching on …" Family Magazine, September 13, 1981, p. 13.
(x) Olivia Benjamin Ahyoung, "Music in Guyana." Sunday Chronicle Family Magazine, July 4, 1982,
For more information on Loris Holland, visit (http://www.lorisholland.com/about.htm)