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Two Fridays ago Frederick “Toots” Hibbert left this early plain at age 77. Death forces us to review the lives of those who have impacted us, one way or the other. Toots was one such person, through his music. Though I never met the man, I felt I knew him dancing to his hits and listening to his songs on radio. He was a cultural icon, part of the generation of West Indians (Caribbean people) who were bursting at the seams to give expression to our talents in our own unique way.
It was the era of independence, a period of much pride, for the leaders of that time who picked up the baton from their forebears and charged to the finish line. Independence was won in Jamaica in 1962 and ours four years after. The Caribbean people believed we could be anything we wanted to be and do a damn good job at it.
That spirit of self- determination was ablaze. Younger ones felt invincible and were determined to be limited only by the sky.
Toots chose music. He helped place Jamaica, and by extension the Caribbean, on the global musical map. He gave us “reggae” and owns the rare distinction of being recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records for the creation of this type of music. 54-46 was his number. Though the story behind the song speaks about his incarceration for possession of marijuana- which he repeatedly denied and said he was framed- lovers of Jamaican music recognize him for doing it his way. His is a story of a man, notwithstanding obstacles, that lived a life based on his deep convictions.
He was one of the artistes whose music fits into varying styles of dancing. This benefitted me during my partying days because I could have shown off my many dancing skills. I recall those days at the Crimson Bat, Black Moses and Moon Glow in the bauxite mining town of Linden. It was a town that never slept. All the kilns were turning. From Amelia’s Ward you could see the smoke billowing from the chimneys. The town was a hub of activities and the boats between McKenzie and Wismar were steadily crossing. It was a 24/7 workplace, working an eight-hour day. We in the bauxite community worked hard and played hard. Those were the days.
Thanks to Toots, among other Caribbean icons, with the commodification of culture, our languages, accents, swagger, dance moves, etc. became world renowned, admired and copied. Through music they have helped others external to the region to understand who we are. They have proven we are just as good as others and can proudly hold our own in any arena we walk into.
Toots represented the dreams of the Founding Fathers of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to harness the cultural, economic and political resources of the peoples to be exploited for the benefit of the region. He represents the finest in us and even in death a beacon worthy of emulation.
This brings me to Dave Martin, our own (Guyanese). In one of his songs he forces us to do introspection about valuing ourselves. For too long we ascribe hero status to foreigners, including those who historically exploited us, and ignore our own homegrown heroes. It is always the right time to revisit Martin’s prodding, to identify and show our heroes. This deficiency in our history must be addressed. It helps when Caribbean people have done heroic or outstanding work, in whatever endeavours, to be honoured by us. It is important for our collective growth and development because it reinforces self-worth.
We have our own cultural icons- Dave Martin, Eddie and Rudy Grant, Hilton Hemerding, Ivor Lynch, Sammy Baksh, Barbara Sookraj, Terry Nelson (Omar Farouk), Johnny Braff, our many calypsonians, chutney singers, and others. They have blazed a trail and placed this country on this international stage. Their success, I am sure, did not come without challenges. Some mechanism must be found to have them share their stories and us honour them. Theirs are stories of trailblazers we can learn from and build on.
I know the ancestors have welcomed the legendary Toots and he is serenading the place with his number. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
Below is a documentary of him I enjoyed watching. Trust you find similar delight.