Saint Lu­cia Still Does Not De­serve Its Artistes!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Kayra Williams

Derek Wal­cott was the prover­bial prophet in his own land. His uni­ver­sally ap­pre­ci­ated oeu­vre was un­known in the land that gave him birth, in­clud­ing the al­legedly most in­tel­lec­tual. He was sel­dom in­vited to lec­ture at our schools. Mean­while many in a po­si­tion to know bet­ter of­ten pub­licly dis­missed him in the worst way: declar­ing him aloof, unso­cia­ble and worse. Of course the truth was that there was hardly a time when Wal­cott did not have at his Cap Es­tate home young peo­ple from home and abroad ben­e­fit­ting from his gifts.

Boo Hink­son is one ex­cep­tion: “I spent a lot of time with Derek. I did a lot of work with him. I would lis­ten care­fully to un­der­stand his ev­ery word dur­ing pri­vate and public ex­changes won­der­ing how this lo­cal son had trav­elled from Chaussee Road to be­come Derek Wal­cott, the ge­nius writer and painter. I still can­not say I know the an­swer. But I learned a lot of the char­ac­ter of Derek Wal­cott, whose ev­ery word was mu­sic to my ears.”

When I sat down with Ron­ald ‘Boo’ Hink­son the other day, my pur­pose was to talk to the gifted mu­si­cian and song­writer about the sta­tus of the lo­cal creative in­dus­try. But be­fore long he was talk­ing of his ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the likes of Sir Arthur, Daren Sammy, Lev­ern Spencer and our pub­lisher. The last men­tioned and Hink­son, it turns out, have been close friends “for count­less years”. It is “ab­so­lutely vi­tal”, Boo em­pha­sized, that a coun­try not only have its na­tive he­roes but that the pow­ers that be en­cour­age the young to fully ap­pre­ci­ate what made them spe­cial.

“A coun­try with­out he­roes, with­out an un­der­scored in­ter­est in what made them spe­cial, is a coun­try with­out a fu­ture. It is vi­tal that our young peo­ple have rea­son to as­pire to great­ness; to be able to say that if this Saint Lu­cian could have risen above ad­ver­sity to be­come some­one spe­cial, then so can I if I fol­low in his foot­steps. With­out he­roes, whom do we fol­low? On whose shoul­ders do we stand?”

He paused, as if in his mind he were pic­tur­ing the night­mare.

“I’ve grown to un­der­stand that nearly all the peo­ple who have achieved the heights of suc­cess in their field, lo­cally and else­where, started out as sim­ple peo­ple.” He rat­tled off some names. “They ap­peared at first to be or­di­nary peo­ple,” he said, “then seem­ingly all of a sud­den they were house­hold names. The lives of such peo­ple are worth study­ing, by the young es­pe­cially.”

Boo spoke of his own life, em­pha­siz­ing that such suc­cess as he had achieved had “ev­ery­thing to do with de­ter­mi­na­tion, dis­ci­pline, com­mit­ment and fo­cus”. Fail­ure was sim­ply never an op­tion. But if in­deed he en­coun­tered a set-back then it had to be “trans­for­ma­tional".

Boo re­mem­bers strum­ming his first notes on a gui­tar un­der the pa­tient guid­ance of his mother, Iona Hink­son.

“She knew a lot of old songs,” he laughed, then shared how jazz in par­tic­u­lar had struck his heart.

“There was al­ways mu­sic in my house that the av­er­age young Saint Lu­cian did not grow up lis­ten­ing to,” he said. “Louis Arm­strong, Ella Fitzger­ald, Milt Jack­son . . . all the old, old mas­ter mu­si­cians. I grew up lis­ten­ing to their record­ings. When I even­tu­ally went into jazz, it was a vo­cab­u­lary with which I was al­ready fa­mil­iar.”

He says jazz gave him “the free­dom to be ex­pres­sive; it kind of de­moc­ra­tized mu­sic for me". As a young mu­si­cian, he re­called, he could al­ways count on his older broth­ers, also as­pir­ing mu­si­cians, for sup­port. “With­out that spe­cial, lov­ing sup­port they pro­vided, who knows whether I’d be the per­son I am to­day?”

Cer­tainly not the mu­si­cian who, with his band of the day— The Tru Tones—had per­formed dur­ing the ac­claimed Su­per Bowl’s half-time show. The year was 1979. Nearly four decades later the event re­mains for Boo one of the high­lights of his ca­reer.

“As a small-is­land boy, it was a bit of a cul­tural shock,” he re­calls. “The pop­u­la­tion of Saint Lu­cia at the time was prob­a­bly about 100,000 peo­ple, and you get to Amer­ica and find your­self per­form­ing be­fore a crowd larger than your coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion. What 20-year-old will ever for­get such an ex­pe­ri­ence? I know I never will!” My own mind went back to Michael Jack­son when he said, “Only the best per­form at the Su­per Bowl!”

Of course, there was the other side of the Su­per Bowl coin. As Boo laugh­ingly put it: “A medi­ocre per­for­mance can de­stroy, and has de­stroyed ca­reers.”

As for the Tru Tones, formed in the 60s, by the time they played that su­per gig they had at­tracted an in­ter­na­tional fol­low­ing. In their time they re­leased four al­bums: ‘Tru Tones Combo of Saint Lu­cia’, ‘The Lead­ers’, ‘Power Strug­gle’ and a Christ­mas long player, as they were then called. Sev­eral of their sin­gles were re­gional hits. In a re­cent in­ter­view fea­tured in this pa­per, Ru­pert Lay cited ‘Power Strug­gle’. Ref­er­enc­ing the pub­lished in­ter­view, Boo said, “I think much of what he said was ac­cu­rate. Tru Tones re­ally set the pace, the tone, and the level at which we should be op­er­at­ing, but there was not suf­fi­cient fol­low-up.”

The band even­tu­ally split up, with the mem­bers shoot­ing off in var­i­ous di­rec­tions. Boo some­what diplo­mat­i­cally at­tributes the break-up to the band be­ing ahead of its time. “Tru Tones had out­grown Saint Lu­cia,” he added. “Maybe what we should have done was to mi­grate, as a group. That didn’t hap­pen and the group folded up. Tru Tones com­prised ex­cel­lent mu­si­cians. Peo­ple tend to for­get that, as if I alone could’ve done what we did as a group.”

Like so many be­fore him, in­clud­ing the now de­parted Wal­cott twins, Roddy and Derek, the creative arts in Saint Lu­cia are more than ever in need of of­fi­cial ap­pre­ci­a­tion and recog­ni­tion.

“The sup­port has to be there,” he said. “We can and must make it hap­pen. We’re deal­ing with a multi bil­lion­dol­lar in­dus­try and we must claim our stake in it. It’s driven by young peo­ple and most of this coun­try’s prob­lems are a con­se­quence of young peo­ple not gain­fully en­gaged. Our youth are frus­trated, even des­per­ate. As a so­ci­ety we need to save them from them­selves, es­pe­cially when so­ci­ety will be their tar­get for vengeance.

“We can­not con­tinue to frus­trate our young peo­ple who want to get into the arts, whether dance, or writ­ing, or film. We must do what­ever is pos­si­ble to help them suc­ceed. We have to cre­ate stars of our young peo­ple. We should know by now the folly in de­pend­ing on oth­ers to do for us.”

Hink­son, who is a mem­ber on the board of di­rec­tors of the Cul­tural De­vel­op­ment Foun­da­tion (CDF), re­vealed that he had re­cently met with youth min­is­ter For­tuna Bel­rose. By the mu­si­cian’s mea­sure she was very en­thu­si­as­tic about do­ing what needed to be done to move the lo­cal creative in­dus­tries for­ward. He is look­ing for­ward to more meet­ings with the min­is­ter in a de­ter­mined ef­fort to find so­lu­tions to the prob­lems too long as­so­ci­ated with arts in Saint Lu­cia. Fi­nally Roddy and Derek may have good rea­son to smile.

Ron­ald Hink­son re­cently was award the OBE by the Queen in recog­ni­tion of his con­tri­bu­tions to Caribbean mu­sic. Wait till Her Majesty hears about his ef­forts for jus­tice and eq­uity in his na­tive Saint Lu­cia!

Vet­eran mu­si­cian Ron­ald ‘Boo’ Hink­son.

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