We Bajans – Anthony ‘Gabby’ Carter

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The story and controversial issues of early Barbados, from Emmerton, Riots in De Land, Burn Mr. Harding, to Jack, were all recorded in this island’s history books by The Mighty Gabby.

In the same vein, he challenged what was considered “traditional calypso” with masterpieces like Wuk Up and Ole Ashe, both of which earned him a Calypso Crown in 2000 and 2010, respectively.

Anthony Carter, known as The Mighty Gabby or just simply Gabby continues to leave an indelible mark on the Barbadian landscape as an entertainer, song writer, folk artist, guitarist and even actor, over the last 51 years. But there is more to Gabby than meets the eye.

Considered a legend in the entertainment industry, having penned over 1,100 songs, and known internationally for his singing, and acting, Gabby has a deep rooted passion for children.

It’s no wonder then that he spends much of his time working in schools across Barbados teaching Folk and Calypso music. One such school is St. Paul’s Primary, where Gabby is the Musical Director and works with the graduating class.

“I always worked with children as far back as I can remember…What I am doing today is not new. I have been doing some kind of programme in some school since 1977 [so] this is 39 years now,” he said, during an interview with the Barbados Government Information Service.

So deep is his passion for children that Gabby could not wait to return to Barbados to continue working with them following a two-week trip overseas. During the interview he recalled counting every minute for the last 45 minutes of the return trip to Barbados and watching the conclusion of the journey on the map until the plane landed.

“I don’t know what happened this time. [I guess it was] the anxiety of being home. I wanted to be with the [St. Paul’s] children,” he said, noting he had a rehearsal with them the same day.

However, he is the first to suggest that children’s involvement in the performing arts provides a gateway for education. “Based on tradition, we focus on English and Mathematics, but the world has changed. In the performing arts you have people who are entertainment lawyers, [involved in] stage management, lighting and sound; you have promoters; you have so many different areas now.

“A child who wants to pursue a career in the arts has a good chance of being a successful human being, in terms of their financial life, just as much as someone who wants to be a lawyer or doctor. In some cases, they do better,” he indicated.

The Cultural Ambassador maintained that if people allowed their children to participate in activities such as singing, dancing, painting and sculpting, their academic work would improve, as they would be using the creative and academic side of their brains.

Born in March 1948, and the fourth of five children, Gabby explained that he was driven to work with young people because he did not have such opportunities as a child growing up.

His start in the entertainment arena was no different from that of the average Barbadian – he started singing in the school choir, first at the St. Mary’s School and then at the St. Leonard’s Boys’ School.

By the time he was seven, he caught the calypso bug and entered the calypso arena. That was just the beginning of what would be the start of a cultural path for The Mighty Gabby.

In 1968, he became the youngest calypsonian to win the calypso crown at the age of 19, setting the stage for him to capture the title the following year and again in 1976, 1985, 1999, 2000 and in 2010. The legend credits his vocal talent to both parents, while his gift of playing an instrument he credited to his father.

However, the music icon recalled that Calypso and Folk music were not considered as priorities at the time, because Barbados’ educational system was structured to look at the arts as being secondary; as being almost a non-entity. “Most people would refer to it as a hobby and not as a vocation or some kind of career,” he recalled.

As a young man, Gabby was exposed to other genres of music such as Jazz, Blues, Rock, Soul, and R&B. “I was able to listen to those singers and musicians mostly out of the United States and also on Redifussion,” he said. As a teenager, Gabby recalled being inspired by the likes of Sir Don, Sivers, the Mighty Charmer, and Jackie Opel.

But, for this generation, the one thing the Cultural Ambassador wants to see is the establishment of a performing arts centre.

“I do not mean a pure arts centre where they could go and draw, but where they could go and learn to play a guitar or play a piano; where you could learn dance; where you could learn about artistes before; have an archive where they could see artistes and what they have contributed…This is important to children and they would love that,” he insisted.

Such a centre, Gabby continued, should also be one where the younger generation could meet greats like Sir Garfield Sobers, Desmond Haynes, Joel Garner, Gordon Greenidge, and Charlie Griffith. “That is what we are lacking in Barbados. We just need to have a place, a continuum where our people meet.

“Of course the tourists will be happy to meet our icons. It would help tourism, it would help the arts, it would help the economy and it would help us to grow as a nation,” The Mighty Gabby stated.

In fact, he is a firm believer that one of the main highlights of any country is its culture. For him, culture is “how you eat; how you drink; how you walk; how you talk; how you worship; how you teach yourself; how you learn; how you dress; this is your culture”.

Click here to listen to our interview with calypso legend Anthony ‘Gabby” Carter.

julia.rawlins-bentham@barbados.gov.bb

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