By Dr. Dhanpaul Narine
He will tell you that his last name is Martins; people usually leave out the last letter. Martins is a Portuguese name; Dave’s forebears took the boat from Madeira. The stormy seas ended in British Guiana and the Empire has produced a musician that has become an international icon.
Dave Martins and the Trade Winds have etched their names in the folklore of the Caribbean. The Trade Winds is 51 years old and is going strong. Over the years, Dave has given us his wit, vision, and a unique ability to capture the feelings and mood of the people.
Dave is originally from Hague on the West Coast of Demerara, in Guyana. When he was ten years old the family moved to Vreed-en-hoop. He attended St. Stanislaus High School where he had a liking for languages and a fascination for words and music. Dave played in a small group on the West Coast that focused on ballads and Latin music.
He said that, “the calypso was a perfect fit because I could twist and bend words. My aunt had a dry goods shop and there was a calypso from Trinidad about a boat that was going to Grenada that sunk. I was fascinated because people don’t usually write such songs. It captivated me.”
Dave worked at Atkinson Airport for four years and then he migrated to Canada in 1956. He became exposed to Trinidadians that had a good record collection and the music wrapped him and held him in awe. Dave says that some of his early songs were influenced by that era.
How did the Trade Winds come about? He saw an advertisement in a Toronto newspaper from someone that wanted to start a Caribbean band. He answered the advertisement and a group of four musicians was born. The band sounded good and it was hired six nights a week. Dave moved away from mainly Latin music and he also changed the name of the group to the Debonairs. They could now play a mixture that included calypsos.
The band played in this genre for several years. The hectic schedule took its toll on Dave’s life and he gave up the weekly gig in 1963. He would play only on weekends but the music kept calling him. In 1966, he formed an all-Caribbean band. He called it ‘The Trade Winds.’ Dave said that a metamorphosis occurred. “I discovered and appreciated Caribbean music by being away from it.”
He exposed the new band to the Caribbean and after writing four songs he decided to go to the Trinidad carnival. In three months one of the songs topped the charts and by 1967 the Trade Winds was a household name in the Caribbean. The band toured Guyana and played at the Astor cinema to sold out crowds.
The Trade Winds has become an integral part of Caribbean life, producing one hit after another. Dave has made the connection with Caribbean society. He has blended music, humor and meaning in a tapestry in which we could laugh at ourselves and also appreciate the uniqueness of our Caribbean heritage. Here is a bouquet: The lady calls the fire station with the cricket Test Match finely poised. She says frantically, “Send the fire brigade, my house in on fire.” The man at the fire station calmly replies, “Lady, please call back later. Sobers batting now!”
Then there are the quirks that are unique to the Caribbean. When a person, ‘sit down bad’ how could this be expressed in proper English? How does one describe ruction? How does one mis-average the flour in baking? When you eat too much ‘it gainst you.’ When the man can sing ‘bad bad’ it means he can really sing!
In the Cayman Island if you eat something that doesn’t agree with you they describe it as ‘stalling.’ The point is that these are fodder for a musical mind and Dave has been able to us them in his repertoire to good effect. It is called the value and power of the dialect.
Dave has resettled in Guyana for the last nine years and he is as creative as ever. His song ‘Postpone’ on the parking meters in Guyana shows a mind that is sharp and abreast with the times. One of his biggest hits is ‘Not a blade of grass’ and Dave explained its genesis. He said the idea came from Pat Cameron, a broadcaster at Radio Demerara. She suggested to Dave that he should write a song about the Guyana-Venezuela border dispute.
After some hesitation Dave put his mind to it. He was inspired by a speech in which an Apache Indian stated that his people would not give up ‘a blade of grass’ to the white man. Dave said that the song wrote itself; he had it done in about an hour. The song has since become an anthem. Dave said that music will always be a part of his life. He credits his parents Zepherina and Joseph Francis for values they imparted in him as a child that have enabled him to treat people with respect and honesty and kindness.
Dave is impressed by the Trinidadian song writers. They have produced volumes with ingenuity and joy. He pays tribute to singers such as Calypso Rose and the Mighty Sparrow and said that the Caribbean should honor its artists and heroes in a big way. Dave makes furniture and plant trees in his spare time and he is a good handyman as well.
The University of Guyana has selected Dave to be the next Artist in Residence. This is on the initiative of the Vice Chancellor, Professor Ivelaw Griffith, and it is a most worthy choice. Dave cares deeply about the welfare of young people. He said that their success is influenced by their upbringing and they must not forget their roots.
A most memorable event occurred nine years ago when Dave met a beautiful young lady. She was Annette Arjoon. He was impressed with her knowledge of Amerindian life, her photography, aviation skills and ideas on conservation. Annette speaks highly of Dave’s generosity and humility. “He is the love of my life,” she says with a smile and they make a good team.
David Anthony Martins is an icon, and a treasure that brings entertainment and wisdom to many.
We wish him and his family all the best in the future.
International singing star Dave Martins with the love of his life, aviator Annette Arjoon-Martins.