PROFILE OF THE WEEK
By Dr. Dhanpaul Narine
Cecil Sinclair is one of the true artists of Guyana and the Caribbean. He has made the crossover from one genre of music to the other. Thus has enriched his experiences to the point in which he is able to appreciate the cultures of his homeland, and beyond.
Cecil is an Afro-Guyanese who can be found in many Hindu temples in New York City. He would sit patiently until called upon to sing and then the ‘taan’ flows like honey. Cecil would entertain and bring the flock closer to their roots through the songs of the past.
Cecil was born in New Amsterdam in Guyana. It is Guyana’s second biggest city. The rise of a humble son of New Amsterdam to being a popular name in Guyana and now in New York is interesting indeed. Cecil is the second of seven children; his mom Verley and his dad is Burrowes Sinclair. He was interested in school at a young age and Cecil went to the local Roman Catholic School. Later, he attended the Scots School and also the Edinburgh School.
Cecil’s best subject was Math and English. There were a number of teachers that helped to shape the personality of the young Cecil. They were Mrs. Fredericks, Mrs. Hazel, Mr. Heliger, Mr. Persaud, and Mr. Deepak Singh. It was in the year 1971 and New Amsterdam was a nice and quiet place. Cecil would work at the sugar estate during the holiday season. He was attached to Providence estate that was part of the greater Rose Hall estate.
Cecil said that he worked at the sugar estate for a short while to get money to write the College of Preceptors exam. But he stayed on for over fourteen years there. His outlook on life had changed and one of these changes involved his singing. Cecil grew up in an Afro-Guyanese household where he would sing mostly ‘English songs’ but gradually he was attracted to Indian songs.
According to Cecil, ‘I had Indian friends and I would listen to them singing the latest Hindi songs. I began to sing Indian songs with them too.’ But there was another reason. His home was close to the Mandir and he would hear the songs and the drumming from his front door.’ He was brought up in a Christian family and some were in opposition to him singing Hindi songs.
When he was twenty-one years old Cecil began attending the Edinburgh Mandir and the singing followed. What was heartening was the fact the community welcomed him with open arms and he felt at home. ‘I felt as if I belonged in the Mandir,’ he said. Cecil duly moved to Corentyne Rose Hall and he joined a singing group. They would sing at various places and he would get confidence and experience from this exposure.
By this time a grandmother, Aunty Moto, had adopted him. She was a cousin of the late Pandit Oudit Narine Sharma. Cecil recalls that after a hard day harvesting the sugar cane and cleaning the cane punt, it would be time to join the group to sing. They would attend religious ceremonies and would entertain the congregation.
Cecil returned to New Amsterdam where he became the caretaker of the Maha Sabha Ashram. He would practice singing everyday and one of his singing partners was Devanand who now lives in Canada. By 1980, Cecil was a good Taan and Bhajan singer but he still had a far way to go.
He met with Mohit and Dasrath Mangru from Bath Settlement on West Berbice. They would go to different yagnas, or prayer meetings on weekends. Some of his role models at the time were Uncle Kalosh and Bharat Das, Rattan, and others. Cecil’s singing took him to Surinam where a most interesting incident happened. He was on a trip to surprise Dhaniram who was a well-known personality.
But when Cecil’s turn came to sing they stopped him. He said, ‘The organizers did not know whether I could sing. They never heard me before. They asked me to wait.’ They gave Cecil a trial run and were very impressed when he sang. Instead of doing one song he ended up singing three songs and he sang for the remainder of the yagna. The people just wanted to hear him sing!
In 1998, Cecil’s life changed forever. He took a plane for New York City and settled in Richmond Hill. He was happy to see so many Guyanese and the roots that they had set in the community. It wasn’t long before Cecil would resume his favorite activity. He found many Mandirs and a variety of social events to attend where he could sing.
One of the biggest influences in the life of Cecil was Rudy Ramnarine who was a pioneer in music. Rudy was from Port Mourant in Guyana and had a following in New York that included Professor Peter Manuel from John Jay College. Under Rudy’s leadership, Cecil became a part of the Ramayan Gole and would ‘sing Ramayana’ in various temples.
Cecil looks to the future with confidence. He has an abiding faith in God and he wants to continue singing and visiting the Mandirs. He was recently at the Shri Trimurti Bhavan in Queens where he was well received by the congregation. Cecil thanks Dr. Savir for his kindness. His other heroes are Ramnarine Rudy Sasenarine and Dasrath and Mohit Mangru and Mrs. Chandroutie Maraj.
Cecil followed cricket when he was in Berbice and he looked up to Clive Lloyd and Rohan Kanhai. There is no doubt that Cecil Sinclair will go on to entertain audiences with his Taan and Bhajan singing and will bring pleasure to many. We wish him all the best in the future.