By Dr Tara Singh
I recently had the privilege of meeting an extremely talented musician, Gopie Nauth, one of our unsung heroes, and I’ve became fascinated with his mastery of local Indian music.
While I have known many great Indo-Caribbean musicians and singers, I have never heard about Gopie Nauth before, but I had the opportunity to watch him perform at two religious functions at Smithtown, Long Island. My conversation with him subsequent to that revealed his multiple endearing qualities which have the capability of inspiring others to walk on that important musical journey. I said to myself then that everything happens for a reason; and that every idea has its time. Gopie Nauth has quietly developed an impressive and perhaps unmatchable career in Indo_Caribbean music that has spanned Guyana, the United States of America, and beyond.
“I started to learn and play music at age 6. I chose this path because that was already set by my grandfather, Bola Nauth, who also happened to be a boat builder. Ever since, music has become part of my life and it has taken me to various places that I never though was possible before. I was able to have musical rendezvous with such stalwarts like Gobin Ram, Freddy Sanchara, Ramdhani, Sunny Deen, Mohit, Dasrat Mangroo and Noel Campbell.”
Gopie Nauth was born 64 years ago at a rural farming community comprising about 60 families, called Princess Carolina, which is situated on the West Bank of the Demerara River, about 35 miles from Georgetown. Having lived there for the first 14 years of his life, Gopie left the village in 1967 to complete his primary school education at Cummings Lodge, East Coast Demerara. After completing his primary school education, he attended the Maha Sabha Secondary School on Lamaha Street, Georgetown, where he graduated with 5 subjects at the GCE “O” Level exam including English and Maths. But his academic studies did not detract from his passion for music. This has always been at the center of his radar. At the Maha Sabha he formed a group that comprised well known personalities such as Pandit Mahendra Doobay, Pandit Tiwari, the late Pt Liliah (who along with his son were brutally murdered a few weeks ago at their home in Campbellville, Georgetown), as well as, teachers Deen and Dasrat.
In 1971 Gopie left Georgetown with his family to settle at Soesdyke, East Bank Demerara, a place to where his parents had moved when he was 14 years old. and which is close to the Cheddi Jagan International Airport. At Soesdyke, he taught for 10 years at both the Ascension Primary School and the St Mary’s Primary School. Gopie’s academic studies never militated against his excitement for music and singing. He always explores opportunities to lend his talent for the cultural upliftment of Indo-Caribbeans. He understands the true value of music and singing as a powerful energizing force that takes one to a higher level of consciousness. His frequent invitations to perform at events at the wider community level attests to his growing popularity. Gopie was not content in just establishing the Kirtan Mandalee group at Soesdyke and which he led for 10 years. Rather, destiny would allow him a wider scope and role which has evolved into an important Indo-Caribbean cultural ambassadorship.
To strengthen his grip on music, Gopie believed that the institution of marriage could provide a crucial role. The support of a spouse was essential at that stage of his life. At age 26, (August 1980) Gopie got married to Sylvie Lall and they lived at Durban Street Lodge, Georgetown from 1983 to 1995. There, he was asked by his father-in-law to run his business, and he accepted that offer. To their marriage were born four children (3 boys and 1 girl). Though Gopie’s commitment to his family is strong, that has not been at the expense of his music. There was no conflict between his role as head of the family and as a musician. These were rather mutually reinforcing. Gopie’s family members appreciate the therapeutic value of music and fully support Gopie’s musical quest.
It did not matter where Gopie and his family lived; what’s important is that he has never retreated from his passion for music, as well as, his fervent desire to train others in this beautiful art. His break-through at the national level came when he appeared on the program, “Local Indian Performers” at the studio of Radio Demerara on High Street, Georgetown. That opened up many avenues for him to express his musical and singing talent. The Merry Tones Springs Orchestra also came within his reach and from there onwards, there was no turning back. At Channel 10 TV, Gopie sang, played the keyboard and helped to audition artistes for the popular program “Sansaar Sangeet.”
Although the political and economic situation had improved in Guyana compared with the previous decade, Gopie Nauth, like thousands of Guyanese, viewed their future as inextricably linked with the United States or Canada. While politics was perhaps the main driver of emigration in the 1960s and 1970s, the emigration flow continued unabated despite an improvement in the political environment. People wanted to come to North America for various reasons: to join their families, to get a better education for their children, and to enjoy a better health care system, among other things. Decades of political turmoil has left a legacy of bitterness that has also killed many persons’ desire to remain, live and work in Guyana. Gopie Nauth and his family had been part of this emigration stream which led to their arrival in the United States in 1995. The family of six settled down in Queens, New York. One of Gopie’s and Sylvie’s sons is in the US Navy, one is with the US Correctional Facility in Brooklyn and the other one works with a private company in New Jersey. Their daughter works at NorthShore LIJ (now called Northwell Health). Gopie works at a Mental Health Rehabilitation Center in New York City.
Three years after their arrival in New York, Gopie started to teach students music (contemporary, bhajnas, Bollywood, and folk). His contemporary style of music was influenced by the Merry Tones Orchestra, and also by his High School teacher. As part of his teaching program, he introduced “chord structure” and “progression” at an early stage of students’ learning. Indian music is arranged into 3 chords when played in the major scale and into at least 4 chords when played in the minor scale. Gopie also composed colorful interludes. His first professional recording was done in honor of Dr Cheddi Jagan upon his death. That ballad consisted of 10 verses. What is extra special about Gopie Nauth is that he is a self-made musician. No one taught him music though he was inspired by many of the top singers. His music classes run for 6 days a week with each session lasting for about 1/2 hour. Gopie’s students come from all areas of the City and as far as Connecticut. They play music and sing at several Mandirs in New York City. “My students have been performing at public events just after 8 weeks of training,” says Gopie.
Gopie Nauth is one of our community’s prized cultural ambassadors. His commitment to training Indo-Caribbean students in music is part of a wider cultural renaissance that is taking place within our North American community. He feels that music is not only a powerful universal language but it also has the capacity for healing and bringing people together. Above all, it’s one of the instruments of human emotions. We thank Gopie Nauth for imparting his valuable talent to students and for his significant contribution to the enhancement of Indian culture in Guyana and the United States.