“I was a natural. I was a guy who always liked to create things and think I am ‘it’—everything I did, I always want to think I do it better than anybody else! That’s one way to achieve some measure of success.”
By Leon Suseran
Rudolph ‘Sweet Kendingo’ Kendall is nothing short of a real home-grown Guyanese musical masterpiece. He has
spent all his life performing, writing music, singing and making others feel that amazing feeling that soothing music does for one’s ear and mood.
His ‘specialness’ is more than what meets the eye—it meets the ear to be exact—since he has held several coveted titles. In fact he has won all three major titles at national level – Soca Monarch, Calypso Competition and Road March.
Our ‘Special Person’ this week boasts that he started to sing from his mother’s womb. He is the only person to represent the country in a World Soca and World Calypso competition, in Barbados (1996) and Trinidad (1992) respectively.
Born to carpenter, Randolph and cash-crop farmer Anne Kendall at Dingwall Farm on the Corentyne, young Rudolph was quite the performer in his village, church and school. His childhood days were also spent planting rice and picking coconuts.
He vividly recalled his headmaster placing upon his shoulders the school’s Annual Christmas Concert every year. He related that school concerts could not go on without him. “When I left school, the headmaster, Mr. Mootoo sent and called me and asked me to run the whole concert—year after year—people from right through the Coast would come to hear Eversham School concert.”
The young artiste would plan and execute this event which drew large crowds from Eversham and elsewhere in Berbice. He also played an active role in the Eversham Church Choir as well as the Anglican Church and played bass guitar for the local Nazarene Church in the area. The point is, young Kendingo was multi-faceted and multi-talented, and his skills were utilized by everyone.
After finishing his studies at the Eversham Primary School, he took to the stage, pursuing
a life-long dream in singing and music. If you want, you can say that the love he developed for music sort of rub off from his parents, since they were also musicians in their own respect. His mother played the piano and his father played the cello in a band back then.
“My mother was very reluctant (to play)—she would play when somebody comes (to the home)… something classical. Daddy was a good player also,” he recounted.
Then a friend of his at Eversham Village, Harry Satnarine, encouraged him to participate at Guyfesta. Guyfesta in 1975 was his first big gig, where he took a few girls from the community, and they performed—songs which he wrote himself. He performed at other such competitions in 1979 and 1980.
“We didn’t do too well in 1975 but in 1980, boy, we tear up the place in regional folk music!” He performed three original songs then, one of which is ‘Small Days’ (which he performed during the interview).
Afterwards, Stanhope Baird, a musician/driver employed with the Ministry of Culture back then, encouraged him to develop his skills in Calypso.
“He said, ‘Must come and sing calypso! You could write!’”
He participated in the Mashramani Calypso Competition in 1981. He made it up to the
Semi-Finals. He reflected that the song did not go down to well with the then administration. The song was ‘We don’t Like That‘.
In 1984, he decided to make another try in the competition at Mashramani, “and I beat them!” His winning song was ‘Is Facts we Facing’. The next occasion he won was in 1992 and finally in 1994, “never again—they do me all kinds of things!”
He also won the Soca Monarch in 2000 with the song ‘Awee Ah Goin’ Down’ and the Road March in 1991 with a song name ‘Tee Tee Boopsie’. That very year, he brought second with the song, ‘You Gotta Sing Calypso.’ “Calypso was the ‘in’ thing,” he stated. “Calypso is all about bad-talk—you have to be satirical—and it’s not a nice type of music—real Calypso— we’re out to ridicule and nothing (is) wrong if a dog bites a man, but if a man bites a dog—that’s something!”
He boasted, too, of his song-writing skills, “having grown up in the days of sweet soul music.” “People like Johnny Braff, Otis Redding, Arthur Cholmondeley and James Brown, were all outstanding when I was a kid.”
SERVICE TO THE NATION’S ELDERLY
Currently, Kendall is giving immeasurable service to the nation’s elderly. Since October is designated as Month for the Elderly, the musician is taking concerts to several senior citizens homes across the country. Now in its second year, Kendall has been visiting the senior citizens and playing music for them, bringing back lots of memories from the olden days, and allowing them to have a good time—free of charge.
“I’m going to do it every year. It’s a real nice feeling, singing for the elderly,” he added. Some of the entities visited include: Nazareth Home, Good Samaritan Home in Berbice; Mother Teresa Sisters’ Home for Elderly Men; Dharm Shala; Indigent Home; Gentle’s Home; St. Vincent de Paul and Ivy Hall, in Georgetown.
Kendall is also busy working on a new Christmas Album which he expects to take the nation by storm in a few weeks. And for the proposed launch at the Theatre Guild, his desire is to honour the organizer of the show, Chief Librarian, Ms. Gillian Thompson, who passed away a few months ago, “and for her, quietly, I have planned a show.”
Even he was personally offended by calypso, something he realized while listening to one of his CDs recently.
“But you want to win and you say what the people want (to hear),” he added. Kendall believes calypso is dead in Guyana. “Soca is more peaceful,” he added. As a result, over the years, Kendingo’s passion for calypso has dwindled since he believes that not many Guyanese have been receptive enough to the words and messages conveyed by that genre of music. His music, he believes, has angered some politicians and sections of the populace.
In 1992, prior to the current administration’s entry into political office, Kendingo won the National Calypso Competition at the National Park with a song that poked satire at the Desmond Hoyte Administration: ‘We want Mo’ Money’, and in 1993, the song ‘Nothing’ brought him third place, which took jabs at the Cheddi Jagan Administration. He won the competition, too, in 2004 with ‘Get Ready’.
“Calypso is a type of music that steps on a lot of people’s toes, so to speak, and I pounded whatever administration was in office at the time whenever I performed at the National Park. It was all in good humour.”
But he is very disappointed in the way the calypso business has been evolving in Guyana. In a letter to this publication (Dec 14, 2011) captioned, ‘Calypso Always in Trouble’, Kendingo expressed disappointment in the manner in which calypsonians like himself and others are treated by the body that looks after that genre of music.
“As usual the treatment meted out to us calypsonians was synonymous with that meted out to lower class of animals,” he said in the letter.
“Over the years, organizers have behaved worse than monkeys and the treatment handed down to calypsonians has been more appalling than that given donkeys,” he lamented.
ON THE FAMILY SIDE
On the family side, Kendall has ten children. He says he has ensured that they are getting what he was deprived of, a full education. In his spare time, he enjoys tending to his cash-crop garden at his home. He sells the produce to the local villagers. His days are spent very busily going to and from Georgetown, visiting the elderly and performing for them. He also enjoys playing his guitar and singing in his home.
“Everybody around here knows that I am crazy,” he joked, “and I know that too, so it’s no big deal.”
“Music makes me happy. I just sing, play my guitar and be happy. In the morning, I go jogging, and people ask me what advice I can give to young singers, and I tell them that they should exercise a lot.”
The best sight in the world for him is seeing children going to school, and “the icing on the cake is on Common Entrance (National Grade Six Assessment) morning when everybody is well- dressed.”
He writes much of his music and would wake up during all hours of the night, to jot down the notes and lyrics. He showed me his music notebook. Above each entry, is the date and exact time in which he made the entry.
“Most times they (the ideas for songs) wake me up at night, and as soon as the dream comes, you have got to put them on paper,” he added. “Whether day or whether night, if you don’t scribble, you are in trouble….it (the idea) goes away…sometimes four or five a day, no time to sleep, and you wake up in the morning tired, but you jog and you feel better.”
“I WAS A NATURAL”
It should be noted, too, that Kendall has performed internationally, in Canada for the Commonwealth Games, in British Columbia, Alberta and Vancouver in 1994. He did eighteen one-man shows, singing on stage.
Kendall said that he was born a natural leader. “I was a natural. I was a guy who always liked to create things and think I am ‘it’—everything I did, I always want to think I do it better than anybody else! That’s one way to achieve some measure of success.” His stage name ‘Sweet Kendingo’ was formed from the name ‘Kendall’ and him being born at Dingwall’ – ‘Sweet Kendingo’.
It should be noted that Kendall worked at the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) when that entity first opened in Berbice, as a clerk. He also worked at the then Guyana Electricity Corporation (GEC) at Rose Hall Town Power Station (1973-1978) and unfortunately lost fingers on his right hand during an accident. His work experience continued at the Aroaima Bauxite Company, as a foreman in 1991. He also was instrumental in opening a music school on the Corentyne from 2000-2001 where he gave free music classes at Kiltearn Village.
He provided entertainment during the interview at his home, by stopping at intervals to play renditions of his popular, winning calypsos and even gave a sneak preview of a Christmas song in his upcoming holiday album. His final words in the interview were that the best of Kendingo is yet to come.
“One was born to live to die. Between birth and death, one should do good things to leave a good name. We come empty and go empty. In true professionalism, one has to discover one’s self: work on your weaknesses, then add to your strength.”
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