I don’t believe there is a human on earth who is over forty years of age and doesn’t invoke their memory bank about childhood days when they hear a certain song or the name of a certain singer. This is a common trait about people that will never die.
If I am driving or walking and I hear a song, any song by Ken Lazarus, I think of my teenage days on D’Urban Street in Wortmanville. In the early and mid-sixties, Jamaican reggae singer, Ken Lazarus, was by far more known among Guyanese youths than even Otis Redding. Lazarus had a string of hits for almost four consecutive years in Guyana. I remember on Friday nights, the radio would have a hit parade show of the most popular tunes for the week ending Friday. At one time Lazarus had five hits among the top ten.
My preferred Lazarus song is not a favourite among his fans worldwide. But I like it for its philosophical foundation. It was composed by German big band leader, James Last for Italian-American teenage idol of the fifties, Connie Francis. In covering the last composition, “Games That Lovers Play,” Lazarus went to heights that Francis’ vocal cords could not have allowed. The song is done without the reggae rhythm and remains one of Lazarus’ most beautiful hits.
Whenever I hear the name Ron Robinson, I think of my growing up days in Wortmanville. Early morning, Monday to Friday, Robinson had a music programme. It was through his selections, Guyanese came to know of Italian saxophonist, Fausto Papetti. All “Georgetowners” loved the romantic sax of Papetti. When I hear the music of Papetti, Wortmanville shoots straight to my mind.
A strange thing happened at the University of Toronto where I met this Italian woman. I told her how much I liked the music of Fausto Papetti. She said, “Who?” and I said the Italian saxophonist, Fausto Papetti. I will never forget this encounter. She told me she is from Italy and does not know and never heard of Fausto Papetti. I was stunned. Here was an Italian artist whose music I grew up with in Guyana, but he was unknown in Italy. I actually bought several of his albums in Toronto. How do you explain this peculiarity? There is an explanation, but space will not provide for it, because I have to move on to Johnny Braff.
Braff is a Guyanese whose presence always reminded me of how I grew up in Wortmanville. Braff at one time, despite the eminence of our politicians, was the most popular personality in Guyana in the sixties, at least among “Georgetowners”. He shot to fame with his hit song, “It Burns Inside.”
Good looking, he was of the type we in Guyana call, “Redmaan”. In those days when you were a “Redmaan” or Portuguese, you were automatically visited with privilege and status. I have done three columns on Braff, so I am not going to repeat how I met him and how brilliant a singer he was (see, Johnny Braff and Aznavour’s Hit Song,” December 6, 2015; “At Johnny Braff’s 81st Birthday last Tuesday Evening,” July 5, 2018, and “Johnny Braff: An Autograph from a bed that breaks the Heart,” May 4, 2019).
I still cannot understand how such talent and success could end up at the night shelter home and then the Palms (Geriatrics Home)? He died last week. I once asked him, why his children were not there for him? With smooth nonchalance, he told me he could not recollect how many children he had. He said he could remember 27 children with women of different ethnicities, and they are all over the world. He could not remember most of them or their mothers. As he spoke, there was a little smile on his face.
Will we see some of those children at his funeral? Do they know he is dead? Well, the music has stopped, but it will keep on burning inside of those who admired him. The burning will keep alight the elusive flame of that philosophical question – how could someone so famous, so talented, so admired, end up like this?
When I did my first column on Braff, I reproduced the words from one of the famous songs of that French crooner, Charles Aznavour. I close with a few lines.
Yesterday, when I was young
So many lovely songs
Were waiting to be sung
So many wayward pleasures
Lay in store for me
And so much pain
My dazzled eyes refused to see.
I ran so fast that time
And youth at last ran out
I never stopped to think
What life was all about…
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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