One of the most soulful journeys you can make while driving is to go long distances to your destination with your wife (or husband) next to you and the music of Yanni playing in your CD drive. It is a soulful trip that is mentally soothing.
Friday afternoon, I was going to do my routine thing – take my dog at the back of Giftland Mall for her daily walk. I put a Yanni CD in my discman (yes, I still use the discman – Timol Huggins who has a small printery in La Penitence just brought four for me in a barrel shipped to him) but it wouldn’t play. I tried five more Yanni CDs but they were spoilt.
Next morning, I went to Matt’s Record Bar to buy six Yanni albums since it had a sale – 6 CDs for a$1000. Matt Baptiste greeted me and I asked her to get up the Yanni items for me. Something didn’t look right. The place appeared to be in confusion. Then I got the bad news. She told me Matt’s Record Bar will be closing in a fortnight. She said my treat is 12 CDs for the same $1000.
A piece of Guyana will die when Matt’s Record Bar closes. It has been one of the longest running retail enterprises in the entire territory of Guyana. Matt’s Record Bar has plenty memories for me. I remember during my primary school days in the sixties, me and my friends would go down to Sandbach Parker Store after school to listen to music from the record section, then, after closing time we would head for the cinema – either Metropole, Astor or Globe.
The popular genres at that time were ska; rock-steady; Trinidadian calypso; soul; rhythm and blues, and soft rock. The outstanding names were Otis Redding, the Drifters, Chuck Jackson, Ben-E. King, Dionne Warwick, the Carpenters, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck along with the music of Bert Bacharach. The Merrymen from Barbados was a slight rival to Sparrow but Sparow was always in a class of his own. By that time Elvis Priestly was fading overrun by the Beatles and the music of the hippe generation. In Guyana, Johnny Braff and the Trade Winds competed with what other CARICOM lands had to offer.
The person in the record department at Sandbach Parker was this dapperly dressed woman with conspicuous make-up – Matt Baptiste. She stood out among the employees at Sandback Parker. When Prime Minister, Forbes Burnham nationalized Sandback Parker, the manager of the record department opened her own store in 1972 at the junction of Robb Street and Avenue of the Republic.
I have one of the largest CD collections and an enormous amount came from that store facilitating me. Matt’s son, Aubrey, was always extremely helpful. He never refused a request. I remember telling him I liked the Italian baritone, Patrizio Buanne.
He got up all of his English language albums including the one in which he covered two great hits from one of my favourite singers growing up in Wortmanville – Engelbert Humperdinck. I really like the music of Buanne but when I listened to the two Humperdinck hits – “Il Mundo” and “A Man Without Love” – then the old maestro’s versions still sound more beautiful than Buanne’s.
One day I went to Aubrey and told him I want every album ever published by “Love Unlimited,” the orchestra conducted by Barry White. I think it may be impossible for any human to name the song on the top of their list. You wouldn’t know where to start. But I have made that choice. I think my favourite song of all time is Barry White’s phenomenal instrumental hit, “Love’s Theme,” by the Love Unlimited Orchestra’s (there is a vocal version by the Barry White Singers and also by the brilliant, Julio Iglesias). I just don’t know why that is on the top of my list but I know I emotionally connect with that song more than any other in my life.
Matt Baptiste is in advanced age and will be leaving for a quiet little district in Florida to be with her loved ones. Here is a woman that has brought all the genres in music to Guyanese and never sought public recognition for it. One wonders if there is anyone in Guyana over 35 years that never patronized Matt’s Record Bar.
Good luck and goodbye, Matt Baptiste! I leave you with some words from one of the hits of the great Barry White:
“Let the music play, I just wanna dance the night away
Here, right here, right here is where I’m gonna stay.”
(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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