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The Passing of a Great Artist: Wordsworth McAndrew

By Gary Girdhari
GuyanaJournal, May, 2008

Wordsworth McAndrew with Ken Corsbie at Braff's basement

On the 30 April 2008 the some of the faithfuls met in Brooklyn above Sybil’s Restaurant on Church near Flatbush Avenue, not to mourn his passing, but to celebrate a “Guyanese National Treasure”, Wordsworth McAndrew. He passed away on Friday April 25, 2008 at the East Orange General Hospital, New Jersey at the age of 72. Had he been alive this evening, sitting quietly in the audience, he would have enjoyed the proceedings immensely!

Prominent among the gathering (or at least those whom I know) were Mac’s daughter, Rosanne Zammett, Juliet Emanuel, Colin Moore and his wife, Pritha Singh, Maurice Braithwaite, Tangerine Clarke and her Mom, Gokarran Sukhdeo, Robert Mahesh, Claire Goring, Carol Bagot, Malcolm Hall, Patricia Jordon-Langford, Mattie Singh, Aubrey Bonnett, Lear Matthews, Hugh Sam, the evening’s compére Rose Edun October, and others whose name I do not remember at the time of writing. And what an evening of nostalgic remembrances and diversified performances! Thanks to the Guyana Cultural Association.

African drums by Winston ‘Jeggae’ Hoppie, Akoyaw Rudder, Menes DeGriot and Shanto punctuated the evening’s program, rendering solemnity and animated spiritual energy, and communicating cultural timelessness – with inevitable toe-tapping audience participation. There were songs that gave a true Guyaneseness to the occasion – My Native Land, Porknocker and Coming Down by Hilton Hemerding, My Tribute by Avis Joseph, The Song of Guyana Children, Where Have All the Flowers Gone and the inimitably Wrickford Dalgetty’s folkloric medley of Guyanese Spice. Rudy Shaw’s poetic performance of If We Must Die and I’m Guyanese, James Richmond’s The Worth of Words: A Guyanese Experience and Kwesi Oginga’s A Reflection paid special tribute to one of Guyana’s leading folklorists, Wordsworth McAndrew. Come-tru: An Obeah Ritual by Ovid Abrams spoke of the importance of African rituals in perspective, and Roy Brummell reminded us of some of Guyana proverbs collected by Wordsy. For those who might have forgotten Wordsworth’s Ole Higue it was a special treat to watch the dramatic interpretation by Grace Chapman. Everyone sang praises of Wordsworth McAndrew, remembering how he was part of their professional life back then in Guyana. Claud Leandro’s melodious floetry An Enigma of a Man captured and summarized his many and diverse qualities as a profound artist.

Wordsworth McAndrew dedicated over five decades his life to the arts. He was an original in the conduct of his trade, a product of the times during the 1960s and 1970s, wanting the freedom that an artist expects for full creativity. He dressed differently but appropriately – his way – with dashiki and sandals. He spoke English according to the established rules and also in a manner that most Guyanese would understand – the creolese – which is reflected in his radio broadcasts and poetry. Most radio listeners would tune in to Mac’s Creole Meche Meche. He expounded as a folklorist bringing to the fore many of the charm of storytelling and pride in Guyanese everyday language and mythology. His Ole Higue is a classic example. At that time Derek Bickerton, lecturer at the University of Guyana, and Walter Edwards (then a student and later lecturer) were beginning to research Guyanese creole language. Wordsworth acting prowess would not go unnoticed. He was active in the Theatre Guild; and he is remembered well in Sheik Sadeik’s play Porknockers.

During the years 1969-71 I lived at 20 Station Street, Kitty. Occasionally, I would see a man scooting out of the yard next door on a Honda motorcycle, some times with a female pillion rider who was young (we were all young then), pretty, petite and white. (We were both renters.) I took no more than a casual interest. He would ride to work earlier than I would; so our paths rarely crossed. And when he reached home he did not walk out. My observation was here was a man always appearing busy and frisky. But at the same time he always seemed quiet and cool (to use modern parlance), a serene coolness. He would be hatless, sporting a beard, short-sleeved collarless shirt and sandals. I did not know this was Mac until much later. In any case I was at the Department of Biology, UG and he was a radio personality doing his thing. For me there was no interest nor commonality. The only conversation we shared was on an early evening. We both darted out of our yards, he on his greenish motorcycle and I on my red Honda, at about the same time. We greeted each other by shaking our head gently to one side and rode off in the same direction. Inevitably we rode side by side for a while, when I found out he was going to the same place that evening – Miriam Makeba’s performance at Queens College. There was no other verbal communication except for the occasional head gesture.

A few years ago I saw Mac on at least two occasions, quite a different person, at Maurice Braithewaite’s residence when a group of concerned artists were planning the setting up of an all inclusive organization tentatively named Some of the invitees showcased their talents in poetry, drama, piano, the saw as a musical instrument, and lively conversations. Some of the individuals I remember include Maurice Braithewaite (Braff), Ken Corsbie and his wife, Hugh Sam, Pritha Singh, Gokarran Singh, Moses Josiah, Tyran Ramnarine, Ivor Lynch, Seopaul Singh, Taij Motielall, Vibert Cambridge, Harry Bissoon, Claud Leandro, Josiah Moses. Ron-Bobb Semple and Mac. Braff’s basement was a welcome watering-hole, cerebrally and gustatory! Braff and his wife were very kind and generous hosts. Thanks Braff. I will cherish my video recording.

Mac would sit quietly and imbibe from all the performances and later on share in conversations. My poet friend and colleague, Balwant (Bhaggie) Bhagwandin implored me several times to meet with Mac for an interview to be published in the Guyana Journal. Another friend and colleague, Marlyn Browne, a superb writer and poet herself, and I spoke about this mini project. She moved… and it remained on the shelf … to be done. This would surely be one of my regrets in life, a sure admonition against procrastination.

I ponder:

In the midst of growth
There is decay
In the midst of technological wizardry
There is obsolescence
In the midst of wealth power and glory
There is death

I ponder again:

If only we could go back
and live and love…
The sun does not reverse for anyone!

Tangerine Clarke wrote: “THE curtain came down Friday on a once powerful cultural genius that many called a pioneer of Guyanese folklore, and a national treasure. Wordsworth A. McAndrew, a man who lived his life as an active cultural ambassador for over 50 years stayed still for the first time as an out-pouring of tributes filled the Union United Methodist Church in Brooklyn, on New York Avenue between Dean and Bergen Streets [on April 25, 2008].”

The Guyana Cultural Association did a fine job, in not only solemnizing Mac’s passing, but also in celebrating his memory. Guyana’s national poet once wrote: “Death must not find us thinking that we die.” Mac had a good journey for all of us to muse over. And may he always Walk Good as James C. Richmond puts it.

Tribute to Wordsworth McAndrew
by James C. Richmond

The Worth of Words
a guyanese experience

Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Oh Lord, kumbaya

Someone's sleeping, Lord, kumbaya
Someone's sleeping, Lord, kumbaya
Someone's sleeping, Lord, kumbaya
Oh Lord, kumbaya
Oh Lord, kumbaya

A man and the word brings the world in context
No dreams deferred, the out filled of hope reflects
In the themes of time he interjects his ‘culchuh’
No blistering sun, no cloudy days, no drenching rain and tears and tears could dissuade the quest of the word

But let the Word rest
Let not the word fall
Listen to its call
Let the conversation be pure and sweet
Dripping words that lips alone can speak
A treasure is found where no man seek

Why the Fall tree gives off her weathered leaves to come again in Spring
Sure the Summer clings indelibly to your mind and everything
Oh sure the wandering wind, shortens distance and freezes in the winter
But the words remain steadfast and sure, though the billows roll

Wordsworth danced where the sun meets the sea
Where our young eyes could not see
Over rough and rocky terrain
Over smooth and lovely lanes
Across tropical plains
And the sea wall sun kissed shore
From the resplendent Pakaraima’s peaks of pearls
To Corentyne's lush land
And drank of Kaieteur’s imperial store

But let the word rest
Let not the word fall
Listen to its call
Let the conversation be pure and sweet
Dripping words that lips alone can speak
A treasure is found where no man seek

Therein lies the worth of words

Walk Good

© GuyanaJournal