Britton Family Completes Caribbean Tour
“We, verily, have made music as a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up unto the realm on high..." - Bahá'u'lláh
On Friday July 8 2005 Josy and Gord Britton and their son Cameron joined about 90 other Bahá’í choir members and musicians from 12 countries around the world to begin a whirlwind tour of the Caribbean. They met at a Hilton resort about 2 hours from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. They rehearsed intensely for five days, learning 19 songs – 9 of them in Spanish - before their first performance in an old concert hall before a capacity audience of about 800.
Cameron, who is studying music at Humber College, enjoyed playing with world class and Grammy Award winning musicians such as KC Porter (US) of Santana and Ricky Martin fame and Kiskadee, an accomplished singer, songwriter and pan player, quite popular back in the UK. Cameron made quite an impression on this elite group of musicians, performing many solos on his saxophone.
The first stop on the tour was Puerto Rico where the choir performed with Nydia Caro, Puerto Rico´s most famous female singer. The concert was held in the famous opera house, a very beautiful hall with great acoustics, sponsored by the Ricky Martin Foundation. Throughout the tour the visiting Bahá’ís paid for all the expenses including renting of concert halls. The proceeds from the nominal ticket prices charged for each concert were given to local charities, in this case to the Ricky Martin Foundation.
Venezuela was a different experience. Crime is rampant. Each weekend there are 40 murders in Caracas alone. There was a national strike about 2 years ago where the people shut down the country in protest and the economy has yet to recover. Frustrations such as unexplained delays resulting in total travel time of 11 hours for a 1-hour flight to Trinidad didn’t annoy the tour members. They passed the time with spontaneous bursts of song while Kiskadee played pan drum accompanied by Cameron on the sax. A traveler from Colombia joined in with his harmonica and accordion. Luggage was pilfered, but taking into account the dire straits of the Venezuelans these losses were accepted with equanimity.
The tour proved anything but a holiday; however the Brittons had a few hours to explore Port of Spain, Trinidad. Josy and Gord enjoyed the shops and culture, especially an adorable family of 6 playing the steel pan on the streets; mom, dad, 3 boys and a 5-year old girl playing the steel pan.
On the 5-hour flight to Jamaica - including stops in Barbados and Antigua - the choir flew over Dominican Republic and Haiti. It is said there are no borders from the air but from the air it is obvious where Dominican Republic ends and Haiti begins. The colour of the Dominican is green and Haiti is brown due to damaging deforestation. The rivers are even different. The Haitian rivers are brown flowing into the Caribbean Sea. Their precious soil is rapidly eroding away. It is so sad.
In Kingston a police escort stopped traffic to allow the two tour buses through red lights - not because the choir had the status of visiting heads of state but because Jamaica is a very violent country and two buses of foreign singers would be too much of a potential target. The next three days were spent under police escort every time the choir left the hotel to go to the concerts. Driving through Kingston from the airport, shacks and a huge prison were in evidence, a reflection on the state of poverty and crime that permeates through this otherwise beautiful country with beautiful and friendly people.
Half the choir was invited to have an audience with the Governor General of Jamaica, Howard Cook, and the other half an audience with Honourable Bruce Golding, the leader of the official opposition, Jamaican Labour Party. Josy lead a group of 25 to meet the Honourable Golding. It was very interesting. Josy prepared a presentation in her wonderful calligraphy to give the leader. This included quotes on the unity of mankind and that we are all created from the same dust. The motto of the Jamaican Labour Party is “From Many, One people” so this was very appropriate. Josy then led the small representation in a song We Are One written by Dan Seals.
Mr. Golding spoke very openly and frankly about the state of Jamaica, its poverty and crime. Already this year there have been over one thousandmurders in a country the size of Toronto. Apparently an elite few, "executives", in government, police and business hold all the wealth and power. The rest of the population is kept in poverty. Separation from British Rule in the 60's was expected to change all this, but it has instead worsened.
The two concerts in Jamaica were very well received, the success of the first luring the crew from the largest TV station to film the second, which was at University Chapel. This is a very old church built by slaves in a town outside Kingston but 50 years ago relocated to the university grounds, stone by stone, and beautifully restored. The crowd and the cameraman loved the gyrations Cameron makes with his body and feet while he plays.
Gord found that the hotel next door was hosting a Rotary Meeting and he had the time to attend as a visiting Rotarian. It’s always an interesting experience to see how other clubs conduct their meetings and what service projects they focus on. In this case, the Kingston Rotary Club focuses on literacy. However, the guest speaker made a presentation on the state of water and sanitation in Jamaica – which is very poor and sometimes non-existent. 90,000 people (out of a total population of 3.5 million) do not have toilets in their homes. They void in the street, fields, or wherever. 205,000 people do not have running water in their homes. With many of those that do, there is a severe risk of contamination. Cholera, conjunctivitis, and many more water borne diseases are common. Children are often sick with diarrhea. The presenter showed growth curves of normal children and those that suffer from these illnesses. They are sick because they need nutrients to develop properly. As a result, they are permanently stunted physically and mentally. The children are undersized. The presenter is part of a campaign to promote the principal of clean water being a human right and sanitation a human dignity. It was a powerful presentation.
Although only 36 when he died of cancer, Bob Marley is surely Jamaica's most famous citizen. His image and music are still among the most recognized icons in the world. He earned many, many gold and platinum records and Grammy Awards. He sang about peace, love, brotherhood and happiness. He was very unpopular with the government at the time as he was very critical of them and how they so poorly serve the people of Jamaica. The house in which he grew up is now a museum. The Britton family felt privileged to visit the home where Bob Marley and his band practiced. What he accomplished with his music is inspiring.
The last stop on the tour was Miami where 10 new members from the US joined the choir for its final concert. On the journey north by bus to beautiful Coral Springs there were lots of palm trees and flowers on well-manicured lawns. No shacks around there.
The choir sang at the Coral Springs Theatre for the performing arts, a modern well-equipped theatre with a very good sound. It seats about 1500, the biggest venue on the tour. Since Miami has a large Spanish population, the choir reinstated a number of the Spanish songs into the program, singing before the largest and youngest audience of the tour.
All the audiences on the tour were appreciative but this one brought the choir to a new level. There was so much energy felt: lots of cheers, clapping, singing along, standing ovations. It was a marvelous way to end the tour, bringing ear-to-ear smiles to the faces of the members of the Voices of Bahá. As the choir filed off the stage to walk through the theatre singing an encore of We are Soldiers the audience was standing and clapping.
Gord looked back towards the stage with the band and soloists filling the theatre with their voices and music, Cameron standing up, lights on him, blowing his heart out on the tenor sax, and he was overwhelmed with gratitude for the rich experience they all had shared. Gord finishes his journal writing, “Each place we went I was overwhelmed by the love, support and GRATITUDE that the Bahá'ís of each of these countries showed towards the choir. They were very grateful that we came and energized their communities. But I am left humbled and spiritually uplifted by the dedication that I saw from these people that have dedicated their lives to be of service in these countries of dire need.”