TWENTY-two years after his death, Ras Shorty I (Garfield Blackman), who created three genres of music – soca, chutney soca and jamoo – has been recognised by a street in San Fernando being renamed in his honour.
Tears flowed from the eyes of the Blackman family members present, as the sign connecting High Street to Pointe-a-Pierre Road, previously known as Short Street, was unveiled by city mayor Junia Regrello on Thursday morning.
Shorty’s eldest daughter Abbi Blackman explained the tears were not because his name on the sign was misspelt, but happy ones, as, after years of lobbying five different administrations, their father was finally given his just due.
Regrello acknowledged the error and said the sign, which incorrectly reads “Ras Shortie I,” will soon be corrected to Ras Shorty I Street.
Abbi recalled after his death, the family unsuccessfully lobbied five different culture ministers to assist in establishing a museum and school of music and arts, preferably in Piparo, where the family lived for many years, or in San Fernando.
“When Basdeo Panday and Kamla Persad-Bissessar were prime ministers, the East Indian community recognised Shorty I for his creation of chutney soca. We thought when SAPA was built in San Fernando, he would have found his space. That did not happen, but we are grateful and thankful for the street naming.
“Nothing happens before its time,” she said, crediting Derron Attz of the Torrance Mohammed Foundation for this becoming a reality.
Attz who chaired the unveiling ceremony, explained the foundation, which has a mission to expand knowledge and understanding and appreciation of arts and culture, felt Shorty, who is buried at the Paradise Cemetery, San Fernando, should be recognised.
Abbi said the family will continue to lobby for the museum and music school, for like her late father, they believe the system is not geared for the development of this art form, and welcomed help from any similar-minded people or organisations.
“Shorty I took us (his children) out of school to do music. He said the system was not geared for artistic children. His focus was on learning different instruments, singing, composing, music engineering and so much more.”
Her sister Marge, who recently received worldwide recognition when she teamed up with Machel Montano at the recent MahaShivRatri celebrations in India, observed the international movement highlighting Caribbean talent and culture at this point and said her father’s recognition is timely.
“We are just proud to be here at children of Shorty I and TT and we want to say thanks.”
In an attempt to continue the legacy, her brother OC Blackman, has transformed the Piparo home where they lived into the Blackman Ranch, a venue for promoting and teaching arts and culture.
Brother Isaac, who celebrated the occasion with performances, along with brother Daniel and sisters Abbi, Nihelette and Marge, of Om Shanti and Watch Out My Children, said very soon Shorty’s children will retire and would like to focus on teaching to continue the legacy.
Watch Out My Children was adopted by the UN as the theme song for its campaign against the proliferation of drug abuse several years ago.
President of the Greater Chamber of San Fernando Kieran Singh said beyond culture, Shorty, who successfully fused Indian and African music, which still resonates today, has put this little country on the international market, making it a high-value tourism commodity.
Noting Google’s recent tribute to the steelpan ( a Google doodle), from a business perspective Singh said he too sees the culture of Trinidad and Tobago rising, and pushed for culture to be monetised so as to add value to this country as a tourism destination.
Quoting the late Dr Eric Williams’s saying about some men being born great, some achieving greatness and others having greatness thrust upon them, he said Shorty I was all three.
“He was born great, as he was born with a gift and a talent. He achieved greatness by working hard, to become renowned in the art form of calypso and soca. Through the recognition of his peers and the calypso fraternity, greatness was bestowed upon him.
“It is against this background that the San Fernando City Corporation is recognising the contribution of this outstanding artiste by indelibly etching his name on the landscape of the city.”
Reflecting on Shorty’s decision to relocate to the Piparo forest with his family at the height of his career to develop his spiritual calling, Regrello said his family, most of whom have successful musical careers, are enjoying these blessings.