The relationship between music and the Caribbean is so obvious that, in a way, it’s difficult to define. It’s the rhythm, the pulse, the lifeblood of the region. It’s sustenance for the soul, and, simultaneously, the foundation and roof of our cultural mélange. In the simplest terms, perhaps it’s most accurate to say that the Caribbean is music, and leave it at that.
The Cayman Islands is no different. From time immemorial, residents entertained themselves by making music with – well, just about anything they could think of – creating instruments from graters, pots, spoons, various sundries and, of course, their own voices. “Back in the day,” the centerpiece of Cayman’s traditional kitchen bands was the fiddle. The most famous of the old-time Caymanian fiddlers was Albert Radley Gourzong, who was born in East End in 1921 and reached the pinnacle of his musical career in 1987, when he performed at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee.
An issue of Billboard magazine includes a photo of Mr. Gourzong following his Opry debut, with a group of individuals including Roy Acuff, the “King of Country Music.” The photo caption notes, “The senior Gourzong honed his fiddle style by listening to Opry broadcasts featuring Acuff and other country music greats.”
The advent of radio, MTV and, now, streaming music on the Internet has introduced an entire world of sounds into Cayman, where at any moment, from any car, headphone or cell phone, you can hear any sort of music that exists — from Western swing to soca, or Afro-Cuban jazz to heavy metal. Instrumental selections have branched out from the fiddle to encompass the steel pan, guitar, synthesizer and turntable … again, just about anything residents can think of to play.
Amid the most rarified musical strata, local students and performers are, it seems, more active than ever. On Tuesday evening, more than a thousand people packed into the Cayman International School’s Arts & Recreation Centre for a standing-room-only concert by more than 300 students, culminating the fourth annual Cayman Private Schools Music Festival.
This weekend, the Cayman Arts Festival comes alive. On Thursday evening (after our print deadline), the Italian group Dama Trio was slated to perform pieces by Brahms and Tchaikovsky at the Cayman Islands Baptist Church in Savannah.
Earlier this week, the trio led a master class at Clifton Hunter High School for young musicians from Clifton Hunter, John Gray High School, and George Town and Red Bay Primary Schools.
Today, two free events take place (no tickets required) — though you’ll really have to hustle to hear them both. At 6 p.m., students from the Cayman Arts Festival after-school program and Cayman Youth Choir will perform at Gardenia Court in Camana Bay. Also at 6 p.m., David Brown and Isabella Rooney perform at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands.
On Saturday, the Juilliard Jazz Ensemble, featuring jazz pianist Helen Sung, plays at the Kimpton Seafire. The Juilliard Jazz Ensemble is part of the Juilliard Jazz program, which is headed by Grammy- and Pulitzer-winning trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis.
From the streets, to the “cheap seats” to the private balconies, the availability and appreciation of music in Cayman is amidst a decades-long crescendo. That’s cause for applause, and reason to dance.