Red, white & blocked

George Maharaj - Carla Castagne
George Maharaj - Carla Castagne

As told to BC PIRES

My name is George Maharaj and I am selling or donating away a priceless collection of Trinidad and Tobago and Caribbean music to a foreign institution if I can find one.

The collection is about 6,000 records and the cost to collect, storage fees, insurance, transport comes close to Can$200,000.

I did not include sentimental value.

I have already parted with three loads of it, and have four more to do, just giving it away.

Because for over 40 years, I have been trying with every government institution and (numerous large) private companies and I can’t figure out how to get anybody from TT to take my collection.

All I want is for somebody, somewhere, to digitise all the music and share it with the world for everybody to enjoy.

And to build a calypso museum to honour our own artistes.

I’m trying a foreign institution now.

I come from a large family of six siblings, five still alive.

I was born in Chaguanas and moved to San Fernando at the age of two years old, but moved to New York in 1969 and Toronto in 1974.

I am married with two children and three granddaughters.

I went to San Fernando Boys’ Government, then ASJA College.

I grew up in a Hindu home and my parents were considered to be pundits. But I found my roots, which is calypso, while at school in New York.

I am known as the unofficial consul general and high commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago in Canada. I am depended on by everyone as to which Trini sports clubs to join, where to hire the music bands, how to organise parang fetes, join mas bands and everything else Trini.

I launched both of my calypso history books, The Roots of Calypso, in two volumes, each including a CD, in Trinidad, Tobago, Toronto, Montreal, Germany, the Cayman Islands.

Volume one was published in 2005 and volume two in 2008. Collectively they sold over 8,000 copies and can be found in the school and public libraries in both Toronto and TT.

I did Kaisofest in Toronto, the annual Kaiso@High Noon lime in San Fernando, and Trinifest in Toronto. All calypso-related.

I have been celebrating October calypso history month for the last three years in Toronto as a request by TUCO (Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation)

George Maharaj

The monthly Kaiso Breakfast Lime I formed ran for seven years in Toronto at a Trinidadian restaurant called Sylvan’s.

I was the MC and controlled the free open-mic event. Many T&T stars performed, including Baron, Rikki Jai, Rhoma Spencer. As well as Double D, Elsworth James, Richard Luces and many other Canadian artistes.

We also had tassa, steelpan, iron rhythm, love songs etc.

For the past 30 years, and at my own expense, I have travelled to and conducted lectures at schools, institutions and social clubs in TT. Such as Naparima, Presentation, UTT, UWI, teachers’ training colleges, Point Fortin, Siparia, Mayaro, Diego Martin, Pleasantville, NALIS libraries all over the country, just to name a few.

Friends and family are very supportive of my hobby and even fund the purchase of my records and my air fare to T&T whenever I need the help.

I must state that my collection was amassed in Canada and is housed there. It is definitely not the world's largest collection, but it is the most comprehensive since it contains calypsos from all over the world. Including the Bahamas, Bermuda, Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica, Panama, Antigua, Grenada, Costa Rica, Canada, Europe, Sri Lanka and Canada and of course from the Land of Calypso, Trinidad and Tobago.

The collection comprises 6,000 original vinyl records dating from the 1930s to 1989 with calypso, combo, big band, rapso, steelpan, parang/Christmas, Caribbean R&B, traditional local Indian and limbo, with a few soca and chutney.

The formats include records – LPs, 45s, 78s – as well as cassettes, DVDs, printed materials (most calypso books and magazines), picture-sleeve records and ten-inchrecords. There are also over 1,000 CDs.

My favourite artistes are Lord Melody, Black Stalin, Mighty Duke, Lord Kitchener, Sparrow.

From the older records, Lord Cristo, Nap Hepburn, Young Killer, Sniper, and King Fighter.

The collection’s highlights include: 115 different Sparrow LPs, the complete works of Lord Kitchener, Lord Melody and every other calypsonian.

There is also most calypsoes recorded by North American stars such as Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Maya Angelou, Robert Mitchum and many, many others.

I have approached TUCO, NCC, NALIS, UWI, UTT, THA, all (the different) governments, NAR, PNM, UNC, COP. British Gas, Carib, Maritime Life, and many others.

George Maharaj - Carla Castagne

They appeared to be interested but never care to proceed further.

For instance, one university said that they will accept the collection – but I had to pay the shipping since the collection is in Canada.

Another university told me “Where will we put it?”

I must say that the following persons honestly tried to persuade the authorities to acquire the collection: Dianne Seukeran, Marlene Coudray, Pat Bishop, Pat Garcia, Joy Caesar, Yvonne Bobb-Smith and Karen Bart Alexander.

Needless to say they all failed.

It will definitely hurt me to know that (this soundtrack of my life will not be in Trinidad) but I know that, where it is going, it will benefit the calypsonians and our musical culture.

What I miss most of Trinidad is the food. Especially doubles, black pudding and cow heel soup.

And going to calypso shows.

And the weather.

To me, a Trini is one who was born in TT. However, a
real Trini is one who wears the colours, plays the music of TT and follow the sports teams of TT. I am a real Trini.

Trinidad and Tobago means everything to me, and I mean everything.

Everything I wear is either red, white and black.

My cat's name is Soca, my car licence plate is SOCA*GM, my Canadian team is called Kaisoca Cricket Club, my calypso band is called Crab & Calaloo. And my parang band is called Los Ketchos Assos.

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