GUYANA: Moon Over Me - Aubrey Cummings
Cultural hero Cummings leaves his mark on two nations but doesn't quite do it for me
Around The World In 200 Albums was a platform that was created to share and discover music that we love or find fascinating, whilst simultaneously learning about different cultures. Though we have often found ourselves totally blown away by a nations’ selection of albums, for various reasons (usually political or economic) some countries have had somewhat slim pickings on offer for us to delve into. One of the realities of a project like this is that if one is true to themselves then it is nigh on impossible to be enamoured with each and every album we listen to.
“...crooning love songs is where Cummings seems to be in his element.”
Having listened to Aubrey Cummings’ only solo album several times, I cannot help but feel slightly lost for words, and not in a good way, towards this record. Though I of course recognise that there is perhaps lyrical beauty on show in this record it doesn’t really touch me in the way that it might affect others. I have no ill-feeling towards Moon Over Me, more just ambivalence. I think one of the biggest problems for me is that from the outset I didn’t particularly enjoy Cummings’ voice. As a fan of both soul and jazz music, one would think that this record would be more in my wheelhouse but unfortunately it just didn’t click.
That said, Cummings the man has left behind an important cultural legacy in both Guyana and Barbados where he moved to in his 30s. Having left mainland South America for island life in 1978, the year that Guyana gained notoriety for playing host to the Jonestown massacre, he had already left his cultural footprint on his birthplace by being an integral part of the Guyanese string band scene in the 1960s and 1970s. Before this, Guyana’s music scene was made up mostly of big bangs with a woodwind and brass focus. However, the switch to an emphasis on string bands gained much positive attention across the region.
In a rather perverse way however, like many Guyanese in most industries Cummings’ proof of success is making it abroad as opportunities for professional development are quite limited. That is not to say that he wasn’t an integral figure as a bandleader, singer and guitarist in Guyana as the country crossed over from British colonial rule into independence. Even though during his time in Guyana his bands would mostly play covers, it is no doubt that Cummings voice would allow him to imprint his own unique stamp onto those songs. One might argue that this era in which Cummings would have been influenced by bands like Earth, Wind and Fire could have sowed the early seeds for fete culture that rules today in Guyana’s soca scene.
Despite recording the album as late as 2005, he had recorded songs which feature on the album such as Anna-Lee and A Flower named June soon after his arrival to the Caribbean. Both of these tracks are crooning love songs which is where Cummings seems to be in his element. In Barbados not only did he leave his mark as a musician but also as an artist. His paintings (featured below) are rather striking and demonstrate his love for what become his second home. In fact, his love for Barbados is evident in As I Smell the Rain an ode to the nation. For me, my favourite song is C’est La Vie, though that said I cannot pretend it is a track I go wild for. To me Cummings often sounds like, what is referred to in the UK as a ‘B.Tech’ Louis Armstrong. Though the comparison with Armstrong makes the point that Cummings is inferior to the legend, it is still a generous appraisal, and although the album is not quite my cup of tea I can certainly acknowledge that its poetic lyrics might resonate with others.