Are you familiar with a local folk tune with the hook: “Vini dansé bèlè, vini dansé bèlè” (Come dance the bèlè)? Or perhaps one titled Wi Dòktè (Yes, Doctor)? If the answer is yes, then you’re familiar with the work of late folk songwriter Carlton “Papa George” Matthews.
Matthews, a Morne Diablo native, died on August 12. He was 95 years old.
He was best known for his years of involvement in Best Village competitions, writing many widely popular local folk songs.
At a tribute service on August 18, friends and family remembered him as someone who loved making others smile.
His colleague Valerie Bethel said, “It’s difficult to quantify the impact this man would have had on persons around him, the community in which he lived, and in addition, in the cultural legacy of TT.
“He saw the value of working together and building community spirit.”
She described him as a “team player” with “an easy-going nature and willingness to always come on board.”
She recalled how he commanded the Best Village stages and how often he was “chief, cook and bottlewasher.”
One of the local organisers of this year’s International Creole Month (October) celebrations Michelle Mora-Foderingham recalled she was saddened that Matthews’s death “was not national news.”
A Facebook post by the Ministry of Sport and Community Development on August 16 said, “We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Carlton “Papa George” Matthews.
“Mr Matthews was responsible for many songs in the early days of Best Village; some have become iconic and synonymous with the bèlè category, to which we hear and see all our Best Village groups performing.
“He also performed with one of the earlier Best Village groups Morne Diablo where he was always Papa George, the Obeah man in all their plays. We express our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.”
Mora-Foderingham is one of the organisers of the virtual concert Sé Yon Bagay Patwa (It’s a Patois Thing) which will be held on October 24. It will be streamed live on Facebook.
She said there will be a bèlè (folk dance) tribute to Matthews, whose legacy she says will continue to live on.
One of his grandchildren told Newsday, “I got to speak with my grandfather not long before he passed and when I asked him how he would like to be remembered, he told me that he would like his family to remember him as a great community leader. Any opportunity to get that memory of him to be spread makes me feel like we’re honouring one of his last wishes.
“We are very grateful that Papa George is being honoured. It’s unfortunate that he left us with so much life, even at his age. Nonetheless, we know that his contribution to the country was one of great significance and have impacted the lives of many in his community.”
The concert will feature folk groups and artistes to entertain the virtual audience with drumming, singing, dancing, poetry and a comedic piece by Paul Keens-Douglas.
Mora-Foderingham said although the concert has to be “scaled down” this year owing to covid19, she still anticipates a great show.