Who is this guy Slingshot?
The banna trying
A man of refreshing originality and indomitable will… JOHN ‘SLINGSHOT’ DREPAUL: a musical force to be reckoned with
One of his many colourful costume entries into the annual Mashramani celebrations
TALENTED Guyanese musicians have emerged on the entertainment scene and have made lasting impressions; but, sadly, many have faded in what can be described as a fledgling music industry.
One individual who has emerged as a notable contributor is US-based John ‘Slingshot’ Drepaul.
Residing in Florida is no deterrent to this proud Guyanese son, who would always explain that his journey to relative fame did not happen without intense sacrifice and periods of great adversity.
‘Slingshot’ and wife ‘Ingrid’ don their colourful Mash ‘Pirate’ costume
Memorable in this regard was an incident at Mashramani 2007.
During an energetic “Welcome to Guyana” portrayal, Slingshot was severely injured after falling off the dray cart on which he was standing.
Nevertheless, he continued the journey to the National Park balancing on his two hands, bearing excruciating pain but solidly focused on delivering his promise of a crowd-pleasing routine.
Upon completion of the route, he admitted himself to the hospital, where it was learnt that he had sustained three broken bones in his lower back.
The recovery process was gradual and frustrating, but Drepaul’s indomitable will prevailed, and he has since appeared at the nation’s premier entertainment showcase. And his presence at Mash has become a welcome fixture.
John ‘Slingshot’ Drepaul and his wife, Ingrid, participated in this year’s Mashramani celebrations. Their presence brought a remarkable breath of fresh air to the event, with a wonderful and wholesome portrayal, both along the route to the National Park and with their “On Mash Day: Sharing de Love”.
Ever philosophical, Drepaul opines that local musicians should concentrate on originality and avoid the foreign accents many often adopt.
“To better promote and market their productions, Guyanese musicians should focus entirely on originality and avoid the imitation of foreign artistes.
“It’s quite a turnoff to see otherwise talented musicians putting on strange airs, adopting the stage styles and gesticulations of artistes from abroad, right down to the accents.
“They should learn to create their own styles and techniques; get the public to fall in love with them, which in turn will facilitate better marketing for their music,” John ‘Slingshot’ Drepaul has said.
‘Slingshot’, as he is popularly known, is a household name. His music and videos, particularly the latter, are radio and TV favourites. He is today turning many heads in the Caribbean with his all-embracing pieces.
This self-taught musician, entertainer, and calypsonian, whose authentic singing style is quite refreshing, has a most colourful past. Born at 41 William Street, Kitty, Slingshot attended schools in Kitty, Campbellville, Queenstown, and No 63 Village, Upper Corentyne.
Although he was born in Demerara, Slingshot grew up in what he is convinced is Guyana’s rural paradise, Corentyne, Berbice, with No. 63 Beach as his expansive backyard. This would later prove to be the ideal landscape and inspiration for most of his poetry, songs, and short stories.
From age 13, Slingshot lived on his own in a beach house at No. 63 Beach, with no assistance from family. His stepmother had evicted him from the family home to fend for himself; but he rose to the challenge.
Growing with no parental control and/or guidance was admittedly tough, but Slingshot recounted that he somehow was able to “make it through the rain”.
John ‘Slingshot’ Drepaul, the Guyanese musical power house
Slingshot related that he could not have survived were it not for schoolmates like Harold Thomas, Azeez Mohommed, and Dasrat Indar; villagers such as Sham Baker’s son “Reds”, Jagat Narine, Amanu Shook “Rooster” Budhram, and Deochand “Post” Rupchand. The close, protective shield from the likes of Shameer “Shamboy” Ally, Bobby “Sakawaat” Rohit, Joe “Best” Dulam, Harry Munsee, Lloyd Parks, and Awad “Slinger” Narine made surviving alone bearable.
Intellectual and motivational guidance came from the late Presidents Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Mrs. Janet Jagan, late Headmasters of his alma mater, Dr. Joshua Reuben Ramsammy and Mr. Sham Sakichand Chandra, and such dear friends as Ronald Budhram, Joey Jagan, Neville Budhan, and especially teachers and mentors Pandit Ramlall and Anthony McIntosh.
He used his unfortunate circumstances to his advantage, and juggled attending high school and performing with “The Lonely Bulls”, a string combo he had put together. They performed at events along the Corentyne Coast, and especially in New Amsterdam. When the group disbanded, he utilized his musical talent to organize an existing group he afterwards named “Sons of India”.
With them, he experimented with a fusion of English and Indian music. The word “Chutney” was not as yet coined.
During this period, Slingshot was instrumental in forming some social and sports clubs, which kept the youths in the various villages along the Upper Corentyne occupied and off the streets. Such names as “Early Risers’ Youth Club” and “Idlers Domino Club” are still remembered in the Upper Corentyne.
He had high praises in particular for one person: “Were it not for Rohit Jagessar, a music, entertainment, recording and film visionary, whose humble beginnings and journey from Black Bush Polder, Corentyne to better his life, which almost parallels and intertwines with mine, I would not have been able to fulfill a musician’s dream of standing and playing before an audience at Madison Square Garden.”
Drepaul migrated to the United States in early 1970, and honed his entertaining skills in New York City’s Greenwich Village coffee houses, subways, and street corners.
As a soldier stationed in Germany in the late 70s, Slingshot sharpened his song-writing skills, which are insightful, satirical, at times romantic, wonderfully humorous, and spiced with Caribbean nostalgia.
During the early 80s, Slingshot and his band, Tropical Waves, enjoyed immense popularity among West Indian party-goers in New York. They were the opening act at Madison Square Garden for Jamaican pioneering dancehall reggae artiste “Yellowman”, along with Trinidad’s “Mighty Sparrow” and “Calypso Rose”.
In the mid-80s, with “Signs of the Zodiacs”, a Brooklyn-based 13-piece brass band, Slingshot blossomed into a versatile, dynamic and innovative entertainer. He still credits that group with the disciplined brass arrangement that can be felt in his musical compositions.
Slingshot entered Guyana’s Mashramani 2004 Road March competition for the first time with his band titled ‘Wake Up, My Guyana with Slingshot’. It won the hearts of everyone, and placed 1st in the semi-costumed big band category.
From November 22 to 29, 2004, Slingshot got his fellow Guyanese artistes together and recorded a song (You’re Not Alone), which he and a co-lyricist wrote for the disadvantaged children of Guyana. For this and his deep concern for the welfare of others, as well as his undying love for Guyana, always expressed in his lyrics, Drepaul was awarded the Mayor’s Award of Excellence for outstanding achievement in the field of music.
The “GT Lime 2005 Award for Charitable Works” was given to him at a 2005 dinner/dance event, and he was among those selected by The Guyana Cultural Association Folk Festival 2005 Award Committee for its Wordsworth McAndrew Award. The criteria for such a prestigious award are based on several attributes, including originality, scope, impact/influence, integration, pioneering spirit, challenges and achievements.
Slingshot performs regularly at all West Indian carnival celebrations. He has made several guest appearances in clubs, on numerous TV and radio programmes in New York, UK, the Caribbean, and Guyana; and has so far released five CDs: Sweet Island Woman; Remembering; Home Sweet Home; Jump for Carnival; Mash Fever.
This “Man for All Seasons” has an engaging Christmas CD, titled “A Very Merry Guyanese Christmas”, and his musical videos, as indicated above, are captivating.
In the videos, Slingshot has incorporated the latest in DVD visual technology to correspondingly promulgate and keep alive the natural beauty of his beloved Guyana.
He is also editing his manuscript, titled: “From No. 63 Beach to Madison Square Garden”, which chronicles his rather interesting and unique journey through life.
Slingshot and his wife Ingrid have written, composed, and arranged over 500 songs, and recorded several CDs. Their compositions cover all genres of music to include Calypso, Soca, Reggae, Waltz, R&B, Chutney, and something they call “Chulhaa”.
They have created an almost unique sound that is truly Guyanese, and with their innovative compositional and musical creations, have moved beyond Slingshot’s rural geographic surroundings and crossed over the racial divide in doing so.
In November 2008, Slingshot was presented with Guyana’s Accolade Award for his Soca composition, “Pirates”, during the country’s first nationally recognized music awards. Previously, he was honoured by the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce of Florida Inc. with a Certificate of Appreciation in acknowledgement of his contribution to the 2004 hurricane relief effort.
Slingshot was unanimously judged the Miami 2005 Soca Monarch after edging out a predominantly Trinidadian line-up. He became the only non-Trinidadian, and the first ever Guyanese, to win the Miami Soca crown. He also placed third in the 2005 Miami Calypso Monarch competition.
Two books by Slingshot are also in the making. He indicated he has already started the pre-sequel and sequel of life “before” No. 63 Beach, and “after” Madison Square Garden. In his books, he covers a variety of topics to include social, economic and political pre- and post-independent Guyana, as well as personal thoughts.
Asked about his proudest moment in his musical journey, Slingshot unhesitatingly exclaimed, “Being onstage in 1982 at Madison Square Garden with my all-Guyanese band ‘Tropical Waves’. We were the opening act for Jamaican dancehall reggae artiste Yellowman.”
Let’s all join hands in saluting this son of the soil, who is paving the way for Guyanese music on the international front.
By Alex Wayne