The Guyanese West Side story

August 11, 2009 at 4:49 am 2 comments

The ‘West Side’, in the past ten years, has grown into a preferred and vogue entertainment destination in Guyana. It used to be a place where people had been ashamed to reveal that they were from, now persons are emboldened to the point that they proudly declare, even without prompting, that they are West Siders. How did this remarkable ‘West Side’ transition happen and how did the term originate, evolve and take root in Guyana? Who is really to be credited?

Before we delve into the appearance and evolution of the ‘West Side’ catch phrase and what it spawned it must be reiterated that prior to its appearance in the Guyanese lexicon the West Bank of Demerara, West Coast of Demerara and the East Bank of Essequibo and their peoples were treated with scorn and detachment by those on the eastern side of the Demerara river, particularly the urbanites.

Before ‘West Side’, WBD, WCD and EBE were simply and derisively lumped together and known as ‘over de river’ or ‘West Coast’. People from the ‘West Coast’ were to be scoffed at, they were country folk, lesser, not equal. At the turn of the century the genesis of change emerged. Here is the full story.

In the late 1990s Javed Ali, a young Vergenoegen born and bred entrepreneur and son of Shairaz Ali, the chairman of the Two Brothers conglomerate, along with a little help from his brother Faiaz and a few committed friends formed the Slingerz Family Sound System.

The ambitious Ali was never content to have a mere top sound in the village. He had his eyes set on the national scene from the very inception but to break in the well established sound system industry he needed a credible DJ. Ali secured the services of DJ Face, an effervescent and dynamic up-and-coming DJ from the city who had honed his skills on the trendsetting Stone Love Sound System. In just over a year, DJ Face transformed Slingerz from an underground West Coast sound system to a much sought after and highly demanded mainstream sound system.

In those days – early to mid 2000s – only razor blades were thinner than DJ Face and he was the height of most professional jockeys. Then in his twenties, he had an unmistakable cocky swagger when he walked, sugar leaking from his tongue when he spoke whether on or off the microphone and confidence to match ugly, fat women who wear micro-miniskirts. All together his irrepressible persona made him seem six feet tall and he had a versatile voice which he exploited depending on whether he felt the need to bellow commands to the hardcore dancehall rude bwoys or whisper sensual lyrics to the ladies.

And it was DJ Face who first branded WBD/WCD/EBE the ‘West Side’. He kept repeating and reiterating it at every event he played. ‘West Coast’, to DJ Face, was not catchy, it was not hip. He needed something which would resonate with the people, he needed something people would be proud of. And he struck gold when he borrowed the ‘West Side’ terminology from the United States. The fans loved it and instantly gravitated to DJ Face and embraced the ‘West Side’ branding. DJ Face and Slingerz became household names in Guyana and acquired legendary status on the ‘West Side’.

Through the efforts of DJ Face on the Slingerz Family platform, in a few short years, WBD/WCD/EBE became a cool place and it all had to do with the DJ Face inspired unofficial name change.

Barbecues, dances and shows held in the region (Region 3 – Essequibo Islands/West Demerara) began to attract increasing numbers of patrons from Georgetown and other parts of the country. And thousands travelled from all parts of Guyana to the annual Vergenoegen Village Day, held on Christmas Day. It has now become the marquee Christmas Day event in Guyana and Ali ensured that it continued to grow over the years by booking major dancehall and other acts to perform.

Unfortunately, until now, the ‘West Side’ tag and the resulting coolness has not been properly analysed and adequately recognized. The ‘West Side’ moniker made WBD/WCD/EBE into a sexy place, a preferred destination for the average Guyanese to party and hang out. It spawned several drinking spots and pool shops but it was the almost weekly Bushy Park Beach limes which really drew Georgetownians to the West Side on a regular basis. And West Siders turned out in droves for these weekend events.

This never-before-seen interest in WBD/WCD/EBE injected confidence in the spirit of the residents. They now belonged, they were not being shunned but being acclaimed, celebrated and revered. They received a sense of prominence through the success of Slingerz and the sound system’s ceaseless declarations that it was from the West Side and that it was proud to be from the West Side.

Slingerz Family remained headquartered in Vergenoegen and grew to become, arguably, Guyana’s number one music system, winning countless awards and accolades over the years. DJ Face migrated overseas and other DJs have held the reigns since his departure but the status of the sound system continues to improve and Ali has branched into promoting large scale dancehall and other entertainment events within the region, in the city and other parts of Guyana.

It cannot be overstated though how much the success of Slingerz Family and its DJs invigorated self worth and belief in residents of all races, classes and other distinctions.

What was unique about Slingerz, and perhaps its major advantage over the other well known sound systems in Guyana is that it is owned by Indo-Guyanese but the popular DJs and selectors are all Afro-Guyanese.

They espoused the ‘family’ as per their name. They have painted and promoted a picture of unity to the public in a country where division of all kinds are just below the surface. The fans have admired their commitment to unity among races and, unwittingly, it has been key in their success.

But the success of Slingerz and their celebration of the ‘West Side’ have had a broader impact in the region. Apart from spawning a ‘West Side’ brand which now is attached to barber shops, pool halls, mini buses, taxi services, grocery stores and countless other establishments there have been individual triumphs on the national scene for several individuals from the region.

It is by no mere coincidence that in this period of national success for West Siders corresponds with the rise of Slingerz Family.

Slingerz Family, perhaps without realising it engineered this phase of growth, development and recognition for the West Side. It must be noted though that Slingerz Family is not without fault. They have had several brushes with the law as they pursued ‘street cred’ and ‘rep’ as is the standard modus operandi of sound system crews across the Caribbean. Their benefits to the region far outweigh the few negatives.

An indirect result of the Slingerz induced West Side popularization was that there have been several national beauty queens emerging from the region. The beautiful young ladies have always been on the West Side but they were not previously confident enough to enter pageants, let alone win. In recent years they have become infused with confidence enough to enter and even win various high profile national pageants. West Siders have, through the diligent efforts of Slingerz in highlighting and promoting the West Side, a sense of self-worth and belief that was previously missing.

The success of Odessa Phillips, of Vergenoegen has been the most notable. She won the Miss University of Guyana Pageant then went on to historically claim the double title of Miss Guyana World and Miss Guyana Universe. To date she is the only young lady to have achieved this feat.

Olive Gopaul of Blankenburg narrowly missed displacing Odessa. Olive won Miss Guyana World and came first runner up to Odessa in the Miss Guyana Universe pageant. Both young ladies received their secondary education at the Stewartville Secondary School.

Candace Charles of the West Bank Demerara also won Miss Guyana World while Christa Simmons of Den Amstel won Miss Bartica Regatta 2007, Miss Jamzone 2007 and was the Guyana Beauty Ambassador to the Miss Tourism Queen International Pageant which was held in China. Christa was also Guyana’s 2008 delegate at the Miss World Pageant in South Africa and represented Guyana at the Face of the Universe Pageant in Ghana.

Meanwhile Candace carried the Golden Arrowhead at the Miss Europe and World Junior Pageant in the Czech Republic.

While there have been other West Side successes in pageantry the latest entrant is Carla Wynter, from Tuschen. She is a contestant in the wildly popular Miss Jamzone 2009 Pageant. The 18 year-old has already established herself as one of the favourites to take the crown and the top prize of a motor car.

Further Shellon Garraway – known throughout Guyana by her stage name Shelly G – who is based in Den Amstel is the reigning Carib Soca Monarch and the hottest female artiste in Guyana with several hit tunes in her repertoire.

During the period the West Side has also produced award winning body builders, karatekas and boxers along with top athletes in various other disciplines. And in education several top students have emerged from the region.

There has been an unquestionable explosion of talent in various areas on the West Side. It can be with little doubt that the unearthing of this talent pool is as a direct result of West Siders receiving a boost of confidence through the endless and pervasive promotion of the region mainly by the Slingerz Family on their sound system all across Guyana and on their radio and television programmes.

Without warning the West Side has risen as a force to be reckoned with to the point where it has rendered the competition virtually invisible. There is no East Side v West Side war in Guyana as there is in the US. There is no Gaza v Gullyside war in Guyana as there is in Jamaica. You do not hear of West Side v Georgetown or West Side v East Coast or any such like.

The West Side stands tall and independent in Guyana and the rise has been dramatic as it has been astonishing. Slingerz Family, DJ Face and Javed Ali, take deserving bows, your West Side owes you all a debt of eternal gratitude.

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Entry filed under: Abt Vergenoegen, Businesses in Vergenoegen, People of Vergenoegen.

Entering Vergenoegen West Coast trip to Vergenoegen (1994)

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. raptus  |  August 11, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    West Side the best side,
    Originally Shelly G is from Pomeroon.

    This was a long post.

    Reply
  • 2. mediaimran  |  August 11, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Further Shellon Garraway – known throughout Guyana by her stage name Shelly G – who is BASED in Den Amstel…

    I should think the word “based” is clear enough.

    Reply

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