The ride of young Bill Rogers

His father was Guyana’s first international recording artiste and he is intent on keeping that legacy alive

Bill Rogers (Augustus Hinds) in a 1972 recording session in Georgetown. Photograph courtesy Roger HindsYoung Bill Rogers (Roger Hinds) performing in St Vincent in 2005. Photograph courtesy Roger Hinds

My father was known as Bill Rogers, but his real name was Augustus Hinds. He was the person responsible for putting Guyana on the recording map when he recorded for RCA Victor Bluebird Record Company in 1934.  That was the top recording company in those days.

Besides being the first international recording artiste for Guyana, he was involved in many other things during his career: he was a magician, a comedian, and an impresario.

He was also responsible for the creation of Shanto music, a genre that is specifically Guyanese. It’s an improvisation of words and music with an Afro-West Indian beat, but the language and topics must be intrinsically Guyanese before it can be considered Shanto.

When I started singing calypso, about 17 years ago, I didn’t know that much about the art form. Before that, I was involved in music with my father and I went around with him, performing. He had a big influence on me, even in what I do now. He showed me a lot of techniques, how to use a stage. He would talk about his experiences as a promoter and an artiste and I learnt from that.

Every year, as part of the Emancipation Celebrations, there is a Shanto competition. I’ve won it five times already.

Before winning the Calypso Monarch crown this year, I’d reached the finals about ten to 12 times. I’d place third, fourth, fifth… Over time, I became one of the leading artistes when it comes to calypso in Guyana.

There have been some obstacles along the way. It’s very difficult to make a living as a calypsonian in Guyana. It’s not like Trinidad, where you have the various tents around the Carnival season. Very few shows in Guyana showcase calypsonians. They’d use a reggae artiste. Everything is foreign. The real roots of Guyanese culture—calypso, shanto …You won’t find these things. And that’s a disadvantage for me and many other calypsonians.

Another problem faced by calypsonians in Guyana is the lack of airtime. When you record a song in the studio it’s difficult to get it played on the radio, and that means that we lose out.

Piracy is also an issue. When people are copying your music and selling it, they’re undermining the investment that you made when you went to the studio. But it hasn’t stopped me. I have an album out called Young Bill Rogers: Volume 1.

I live off my earnings in entertainment, not just calypso. I produce shows. Recently, I promoted a show called Pan Showcase at the National Cultural Centre. And I’m fortunate enough to be one of the few calypsonians in Guyana who have the opportunity to perform in a variety of shows both locally and internationally.

One of the high points of my career was representing Guyana in the Carifesta Monarch competition in 2006. I was able to perform with some of the best artistes in the region. It was a good experience.

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to nine Caribbean islands with Caribbean Vision, a group founded by Kurt Alleyne. We lived as a family, travelling from island to island, and I learnt a lot from them.

Performing at the Grenada Benefit Concert that was promoted by Caribbean Vision—that was another milestone for me. To be on the same stage with Black Stalin, Gabby and other top artistes from around the Caribbean was a great experience.

Then there was the time I performed with the Mighty Bomber in St Vincent and the Grenadines. I did two of my father’s songs and got a standing ovation.

Of course, the greatest thing so far was winning the Calypso Monarch 2008. Winning the crown that night was a wonderful experience. After the semi-finals I told myself that I had to carry it through to the finals. And it was a close call. They say that I beat the first runner-up by one point.

I think I won the competition this year because of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. I never gave up. Once I was in Guyana, I’d come banging. Some people come and go, but I was determined to win that crown. That was one of my main goals.

Being Calypso Monarch has opened up some opportunities for me. I’ve been travelling all over Guyana and doing a lot of work. And then there’s Carifesta [Rogers was scheduled to represent Guyana at the regional arts festival, held in Guyana in August this year].

I’m looking forward to defending my title next year and to facing all those big Trinidadian calypsonians—Black Stalin, Cro Cro—when the time comes. I think I have the ability to do that now. I’ve performed with them before, so I know how they do it.

There are a lot of calypso competitions around the Caribbean. It’s a matter of getting the information and doing the proper marketing. I’ve been working on getting my name out there and networking with all the right people.
As far as the future is concerned, I’m working towards establishing my own calypso tent in Guyana. It will be the first time that a calypsonian has tried to do that here. I also want to develop pan. Those are two very important areas, as far as I’m concerned: pan and calypso.

I’m currently working on one of my biggest projects, a biography of my father. It’s going to be launched at this year’s Carifesta. This is my first attempt at such a venture, and it’s difficult because of the amount of research that had to be done. But the fact that my father was a good record-keeper made it a bit easier.

The book will be about 70–80 pages, with some wonderful pictures: pictures from the 30s, 40s and 50s, pictures of my father with Tiger, Lion, the old names that people have forgotten.

I’m writing the book because there are a lot of young persons who don’t know anything about Bill Rogers and his work. And I think it’s a great opportunity to make people aware of the worth of this man. It’s my goal to keep his name alive. That’s why I’m “Young Bill Rogers.”