– Mystic celebrates being Guyanese in music
By Ravin Singh
The song has been penetrating the local airwaves since its release two weeks ago and I had the privilege of sharing studio space for an interview with the composer, Romeo Nermal, more popularly known as Mystic.
Almost immediately he offers me the lone chair available in the studio, and occupies a corner of the floor with his back supported by the wooden wall.
He played with a reel of insulation tape as he awaited the start of the interview, intermittently asking the owner of the studio to give him the tape to use on a ball to play cricket – a sport he’s an avid player and fan of.
His humility, which could be blindly deciphered, spoke volumes, given his achievements on the international stage. It was difficult coming to grips with the fact that such an established artiste was refusing to see himself as superior within the domain of human interaction.
Despite this, I maintained my composure, quizzing him on what lead to the development of his latest masterpiece after “Coolie bai.”
Maintaining a moderate tone, Mystic speaks passionately of this new song which has been viewed and shared thousands of times on the world’s most popular social media platform – Facebook.
He reveals that he started thinking about an idea for the song while in the “backdam” at Black Bush Polder a few months ago.
“The idea of Mystic is just someone who is into music and loves farming. That’s who I would tell people Mystic is. I could do a show at the Stadium and the next day you could find me in the backdam planting rice; that’s just who I am. People would say ‘boy you travelling and all these things and planting rice’ but the truth is, it’s not a big deal for me. I don’t see my music career as anything to ‘big-up’ myself about.” – Mystic
“I was doing work and so and just coming up with lyrics in my head but I didn’t put it into a song or anything,” the young writer says.
Subsequently, he travelled to Georgetown where DP (Darrell Pugsley’s) studio is located, to start developing the song with producer, Darrell Pugsley.
The song was launched just about two weeks ago at the height of Guyana’s Jubilee Celebrations. Egged on by others, he decided on a song of “humour” which spoke of some aspect of Guyana’s uniqueness, and hence the idea of “Buffiana” came about.
Buffiana is a Guyanese word used to describe a person whose parents are Amerindian and Afro-Guyanese. Remarkably candid and confident in his response as to what the song promotes, the artiste says it speaks of a Buffiana Guyanese girl who mesmerizes men with her astonishing features and idiosyncratic dance moves – or as Guyanese say “the way she whine.”
The song is considered a “Choka song” he says, reasoning that it is neither chutney nor soca, but rather a fusion of the two regionally-popular genres. Though produced by Pugsley, who Mystic credits favourably for a “fantastic job,” the song was entirely written by him.
“I wrote the song,” the young singer notes, adding that even though he writes all of his songs, the nature of music allows for the producer to add a line or recommend an adjustment to some parts of a song to make its lyrics more “compact.”
Without being questioned, Mystic goes on to detail his style of writing which sets him apart from other local artistes. He explains that his style of writing is always geared to incorporate the use of the Guyanese vernacular, which helps him to maintain his identity as both a person and an artiste.
Extremely conscious and knowledgeable of the dynamics of the music industry, he immediately interrupts himself to point out that his style of writing, which has evidently garnered much support both locally an internationally, is not superior to any other local artiste. He notes thought that when these artistes travel abroad to perform, it is then they realise how important their identity as a performer really is.
“They realise they have to be Guyanese to stand out when they’re abroad. When they here [home], their mind usually set on foreign but once they get there, is then they realise that support comes from overseas-based Guyanese. And that is something I realized even before I started travelling; that I have to be a Guyanese first and adjust the music to suit our culture, not the other way ‘round.”
And this was exactly what he did with Buffiana; skillfully incorporating the names of villages across Guyana, and indirectly selling the highlights of those villages. But the song actually promotes more than that. In fact, the song sells an idealistic image of Guyanese women, which the writer acknowledges, is likely to attract critics.
“The thing about my music is that I don’t sing for one particular group. I sing for everybody. So, today I might release a song for the youths, and next week I might release another for matured people. So in a way like that I will always have critics cause one group might like this song, but not the other” he says.
Then he pauses temporarily, and confidently expresses that this does not hinder his career, since people can only be critical of you when they’re following your work.
Mystic goes on to describe the reaction he has received from fans thus far, laughing lightly as he says that their first reaction is that the song is a funny one.
“That was the sole idea though, to add some ‘skin teeth’ or ‘laff’ as we Guyanese would say,” he adds.
Realising the nationalistic approach he employed in composing his songs, which has, without doubt been a struggle in the music industry in Guyana, I was curious to know if this he genuinely believes this is the kind of music Guyanese, particularly youths, want to hear. And if this was indeed so, if more local artistes should adopt this style.
Almost instantly he responds in the affirmative, reasoning that Guyanese at home are not the only one who follow the music of local artistes. He goes on to explain that Guyanese in the diaspora long for this kind of music – which gives them an identity – and are willing to support it.
“Is not that you have to do Guyanese songs your whole career. But when you’re an upcoming artiste, you have to know where your fan base is and attract those people first. And right now it’s not only at home, it’s in the diaspora as well, so you have to be smart,” he says.
He goes on to justify this reasoning by explaining that when regional artistes are performing in the US or Canada, there is usually a group of people from that artiste’s home country which supports them.
Seemingly passionate about this topic, he goes on to state that “if you got a Guyanese artiste who going and perform in foreign, and he sounding like a Trinidadian or a Bajan, now the po’ Guyanese people won’t have anybody to represent them. They won’t have somebody going on stage and saying ‘wam deh banna’ or ‘wa gine on budday’ so they would obviously feel left out.”
He continues that even if there is a lack of appreciation for local music, once it’s “good music” people will be inclined to listen to it and it will get the recognition it deserves.
He speaks authoritatively though, which makes the conversation much more interesting. Having released popular hit “Coolie bai” which, even to this day is one of Guyana’s theme song, Mystic was able to perform this song both regionally and internationally, which aided in the development of his career.
At this point I shift his attention from the prospects of the music industry and what sells, to who Mystic is as a person and what lead to the engineering of this regionally recognized artiste.
Proud of his heritage, he explains that he was born in Black Bush Polder on the Corentyne where he spent some amount of years before leaving for Georgetown. During his childhood, he remembers singing in Sunday School and among friends and cousins when they were playing together in the backdam.
“When I was very small and my cousins and friends would come for us to play in the backdam, we would usually end up singing together and so. And I would always want to out-sing all of them,” he said while laughing. “I’d always try to pull more notes than them and interestingly I used to do it.”
Once in the city, he attended Central High School while living with his mother – Sarah Moseley in Sophia. Though he didn’t dwell much on it, he reveals that his father passed away when he was just five years old. During the time spent at his mother’s, he notes that his love for music spiked, and he began seriously considering it as a career.
The young singer goes on to reveal that while in school, he was not very talkative, and would resort to expressing himself on paper, through poetry. This eventually evolved as he would listen to music and try to structure his poems in the form of songs.
He jocularly recalls while in High School, a song competition was being promoted and he was very much interested. However, one of the requirements of the competition was that the song had to be recorded at a studio. Not being exposed to the music industry, the soon-to-be star travelled to Matt’s Record Bar – an establishment which merely sells already recorded music – to do his recording.
“When I reach deh them men seh ‘nah’; we don’t do recording here pardna.” He was then directed to Vision Sounds studio. We both laugh and at that point I observed how homour had consumed his being to the point where it was inevitable for it to be reflected in his music – as is the case with Buffiana.
He continues to detail how he had arrived at this point, crediting his success to determination, strong will and remarkable support from family and friends. Failing to omit the presence of God in his life, he says “the father has blessed me tremendously and I am very much thankful.”
But Mystic is not only about music. I would learn that this recognized artiste, who had performed in more than three continents, including Europe, is also a rice farmer.
“In my late teens I went back to Berbice and got into farming. I used to do construction work at one point in time but music and farming is what I love.”
I sat there speechless, my thoughts slowly drifting away from what he was actually saying at that point in time. How many artistes of his caliber do you know who is likely to remain a rice farmer while touring multiple continents to feed the musical appetite of thousands of fans? It was a reflective and astonishing moment.
Not surprising though, his jovial spirit faded temporarily, and his humility attracted the interest of my cameraman who was sitting idly by on his phone, six feet away.
“The idea of Mystic is just someone who is into music and loves farming. That’s who I would tell people Mystic is. I could do a show at the Stadium and the next day you could find me in the backdam planting rice; that’s just who I am. People would say ‘boy you travelling and all these things and planting rice’ but the truth is, it’s not a big deal for me. I don’t see my music career as anything to ‘big-up’ myself about,” he humbly shares.
The artiste goes on to share another experience where someone went as far as to ask him why he was still living in Guyana. Laughing again, he recalls telling them that Guyana is the land of his birth and he will always find freedom and peace of mind here; not in another man’s country.
Time constraints were imposing. And the interview was nearing its end. But he was determined to offer advice to upcoming musicians and young people in Guyana.
“Just find your identity as a singer or a musician. When the whole world is going in one direction with music, having your unique style will make you stand out,” he says, adding that even if the music industry appears to be struggling, once good music is produced, people will subscribe and gravitate to it.
In similar fashion to regional counterpart ‘Popcaan,’ who, in a recent interview expressed his desire to see more Jamaicans travel the world to acknowledge the bigger picture of life, Mystic says being Guyanese is what sets us apart from the world, and what sells us and our culture.
“So I’d just want the youths to know that they should feel proud about being Guyanese and I want encourage them to find what they are good at and build on it.
“Everybody different in their own way and somebody might be good at dancing while I might be good at singing, and we got to appreciate that and build on it.
“And we would find that we would start appreciating people more and having more love for our fellow Guyanese. Cause that is the ideal vision, that is what we want see; everybody live as one people, in one nation, with one destiny.”