‘Uncle Polo’ empowering NA youths through music
‘Uncle Polo’ and his young musicians preparing to perform at an event in New Amsterdam
‘Uncle Polo’ and his young musicians preparing to perform at an event in New Amsterdam

LINCOLN Williams, known as ‘Uncle Polo’ was vending at the New Amsterdam market in 2010, when he was approached and asked to assist with the formation of a marching band. The specific instructions were for its members to be older persons.

While the 73-year-old quickly agreed, given his years of experience in the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) military band, he was quick to stipulate his preference for youths, as he believed the old adage: “Bend the tree while it is young”, and reasoned that “old trees are hard to bend.”

‘Uncle Polo’ playing his keyboard at his home in New Amsterdam

It was Neil Mc Callam, and Keith London, a former “squaddie”, who had approached him, and who would later introduce him to Dr. Leonard Lewis, President of Council of Friends of New Amsterdam (COFONA), and Marcy Williams.

The first set of recruits were six boys, who were drawn from the market environs. Initially, there were no musical instruments. The wooden unoccupied market stalls were used to teach the lads rhythm and percussion. Compton Darlington and Jeffery Williams, both seniors, assisted with the training.

Thereafter, the COFONA New York Chapter sent bugles, drums, and trumpets for the ever-growing group of male musicians.

Practice sessions were held at the New Amsterdam Market, but following noise nuisance complainants, the group relocated with their instruments to the militia base at Coburg Street, in the township. Practice sessions later shifted to the Esplanade Park.

Thereafter, the young musicians were exposed to local, regional and national events.

At the moment, the group has over forty members. Previously, there were seventy-odd musicians between the ages of 12 and 17 years, who were taught marching and patriot songs. However, after attaining the age of adulthood, many of them opted to join the GDF band or seek alternative employment.

‘Uncle Polo’ had left New Amsterdam for Georgetown to seek employment but found securing a job difficult. He passed his time playing the double alto steel pan at the Atlantic Symphony Steel Orchestra under the direction of Philbert Moore.

In 1968, he returned to New Amsterdam and formed the Amsternite Symphony. Former New Amsterdam Mayor, Errol Alphonso, was the manager at the time. It was after the symphony won the first republican steel orchestra competition in 1970, that he was recognized for his talent. Archie Mc Allister took him to join the GDF military band, which was, at the time, directed by Fenton Haynes, and subsequently by Sonny Ault. It was during Ault’s tenure that Williams was exposed to theoretical and practical training of wind and other instruments.

According to him, when he joined the army’s music corps, there were two groups: the corps of drums and steel band. Over time, the military and string bands were added.

While reflecting on his boyhood years and growing up at St. Ann Street or Chinese Lane, as it is popularly called, he expressed belief that his appetite for music was stirred because it was in his blood. He said his relatives– Ivan Fraser and Desmond Fraser– were musically inclined, having played in the Guyana Police Force (GPF) band and the Salvation Army, of which he was a member.

Currently, his days are filled with personal practice sessions which helps him to maintain his knowledge of musical scales and chords and to stay ahead of his youthful mentees who are quick to surf the internet for assistance.

“That aside, as long as the possibility exist, I will continue to share my knowledge with the youths; the rich legacy of music. I love what I am doing. I won’t change it for anything else,” Williams said.

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