VETERAN calypsonian, Cyril “Get Through” Felix, known for his popular hits, “What De People Chanting” and “Marchand Posse”, died Wednesday evening following a short battle with cancer.
Get Through, who fell ill in August and had many bouts in and out of hospital since then, was both a catalyst and pioneer on the local music scene, particularly in calypso.
His introduction to music came early and was fostered while he attended St. Aloysius R.C. Boys’ Primary School. By age 14, he took his musical talents further when he recorded his first calypso on a cassette recorder – extemporaneously. Buoyed by the sound of his voice on the recording, the teenager took up songwriting and singing seriously.
In 1971, Felix converted to Rastafarianism, adopting the moniker “Get Through” and pursuing a career in reggae music. After that dream failed to pay off he decided to stick with what he knew best: calypso.
The calypsonian’s death came just minutes after a benefit concert paying tribute to him and also aimed at raising funds for a newly-established artist endowment fund had begun at the National Cultural Centre (NCC). That fund is expected to aid calypsonians in need of assistance – including medical treatment — and will be replenished through fundraising and other means.
During that concert, nearly two dozen calypsonians – many of whom had not performed on stage for years – gave the upbeat and packed NCC crowd samples of calypsos vintage and new, many of them acknowledging the late musician during their performances. Some of the performers, including Ashanti and Black Pearl, said their careers were greatly influenced by Get Through’s efforts and encouragement.
The long night of music began with the Nyabinghi Drummers chanting songs and prayers for Get Through, followed by a video montage of Get Through performing his 2001 hit, “Marchand Posse”, which was written by TOT co-founder and longtime friend, Truscott “Soukoo” Augustin.
Other performers on the night included Lady Leen, Twop Chans, Educator, Herb Black, Invader, Teddyson John, TiCarro, Robbie, Controller, Jackson, Ready, Messenger, Simplicity, Nintus, Pep, TC Brown and Sizzla.
The artistes all performed for free at the concert, which was staged by the Chanting for Get Through Organizing Committee spearheaded by singer/songwriter Mac Stephen “Lord Help Me” Aubertin.
Many in the audience last Wednesday expressed how magnetic a force Get Through was, so much so that an event in his name was able to attract large a crowd at the venue, surpassing the usual numbers for even a calypso semifinals.
Nevertheless, the true scope of Get Through’s influence and legacy continues to take shape even though he has sung his last song and ended his undulating love affair with music.
During an interview with The VOICE last July, the 66-year-old Maynard Hill resident explained that his career really took off when he returned to Saint Lucia from St. Croix in 1981.
Inspired by the Jonestown massacre that left 918 people dead in Guyana in 1978, Get Through penned “Jim Jones” (named after the charismatic American leader of the ill-fated People’s Temple who forced his followers to drink cyanide-laced Flavour Aid drink). Some of the song’s lyrics are as follows:
“Man coming here and playing dem is pastor
Ah want to know what de matter here
Nobody looking to seek de better
Ah want de minister to check de matter
They say they come from America
But we know, oh Lord, that dem is de murderer
Jim Jones, Mr. Minister…”
After refusing to compete in the calypso quarterfinals in 1981 citing personal reasons, Get Through decided to establish his own calypso tent. In 1982, he did just that, with Soukoo and Trevor “Jah T” Anthony as co-founders and fellow songwriters.
The new calypso tent was a welcome platform for many, especially calypsonians deemed to be “rejects” by other tents. Sky Hawk, Observer, Bristo, Soul and Sleeping Serpent were among the crop of calypsonians recruited and the tent soon became refuge for any calypsonian who simply wanted to get through to the people via their messages.
That same year, Get Through’s “What De People Chanting” captured the Road March title and placed third in the Calypso Monarch. He participated in competitive calypso before making a departure in 1986 after one of the judges gave one of his songs a harsh critique.
The hiatus gave him more time to manage his tent better but he soon grew tired of that and took a back seat to allow other tent members to run the show albeit he remained tent leader until his death.
With over 100 songs to his credit, many of which he wrote for youngsters who participated in R.C. Jam from as far back as the early 1980s, Get Through returned to competitive calypso in 2001 with his neighbourhood anthem, “Marchand Posse”, a song inspired by the killing of a Canadian citizen in that community in 1999.
In the song, Get Through sought to dispel the many stigmas that people often associate with Marchand. “Marchand Posse” also highlighted some of the outstanding people to have emerged from the Castries suburb, including Mindoo Phillip. As he told it, there is more to Marchand than an unfair stigma, captured in the following lyrics of the song’s chorus:
“Marchand is a place where Lucians really
Come together in unity
Marchand, if you pleeeeease,
Is de capital of Castries….”
His friend, Truscott “Soukoo” Augustin told The VOICE that despite Rastafarians being treated as outcasts from the early days of the movements, Get Through’s accomplishments served to solidify the fact a man is way more than his dreadlocks.
“In 1982, when Get Through came up with the idea of establishing a calypso tent, I figured it was a good idea,” Augustin said. “We decided that since people love music, we could use that as a way of proving our worth. I’m really into my football but Get Through gave me that opportunity to be involved in something new, something novel.”
While indicating to The VOICE that he had plans to make a comeback to competitive calypso, Get Through’s health woes began soon afterwards. With his health issues serving as a catalyst for the calypso fraternity to take a closer look at protecting its own, his legacy undoubtedly continues to take shape.
Get Through, however, said back in July that he wanted to be remembered as a Mutabaruka-type figure: a messenger putting soul into the language of the calypso art form.
“I sing the kind of calypsos that when I’m really old I can sit down with my grandchildren and great grandchildren and listen to without any fear,” he said during our interview. “I don’t sing seasonal songs; I sing songs that last.”