A pioneer of Caribbean Music on Montreal’s airwaves celebrates today

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By: Elizabeth Smith

stretch.jpgHoward "Stretch" Carr, producer of CKUT 90.3fm's "West Indian Rhythms" programme, has been likened to the spokes that drive the Caribbean Music wheel in Montreal, Quebec for more than twenty years. As founder of what is Montreal's first and longest running radio programme that offers up an exciting and eclectic blend of Caribbean sounds, Stretch has remained a source of inspiration and even solace for the hundreds of thousands from the Caribbean region who now call Montreal home.

"When I first came to Canada it seemed so dull, dark and most of all boring, since I arrived in winter; but the first Saturday that my aunt turned on 'Stretch' show, I just felt a warm feeling come over me and it lifted my spirit," Everton Jones disclosed. The Antiguan immigrant of 15 years recounted to YardFlex how important it was then to feel connected to his roots and he feels the same today.

Hailing originally from Mandeville, Jamaica, Stretch holds the same sentiment himself and he described the days gone by, when he would stop and start skanking anywhere he would hear the Desmond Dekker rock steady hit, "Poor Me Israelite" playing. "After migrating to Canada, I just wanted to hear my culture," he said, and this yearning drove him to establish what is today the most listened to Caribbean based radio show in Montreal and its environs. Available also online at www.ckut.ca, "West Indian Rhythms" is more than just one pioneering soul pumping out the best in Kumpa, Reggae, Calypso, Soca, Dancehall and so on. It has become an essential foundation in Montreal's culturally diverse community.

Heard every Saturday from 4:00 until 7:00 PM, the fully inclusive Caribbean broadcast has been a unifying force that has not only been bringing the island cultures together all these years, but also appeals to non-Caribbeans as well. And it was a rough road to success, since many did not believe in Stretch's vision, and he was often discouraged by nay-sayers who felt a Caribbean show would never 'work'.

Twenty-three years later, the "West Indian Rhythms" is still in full force, and boasts a whole crew, that churns out hit songs, Caribbean news briefs and sports reports, while always giving quality attention to current affairs and community issues. One Montrealer said, "If you ever feel slighted, just tell Stretch and he will bring the controversy to the fore."

For Stretch it is an accomplishment that he humbly underrates, as he says, "I only feel that I have triggering a type of unity that now sees the youngsters embracing each others culture...I mean we are all from the Caribbean and share pride in the best cricketers and the best track and field teams in the world; and I feel we have to embrace each other as well." One big feat has been Stretch's ability to obtain respect as a Jamaican born Caribbean Disc Jockey, since many thought he knew nothing about the other islands' cultures.

Rooted in music and sports himself, Stretch says he is grateful for his background. "I had the opportunity to be around many musicians like: Byron Lee and Carlos Malcom; and as a Calabar Elementary student, I would step out the school's back door on Sutton Street and there would be Sonny Bradshaw's set up," he recalled. Music was indeed all around Stretch, who lived in Vineyard Town and had the influences of the Military Musicians and The Penguin Club, where all the top musicians in Kingston would perform and frequent.

Being related to one of Jamaica's top track and field stars, Anthony Carr; and as cousin of the late famed Herb McKenley, Stretch was also deeply rooted in sports. "In those days it was either music or sports, and I chose both," the multi-talented Stretch said. Not taking it all seriously, Stretch had great opportunities as goal keeper for the National Squad at one point, and as trap drum, pianist and singer with groups like The Mercuries, a band from which many great musicians like: Glen Washington and Willie Lindo emerged.

Often told that he lost his calling, especially on occasions when he sings a few bars of any given tune while hosting the weekly radio programme, Stretch continues to forge a path for Caribbean culture. He works hard at promoting and encouraging especially youth in general and is a constant confidence builder for many.

Known lovingly also as 'The Big Man', Stretch celebrates his birthday on April 22nd. His birthday bash will be held tonight, April 19, at the Montreal Caribbean Social Organization (MCSO) in Lasalle. This annual event always rocks and tonight's guests will include: one of St Vincent's finest, Gideon James, George Fennel, Kess and Montreal Calypso Monarch, Ghost.

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