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Neil Chan of Mashramani, SOLO and Xanadu fame dies

Last Updated on Friday, 5 January 2018, 10:23 by Denis Chabrol

Guyanese cultural icon, Neil Chan, who is credited with organising large costume and float parade Mashramani bands in the 1970s and 1980s, died Friday morning.

He passed away at the St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital at the age of 88.

Chand is remembered for the SOLO Band and the night club– “Xanadu”- the Place Where Dreams Come True– located at Vlissengen Road and Duncan Streets where PopEyes is currently located.

Following is a full statement from the Guyana Cultural Association (GCA).

Neil Vibert Ignatius Michael Chan was born on November 4, 1929 to parents Solomon Chan and Ruby Beckles in Georgetown, Guyana. He had one brother Hubert and sister Patricia who both predeceased him. Neil and his devoted wife, Sheila, shared fifty eight years of marriage based on love, devotion and mutual respect.

Neil Chan had many interests, including,  sports, culture, music and business. As a young man, he was an ardent  boxing and table tennis fan, but he excelled in the bodybuilding and weightlifting fields and   later represented Guyana at the 1966 8th British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Jamaica.

As a businessman, he specialized in the import trade.  In 1970, he was appointed the first General Manager of the External Trade Bureau (ETB), which was responsible for the importation of most of Guyana’s food and other commodities.  He played a major role in trade at a time when foreign currency was in short supply and materials for the development  of the country were  greatly needed.

Neil Chan started Bel Park Guyana Agency in the 1970s, as distributor of the Solo brand of agricultural equipment used by small farmers throughout Guyana. His agency also collaborated with various ministries, supplying cutting edge equipment  for sea defense infrastructure and the maintenance of the electricity grid.

Further, Neil Chan and Solo dominated the Festival Arts of Guyana for many years as the leading private sector  costume band and was well known for the splendor and pageantry of  his 1000 strong Mashparaders leading the parade. Neil Chan himself won the King of the Band Competition on many occasions. He insisted that each Solo presentations should always be creative in its use of locally sourced materials. Chan later became convenor of the Mash Nite and Mash Day Competitions.  Solo also participated in Deepavali Pageants with the Solo contestants displaying  Saris created locally by Solo staff.

The Solo brand also extended to Motor Racing and Chan and the members of the Solo Super Team, racing the best available racing cars, go-carts and racing bikes, left its marks as one of the big teams in the history of Guyana Motor Racing &Sports Club. Thus he made a name for himself as “Mr. Solo” which will always be remembered by true racing fans.

Neil Chan was one of the significant music entrepreneurs in the early post-independence era.  In addition to Solo Sounds International, Chan was also the owner of Xanadu, a popular upscale discotheque.  He grew up in the Lacytown area of Georgetown during the 1940s and 1950s and was exposed to the musical ferment taking place in this urban working-class ward during that era.  In addition, he was part of the early steel band “action,” playing an energetic role in developing costumed bands for tramping.  As a young man, he along with Billy Moore, Neville Rose, Willie Wright, and Ev Manifold were members of the standard-setting Billy Moore and the Four Lords.  All these experiences lay the firm foundation for, and came to the fore in his excellence  as an exponent in Guyanese expressions.    

Chan felt that Guyanese music should be dynamic and reflective of the changes taking place internationally, especially in the United States.  This meant that the best contemporary instruments and sound equipment had to be used and the music had to be original.  It was in this context that Solo Sounds International emerged. Like Combo 7 and the Music Machine, Neil Chan showed his respect for the artists by paying the members of Solo Sounds International  a regular monthly salary. 

The members of the band included: Frederick Bradshaw (first trumpet); Eon Wilson (second trumpet); Owen “Jive” Parris (Alto Sax); Ronald “Lally” Greaves (Alto Sax); Lyndon “Dudley” Collier (Tenor Sax, Vocals); Colin Aaron (First Trombone); Terrence “Cyrano” Wood (Second Trombone); Lester Hunte (Guitar); Wayne Hunes (bass Guitar); Phillip Nichols (Electronic piano, Krumar string ensemble); Derry Etkins (Synthesizer); Trevor “TJ” John (Drums); Aubrey Cossiah, Joey Morgan ((Percussion); Melanie King-Nunes (Vocals); Joslyn Small (sound engineer); Guy Bunbury –RIP (organ); Aubrey D’Aguiar –RIP (Vocals); Terry King – RIP (Vocals); William “Billy” Van Tull, Peter Hendy (Band Manager)

Although Chan owned and operated Xanadu, he did not believe that Solo Sounds International’s music should be cloistered in that venue.  By the late 1970s he was active creating large public entertainment events.  His mission was to “Nice up Guyana.”  Smile Guyana was one such event.   Part of this mission included bringing in international musicians, particularly acts from Trinidad and Tobago.  It was through Neil Chan’s efforts that Guyana was able to see a new generation of calypsonians from Trinidad, such as David Rudder, Tambu, the Charlie’s Roots band and Shadow and hear the experimentations that were taking place in Soca.  By the end of the 1970s, Solo Sounds International was the band that was in demand by the state sector.  Because of this visibility, Neil Chan and Solo Sounds International exerted significant influence on popular music in Guyana during the 1970s and the early 1980s.

It was with the encouragement and support of Neil Chan that  musician Derry Etkins began to experiment with the incorporation of indigenous beats and rhythms. The masquerade influences of his early childhood began to infuse his music and can be heard now in compositions and arrangements, such as the theme music for the Solo Smile Guyana project, “Coconut Broth,” “Roots Walk,” and “Plaisance Backdam.”  Those compositions introduced the “fish beat,” and celebrated Guyana’s racial and ethnic heritages.  The result of these experimentations , is to be found on the LP Solo Sounds International—a limited edition LP of original compositions.

Neil Chan was honored by the Government of Guyana with the Golden Arrow of Achievement for his long, dedicated and outstanding  contribution to Guyana’s culture. In 2005, Neil Chan was also honored  by the Guyana Cultural Association of New York with the GCA Award for his contribution to Guyana’s Arts and culture.

His wife Sheila, adopted children Fabian Gaskin and Sattie Sasenarine,  Carlotta, Vilma and George Chan;  nephews Musa Amin and Neil Allicock, nieces  Patricia Mercurius, Sandra Britton, Marcy Allicock and six others; great nieces and nephew: Michelle Britton, Tony Britton and Abbi Braithwaight and 16 others; 18 great great nieces and nephews;  cousins the Chan family; cherished friends: Fay and Grant  Gaskin and family, the Spooner family, Claire Goring, Alicia Dougall and family, Inez Seepaul, Jean Archer and son Frank; Robin Hunte, Lance Gasnabbi, Peter Hendy, Aloma Fredericks , Vic Persaud, Sir Shridath Ramphal, Mr. Hamilton Green, Dr. Dalgleish Joseph, Dr. Carl Hanoman, Sheila Chapman, and many others will keep his legacy alive and cherish the many memories they have of Neil V.I.M. Chan A.A.

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January 2018