“You know me, I’m no quitter.”
Those words belied a pained and somewhat defeated smile from iconic musician Roy Cape when he sat with the Express in the dining room of his Oropune home just over a week ago.
In truth, Cape, 78, looked quite good for a man battling prostate cancer. The founder of the Roy Cape All Stars soca band said he had been through 42 rounds of chemotherapy since his diagnosis in 2013.
The Express found the legendary saxophonist in an upbeat mood during an impromptu house call on February 5. Although the disease and aggressive treatment has left his body frail and weak, Cape’s mind, determination to pass on his knowledge and penchant for good conversation remain intact.
“I doh even need the stick to walk around the house,” the veteran performer said rather proudly, with a bit of a demonstration.
“Out the house I need it, though, I eh takin’ that chance. Ah fall real bad de other day.”
Cape underwent surgery at the Sangre Grande Hospital after falling off a pavement in the eastern town and injuring his hip in 2019. He has since completely recovered, but relies on a walking stick to maintain balance.
The retired musician visits the St James Medical Complex every three months to complete bloodwork and be updated on the status of his cancer. He says his last PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test was a favourably low 0.12, but admitted he has to stay on top of his medical condition as that number can fluctuate. When he was first diagnosed in 2013, his PSA reading was 49.6.
“Ah looking and feeling good for a man turning 79 in April. The truth is there is no real cure for these kinds of things (cancer). After 42 sessions of radiation, it still here—0.12, it sounds great, but I been there and it goes up, so yuh have to stay on top of it,” he explained.
Cape said despite the challenges, his “courage is not daunted”. He urged men to do regular checks on their prostate health in order to detect abnormalities early.
“There is a lot of challenge, so men, take care of your prostate before it reach here. My nights is weary nights. I will be 79 in April, but my mind and my confidence is strong. I believe in the creator and if I didn’t have God with me, I might not have been here,” he said.
Passing on his legacy
Roy Cape’s musical career spans nearly six decades. In 2004, he was the recipient of a Hummingbird Medal (Gold) national award, and in 2011, an honorary doctorate from The University of the West Indies (The UWI) was conferred on him.
The accomplished saxophonist, arranger, composer and recording artiste also launched his first publication, titled, Roy Cape: A Life on The Calypso and Soca Bandstand, in 2014.
Accolades aside, Cape says he is very dedicated to the success of his Roy Cape Foundation Music School in Sangre Grande. Despite financial challenges and the lack of major sponsorship, work is under way to bring a branch of the music school to Diego Martin, he revealed.
“We started a school in Sangre Grande in July (2019). We had over 40 children. Each child had an instrument. We had trumpet, trombone, alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet and various types of marching band drums. At the end of it, our foundation was broke. People didn’t see our vision,” he said with a wry laugh.
With the assistance of musicians he worked with both home and abroad and some corporate funding from life-long supporters, he says the school is ready to reopen, along with all other schools currently following Government’s Covid-19 guidelines.
“We have to wait like everyone else for school to open. It’s a music school. This is not something you get in the classroom, and our students are doing amazingly well,” he said.
Cape, who grew up in an orphanage, said he is very passionate about helping less-fortunate children realise their musical dreams.
“When my mother died, they gave me an option, go Grenada and live with my grandparents or go to the orphanage. I choose the orphanage. Here I am after all those years. Who would think a boy from the orphanage could get doctorate and ting?” he joked.
Cape said his life-long goal is to gain respect for musicians, on an even keel with the adulation shown in this country to vocalists.
“I tried my best to see if I could do more to make the musician independent and self-reliant. Let them have something where you can guarantee a life. We still behind and I still don’t think our society really see us musicians as a professional, like an artiste.
“We have fellas like Pedro Lezama or Francis Prime and right in Barbados, we have Arturo Tappin, true musicians then. Is time we see these fellas as serious professionals,” he concluded with another smile.