“My name is Susan Elrington and I have a problem that maybe you can help me solve.”
An unexpected phone call on a bright summer day in 1986 changed the course of Howard ‘Stretch’ Carr’s life. Susan Elrington the then station manager at CKUT called him asking him if he could host the West Indian Rhythms show. And since 1987, he has been at the helm of the Montreal’s first and longest running Caribbean culture program.
“I had been playing in a band and was an MC at different events so some people knew who I was” Strech explains to the CONTACT.
West Indian Rhythms was initially a modest one-hour program into a three-hour cultural festivity. The show started with a blend of reggae and calypso, mirroring the diversity of the Caribbean diaspora. However, the initial format was not without its challenges. “There was a tussle,” Stretch recalls. “Some accused me of favoring reggae because I am Jamaican, while some Jamaicans argued I leaned too much towards calypso. But with time, the audience embraced the show’s diverse representation of Caribbean music, “Stretch laughs as he remembers.
Stretch’s love affair with music began in his early years in Mandeville, Jamaica. After moving to Kingston following the death of his parents, he was surrounded by musical legends like Keith and Enid, and Sonny Bradshaw. His passion led him to perform with the Viscount band, alongside notable musicians such as Errol ‘Bob’ Ruglass and Willie Lindo, before moving to Quebec in 1969.
A key to Stretch’s longevity in the industry is his unwavering commitment to the show’s ethos. He steers clear of vulgar music, choosing instead to educate and uplift through his selections. “The show is more than entertainment; it’s a platform to share the rich heritage of West Indian culture,” he asserts.
His influence extends beyond the studio. His commitment to showcasing a range of Caribbean music has educated and united listeners, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of Caribbean culture in Montreal. “It’s been more than just playing music,” Stretch maintains. “It’s been about building a community, about keeping our culture alive and thriving.”
Adapting to the changing times, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, Stretch embraced technology to keep the show alive.
“We used Zoom, broadcasted from home. It was different, but it kept us connected to our listeners,” he says. “And the beauty is, if you miss the live show, it’s all online. Our history, our music, it’s there for everyone.”
As the interview with Stretch progresses, he takes a moment to reflect on Egbert Gaye, the founder of Montreal Community Contact, who passed away earlier in the year. “I miss him,” he says, his voice tinged with sadness. The conversation trails off, a poignant reminder of the impact individuals like Gaye have had on the Caribbean community in Montreal.
As he looks forward to the future he looks forward to grooming a successor and handing over the reins to another to hold it for another 30 years. “It’s about keeping the culture alive and vibrant for the next generation,” Stretch maintains.
Listeners can tune in to the West Indian Rhythms with Howard ‘Stretch’ Carr on CKUT 90.3 FM in Montreal, or tune in online @ https://www.ckut.ca/ Saturdays from 4 PM– 7 PM