Last week’s positive Earworm response to Diblo Diala sent me off to the vinyl archive to sort through my Congolese collection, consequently I spent quite a few hours digitizing vinyl. Lovely way to spend a day. [or two]
Sometime in the early ’80′s I saw an ad for a concert by M’Bila Bel to be held in west LA: of course I was going to go plus I invited my friend Sean, the son of a friend, to come with me; he was about 10-12 years old, Jamaican and black and with no experience of African music. I thought he’d enjoy it.
It turned out to be held in a municipal auditorium and whoever the organizers were they had no idea how to present an African concert. The hall was filled solid with rows of very uncomfortable folding metal chairs, whoever heard of an African audience sitting and listening to a Zairian performer on metal chairs?
Everybody should be on their feet and dancing, and they were, but sadly between rows of seats!
We got there early enough to get front row center seats, right in front of the main microphone. The program started. Almost all Zairian bands of that era comprised 4-5 guitarists including 1 ‘superstar’ plus a bass gtr, a horn section comprising several saxes and trumpets, several drummers including one with a traditional drumkit and 3 female backup singers and 3 male singers; the male singers typically sang the lead and performed dances throughout. And of course the star of the event, in this case M’Bilia Bel, one of the most popular female singers in Africa, she’d been the lead singer with the Afrisa International orchestra.
At some point when the entire room was rocking M’Bilia, in the middle of a song where she was also dancing, pointed directly at me and said “Come and dance with me!” I gave her every verbal and non-verbal response that there wasn’t a chance in hell that I was going to embarrass myself before several hundred Africans by going on that stage but she wouldn’t take no for an answer, she insisted and so did I. I sat tight.
She was wearing white elbow length gloves, she removed one, rolled it up and hurled it at me, Sean caught it and immediately held it to his nose, he was in ecstasy, I copped a smell and it was wet, saturated with perfume, Sean took that home and tacked it to his bedroom wall, it was his prize erotic possession!
Over the years I’ve accumulated quite a collection of Congolese music and specifically that of M’Bilia Bel, she sang for years with the most popular band in Africa, Tabu Ley Rochereau’s Afrisa International in Kinshasa and they toured extensively.
This one’s called Belle a Terre, the lead guitarist is Rigo Star.
OK, for the addicts, here’s another: Franco with Sam Mangwana,
I have a question that I suspect someone here can answer.
My question is how did someone like Beethoven write his symphonies? I don’t mean him specifically but any composer of that or any other era. Did he write the notation of what he heard in his head or his imagination. Obviously without the benefit of any recording devices or even the possibility of an orchestra to say ‘Let’s see how that sounds’ Was what he was writing the orchestral sounds that he heard in his head? If so, once he’d laid down the basic theme/melody etc, did he then think ‘Lets put the strings/brass/percussion whatever, just here and see how that sounds’ How did he write it so that someone 200 years later could see it and say ‘Oh, This looks interesting, let’s try it with the 100 piece London/Berlin/Vienna symphony.’ So, are we hearing it as he did?
In other words are we hearing what Beethoven heard in his head as he wrote, the full orchestral score or was it just an outline? He was deaf so that was obviously a problem for him, but how about List, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert etc. How did they write their music?
Someone here must have some thoughts on this or at least know of the website or book that has the answers, please respond.
Is this what he was hearing?
Probably the most interesting, significant and readable book that I’ve read in the last decade or so is A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. It’s fairly hefty at 500 odd pages but even so I’ve read it throughout twice and have listened to the book on CD version also, I like to listen in bed in the early hours. When I acquired the CD’s I inadvertently loaded them into my computer which resulted in them being installed into iTunes and consequently whenever I listen to iTunes on shuffle I get an occasional chapter on some aspect of the history of science sandwidged between Dylan and whoever. I don’t mind that one bit.
He’s a fabulous humorous writer with enormous curiosity which he uses to investigate and explain basically the history of almost everything we know and how and when we discovered it.
I’ve always loved the way he begins the book, by describing us in a most unique but totally complete fashion, I just found that introduction at youtube and I’d like to share it with you; it’s well worth the listen.
Back in October 2010 I posted a piece ‘First Listen: Bob Dylan, ‘The Witmark Demos 1962-1964′. Out of the blue I just got a response that I thought you might enjoy. The lady is confused in thinking that the Spill is my blog, here’s what she said.
Wow, marvelous weblog structure! How long have you been blogging for?
You made blogging glance easy. The full glance of your site is magnificent, let alone the content material!
There’s only one reference to Jesus in my iTunes folder. that’s Jesus on a Greyhound by Shelby Lynne, whereas there’s 29 where the first word is Jah. Jesus is not of any interest to me musically or otherwise but when I became involved with reggae I quickly realized that it was a socially conscious music with a strong Rasta religious component. I’m very interested in the music and in Rasta but I must say that I have a hard time with the Selassie/Jah reverence but I accept it and I enjoy the music as much as I enjoy a lot of European religious music, in most cases having no idea what the songs are about but appreciating the overall sounds, case in point, Faure’s Requiem.
Having said that let me offer a sample of alternate variations on the theme of Jesus et.al. Jah is Jehovah, Jehovah is Yarwey from the Hebrew old testament, many Rasta believe that Selassie is the second coming of Christ and they accorded him the name Jah Ras Tafari. Here’s some Jamaican songs of praise.
1. Jah Live – Bob Marley
2. Rivers Of Babylon – Ronnie Davis
3. Nyah Bingi – Jimmy Riley
4. Hold On To Jah – Reggae George
5. A Yah Weh De – Barrington Levy
6. Give Thanks – Johnny Clarke
7. Jah Jah Give Us Love – Cornell Campbell
8. Give Thanks And Praise – Bob Marley
9. Have Faith In Jah – Michael Palmer
10. Praise Jah With Love And Affection – Don Carlos
11. Jah Praise – The Maytones
12. Jah Oh Jah – The Viceroys
13. Forever Loving Jah – Bob Marley
I just came across this excellent short film online, it’s worth seeing. The cities you see are LA and SF, beautifully shot, edited and to the perfect piece of music. Hit play, HD and full screen, raise the volume.
Ray Manzarek died last week, he was the keyboard player with the Doors. I never met him but living in LA for 40 odd years I was always conscious of who he was, he was frequently on the air or being interviewed in the music press.
Around 1966 I applied for admission to the graduate program of the UCLA film school and was accepted. At approx. the same time, the Doors who were well known around town as the house band at the Whiskey, released their first album which became a huge hit and was played constantly on the radio. At the film school it was common knowledge that several members of the Doors were using the facilities after hours to edit a film. I never saw them but those in the know had tales of their nocturnal presence. Upstairs in the dept was a long corridor, 60 – 80 ft long, every 6 ft on each side there was a door to an editing room, which was about 6ft by 10 ft with only a 16 mm. Movieola editing machine, a film bin, a chair and a shelf: very basic, very primitive, though from those tiny rooms emerged many works of filmic genius. The word around the department was that there was a student who was a friend of the Doors who regularly signed up for an edit room and then gave them the key. We used those rooms day and night, I was editing one of my films with the radio on the night that Robert Kennedy was shot at around midnight at the Ambassador hotel only a couple of miles away. Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison were the two who were most frequently mentioned as being the film editors; I’ve never seen or read anything about the film they were working on but as usual whenever they’re mentioned, as in this week’s obituaries, there’s usually a line that states they were UCLA film students, I don’t think that’s actually true.
That first album ‘The Doors’ was released in 1967 and became a huge success in the US once the single “Light My Fire” scaled the charts, the album peaked at #2 in September 1967. “Light My Fire” was the first song ever written by Robby Krieger and was the beginning of the band’s success. The other standout hit from that album was ‘The End’, Coppola, another film student at that time used it for the finale of Apocalypse Now.
Here’s a clip from a 1998 recording of Ray Manzarek talking about the origins and the musical evolution of ‘Light my Fire, it’s very interesting how it came to be, particularly John Coltrane’s contribution, the boogie boogie influence and the Bach component, well worth a listen for Spillers.
Here’s a piece of music that’s been haunting me for some months now, ever since I saw the film last year. This is just a short selection, it seemed to run throughout the film. I left the the theater with it running through my head. There’s a fair bit of information at Wiki so I won’t bore you with it here. It’s well worth a listen.
Some time back I spent a day digitizing a lot of vinyl, most of which I hadn’t played in years, it was basically much of what we on the west coast were listening to through the late sixties and into the seventies. Finny, another westcoaster, just posted the Youngbloods on Earworms and and that was enough to send my off to my iTunes file to find some of those vinyl cuts, always loved the Youngbloods. So here’s a short playlist, I suspect that many of them will be familiar, but you, like me might not have heard them for a while.
I think it’s what those square DJ’s call ‘A trip down memory lane’ or ‘A blast from the past’.
A good way to start a week?
There was a post here recently concerning famous people that you’ve met etc. It made me think about lots of reggae personalities but Toots Hibbert in particular. I’ve seen Toots perform dozens of times over the years and we became friends, he’s an amazing guy and probably rates as my favorite musical personality. Here’s a couple of anecdotes that’ll give you some insight into the man.
1. I bumped into him in Kingston one day and we stood there chatting, he told me that he was going into he studio at Federated records the next day to start recording his new album and if I’d like to come I’d be welcome. I arrived mid morning and Toots and all the guys were sitting outside on a bench in the sun, I asked him ‘What’s happening’ and he told me that his drummer had just received in the post one of these new electronic drum machines [this was early '80's] and he was trying to figure out how to program it; we all just sat and waited. This went on and on and finally about 3pm I told him that I had to leave, too bad, I didn’t get to hear any of the new tunes but I had lots of conversation with Toots and many of the musicians and the Maytals.
2. I often found myself in Toots dressing rooms either before or after shows, there was one occasion, I think it was an all-day reggae festival at the UCLA Pauley Pavillion, Toots was the headliner and was due to go on last. It was about 10.30 pm and one of the promoters stuck his head in the door and said ‘Toots, you’re up next’, Toots replied ‘You need to talk with my manager, I’m not going on until I get my money, and I mean in cash, no cheques!’
The promoter didn’t know what to do, he said ‘We don’t have that sort of cash’, Toots said ‘Talk to my manager.’ The word came back to us that they were frantically counting out the money from the 5 box offices at the stadium, the figure I remember was $30,000 and the were counting it out in fives, tens and twenties. About midnight the manager came in and said ‘OK, we’re all set’ and so Toots went on and did his usual great 90 minute set. Been burned too often.
3. Another time I was in his dressing room before a show and it was fairly crowded, probably twenty odd people there, all talking, drinking and smoking. At some point his manager stood on a chair and said ‘We’re going to have to clear this room, Toots needs to get ready and he’s on in half an hour’, I was sitting on a settee next to Toots and I stood up as everyone streamed out, Toots put his hand on my arm and said ‘No, not you, you stay’, so I sat back down and we continued talking. At some point he said ‘OK, I need to get dressed’ and he stood up and stripped down to his shorts. His clothes were laid out on a table and he picked up the trousers, a pair of very fine, very thin black leather, ‘Give me a hand with these’ he said, they were very tight fitting and had a lace-up down the back, ‘Pull that as tight as you can get it’ he said. Next on was a matching leather sleeveless vest that was open down the front, he then put of a metal belt that looked just like one of those that are awarded to boxing champions and finished it all off with a gold pendant. He then put on a pair of tight black boxing boots that I laced for him ‘cos with those tight pants he could no longer bend down far enough. Now he was ready!
Toots is not a big guy but he’s very fit and very athletic, he looks about like a bantam weight boxer and that’s what came next. The room was a decent size and there was a table in the middle, Toots started jogging around that table dodging and weaving and throwing punches just like a boxer in training, he kept this up for maybe 5-10 minutes until the sweat was pouring off of him. About then the door opened and the stage manager said ‘Mr Hibbert, you’re on’ and Toots without breaking his step went straight out of the door, down a corridor and up some steps to the side of the stage with me running right behind him. The stage door was open, the band were playing his opening number and the announcer was doing his ‘Give a warm welcome to Toots and the Maytals routine’ as Toots raced to the mic and into his opening routine.
I posted this youtube video a couple of weeks ago but I’ll post it again here and you’ll recognize the outfit that I just described and also the energy level that Toots brings to his performances.
There was a piece last week in the Huffington Post, it was about the house that Bob Marley grew up in in Nine Miles in St. Anne parish and how it influenced his music. They published a picture of it, here’s their picture.
The guy in the picture told me about when Bob lived there and that the painted stone is the one mentioned in Talking Blues.
Compare the two buildings, look at the slope on the ground in the Huff pic, look where there doors are, look where the outside toilet is, look at the stonework, it’s a total fraud and Huffington makes it impossible to contact them to point out the fraud. Take Huff Post with a pinch of salt.
Here’s Talking Blues, and here’s the lyric:
Yeah, oh yeah, no!
Cold ground was my bed last night
And rock was my pillow too
Cold ground was my bed last night
And rock was my pillow too, yeah
Lloyd Parks, one of Jamaica’s hottest bass players and leader of ‘We the People’, the onstage group backing many of the artists in this playlist. I became obsessed with reggae in 1972 with the release of Bob Marley’s first album, ‘Catch a Fire’ and the almost simultaneous release of the Jimmy Cliff film, The Harder they Come. It was not easy to find reggae in California in those days but the audience slowly built so that by the early 80′s there was a decent sized group of us that had become friends as we’d regularly met at the various reggae events. Tom, one of that group ran a travel service and he had the brilliant idea of offering a group price for those of us that would like to go to Jamaica for the new event there, ‘Reggae Sunsplash’ in Montego Bay. The price included airfare and hotel plus a 2 day stay at a luxury beach resort in Negril, we grabbed at it so fast that he had a planeful in no time. It became an annual event. Sunsplash was a four day event, it ran from Wednesday through Saturday, theoretically from 8pm ’til midnight at Jarrett Park, a cricket ground. On my first day there I was walking in town and I saw a sign over the door of an outer office at a hotel, the sign said ‘Sunsplash Media Office’; I decided to take a look. I’d always photographed every reggae event and I gave my friends who ran a small LA based magazine called ‘The Reggae Beat’ free access to any they wanted plus I wrote an occasional piece for them. There was a lady sitting at a desk in the media office, when she saw my Nikon plus my camera bag she asked ‘Who are you shooting for?’ I said ‘The Reggae Beat’ in LA and that was all it took, she filled out a form, added my name to her list and handed me one of those ‘All Access’ passes that you hang round your neck plus a dozen free tickets! The best part of all was that I was now on their books and known and for the next 10 years I always had an ‘All Access’ pass without even asking! And I returned every year through the ’80′s. As I mentioned Sunsplash ran four nights, never from 8-12 but usually from 11-12 until past dawn, usually about 7-8am! With six to eight acts per night times four, that equals approx 50 per year, times ten, well you figure it out, but what it came down to was that over the decade I probably saw 99% of all of Jamaica’s reggae artists and as a result of all that back stage access I got to know many of them! And I have literally thousands of photos to show for it. I started out to do this as a podcast with a narrative track but the way I edited the music it would be intrusive so instead I’ll treat it as one long playlist.
Here’s a list of the artists in sequence.
1. John Holt – Sweetie come brush me,
2. U. Roy – Wear you to the Ball tonight.
3. Big Youth – Every Nigger is a Star.
4. Toots and the Maytals – Pressure Drop.
5. Judy Mowatt – Black Woman.
6. Gregory Isaacs – Oh what a Feelling.
7. Eric Donaldson – Sweet Jamaica.
8. Alton Ellis – I’m still in Love.
9. Dennis Brown – It’s Magic.
10. Big Youth – I Pray Thee Satta Masagana.
11. U. Roy – Rule the Nation.
There’s quite a few videos of Sunsplash ’82 at youtube, if you go to the one of Toots and pause it at 28 seconds, the handsome chap with the red, gold and green cap slapping hands with Toots, that’s me!
I mentioned in El Blimp’s EOTWQ that I am dismantling my RV, yesterday as I was taking out the radio I found a stack of tapes that have sat hidden for about 20 years, there was one I used to play a lot. John Cale’s ‘Paris 1919′ on one side and Procol Harum’s ‘Grand Hotel’ on the other, haven’t listened to either in years. Thank god for youtube.
Last week the Guardian had a story about a naturalist field recordist named Bernie Krause, a name I hadn’t heard in quite a while. He used to be a musician in California, possibly the first to see the potential of the Moog synthesizer, he introduced both George Harrison and George Martin to it’s potential. He and his partner Paul Beaver, also a synthesist and Hammond B3 organist, released a series of three albums for Warner Bros. starting in 1970, I bought them all, still got ‘em. Paul Beaver died in 1975.
Following up on my recent Ben Webster post, here’s another, this time it’s Gerry Mulligan featured on baritone sax and it’s from Beaver and Krause’s 1971 album, Gandharva [the celestial musician] and was recorded in Grace cathedral in San Francisco.The title is ‘By Your Grace’. Also heard are Bud Shank on alto, Gail Laughton plays simultaneously two harps and Howard Roberts is on guitar; Krause is on Moog and Beaver plays the cathedral’s pipe organ.
The second cut, from the same album, was also recorded in the cathedral, it’s ‘Short film for David’, that’s Mike Bloomfield and Howard Roberts on guitars and Bud Shank on alto sax with Mulligan on baritone and Laughton again on the harp, plus B&K.
I’ve long thought of introducing the Spill audience to Beaver and Krause, so here we go, hope you think they’re as great as I do.
Here’s another from the vinyl archive; what we were listening to in the ’60′s.
Throughout my record collecting life I’ve always catalogued my albums by type, consequently I have by now about 6+ ft of vinyl catalogued as ‘Women Vocals’ plus I have a similar 6 ft of CD’s. of the same subject, in contrast my ‘Men Vocals’ is about 2 ft. I mention this only to indicate my obsession with this genre. So it seemed totally normal that I select a playlist from those: but that was easier said than done! It started with 40+, it became 20+, it painfully became a dozen plus; those last few edits were impossible! But of course it happened. So here’s eleven cuts from my list of favorite ‘women vocals’, sadly missing, so many of the rest of my favorites.
OK, the above is a portion of what I originally wrote about two weeks ago for a totally different playlist, and then I read Carole’s post and the comments, particularly Bish’s and Amy’s and they made me realize that what I’d produced was a very safe playlist, one that I think most of you would feel comfortable with, but it wasn’t what I had in mind originally so I scrapped it and went back to square one. Not that I wanted to create any discomfort but I’d wanted to introduce some potential unknowns that I love. So what I’ve created is a compromise of well knowns and less knowns and sadly there’s still dozens that should be on the list.
I want to make a special plea concerning number 11 on the playlist, I realize that it might be thought totally out of place but it’s something I’ve loved for many years and have always wanted to share it with the Spill audience and this seemed like a perfect opportunity; she’s from Corsica singing to her God in the Corsican language, alone in a chapel. I’ve never been able to find any info about her.
OK, you know what to do, have at it. Highs and Lows!
1. This House Is On Fire – Natalie Merchant
2. Turn Me On – Norah Jones
3. Uma Neguinha – Daude
4. Cold Blue Steel and sweet fire – Joni Mitchell
5. O Si Keka – Kaissa, World Reggae
6. The Hammond song – The Roches
7. Poetry Man – Phoebe Snow
8. Young Men – Busi Mlongo
9. One too many mornings – Joan Baez
10. Thirsty Boots – Judy Collins
11. Dio Vi salvi Regina – Jackie Micaelli
Album notes are in ‘comments’
In 1939 Woody Herman had a huge hit record with ‘At the Woodchoppers Ball, it was the perfect jitterbug tune, it was popular throughout WW2. Two nights ago I was lying in bed listening to the radio and out of the blue with no announcement the DJ played a different version, one by Alvin Lee. I just discovered that youtube has both versions, check ‘em out, it’s very interesting.
For a while now I’ve been advocating that the Spill could expand to be more adventurous than just a music blog. After Zala’s painting success I tried photos, dead flop, no one came. So how about food? Everyone likes food, right?
So here’s a very simple and topical recipe that anyone can try; since we’re all in the middle of a tomato glut, at least I am.
I don’t know what I did wrong/right this year but we’re deluged with tomatoes just now in a way that’s never happened before and there’s only so many that two people can eat.
Just about every day I pick about 10+ lbs of fresh tomatoes, whatever we do there’s always that amount sitting on the kitchen counter, almost all Brandywine heirlooms, the best tasting tomato in the world, bar none! Gina gave me an ultimatum, NO MORE TOMATOES, she’d canned/salsa-ed and preserved enough to feed the the 5,000! And yet they kept coming and they will continue to keep coming, there’s many dozens still on the vines!
So today I decided to try something, Tomato Soup. It’s very simple, takes about 15 -20 minutes.
I always use peeled tomatoes in anything I cook, it’s just a thing about not liking tomato skins in food, so let’s begin by peeling the tomato’s.
It’s very simple, start with a saucepan of boiling water, have another of cold water in the sink. Add your tomatoes to the boiling water and keep an eye on them, depending on size within about 2-3 minutes you’ll see the skin begin to split; quickly scoop them out and into the cold water! With an apple corer scoop out the top stem, If your timing was right the entire skin should just fall away, if not, poke at it.
You’ll get a feel for the timing fairly quickly, if you leave them in the boiling water too long they’ll become soggy and cooked, too short, more difficult to peel, work at it.
Once you have a quantity of peeled tomatoes quarter them and set them aside.
Peel and slice half an onion and chop small. Saute it in a saucepan in olive oil ’til soft, add the quartered tomatoes and any spices that you think necessary plus some chicken, broth; I use organic and for 10+ lbs I used less than a quart. I add about a half teaspoon of very hot African peppers, it doesn’t make it hot but gives a lovely warm afterglow.
Let it sit.
In another saucepan melt about 3/4 of a stick of butter, when melted begin to add flour, about 1 tablespoon at a time with constant stirring with a whisk.
Keep adding until it gets very stiff and then add a ladle of tomato juice, stir ’til smooth and then add some more juice, keep going until it’s a creamy thick paste and then add it back to the original.
You’ll have a wonderful rich tomato soup much better than anything you ever bought from Heinz! Give it a few stirs and let it cool ’til the spouse/significant other/sweetheart comes home at 5 o’clock. He/she will think that you’re absolutely fabulous and will offer to type your impending cook book for you. Have a baguette at hand.
As they/she says, bon appetit! Enjoy and feel free to improvise freely, I did.
You might recall that last week I had some problems trying to load some photos here, I’d followed the instructions to the T but only about a half of my file folder would load, about 4 out of 8 or 9. It didn’t make any sense since all the photos were close to identical in size and resolution. So I’ve been poking at it ever since and today I had a flash of inspiration and it seems to work. My ‘inspiration’ was to select a group of photos from an iPhoto file and click on the email icon at the bottom, I emailed them all to myself. iPhoto compresses, converts and resizes all photos regardless of initial size or resolution. From the received email I put all the photos in a folder and dropped that onto the ‘drop files here’ in the media library upload. I chose a large group to test the limits of WP. This isn’t the photo post that I had in mind last week, I chose these because I have lots of gardening pictures and it’a subject that most people can relate to, but I must tell you that I don’t try to remember names, latin or otherwise so I may not be able to identify plants beyond ‘the red flower’ or some such.
With photos WP gives us the option of a slideshow or a gallery display, I chose gallery. I’m still not totally clear on all the picture editing options and this isn’t exactly how I’d like it to be but it’s fairly close and I’ll keep working at it, WP doesn’t make it easy to go back and make changes, plus there must be a way to add narration and/or music. [as I sit here staring at this I think I now see how to resolve those issues] If this works I’ll do another and try to include audio as I proceed, so, this isn’t a real post, more like another work in progress but it’s getting there. Maybe with all my new found wisdom I’ll have another go at the one from last week that gave me all the trouble.
To activate it, a SINGLE click on the first image.
I’m unable to upload a file of photos, it accepts 3 and then quits, I think what W.P. is saying is that we’ve used almost all of our free space allocation, I’ve deleted my recent uploads to no avail. Does anyone know how to clear the backlog? There’s over 10GB there.
There has long been a tradition in Jamaica of three part vocal harmony trios, particularly during the classic era and before. The Wailers started out this way as did Burning Spear and Israel Vibration plus many more but the traditional groups include such names as Culture, the Congos, the Abyssinians, Black Uhuru, the Wailing Souls, the Meditations, the Paragons and of course, the Mighty Diamonds.
The Diamonds comprise Tabby [Donald Sharp], Bunny [Fitzroy Simmons] and Judge [LLoyd Ferguson]. They sing frequently of militant topics set to sweet musical reggae tunes always using the best musicians on the island. One of their first hit singles in about 1974 was ‘Shame and Pride’ and then the following year they hit with another, ‘Right Time’. Bob had legitimized rasta and Right Time’s message appealed to the youth; ‘Natty Dread will never run away’ registered with the chosen. Their repertoire ranges from love songs to militant to silly pop, Pass the Kutchie was a huge pop hit in 1981, the ‘kutchie’ was a bit of patois for ‘pass the bong’, they probably made more money off that one than some entire albums. That beautiful voice that you hear singing lead on every cut is Tabby, he’s a really nice handsome guy, open and easy to talk to with lots to say. The backup is by Judge and Bunny and they have figured out exactly where and when to come in. I sorted through my six vinyl Diamond’s albums and made the following selections, I even discovered a second one with my pictures on the cover that I’d forgotten about. My career shooting reggae started before I met the Diamonds but they were the first to ask if I had any decent photos for their upcoming album, of course I did and through that connection I met many groups and musicians. I shall be eternally thankful to the Mighty Diamonds.
This drawing was by a close friend and Diamonds fan, Donna George, she is an artist who loved the Diamonds.
1. Reggae Street.
2. Right Time.
3. One Brother Short.
4. 4000 Years.
5. Pass the Kutchie.
6. Party Time.
7. Shame and Pride.
8. Tamarind Farm.
9. Them never love poor Marcus.
11. I’m Hurting’ inside.
Sakura’s posting the Mighty Diamonds on Earworms sent me looking for them on youtube, sure enough they are there plus lots more artists from that era. There was one guy, Oku Onuora, he’s a Jamaican poet who initiated the dub poetry concept, poetry performed with reggae; the forerunner of Linton and Benjamin Zephaniah and Muta and many more. He and I were good friends back then, we usually spent some time together whenever I visited. One day we were sitting in his house in Kingston chatting about this and that and he mentioned that he’d been in jail, that was news to me and perked my interest so asked him ‘for what and when?’ His answer made my jaw drop. ” I was so angry with the oppression and the poverty and the system that I took up a gun!’ he said. ‘I took up a gun’, that phrase has been locked into my memory ever since, ‘To do what’ I asked him, ‘to rob banks to finance the revolution’ he said! Jesus, this was serious revolutionary shit. ‘Give me the details’ I asked , so he did, he told me the story of buying a rifle and holding up banks and living the life of a wanted man on the run, living in the hills, but of course he was caught and tried and sentenced to 15 years in 1970. He was confined in the harshest prison in Jamaica, Fort Augustus, from where he tried to escape twice and where he was shot five times by the warders. He began writing poetry in prison and came up with the dub concept when Cedric Brooks and his band visited the prison and Oku performed with them. His poetry was published and in 1977 the attorney general of Jamaica, a poet himself, pardoned Oku.
He told me of a specific poem he’d written titled ‘Last Night’: he was confined in a single windowless cell in solitary for three years and when he was eventually transferred to a cell with a window he saw the moon for the first time and he wrote this poem, I’d recorded all of our conversations and when I recently played the tape it made me weep.
got a peek
at the moon
and didn’t think of lovers
got a peek
at the moon
a man with a load on his back
got a peek
at the moon
why me black brother why – The Mighty Diamonds
This week is the anniversary of Jamaican independence plus it’s the week of track and field at the Olympics and Jamaica is expected to do disproportionately well, consequently there’s several major articles about Jamaica on the front page of Sunday’s Guardian. I had very mixed reactions reading them and they caused me to to reflect on some of my own experiences there, most of which took place in the ’70′s and ’80′s. In 1982 I took my VW camper there and travelled throughout the island for 3 months, as I reflected on that trip this morning I found myself thinking of a man I met in the north coast parish of St Anne, he was just a very simple young rasta fisherman.
The Blue Mountains rise from the caribbean up to about 7500ft on the north shore, they are generally covered with what might simply be described as rain forest and are typically inaccessible. You know what a sheet of plywood looks like, it’s 4ft by 8ft; the man I’d met wanted to show me the house that he’d built and where he lived, I followed him up a trail through the woods. We came to a leveled area where he’d placed a sheet of plywood, it wasn’t new, it was well worn and when I asked him where he’d got it and how he’d transported up there I didn’t understand his patois answer, I don’t think he wanted me to. He’d cut and trimmed 4 slim trees and used their trunks for his corner posts and then cut more similar trees for the cross pieces which were lashed into position. When he had a sturdy box frame he then started covering the walls and the roof with ferns until he had an impervious layer. He’d framed a doorway which he’d covered with a piece of fabric and he had a ‘mattress’ against the back wall and a simple chair; that was his home.
Up the hill from his house was a small spring of water bubbling up out of the ground, he’d created a pool about 2ft diameter which the spring filled, he’d then ‘acquired’ about 150ft of half inch garden hose and inserted it into the pool and on the other end at his house he had a stopcock; running water on tap! He was so proud of that, he told me that this was the purest drinking water anywhere in Jamaica. We went for a walk and it started to rain, with his ever present machete he cut two stems from a plant, the stems were about 2ft long and each opened to a single leaf that was about 24″ wide; natural umbrellas! As we walked he pointed out numerous plants and described how they were used for common ailments and others that were commonly eaten. He also had a small vegetable garden at his house. The only clothes he had were a pair of cut-off levy shorts, he went barefoot.
I met him because I was living in my van on the beach in that part of Jamaica, another person that I met there and became friends with was an old rasta woman called Sister Mommy, she was probably in her 70′s, she had waist length dreadlocks and she ran a roadside stand on a country road where she sold cigarettes [individually] soft drinks, and some vegetables, plus she always had ganja. Sister Mommy used to tell me stories of how it was as a rasta under British rule and about country life during the 30′s and 40′s. Times were always hard, the small amount of money that she made at her stand was all she ever had and I always saw several small children hanging around her, I never discovered who they were; grandchildren perhaps? One night I was at her house, a pathetic structure, it was a tiny two room concrete block house and it looked as though it had survived an earthquake. There was a large crack which was in places about 4″ wide running from floor to ceiling. She sat across a table from me with her back to the wall, no electricity just a candle on the table as we sat chatting. Suddenly I heard a voice, Sister Mommy motioned me to be quiet and she said ‘who’s dat?’ the voice responded and sister Mommy said ‘Show yer hand’. A hand appeared through the crack with a Jamaican dollar bill in it, she took the money and replaced it with a small amount of ganja pre-wrapped in newspaper, that’s how she made her living.
With Sister Mommy and a Redstripe.
A short distance along the coast road there was a curve with a wide spot on the ocean side of the highway, many years earlier another rastaman who’s name was Bongo Sylly and who made his living as a basket weaver had set up a stall there to sell his baskets to passers by. The edge of the road was a cliff that dropped about 60+ feet down to a pure white beach where there was a very de-luxe hotel. I don’t know the details of how, but over a period of years Bongo built a house at the top of that cliff looking down at the hotel! He told me the story several times and the only thing that remains in my memory is ‘squatter’s rights!’ Apparently, possibly from the British rule era, there existed in law a rule that if someone occupied a place that wasn’t being used then after a period he was able to claim ownership, and that’s what Bongo did! Much to the consternation of the hotel owners who hadn’t noticed what was happening up above their heads.
What Bongo did was amazing, he created a large 2-3 bedroom house, bathrooms, kitchen, living rooms, everything ENTIRELY woven out of bamboo and basket canes! plus there are carved wooden sculptures throughout, he even has hanging armchairs suspended from the roof. It’s an amazing structure, nothing cheap or insubstantial about it, it’s first class all the way. Being obviously aware of the significance of the lion in rasta culture he called his house ‘the lions den.’
I met Bongo when I pulled over to take a look at this fantasy and we hit it off, he like to talk and I liked to listen so I’d usually stop in whenever I was passing. One day he told me a tale about this rich French woman that he knew, she wanted to take him to Europe and show him all the sights and he really wanted to go but he was afraid that if he left his house something terrible would happen, he didn’t trust the government nor the owners of the hotel so he was stuck. That is until one day he came up with a solution, he proposed that I should take over the house and move in thereby maintaining occupancy, I had to tell him no, it wasn’t possible, I’d come to explore Jamaica and I couldn’t be tied to one spot no matter how beautiful it happened to be.
On impulse I just Googled Bongo Sylly and found the following item:
“The Lion’s Den is a fascinating bar and restaurant embellished with elaborate wickerwork and intricately carved columns created by the former proprietor, the late Bongo Sylly.”
Bongo’s gone and his house is now a bar. So it goes.
Here’s a song written to celebrate independence in 1962, unfortunately it was written by a Trinidadian calypso singer, but still, it’s a good and appropriate song.
And then there’s Briggy, a favorite of mine from years ago, here he takes you on a tour of all the Jamaican parishes.