VOLUME 53, No. 4
(Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden)
PIONEERING ICONS OF JAMAICAN POPULAR MUSIC
Guest Editor: Clinton Hutton
Calling All Singers, Musicians and Speechmakers Mento Aesthetics and
Jamaica's Early Recording Industry 1
Daniel T. Neely
Forging Identity And Community Through Aestheticism and Entertainment:
The Sound System and The Rise Of The DJ 16
Punching for Recognition: The Juke Box in the Promotion of Popular 32
Brown Girl in the Ring: Margarita and Malungu 47
Ernest Ranglin: Creative Activist, Initiator, Innovator, Living Legend 75
The Social and Aesthetic Roots and Identity Of Ska:
Interview with Garth White 80
Book Reviews 96
Book List 104
List of Contributors 106
Instructions to Authors 107
Cover. Don Cosmic, Watercolour by Clinton Hutton
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
Professor, the Hon. R.M. Nettleford, O.M. Vice Chancellor Emeritus, (Editor)
Sir Roy Augier, Professor Emeritus, History, Mona
Professor H. Beckles, Pro Vice Chancellor and Principal, UWI, Cave Hill.
Professor B. Chevannes, Research Fellow, Mona School of Business, UWI, Mona,
Professor Wayne Hunte, PVC Research, UWI, St. Augustine
Professor B.Lalla, Faculty of Arts and Education, UWI, St.Augustine
Mr. J. Periera, Vice Principal, UWI, Mona
Prof. Clement Sankat, PVC, Graduate Studies and Research, UWI,
Professor Gordon Shirley, PVC and Principal, UWI, Mona.
Prof. H Simmons-McDonald, PVC, Non Campus Countries and Distance
Education, UWI, Cave Hill
Mrs. Linda Speth, General Manager, UWI Press
Dr. B. Tewarie, PVC and Principal, UWI, St. Augustine
Dr. V.Salter, CSI, Managing Editor,
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Caribbean Quarterly, Cultural Studies Initiative, Office of Vice Chancellor Emeritus,
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Abstract and Index 1949-2006 Author Keyword and Subject Index available
on website. The journal is abstracted by AES and indexed by HAPI
Caribbean Quarterly, Volume 53, Number 4, December 2007 is a special issue entitled
'Pioneering Icons of Jamaican Popular Music. It is a collection of papers written by scholars
which present to the reader several features ofJamaican popular Music that hitherto have been
relatively unexplored. Daniel Neely's paper, CallingA/lSingers, Musicians and Speechmakers: Mento
Aesthetics and Jamaica's Early Recording Industry, traces the history and development of Jamaica's
recording industry from the importation of the first disc cutter in 1947 and the consequent
effects that the industry had on live music in the country. Dennis Howard continues the story
when he examines the influence of the Juke Box in Punching for Recognition: The Juke Box as a Key
Instrument in the Development of Popular Jamaican Music, for without records there would be no juke
boxes and as Howard rightly argues 'the juke box has iconic status as a major sustainer of
music from mento to dancehall' Clinton Hutton follows sequentially with "Forging Identiy and
Community through Aestheticism and Entertainment: The Sound System and the Rise of the DJ",
Dee-Jaying -an art form pioneered by Count Machuki in the 1950s, and following in the
tradition of call and response tradition right up to the present day with the likes of Shabba,
Bounty and Shaggy.
An interview with Garth White explores the Social and Aesthetic Roots and Identity ofSka,
and offers insights in his account of the 'clash' between systems, venues, and most significantly
uptown-downtown, as epitomised in his experiences at an uptown high school, where he was
fortunate enough to be introduced to a vanety of musical idioms. Two papers examine the
contributions made by individual performers. In Brown Girlin the Ring: Margarita and Maungu,
Herbie Miller shifts attention from the legendary trombonist Don Drummond (whose
influence is discussed in White's interview) to the contribution that was made by his partner,
Margarita. 'her participation in Count Ossie's drum and dance ensemble offers a lens through
which the dialogue of race, class and gender differences in Jamaica...can be viewed' Miller here
enlightens the reader on the significant role played by women in the development of the music.
Marjorie Whylie, an icon in the development, annotation and performance of all musical forms
throughout the Caribbean, lauds the contribution made by Ernie Ranglin international self-
taught guitarist par excellence in her paper "Ernest Ranglin, Creative Activist, Initiator, Innovator,
Caribbean Quarterly welcomes Clinton Hutton, teacher, artist, critique of the Department
of Government, UWI, Mona as Guest Editor of this ground-breaking and thought-provoking
collection. Two book reviews complete this volume.
This special issue of Caribbean Quarterly titled Pioneering Icons of Jamaican
Popular Music commemorates 50 years ofJamaican popular music and the making f
the Jamaican recording industry. The six essays bring fresh ideas and insights into
some of the critical, agential, socio-political, aesthetic and ontological factors in the
precursory and formative years of the making of Jamaican popular music and the
Indeed, two of these essays, the one by Dennis Howard on the Juke Box and
the other by Herbie Miller on Margarita, have, for the first time, at this level of
scholarship, entered the discourse on Jamaican popular music and introduced new
research and insights into the culturing ofJamaican popular music and its agency. So
too, Marjorie Whylie's essay on Ernest Ranglin, the pre-eminent guitarist and pioneer
arranger and musician in the making ofJamaican popular music. In fact all the essays
in this issue, to a greater or lesser degree trod this path.
Garth White's insights into the making of ska, his tracing of its critical aesthetic
resources, its identity or ontological principles and its agency, locating these in
historical context, are very perceptive. And my essay on the sound system and the
rise of the deejay, posits that the dancehall movement which was propelled into being
by the sound system, was an unstated national movement coming together for
aesthetic and ontological gratification, in which the deejay assumed a role, somewhat
akin to that of a Revivalist shepherd or mother.
The Pioneering Icons of Jamaican Popular Music includes spaces such as
Oswald "Count Ossie" Williams' camp at Wareika, Big Yard on Orange Street and
Eighteen 5th Street, the Yard of Mortimo Planno. These pioneering icons include
persons like, Thomas Wong, Clement Dodd, Arthur "Duke" Reid, Cecil "Prince
Buster" Campbell, Cluet Johnson, Vere Johns, Raphael "Count Mug" Dillon, Don
Drummond, Oswald Williams, Mortimo Planno, Lee "Scratch Perry", Chris
Blackwell, Sonia Pottinger, Pam-Pam, Headley Jones, amongst others.
The icons also include institutions such as Alpha Boy's School, the Jamaica
Military Band and Stony Hill Approved School. And of course pioneering iconic
sounds such as mento, rhythm and blues and burru. We cannot focus on all, but
some of these are discussed in this issue.
Calling All Singers, Musicians and
Mento Aesthetics and Jamaica's Early
DANIEL T. NEELY
In the first half of the twentieth century, Jamaica's music industry lagged
behind the rest of the Caribbean. At the same time as Cuban Rumba and Trinidadian
Calypso were being recorded, distributed and influencing music from California to
the Congo, Jamaican mento, the parallel indigenous musical genre, languished in
relative obscurity. Prior to World War II, Jamaica had no Growling Tiger or Attila the
Hun to help define an indigenous song form; nor was there a Don Azpiazu or Xavier
Cugat to promote a "Jamaican" sound to the world, either live or on record.
All this changed after the War, when a generation of young entrepreneurs
discovered they could make a business out of capturing sound on disc and selling it.
Although certainly not at first, for producers and musicians alike sound recording
would eventually raise a complex set of philosophical and aesthetic questions. What
purpose would it serve? How could it be used in articulating Jamaican cultural
identity? What might the "sound ofJamaica" be? Standing at the nexus of tradition
and modernity, answers to these questions promised opportunity, a way of
influencing a more modem-and eventually independent-Jamaica.
In this article, I will highlight a few aspects of the Jamaica recording industry's
early history, a historical moment both poorly documented and overlooked by prior
research. My main focus will be on its early producers and some of the choices they
made that set a course for the country's music; however, I will also explore how a
particular Jamaican musical aesthetic sound emerged, and was shaped by the industry
in its first decade. Much of this story concerns the demands of a rapidly developing
tourist industry, but also involves a series of business-driven choices that both helped
to strengthen local confidence in the medium and changed the way people heard
Daniel T. Nee
Khouri, Motta and the Emergence of Modem Jamaican Audility
In May 1947, a curious listing appeared in the Daif Gleaner newspaper
classified that read: "Something New. Calling All Singers, Musicians, Speechmakers,
etc. Make your own records and hear it played back in three minutes."' Interested
parties were instructed to "apply" at 76 West Street. Although no identifying name or
phone number was included in the ad, the address provided was that of the R.E.
Wright Hardware and Importing Company, where Khouri worked at the time (Katz
2003, p. 16). Later iterations of the "Something New" advertisement confirm this;
they included not only a phone number extension belonging to the Wright Company
but revealed that these listings were placed by Ken Khouri, the agent to whom
interested parties should go 2
This ad, it would appear, signified the beginning of Jamaica's indigenous
Ken Khouri was an enigmatic man. Although projecting a sort of humble
pride, he also claimed singular credit for the Jamaican music industry's foundation
and all of its major innovations. In his mind, he was "the first." After I met him in
November 2002, I soon heard the oft-told story of the Presto disc cutter he used to
found the industry. (He bought in Miami while tending to his ailing father and later
sold it to Ivan Chin in 1955.) All this came about because the radio in his rental car
was broken and, unable to live without music, he took it to the repair shop, where he
happened upon a man from California, destitute and intent upon returning west with
his wife and young child. This young man (described by Khouri as "kind of a hippy")
had a disc cutter to sell. Having served in World War II as an electrical technician,
Khouri's interest was piqued by the device. After a demonstration, he knew he had to
have it, and he bought it for the asking price. The man offered a batch of blank discs
as a gift, but Khouri turned the offer down, preferring to pay fair market value for
them. After purchasing a number of additional blanks from a commercial vendor,
Khouri returned to Jamaica where he started up a small record-making business,
charging 30 shillings for every record made. People were lining up for the service.
Before this visit, I was warned that if Khouri agreed to meet with me, his ego
would get in the way of the facts. The reason for this, one major sound system
operator told me, was because Khouri was part of an "old guard" of Jamaican
businessmen whose importance came into question after the political cultural
changes that accompanied the independence movement. Although he remained
successful (he ran the country's largest and most state of the art physical recording
plant for decades) and enjoyed seniority over the generation of entrepreneurial
producers that emerged in his wake (most notably, the "big three" of Dodd, Reid and
King Edwards, as well as Prince Buster), some felt that Khouri harboured a sense of
"disillusionment" over how writers-particularly journalists from abroad-focused
on the producers who were most associated with 1950s and 1960s sound systems and
marginalized his role in the industry's foundation.
Few have taken a close look at Khouri's early work. Although he indeed
prefigured the "big three" and deserves broader recognition, there is much to critique
in some of his claims to firstness. Others, for example, have more valid claims to the
landmarks Khouri maintained were his. American ethnomusicologist Helen Heffron
Roberts, for example, in 1921 cut the first known recordings ofJamaican music in St.
Elizabeth parish as an assistant to anthropologist Martha Beckwith. Further, the first
records of Jamaicans playing "mentors" [sic] were organized and led by the
Trinidadian vaudevillian Sam Manning in New York City as early as 1924; throughout
the twenties and thirties, with enough money one could go down to C. C. Campbell's
store on Water Lane in Kingston and buy these erstwhile "Jamaican" records.
As I investigated Khouri's "firsts," I encountered a confusing knot of
discrepancies-two of which I will describe here-that support a more compelling
perspective on his role as a pioneer. The first involves the number of blank discs he
brought back from Miami. In the 1970s music publication Swing journalist Jean
Fairweather wrote that Khouri bought 500 with the cutter, and an additional 1,000
elsewhere before returning home. Subsequent writers cite these quantities fairly
regularly. However, after a lengthy discussion with Khouri that called upon his wife
Gloria's memory, he put the number of discs he bought at 100 and the supplemental
number at 200. Although easily overlooked, this detail suggests he was more cautious
about his initial chances with the recording industry than he had previously let on.
This detail is important, though: those who could afford to spend 30 shillings on a
record were not the oft-fetishized urban poor from whose mouths, it is said, springs
the soul ofJamaican music. Rather, Khouri was largely recording the urban elite, the
people who could afford the little luxury Khouri offered, and who were candidates to
lend financial support to his business ventures later on.
The second discrepancy in the telling of Khouri's story-and far more
significant-is the common notion that he purchased his disc recorder in 1949
(Fairweather 1973; Bradley 2000, p. 24; Rookumbine ND; Hawks 2006). We now
know this date to be incorrect. While it is not certain whether he in fact bought the
machine in 1946 or 1947, that he was advertising his business in 1947, two years
earlier than commonly acknowledged, cannot be overlooked. Because Khouri's first
commercial release was not for sale until August 1951 (in partnership with
Daniel T. Nee
businessman Alec Dune through his Times Store3 the period 1947-1951 warrants
Many would point out that Khouri's service was primarily directed at Jamaica's
musical community. I suggest, however, that this was not necessarily the case. Just as
Khouti's business was getting off the ground, WZQI, Jamaica's first radio station,
opened its own recording facility.4 Although I have not come across any records
made there, older musicians (most notably, singer Clyde Hoyte) told me that some
musicians used it to make one-off records for broadcast. ZQI's studio was not
particularly available to all: in 1949, for example, Lord Fly went to Miami to record a
series of records5 while Eric Deans went to Haiti for the same reason in 1951 6 7
During this time, Khouri's recording business does not seem to have been considered
a viable alternative to professional musicians. However, this competition seems to
have influenced a decision to expand the purview of his service.
Although he would maintain the amateur musician's market by continuing to
focus on recording "songs," the words "messages abroad" soon figured into his
advertisements.8 This was an important change because it helped expand his
customer base. With a record, one could not just simply preserve a "moment" for
posterity (something he did on June 20,1948, when he recorded Ivan Chin's wedding
ceremony), but one could also stay in touch with family and friends living abroad in a
visceral way through a little sound bite of home.
This new direction also opened the market and created space for competition
from another Kingston businessmen who saw the value in recorded sound: Stanley
Motta. None of Stanley Motta's family remember exactly when their father bought
his disc cutter, but his son Brian told me that his father had it for some months when
he used it to record the guests at Brian's Bah Mitzvah in 1950. By November of that
year, Motta had opened a studio at 93 Hanover St.:
How do you sound? YOU CAN RECORD YOUR VOICE or your
playing at Motta's Recording Studio.
High-quality recordings of voice and music can now be made at our
Studio which is specially designed for this purpose and equipped with
a piano. These facilities will fill a long felt need among local singers
and musicians and for many other recording purposes such as radio
commercial and programme material. Our Studio can record on discs
of 12 to 5 inches diameter, 78 R.P.M. Prices range from 1. 12. 6. to
8/- per record, and duplicates can be made at lower cost. Our
portable recording equipment can also be used at any location you
desire, at an additional charge of 30/-. (Daiy Gleaner November 10,
1950, p. 6.)
Motta's subsequent boasts of offering a "New Service" were not entirely true 9;
Khouri was already making records. But while Khouri generally made his recordings
on location-house parties, garden parties and later, nightclubs-Motta was the first
to offer this service in a controlled studio setting.0
However, Khouri's claims of firstness are better rationalized following the lead
of recent critical theorists who have characterized one of sound recording's
innovations as the stockpiling of time (Attali 1996, pp. 101-5). The stockpiling of
Jamaican voices in Jamaica not only enabled local control of the "certain sequence,
isolation, and repeatability of moments" that characterizes bourgeois modernity
(Sterne 2003, p. 310), but it also introduced the notion of an audile technique wherein
listening became the privileged sense for knowing and experiencing Jamaican culture
(Sterne 2003, p. 96).
Prior to Khouri, though, no Jamaican had ever been in control of the
ownership and preservation of Jamaican time. As music became increasingly
commodified in the 1940s-and especially the 1950s-questions about the
ownership and mass manufacture of this time-and in particular, musical
time-developed into an aesthetic issue: businessmen like Khouri and Motta would
need to figure out who would buy "Jamaican" music, and correspondingly, would
need to make decisions about how it should sound.
Nightclubs, Tourism and the Mass Marketing of Jamaican Music
Although one can argue that "the consumption of music... shapes our sense of
time" (Straw 2001, p. 58), perhaps equally important is the influence it has on our
sense of place. Nowhere in the post-War era was a sound-based sense of place more
important than in the Caribbean, and inJamaica it was the basis for music's marketing
and musical aesthetic. But the choices producers made marketing music in this early
era seemed to emphasize its accessibility to foreign tastes; was the aesthetic that
developed around music one that focused on a particularly "Jamaican" musical
identity, or was it something else?
I argue it was something else. In a 1948 article, Bahamian pianist George
Moxey quoted a tourist who lamented that it was "too bad Jamaica does not stock
records of all the native calypsos," adding, "the only place I could get them was in
New York." It is perhaps ironic that similar tales can be told today, as many of the
finest re-issues of early Jamaican mento are not readily available in Jamaica. But this
quote-uttered (predictably enough) by an American tourist looking for the mento
Daniel T Nee#y
music he heard by asking for calypso-foreshadows an aesthetic imperative the early
Jamaican industry would adopt and develop.
Although the local market was certainly important, it was the steady stream of
foreigners who represented the first, best economic hope for the industry's growth;
the music tourists would buy would need to be "Jamaican," but simultaneously "West
Indian," and therefore tailored to meet expectation. The community best suited to
meet Khouri's and Motta's business needs worked in the Kingston and Montego Bay
nightclubs and performed largely for middle- and upper- class Jamaican and tourist
clienteles. Nightclub and resort musicians in the 1940s very often learned the trade in
these venues through a guild-like system of apprenticeship-often as part of an
established floorshow act or theatrical troupe-where they could refine their
entertainment sensibilities to be both exotic and recognizable to foreigners.
(from calypso magazine, no.1 1957 www.mentomusic.com)
Lord Flea's (Norman Thomas) career is an excellent example of this. Flea got
his start in the entertainment field working with neighbors, the older comic duo Bim
and Bam.I' Bim and Barn's approach was transitional: they blended the entertainment
aesthetic of the increasingly popular native-themed floorshows with the grass-roots
aesthetic of the Little Theatre Movement into a drama-based variety act. Because
their productions did not need to conform to the class-based restrictions found in the
Little Theatre Movement, Bim and Barn (and others of their ilk) had considerable
artistic freedom; by fashioning their productions around contemporary subject
matter and style, they had great popular appeal.
The 14-year old Flea's career seems to have begun in April 1949 in a Bim and
Bam production entitled Harlem Bound at the Sugar Hill Club in St. Andrew. In its
promotion, he was billed as the "Calypso Sensation." The success of this
production-in no small part due to Flea-doubtlessly contributed to the success of
Bim and Bam's reprise performances of Rhygin's Ghost later that year, where he was
billed as the "Calypso King."12 With Bim and Barn, Flea became one of Kingston's
most successful nightclub acts, which led to a recording opportunity with Ken
Khouri that made him one of the first Jamaican recording artists. After working his
way through several nightclubs honing his act, it was finally while working at
Kingston's Glass Bucket Club in 1954 that a Miami nightclub owner "discovered"
him and took him to America. By the end of the decade, Flea was Jamaica's first
international superstar and a major name in the international "calypso craze.""3
The early industry not only relied on foreign consumers to buy the product, but
also foreign businesses to manufacture it. In sketching a practical outline for what it
would take to get a local music industry started in 1948, George Moxey realized this:
There is a marked difference between the genuine local product and
the synthesized substitute of the American market.
The preliminaries of collecting, orchestrating and recording these
songs to make master discs from which commercial pressings are
made in bulk would necessitate a comparatively small financial outlay
in comparison to the turnover in sales which could be safely
Further, on account of the local representation which most or all of
the recognized recording companies have, this necessary action can
only come through any one of them because the parent firms will not
countenance any enquiries from private individuals. [Moxey 1948.]
Although Moxey's vision was intriguing and fairly well outlined, it was not
fulfilled until December 1950, the month Motta released his first pair of commercial
recordings-MRS 01 & 02-just in time for Christmas.14
"NEW! CALYPSOS RECORDED IN JAMAICA: Dan Williams
and his Orchestra with Lord Fly." [Daily Gleaner, December 21,
1950, p. 6.]
Daniel T. Nee4
Pressed abroad and marketed to tourists, these recordings featured the upscale
calypso-singing jazz musician Lord Fly (Rupert Lyon). These records were a
landmark moment in the industry. Although including both originals and folk
standards, Fly's music was sophisticated and reflected a cosmopolitan taste. That
Fly's records were marketed as mento-calypsos, a compromise likely intended to
increase Fly's marketability among foreigners for whom mento was virtually
unknown, points to a developing musical aesthetic that would set the benchmark for
what "Jamaica" would sound like to outsiders.
Motta's success making records probably inspired confidence in others,
including Alec Durie, proprietor of Times Store in downtown Kingston. Durie was
among the first to sell local records, stocking Motta's records as early as January
195115 He likely needed little convincing to back Khouri when Khouri approached
him for financial backing. In a version similar to one he told me, Khouri recalled his
proposal to Durie in a 1969 article:
An idea was conceived, and presented to Alec Durie of Times Store.
"Export local music?" "Market calypso?" Hmm. "Might do." "Let's
try it" [Bartley 1969.]
Khouri's first recordings with Durie-on the Times Store label-featured the
Jamaican "Calypsonians" with vocals by Lord Flea and went on sale in August 195116
Aesthetically, the musical arrangements on these sides were stylistically reminiscent
of Fly's earlier records.
Virtually everything Motta and Khouri manufactured in the early days of the
industry evoked a sense of place linked to tourist entertainment. For example, of the
first fifteen records Motta released, three were by artists involved in hotel-based
tourism while the rest were known as floorshow acts in Kingston nightclubs. Many
of these artists introduced a more pronounced primitivist sound that recalled the
Cuban son music, which was recorded and marketed under the rubric Rumba in the
1930s and 1940s.
Of the 38 records Motta made made between mid 1953 and the end of 1955,18
were made exclusively for hotels (these included the Shaw Park, the Silver Seas
[whose owner, Stuart Sharpe, was a close friend of Motta's] and the Montego Beach).
Of the remaining twenty, only one was by a performer (a Trinidadian, Cobra Man,
a.k.a.Joseph Clemendore) who had no traceable link to tourism. AsJamaica grew as a
tourist destination, the choices producers made regarding the music they pressed
became increasingly measured. These choices were made to better ensure that
Jamaica's so-called "calypsonians" maintained an acceptable aesthetic standard.
The Standardization of a Jamaican Musical Aesthetic
As important as this apprentice system was for seasoning entertainers (like
Flea, and others) in proper dress, repertory and behavior, the increasing opportunity
an expanding industry offered, coupled with the efflorescence of local recording and
pressing facilities, created a climate in which the preparation of local entertainers
eventually became a matter of industry regulation.
The development and ultimate implementation of this aesthetic is most clearly
evident through a pair of Calypso Band Competitions that actor and entrepreneur
Eric Coverey organized in the 1950s. The first occurred in 1953 and included
thirteen bands from Kingston, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay (Milner 1953). In
addition to being judged on their musical standards and repertory-groups were
expected to play both Jamaican and Trinidadian fare-contestants were judged
according to style and comportment standards set by a group of mainly
Kingston-based entertainers and journalists who officiated the event.17
Contemporary coverage made much of the "spirit" of the bands that performed:
reporters noted a difference between the favoured liveliness of the Kingston bands
(most of which were not performing solely for tourists at that time) and that of the
north coast bands, whose restraint, it was thought, was due to "having to cater in the
season to the tourist trade." (Milner 1953.) Based on its spirited performance, a
group from Kingston led by Lord Power won.
It is of note that shortly before the contest Stanley Motta released Lord Power's
first record (Solas Market b/w Miss Goosey, MRS 16). According to Cyril Beckford, the
group's banjoist, this record helped enhance the group's competitive appeal and later
reputation. That a record could generate this much interest laid bare the link between
tourist promotion and the nascent recording industry.
The tourist market and international licensing deals were the motivating factors
behind Ken Khouri's establishment of Records Limited, Jamaica's first pressing
plant, in November 1954. Because Khouri provided a full range of services, including
recording facilities, disc pressing, label printing and to a degree distribution, the
opening of Records Limited (and the emergence of Khouri's Kalypso label) provided
music entrepreneurs and Jamaican calypsonians easier access to recording
The first locally pressed records of Jamaican music emerged in the opening
months of 1955 and changed the musical climate substantially. Although some of
these records contained innocuous subject matter suitable for the tourist trade, a large
number of them were risque. The most notable of these, written by Everald Williams
Daniel T. Neef
and performed by Alerth Bedasse, was entitled Night Food, about a young man being
solicited by an older woman through a thinly veiled euphemism for vaginal (and not
oral, as is sometimes assumed) intercourse.
The record became an overnight sensation, but not without controversy.
Despite a significant amount of public support for these records, Tacius Golding, the
Member of the House of Representatives for Western St. Catherine, introduced a
motion into the House (prompted, in part, by a resolution made by the Mother's
Union Council and presented at a meeting of the Synod of the Church of England) in
early 1956 to ban these records. The motion was quickly supported by religious
and political leaders and in April, Wills Isaacs, the Minister of Trade and Industry (in
what seemed to be an attack squared directly at Khouri's business) called for a
boycott of stores that carried "certain brands of calypso records."20 Despite what I'm
told was robust interest in these rude "hits," growing Parliamentary pressure caused a
momentary loss of public confidence in this local calypso music that made producers
and artists more careful about the kinds of records they produced.
This episode gave pause to those who were employing calypso bands but also
introduced a new sense of regulation. At this time, a restrictive set of ideas known as
the "Calypso Morality Code" was put forth.21 Because calypso was commonly
perceived as an important element of Jamaica's nightlife and its tourism product, a
more restrictive calypso aesthetic became the basis for the second all-island Calypso
Band Competition in June 1956 and, I believe, its subsequent performance in hotels
and to a lesser degree the National Festival for the Arts after independence. This later
contest naturally endeavoured to identify the country's best calypsonians but also was
intended as a way to "get our calypso out of the gutter of obscenity into which it has
fallen." (Star 1956b.)
The heart of this code seems to have been the notion of professionalism, a
value reflected not only in the judging but also in the selection of the judges.
Compared with the 1953 competition, whose judiciary included mainly journalists
and entertainers, the judges for the 1956 competition consisted of respectable
members of the cultural and business community, including singer, poet and then
Jamaica Social Welfare Commission Drama Officer Louise Bennett-Coverley (Eric
Coverley's wife), Councilor Sidney James, proprietor of Montego Bay's ritzy
Embassy Club Ivan Harris, longtime director of the Opportunity Hour talent show
Vere Johns, Times Store manager Max Henry, pianist Mapletoft Poulle, and Stanley
Motta, who in addition to owning a department store and the MRS record label was
the Chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board at the time (Star 1956d).22
Although over 25 bands from around the island competed, the winner, based
on the superiority of its "costuming, stage personality and general liveliness," was the
house band of the Ocho Rios based Silver Seas hotel, Monty Reynolds and his Silver
Seas Calypsonians (Star 1956c). At the time of the contest, each member of
Reynolds's group had had at least a decade of experience performing in nightclubs
and tourism, including performances in 1955 for Princess Margaret on her Jamaican
visit as well as during a Jamaica Tourist Board sponsored promotional tour of the
United States, which helped the band firm its reputation as "one of the most versatile
and popular native aggregations in the island." (Star 1955.) This track record almost
certainly gave the band an advantage over the other contestants, including relative
newcomers Lord Messam, Count Barry, Lord Lebby and Count Lasher, who, of all
the contestants, was hailed as the crowd favorite.
By putting a professional face to it, the Silver Seas's victory helped overcome
the calypso's dip in public confidence and became a major triumph for tourism. But
this was only a short term triumph. The following year, Coverley's request to the
tourist board for sponsorship of his contest was flatly refused (Neita 1957). Although
musicians from all thirteen parishes continued to stream towards resorts in search of
work, once there they encountered an entertainment system that imposed strict
guidelines on how calypso should be played. While some musicians found ways to fit
into the system, many could not. Rhythm and blues-and later ska, the sound of
independent Jamaica-became more popular among audiences and musicians than
ever before. By 1958,Jamaican calypso was not the profitable enterprise it once was;
that year, both Stanley Motta and Ivan Chin stopped making records.
It was not until after World War II that the idea for a cohesive record industry
emerged in Jamaica. Following the War, however, a handful of young entrepreneurs
and Kingston-based nightclub musicians pioneered a newJamaican sound. How this
sound developed, however, was based in the commercial needs of the moment: a
product that first served as a vanity forJamaicans living in the Diaspora later became
an important means for sonically representing local culture to outsiders.
At the beginning of this article, I posed a series of questions that faced the
fathers of the Jamaican recording industry; although I touched on some possible
answers in this article, there is still much to be said. The early recording industry
ultimately created an environment in which new musical forms (like deejoying and dub
reggae) could later develop, and be exported and adapted (Veal 2007; Stolzoff 2000).
Damel T. Neey
The consequences of this change needs to be more fully explored as well.
Because studio recordings captured a single performance, music would become an
increasingly studio-based endeavour. In the 1950s, live music lost ground to sound
systems as a form of social entertainment; the stylistic character-although not the
substance-of Jamaica's dancehall culture would forever be transformed (Stolzoff
2000; also, Hope 2006).
1. Daiy Gleaner, May 19, 1947, p. 14.
2. Snda Gleaner, Julyl 1/7/1948, p. 10.
3. Dai Gleaner, August 10, 1951, p. 5]),
4. Jamaica Daily Exprass, February 27, 1948 p. 3; Dai Gleaner, February 27, 1948, p. 19).
5. Daily Gkaner, February 2, 1949, p. 2
6. Day Gleaner, January 12, 1951, p. 6).
7. Although period coverage suggests these recordings happened, no contemporary
evidence of their existence has come to light.
8 Sunday Gleaner, November 7, 1948, p. 10).
9. ex. Daiy Gleaner November 19, 1950, p. 4)
10. Motta's 'studio was never considered 'state of the art'. Those whom I talked to who
had been there described it as a meagre place with a piano and little to recommend I as
a recording facility.
11. For this information I am indebted to Flea's daughter Barbara Thomas and her
mother, Ruth Grant.
12. Although I have encountered some speculation that he received this title from Lord
Kitchener it is also possible that he received this name because Fly (the most popular
calypso singer in Jamaica at the time) had briefly left Jamaica for Miami to cut a series
of records (Daiy Gleaner 1949).
13. In addition to a successful LP as a bandleader for Capitol Records entitled Swinging
Ca~ypsos (1956), Flea had a role in two 1957 films, Caypso Joe and Bop Girl Goes Cabpso.
He died of Hodgkins Disease in 1959.
14. Discographic information for these releases is as follows:
MRS 01A: Medley of Jamaican Mento-Calypsos/Fan me Solja / One solja man / Yuh
No Yeary Weh de Ole Man Sey / Slide Mongoose. Matrix no: SSS2033X.
MRS 01B: Whai, Whai, Whai. Matrix no: SSS2034X.
MRS 02A: Medley of Jamaican Mento-Calypsos /Linstead Market /Hold 'Em
Joe/Dog War a Mattuse Lane / Manuel Road. Matrix no: SSS2031X.
MRS 02B: Strike, Strike, Strike. Matrix no: SSS2032X.
Although pressed in Britain, it is not certain who pressed MRS 01-18; perhaps a
now-defunct division of Decca for which paperwork has been lost. Matrix numbers
for MRS 01-05 have the prefix "SSS" followed by a four-digit number in continual
sequence beginning with a "2" while MRS 06-18 have similarly sequential four-digit
numbers beginning with a "2," but carry the prefix "MOT." Decca's work order file
with Motta begins with MRS 19 and is dated July 4, 1953; with this, the matrix
numbering system changed to a three number system with SM and DSM as the prefix.
No data exists in Decca's file for the first 18 releases.
15. Jamaica Gleaner, January 27, 1951, p. 5.
16. Daily Gleaner, August 19, 1951, p. 5).
17. Milner 1953. Judges included journalist Milner, Bahamian pianist (but longtime
Kingston resident) George Moxey, actor Ranny Williams, journalist Aimee Webster,
singer Lord Fly and journalist Dudley Byfield.
18. The services Khouri provided attracted entrepreneurs who found record production a
new way to promote their businesses. A list of examples includes (but is not limited
to) Duke Reid (Trojan, Hi-Lite), Ivan Chin (Chin's Radio Service) and Count Lasher
(Lasher Disc). In comparison, Motta was not in the business of record manufacture
and by necessity took a different approach; because his records were mainly provided
to hotels as souvenirs or to more established artists somehow associated with tourism,
his clients were not generally in need of the quick turnaround that Khouri could offer.
19. One of the more interesting supporters was future Prime Minister Edward Seaga, who
applied his own research on child development to argue that most Jamaican children
developed sexually at a very young age and would likely not be surprised by the subject
matter of even the most lewd calypso. He added that "'lewdness,' like the term
'civilized' is only meaningful in a relative sense and cannot be defined on an absolute
basis. I lis conclusion, that lewd calypsos "corrupt no one, but rather...annoy the
sexual pervert and the fanatical moralist" was remarkably balanced, but unfortunately
since his entry into the debate came so late, it had little effect beyond stirring what
seemed to be increasingly calming waters (Seaga 1956).
20.. Star 1956a; cf. Daily Gleaner 1956.)
21. Although referred to in news reports, no copy of this code has yet been uncovered.
But a music columnist at the time alluded to its role in the competition, indicating that
judging would be based on "stage presence, arrangements, costumes and originality."
(Star 1956c; Bat Man 1956.) The sentiment precipitating the code is amply outlined in
Neita 1956. "It is unfortunate that in recent times obscenity has crept into these
songs, but it is hoped that this contest will prove to the public that they can be clean
and upright entertainment... .The attention which has been focused on calypsos,
recently, has resulted with it being regarded as a dirty word. Anyone who identifies
himself with [calypso] runs the risk of being regarded as a public plague, to be shunned
by polite society."
22. I am grateful to Brian and Philip Motta (personal communication) for providing me
with this information about their father.
Daniel T Neey
Attali, Jacques. 1996 (1985). Noise: The PoiticalEconony ofMusic. Minneapolis: University of
Bartley, G. Fitz. 1969. "The Federal Story." Swing. May: N.P
Bat Man. 1956. "With the Stars," Star, June 8, p. 6.
Bilby, Kenneth. 1995. "Jamaica." In Peter Manuel (ed.). Caribbean Currents. Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, pp. 143-182.
Boogu Yagga Ga. Jamaican Mento. 2001. Heritage HT CD 45.
Bradley, Lloyd. 2000. This is Reggae Music: The Story of amaica's Music. New York: Grove
Daiy Gleaner. 1949. 'Lord Fly' Goes to Miami to Make Records," February 2, p. 2.
-. 1956. "Isaacs seeks boycott of lewd calypsos, April 13, p. 1.
Daniel, Yvonne Paine. 1996. "Tourism Dance Performances: Authenticity and Creativity."
In Annals of Tourism Research. 23 (4): 780-797.
Fairweather, Jean. 1973. "Ken Khouri Record Industry's Pioneer." Swing. June-July: 11-2.
Hawks, Noel. 2006. Liner notes for Take Me To Jamaica: The Stor ofJamaican Mento. CD
(Pressure Sounds PSCD 51).
Hope, Donna. 2006. Inna Di Dancehalk Popular Culture and the Politics of Identity in Jamaica.
Mona, Jamaica: The University of the West Indies Press.
MacCannell, Dean. 2001. "Tourist Agency." In Tourist Studies. 1 (1): 23-37.
1989 . The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leiure Class. New York:
Mento Madness: Motta's Jamaican Mento 1951-1956. 2004. V2
Milner, Harry. 1953. "A Riotous Success," Daiy Gleaner. July 31, p. 16.
Motta, Stanley. Resume. Provided by Philip Motta.
Moxey, George. 1948. "The Fate of Jamaican Folk Songs." Sunday Gleaner. October 24, p4.
Neita, Hartley. 1957. "Rock 'n' Roll 'n' Good Jazz." Star. December 23, p. 19.
1956. "Calypso Contest," Star. June 4, p. 7.
Pattullo, Polly. 1996. Last resorts: The Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean. Kingston, Jamaica: lan
Roul, Raymond. 1970. "The Recording Industry." Swing. October-November: N.P.
Sarkissian, Margaret. 2000. D'Albuquerque's Children: Performing Tradition in Malaysia's
Portuguese Settlement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Star 1956. "Lewd Calypsos," June 9, p. 6.
1955. "Silver Seas Calypsos Play for Princess," February 22, p. 6.
.1956a. "Island Calypso Contest Coming," April 12, p. 2.
1956b. "Calypsos: The Church Speaks," April 13, p. 1.
1956c. '56 Champion Calypso Band From St. Ann," June 12, p. 2.
1956d. "Calypso Contest," June 15, p. 10.
Sterne, Jonathan. 2003. The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham:
Duke University Press.
Straw, Will. 2001. "Consumption." In The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock, edited by
Simon Frith, Will Straw and John Street, pp. 53-73. Cambridge: Cambridge University
1999-2000. "Music as Commodity and Material Culture." repercussions.
7-8, pp. 147-72.
Stolzoff, Norman. 2000. Wake the Town: Dancehall Culture in Jamaica. Durham: Duke
Veal, Michael. 2007. Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae. Middletown,
Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.
White, Garth. 1982. "Mento to Ska: The Sound of the City." In Reggae International, edited
by S. Davis and P. Simon. New York: Rogner and Bernhard.
Beckford, Cyril. November 2002. Interview with author.
Bedasse, Alerth. April, May 2005; January 2006. Interviews with author.
.hin, Ivan. June, August 2002. Interviews with author.
Goodall, Graham. August 2002. Interview with the author.
Grant, Ruth and Barbara Thomas. July 2004. Interview with author.
Hoyte, Clyde. October, November 2002; February 2003. Interviews with author.
Khouri, Ken. November 2002. Interview with author.
Plunkett, Robin. January 2003, interview with the author.
Seaga, Edward. June 2002, interview with the author.
Rookumbine. ND. K&K Records PKCD 101502.
Take Me To Jamaica. The Story of amaican Mento. 2006. Pressure Sounds PSCD 51.
Forging Identity And Community Through
Aestheticism and Entertainment: The Sound
System and The Rise Of The DJ1
Winston Cooper "Count Machuki"((;lcancr photo)
There would be times when the records playing would, in my
estimation, sound weak, so I'd put in some peps: chick-a-took,
chick-a-took, chick-a-took. That created a sensation! So there were
times when people went to the record shop and bought those
records, took them home, and then b[r]ought them back, and say: 'I
want to hear the sound I hear at the dancehall last night!' They didn't
realize that was Machuki's injection in the dancehall!2
By the beginning of the 1950s, live band music's dominance,3 was lost to
recorded units of electronically played music in the provision of music to dance goers
in Jamaica. Electronically played recorded units of music emerged to dominate the
dance floor in the provision of music to dance goers in two main ways: one, by way of
the sound system and two, by way of the juke box.
The role of the juke box in this context, along with its overall impact on the
development of popular music, is addressed for the first time in discourses on
popular Jamaican music, by Dennis Howard in the third essay in this volume of
Caribbean Quarterly. My focus in this essay is on the sound system, a phenomenon
which attracted around itself and engendered a pool of creative talents, and a culture
of imagination and an agency, which eventually led to the genesis and development of
popular Jamaican music and the island's recording industry.
My specific focus is on the rise of the disc jockey or deejay/DJ-(Selector), a key
ontological figure and agency in the operation of the sound system as art. And it was
in the competition in the operation of the sound system as art that an art form was
spawned, which today, appeared to be the music style in which most of the younger
generations of Jamaicans have located their popular aesthetic sense, time and space.
The catalyst of this art form was Winston Cooper, better known as Count
Machuki, while the development of his art into a viable audio recorded form, outside
the confines of its indigenous birth place, rests primarily with King Stitt (Winston
Sparkes) and Daddy U-Roy (Ewart Beckford). Count Machuki belonged to the first
generation of deejays in the pantheon of the sound system. Others in this category
were Vincent 'Duke Vin' Forbes, Leroy 'Cuttin's' Cole, and Red Hopeton. King Stitt
and U-Roy belonged to the second generation.
The sound system is an electronic mode of playing for mass entertainment,
units of pre-recorded music analogically stored on gramophone or phonograph
records spun on a turntable5 connected to an amplifier, from which an assemblage
of speakers (sometimes called house of joy) are attached. A competitive sound
system is one with first rate amplification and turntable(s) and an assemblage of good
speakers, a growing unimpeachable stock of popular recorded music and a creative
(warrior) DJ-(Selector) or team of DJ-(Selectors) who, among other things, has a
charismatic appeal, the skill of timing, choreography, oratory, poetics and an
improvisational and extemporaneous disposition.
Socially, the sound system became a centrepole phenomenon, inciting and
engendering creative imagination, consciousness and activism around which an
unstated, informal national movement coalesced for aesthetic and ontological
gratifications. In this respect, the sound system was able to do what live bands were
unable to accomplish.
Thousands of dance goers would turn out weekly, especially from Friday
evening to Sunday morning to dancehalls and lawns and other ritualized dance spaces
across Jamaica. From an iconic venue such as Forrester's Hall at Love Lane and
North Street, Kingston, to the ubiquitous zinc or bamboo, or coconut frond (or any
combination of these) enclosed space with or without roof annexed to a rum bar or
by itself, dancehalls sprang up in large numbers across Jamaica, signaling the making
of a cultural revolution that was to have a profound ontological impact on Jamaica
and the world.
Kingston was the mecca of the sound system. The most impressive dance
spaces were located there. Forrester's Hall was big. Only big sounds like Arthur
'Duke' Reid and Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd could play there. Adjacent to Forrester's
Hall was the biggest dancehall, King's Lawn. Jubilee Tile Gardens, perhaps the venue
that had the most dance, was situated on Kings Street, just before North Street going
south. Jubilee Tile Gardens was a reasonable size lawn and it was certainly in the
major league of dance venues. Then, there was the Success Club on Wild Man Street,
and Prosperity, another huge dancehall on Love Lane and Church Street,
Metropolitan Hall on Duke Street, the Barbecue Lawn on Fleet Street in Central
Kingston, and the PORA Mutual Hall. one of the earliest dance venues, situated at
Rosemary Lane and Law Street.
Kingston lodges played a central role in providing dancehall spaces. These
venues included Forrester's Hall, of which Justice Hector was in charge, as well as
Jubilee Tile Gardens, Success Club, Prosperity, and PORA Mutual Hall.
Other dancehall spaces were the famed Chocomo Lawn on Wellington Street,
Live Wire at the top of Arnett Gardens, Savoy on Blount Street, and Caterers at South
Race Course. But venues like these were outnumbered by the most basic constituted
dancehall spaces. I have already mentioned those that were annexed to rum bars. To
these must be added those that were established in the front or back yards of
dwellings paved (concreted) and fenced for this purpose.
And in my community ofJericho in Hanover, there was Big Level, a classical
outdoor space, located at the top of one of the hills overlooking the square, where
men and boys used to fly their kites, and where today, the Jericho Seventh Day
Adventist Church stands. From time to time, Big Level, like Malcolm Hill, another
space overlooking Jericho Square, would be transformed into a dance space, fenced
around with bamboo and coconut fronds for that purpose. The floor was unpaved
and the sound system, Sputnik, named from the first satellite to be blasted into orbit
in 1957,6 played at that venue that same year when I was three years old.
Sputnik's owner was George Morris, from the neighboring sister district of
Clairmont and the DJ-(Selector) for his sound, was James Campbell, better known as
Pampi or Doctor. Jericho's first sound system operator was Lloyd Kirkaldy and he
started a few years before Morris. His sound system was called Downbeat, apparently
to recognize and honour Clement Dodd and his Sir Coxsone Downbeat sound.
Outdoor dancehall venues like those in Jericho, could be found all over
Jamaica. The Prison Oval in Spanish Town, St. Catherine, and Cane Hill in Bull Bay,
St. Andrew were two such venues. But, in addition to this type of dance space, school
rooms across Jamaica were also rented out for the sound system dance.
Sound systems were also played in night clubs, some of which boasted some of
the best known dance spaces. Some of these clubs were famous dance venues when
live bands were the main providers of dance music in Jamaica. And even in the era of
the dominance of the sound system, some of these clubs continued to cater for live
bands even while embracing the sound system. Among these clubs were the Silver
Slipper Club in Cross Roads, St. Andrew, and Club Havana, the Bournemouth Beach
Club and Adastra from Eastern Kingston.
There was no section ofJamaica that was not touched by the sound system and
the movement it engendered; not even in places like Jericho in Hanover that did not
have electricity in the 1950s. You see, sound systems tended to have their own source
of portable electricity. Systems were powered with batteries and portable generators
and were thus able to operate just about anywhere. And so iconic sound systems were
played not only in Kingston and St. Andrew and urban centres such as Spanish Town,
Montego Bay and May Pen; they could and did play at other venues.
From sounds like Lloyd Kirkaldy's Downbeat, and George Morris' Sputnik, in
deep rural Jamaica, to the centrepole sound systems in Kingston and St. Andrew,
thousands of Jamaicans constantly journeyed into ritualized dance spaces, to
participate in a community of movement to sound, engendering and languaging a
common national emotional, psychological, aesthetic ethos, transcending the
epistemology and ontology of coloniality and its power to alienate subjected peoples
from themselves, from their physicality and metaphysicality, from the sovereignty of
their imagination, from their lineality. The sound system movement seemed to be
drawing on the creative/aesthetic traditions developed by the enslaved to forge a
popular national aesthetic modernism as Jamaica moved towards independence in
1962. Read my essay "The Creative Ethos of the African Diaspora: Performance
Aesthetics and the Fight for Freedom and Identity" in Caribbean Quarterly, Volume
53, number 1&2, March-June 2007, for insights into the cosmological roots and
artistic expressions of the enslaved in their struggle to be. Thousands constantly
journeyed into the dancehall to carry out their duty of being, to work the seal in a
more secular aesthetic sense, what the Revivalists were doing in a more
spiritual/religious aesthetic sense in their places of worship.
And if the Revival table were the iconic centrepole for the Revivalists' duty, the
sound system was the centrepole for the dancehall session. And if the Revival
Shepherd/ priest/priestess (mada) were the chief pilot for working the spirit in
Revival, the disc jockey or DJ-(Selector) was chief pilot for working the dancehall
No matter how impressively innovative and ontologically attuned the sound
system equipment7 was, no sound system was able to become the ultimate competitor
without a competitive deejay. And this became obvious from the pioneering days of
the sound system as a commercial entity.
The sound system did not start out as a commercial entity in its own right, but
as a marketing tool to attract potential shoppers to an already established business
place. For example, Thomas Wong, commonly regarded as the first person to
establish the sound system as a commercial enterprise, initially started out playing
music at his hardware store for the purpose of attracting potential customers to his
hardware establishment.8 Arthur 'Duke' Reid also installed his sound system initially
to attract potential shoppers to his family bar and liquor store, Treasure Isle (Salewicz
and Boot 2001:35). So too, Jack Taylor, who owned a hardware store on Orange
Among the pioneers as well as key second generation operators of the sound
system were Arthur Newland (V-Rocket), Egerton Koo (Lord Koos The Universe),
Count Buckram, Thomas Wong (Tom The Great Sebastian), Roy Whyte, Count Nick
The Champ, and Jack Taylor. There were also Arthur 'Duke' Reid (The Trojan),
Clement 'Coxsone Dodd (Sir Coxsone Downbeat), Vincent 'King' Edwards (King
Edwards The Giant), Lloyd Daley (The Matador), Count Boysie, Sir Mike The
Musical Dragon, and Cecil 'Prince Buster' Campbell (The Voice Of The People)
(Chang and Chen 1998:20; Barrow and Dalton 2001:13-15; Salewicz and Boot
2001:27,29 and 35; Mandingo, Issue 6, 2007:10;10Tribute To The Greats 2007:14,25
It is generally accepted that Thomas Wong's Tom The Great Sebastian, was the
first commercially operated sound system and it also became the first recognized
iconic sound system in the first half of the 1950s before the rise of Trojan, Sir
Coxsone Downbeat and King Edwards The Champ, followed by The Voice Of The
People. According to Alvin Harding, "is we who start off Tom and keep the first
dance with him:" meaning that the idea of operating the sound system commercially,
was suggested to Wong by Harding and Baxter, who also helped him in the making of
Tom -"The Great Sebastian" Wong
(contributed by Lou Goodn)
the first sound system dance for pay. Harding told me that Thomas Wong, a
Jamaican of Chinese and African bloodlines, first played for money when Tokyo "a
half Chiney chap," who was a pikaa pow" operator, hired his sound.
Duke Reid emerged with The Trojan after Thomas Wong and became the
dominant sound. He was followed by Clement Dodd, 15 years his junior, and who, at
one point before he created Sir Coxsone Downbeat, was selecting and playing for
Reid.12 Dodd, also calledJackson, was followed by King Edwards, whose sound King
Edwards The Champ, following Tom The Great Sebastian, became the three great
sounds at the time, until Prince Buster emerged on the scene at the end of the 1950s
with The Voice Of The People and walked into glory.
And the sounds and styles of sound that these sound systems generated,
became the drawing card for the weekly mass rituals that took place across Jamaica.
In his description of the dancehall scene in Kingston in the 1950s, Lou Gooden said
On Saturday nights during the 1950s if you walked along [from]
North Street, in the heart of Kingston, you would hear the driving
bass rhythms coming from these monstrous sound system speakers
(House of Joys). The music could be heard from as far as a mile
The outside of these dances was as crowded as inside the dance hall.
The curb, or sidewalks would be crowded with people who stopped
just to listen to the latest records, in the meantime purchased sugar
cane, oranges, or water coconuts from the many vendors.
Y]ou could travel for miles and never stop hearing the constant
musical beat of the soundd system blending with disc jockeys making
weird sounds on their mikes (Gooden N.D.: 143-144).
It was from these disc jockeys or deejays (DJs), that the first artistic
performance engendered by the sound system and dancehall space would come. And
the person identified with the genesis of what would become an art form, was
Winston Cooper, who would become Count Machuki, or Chuki to his friends.
Cooper was one of those youngsters attracted to the front of Thomas Wong's
hardware store as a result of the electronic music system Wong installed at his
business place to attract shoppers and potential shoppers. There Cooper
distinguished himself as a dancer. Subsequently, this "very good dancer," became
"one of the Tom (The Great Sebastian's] followers," Ernest Baxter (Mean Stick) told
me in an interview I had with him and Ricardo Clarke and Alvin Harding.
Harding said Cooper was a well-dressed man, "in our days" as "young fellas"
(fellows). "He used to be in him three piece [suit], noted Harding, "because him
family dem use to live a England or America and used to send some nice suit[s] fe
According to Alvin Harding:13
We an' Chuki grew up together. I was not living far from him. In the
nights when we going to dance, we use to leave we little money wid
Chuki. Him cook and ting. And when him cook everybody have a
little calabash ting (dish), wid we name mark on it, [so] that when yu
come home... in a de morning [we get our food in we calabash]. An'
if you have a little woman wid yu, bring har to... an' she eat food.
Harding said in the early mornings when they went to Cooper's house, "him
don't have on no shirt. An' him use to train yu know. Him keep himself fit. Him
have him little dumbbells an' things." Moreover Cooper was a "healthy eater" who
"never romp with food." He was a "good cook" who sometimes "pour cod liver oil
in the soup."
Kingsley Goodison remembers Cooper as long as he could remember. He was
living at 117 Orange Street at the time, while Chuki was living at Matthew's Lane.
Goodison attended All Saints Infant School and Machuki resided behind that school.
Goodison said Chuki was "a very articulate person, a bright person," who "passed the
major exam at the time, something unheard of at that time." He described Machuki
as having "university brain."
Goodison asserted that Cooper was "the first person to introduce live jive" in
the dancehall and "the first disc jockey on the mike."'4 Winston Cooper was toasting
on the mike to his dance audience, and the logic of this (toasting) was inextricably
linked to the mike. Without the mike, there would be no live jive, no toasting. It
would have made no sense. And as King Stitt (Winston Sparkes) noted: "First time
the other DJs would put on a record and either drink a beer or stan' up, or
something." The availability of the mike to Cooper, made him see how dead the
dance was, before the mike. Without the mike, the dance "kom een ded," said Stitt,
and "so [when it became available] we created our live jive and all those things,"
precisely because of the availability of the mike:
We introduce the record and when it reach a solo or a chorus we
would talk around it. We would talk around the solo and the people
would enjoy it.s1
Making ingenious use of the aesthetic traditions of Jamaican verbal arts and
influenced by the American radio disc jockey, as well as the jazz and blues and verbal
expressions of Black America, Count Machuki, operating the historic Jamaican sound
system, selecting and playing and choreographing dancehall movements to the
rhythm, the beat, the spaces of recorded sound intersected at transformed,
improvisational spaces, with his toasting, his jiving, his ring shouting, his scatting,
created in the process, a modem popular verbal-music art form. Recalling the
creative verbal process of those days in the 1950s and early 1960s, Count Machuki
I used words to sell our local recordings [in the dancehall].... So I
found myself preparing new jives. In my time, a DJ was a man
responsible for conduct and behaviour, and what went on inside the
dance hall. We could actually talk to the audience and everybody was
happy. We didn't really have to be singing on the records to keep
everybody happy. We just made utterances before a record,
introduced the artist, gave an idea of the message the artist was going
to give. And sometimes when we listened to the record and found
that the music was wanting, we would inject something like: 'Get on
the ball...' and cover that weakness in the record. It was live jive and
it really made people feel happy!16
The introduction of the mike was critical to the genesis of Machuki's
verbal-music form. It was a historical necessity, an aesthetic imperative. Machuki
was the first to use the mike, the first to do so systematically. And he did this on Sir
Coxsone Downbeat, the sound system of Clement Dodd. Now, instead of just
sipping a beer while a tune was playing, or standing around waiting for it to finish
playing, the mike opened up endless possibilities for the creative imagination and the
The mike gave the voice reach and agency. The deejay could talk to the fans in
the dancehall as well as to persons outside of the dancehall. He could advertise the
next dance and venue that that sound system would be playing at. He could praise the
sound system owner/operator and help to brand his name and enterprise in the
minds of the people. The disc jockey could dedicate a song or songs to a specific
person or group of persons. He could announce the names of persons going off to
England or coming from prison. Yes, he could really "wake the town and tell the
people," to use a line from Daddy U-Roy. He could cover the weaknesses in a
selection with live jive, with toasting, with scatting, with bawl out.
Indeed, he could verbally spar with his competition. A case in point was when
Leroy 'Cuttin's' Cole, Stranjah Cole's brother, who was operating Trojan out of
Jubilee Tiles Gardens that night, called Count Machuki, Count Madchuki. Machuki,
who was operating Sir Coxsone Downbeat from Forrester's Hall, just separated by
King Street, heard about 'Cuttin's' jive and looked for a record. Before he introduced
that record, noted King Omar, Machuki said: 'Cuttings and trimmings/I have no use
for those things/I throw them in the garbage bin." The mike thus became a most
important muse in initiating and sharpening the verbal art of the deejay, because it
engendered competition, and competition was the agential current of the creative
ethos not just of the deejay art, but the combined modes of artistic expressions
engendered by the sound system revolution.
In Barrow and Dalton (2001), the impression is given that Machuki was first to
use the mike, "initially for Tom The Great Sebastian and then for Sir Coxsone
Downbeat" (p18). But all the checks I have made suggest that Count Machuki first
used the mike on Sir Coxsone Downbeat.
And while Machuki said that he "got" his "professional break in the year 1950,
with a sound, called Tom the Great Sebastian, in the Forrester's Hall," he noted that
previously he played "every Friday night at the Jubilee [Tiles] Gardens" for Tom. It
was while playing, apparently as a non-professional on these Friday nights at Jubilee
Tiles Gardens, that Machuki "was able to create a selection of records that was
entirely unknown to Tom The Great Sebastian" (p18).
Count Machuki said he got his professional break on December 26, 1950 at
Forrester's Hall when Tom "went to get liquors for the dance, and when he returned
we were playing a lot of records that were strange to him," prompting him to tell
Machuki "not to borrow any records to play on the set" (pl8). But that was not what
he was doing and he told Tom so. Count Machuki noted Wong's pleasure because
the Count filled Forrester's Hall with dance goers on account of the songs people
were apparently hearing for the first time on Tom's sound. Among these songs were
perhaps a lot of flip sides of the more popular songs.
Thomas Wong expressed his pleasure and by 10:30 p.m. took over the controls
from Machuki and told him that he "is a great deejay" (pl8). There is nothing here,
nor in the rest of what Machuki said in Barrow and Dalton about his working
relationship with Wong, to suggest that Count Machuki was talking on mike on,
before, or after December 26, 1950. Everything here suggests that he was doing a
fine job in selecting and playing music in a manner that was pleasing to the dance fans,
so much so, that he was able to fill Forrester's Hall by 9:00 p.m.
But what about Thomas Wong's top selector Vincent Forbes or Shine Shoes
Vinnie or Duke Vin The Champion, as he later became known? Was it because he
wasn't around, that forced Wong to rely on the non-professional Machuki to tend to
this most important task of selecting and playing music, so that he could go and fetch
liquor for one of the biggest dance dates of the year?
Was Machuki including Vin, when he said, "we were playing a lot of records
that were strange" to Wong? Vin's views are somewhat different from Machuki's.
According to him:
Machukie played Tom for the first time when I asked him to play two
(records, that is) while I went to the toilet to spring a leak at a dance at
Jubilee Tile Gardens on King Street. He played well so I allowed him
to play when I wanted to take a break... and he was a nice guy. When
I left Jamaica Machukie started to play Coxsone, he never played
Toml (Mandingo. Issue 4. 2005-2006:4).
Here, Vincent Forbes, who left Jamaica for England in 1954,17 placed Machuki
in the position of an informal apprentice.
Forbes himself noted that "Count Machuki was the first deejay to start
chatting" (Barrow and Dalton 12). Forbes said this happened when Clement Dodd
came back from the United States of America and suggested to Machuki to talk over
the record because he heard "man on the radio in America [talking] over the record"
(p12). Clement Dodd told me a similar story when I interviewed him in 2002.
It was perhaps in Easter of 1953 that Machuki started talking on mike. He said
to "Mr. Dodd":
'Give me the microphone.' And he handed me the mike. I started
dropping my wisecracks, and Mr. Dodd was all for it. And I started
trying my phrases on Coxsone, and he gave me one or two wisecracks
too. I was repeating them all the night through that Saturday at
Jubilee Tile Gardens. Everybody fell for it. I got more liquor than I
could drink that night (Barrow and Dalton 19).
The Count Machuki revolution had begun. His creative agency was in full flow,
creating an ethos for the deejay as a category of artists.
The locating and painting, drawing and etching of sounds and verbal canvases
on improvisational spaces in and around a playing record, became the definitive art
form that Count Machuki initiated. And it was tending from early, to become
successful, because it resonated with the verbal aesthetic traditions of the Jamaican
masses and was fulfilling their urge for gratification through competition.
In a sense, Count Machuki became the teacher of all the deejays who used mike
in his wake. The pantheon of disc jockeys then included Red Hopeton, who was
Coxsone number two. He also worked for King Edwards. There was Prince
Roughie, who worked for Sir Mike The Musical Dragon and then moved to Sir
George The Atomic. Ron Wilson, said to be the most educated deejay along with
Machuki, worked for Duke Reid while he was still attending Kingston Technical High
School. He was called School Boy and was about 15 years old when he started
working for Duke. Sir Lord Comic worked for King Edwards while King Sporty
worked for Coxsone, Duke Reid and Sir Mike, the sound system owner, said to be off
Arab descent. Then there was Cliffie, who worked for Duke Reid.
Winston Spankes "King Stitt '(Studio 1 Photo)
It was two youngsters, Winston Sparkes (Count Stitt, later crowned King Stitt)
and Ewart Beckford (U-Roy, later respectfully titled Daddy U-Roy), the second
generation of toasters who took the art, central to Machuki's agency, to another level.
King Stitt started out at 16 years old as Count Machuki's "second". It was 1956. It
started one Friday night at Barbecue Lawn down Fleet Street, Central Kingston,
Sparkes told me in an interview, March 2003. Machuki was playing hard rhythm and
blues and Stitt was dancing to the music.
Machuki said to Stitt: "But Stitt I like how you can dance all those tune mi a
play. Yu would be a good second' yu nuh? Yu waan second' mii?" Sparkes said "Yes"
and Chuki said "aright kom by de shop tomorrow mawning," (i.e., Clement Dodd's
shop at Beaston Street and Love Lane). The rest is history.
Count Machuki was Stitt's idol. In the liner notes of Reggae Fire Beat, Stitt
said: "If I picked up deejaying from anyone, it had to be Count Machuki. In those
days he was the talk of the town and he was my idol."
Stitt was Machuki's apprentice, his student, but U-Roy was not. Nevertheless,
he was greatly inspired and influenced by Machuki. This is what U-Roy told me about
Count Machuki, March 2003:
When him a talk you have to listen to him... Him don't mix up with
the vocals or the instruments in the tune. Him talk in time like space
between. Him don't have a lot fi sey either because him don't
crowd him stuff. Mii lov' dat. Is mii boss dat.
While Lord Comic recorded a few toasting compositions just around the
middle of the 1960s, it was King Stitt and U-Roy, disciples of Count Machuki, who
pioneered this art form from the 1960s, into a viable entity beyond the immediate
confines of its indigenous birth space, the dancehall. This was greatly facilitated by
the pioneering work of Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Osboure 'King Tubby' Ruddock and
Errol Thompson (Errol T), who created more improvisational spaces primarily on
rock steady compositions which provided more talking space for the deejay, as well as
for an assemblage of sounds of different levels, spacings, weight, frequency, dropping
in, dropping out, by using effects like reverb, echo and equalizers in which the tools of
the mixing desk (in the studio) were, in a manner, a precursor to the audio visual tools
generated by the computer today. The innovations by Scratch, Tubby and Errol T
was named dubs1
King Stitt's compositions such as Fire Comer, Vigorton Two, Herbsman
Shuffle, and I For I, and Daddy U-Roy's Rule The Nation, Version Galore, Flashing
My Whip, Wake The Town, and Wear You To The Ball, ensured the viability of the
art pioneered by Machuki as an entity outside the confines of its birth place, the
dancehall. And, although Machuki recorded few of his compositions which met with
little or no success, what he did in the dancehall made him one of the most influential
Jamaicans in the 20th century.
Since the triumvirate pioneering icons of dejyq music, several generations of DJ
artists have streamed into this art form, making it today, the dominant form in
popular Jamaican music and having a significant aesthetic ontonological impact on
global popular music including rap music. These artists include among others, Dennis
Alcapone, Scotty, I-Roy, big Yute, Trinity, Lone Ranger, Brigadier Jerry, Michigan
and Smiley, Yellow Man, super CAt, admiral Trees, Peter Metro, Jose Wales, Tiger,
Papa San, Shabba Ranks, Lady G, Tony Rebel, Spragga Benz, Lexxus, Elephant Man,
Lady saw, Tanya Stephens, Queen Ifrica, sean Paul, ninga Man, Shaggy, Caplerton,
elephant Man, Beenie Man, bounty Killer
1. I would like to express my thanks and appreciation to the following persons who took time out to
grant me interviews, to talk to me about their lived experience and their recollection of the sound
system movement and the agency engendering it and which it engendered in the making of
popular Jamaican music in the 1950s and 1960s: Ernest Baxter (Mean Stick), Ricardo Clarke
(Cardo or Prince), Alvin Harding ( the Dean or Count Shandy-The Voice of the People), Kingsley
Goodison (King Omar), Winston Sparkes (King Stitt), Clement Dodd (Coxsone Downbeat or
Jackson), Ewart Beckford (Daddy U-Roy), Walter Bares (Wiggy Bames), Headley Jones, Sonia
Pottinger, Headley Bennett, Lee Perry (Scratch), Sam Clayton, Johnny Moore (Dizzy), and George
2. Qtd. in Barrow and Dalton 2001: 19.
3. These were mento bands, orchestras, big bands and combos. Some of the better known
bands took the names of the band leaders, like Val Bennett, Eric Deans, Jack Brown, Sonny
Bradshaw, George Alberga, Roy Whyte, George Moxie, Carlos Malcolm, among others. These
bands provided the basis upon which the core of amaican musicians cultivated their art,
aestheticism and professionalism. Among them were Wilton 'Bogey' Gaynair, Little 'G' McNair,
Raymond I larger, Tommy McCook, Rico Rodriguez, Don Drummond, Lloyd Knibbs, Janet
linright, Ernest Ranglin, Joe Harriot, Kenny Williams, Carl Masters, Donald Jarrett, Cluet
Johnson & al (See Gooden N.D.: 122-134).
4. In the 1950s the records used in Jamaica were largely 78 revolutions per minute (rpm) units made
primarily from shellac, which became scarce during and after "World War II." Vinyl, a more
durable, easily available material, replaced shellac. At the same time, the production of 78 rpm
records gave way to the 45 rpm single and the long-playing (LP) 33 1/3 rpm records.
5. The tape deck and digitalized modes of storing and playing recorded music, have been built into
the amplifier and or equipped with the facility for attachment with such, in keeping with the
evolving modes of innovative technologies in recording (storing) and in playing recorded music
which developed over the years.
6. The Sputnik satellite was designed, developed and sent into space by Soviet scientists and the
government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1957.
7. Headley Jones is one of the early and most important innovators in the development of sound
technology in the dance hall revolution. A musician and composer of music, he '"bultthe world's
first solid wood-body electric giar" in the early 1940s, which some Jamaican bands adopted shortly
thereafter (See Tribute To The Greats, 10th Anniversary Souvenir Magazine 2007: 12-13). Jones, a
'World War l"veteran, who saw duty as a military radar technologist and operator of a radar
guidance system in Britain, made significant innovations in amplification technology with an
important impact on electronic sound aestheticism.
8. Headley Jones was a key initiator of the building of amplifiers for the sound system.
Amplifiers that were capable of emphasizing the heavy bass line tradition and preference in the
aesthetic culture of the Jamaican sound, as well as securing a better definition of the type of
sounds. He trained a number of technicians in the building of amplifiers. One of them was the
"very briliant"Jack Eastwood, who built amplifiers for Thomas Wong as well as Clement Dodd in
the early days, Ernest Baxter told me in an interview I conducted with him, Alvin Harding and
Ricardo Clarke, Apnl 17, 2003.
9. Sound system owners tended to be mainly from the class of own account persons who emerged
among Blacks after the abolition of slavery. These persons constituted the core of the emerging
Black middle class, combining self-made education and enterpnse with self-employment. Paul
Bogle, Alexander Bedward, Marcus Garvey, Leonard Howell and Claudius Henry, were prominent
members of this class. With respect to the sound system operators, Roy Whyte was a cabinet
maker, owner of a furniture store, band leader and teacher of woodwork/cabinet making at
Kingston Technical High School, Thomas Wong was in the hardware business, Arthur 'Duke'
Reid was in the liquor business with a bar and liquor store called Treasure Isle. Reid, an ex-pohce
man, had businesses on the 'four coners'of Bond Street and Charles Street, noted Kingsley
Goodison. Meanwhile, Jack Taylor owned a hardware store on Orange Street. Among other
things, he distributed records from his store and one of his main customers was Thomas Wong,
Goodison told me. Egerton Koo was a chef and small restaurateur, while Clement Dodd, who
was trained as a cabinet maker, grew up in his mother's cook shop and bar. Dorris Darlington,
Dodd's mother, played a significant role in the genesis and development of Clement Dodd's
10. Kingsley Goodison informed me of this in a conversation we had on the phone, November 30,
11. Merritone, a Morant Bay, St. Thomas sound system which emerged in the 1950s and still in
operation today, is the longest serving sound system in Jamaica and (perhaps) the world. It
became the ideal model of a sound system as an institution in itself and not an instrument to
achieve other ends, such as the recording business. Started by their father, Val Blake, the Blake
brothers Winston, Trevor, Monte and Tyrone then school boys, carried on when their father
died. Merritone is now a national and international icon with over 50 years of becoming. And it
is said that this sound is more in the tradition of Tom The Great Sebastian.
12. Roy Whyte, a cabinet maker and teacher at the Kingston Technical High School on Beaston
Street and Smith Lane, was around that time hiring out his sound system to Jamaica's two major
political parties, theJamaica Labour Party (LP) and the People's National Party (PNP) for their
"monster" political meetings, according to Alvin Harding and confirmed by Keith Brown at the
Annual Don Drummond Symposium at the University of the West Indies, Mona, May 2003.
Whyte was a follower of Norman Manley, a PNP man, "a big sociahst, "an ideologue who used to
talk about [Karl] Marx and Lenin (Vladimir Illyich Ulyanov), Kingsley Goodison told me in a
telephone conversation, November 30, 2007.
13. Clement Dodd told me this in an interview I did with him at his famed Studio One in 2002.
14. Harding, also known as The Dean and Count Shandy-The Voice Of The People, left lamaica for
England in 1955, where he established a sound system. He kept dance at his ho se from IFnday
evening to Sunday morning and played all over England Manchester, London, Nottingham -
where he was a major personality. He played for Garfield Sobers' birthday anniversary party 1
1957. The party was sponsored by Trent Bridge. Cricketers such as Collie Smith, Roy (ilchrst,
Ted Dexter, Colin Cowdrey, Tom Graveney, Freddie Trueman, Reg Scarlett and Garfield Sobers
attended the party of 500 and he met them personally. It was in England at his base i
Nottingham that Harding got the name Count Shandy-The Voice Of The People
15. Kingsley Goodison expressed these views to Clinton Hutton in an intenrvew at Studio One on
March 27, 2003. Kingsley Goodison (King Omar) is founder of King Omar Promotio s which,
for the last 10 years, has been hosting Tribute To The Greats to recognize pioneering players 1
the making of popular Jamaican music and the recording industry.
16. Winston Sparkes (King Stitt) spoke to Clinton Hutton in an interview at Studio One o
17. Liner notes from King Stitt, Reggae Fir Beat, :page 2.
18. Forbes leftJamaica for England in 1954 and established (perhaps) the first sound system I
Britain in 1955 and became Duke Vin The Champion. (See Mandingo News and views .
2005-2006:4 and 9; and Barrow and Dalton 2001:12-13).
Barrow, Steve & Peter Dalton 2001: The Rough Guide to Reggae. London: Rough (Guidc.
Chang, Kevin O'Brien & Wayne Chen 1998: Reggae Routes: The Stor of Jamaican Music.
Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers.
Dynamite, Dr. Buster 1999: Reggae Fire Beat. (King Stitt). Jamaica Gold.
Gooden, Lou N.d. [About 2004]. Reggae Heritage: The Story ofJamaican Music. Kingston: Lou
Hutton, Clinton 2007: The Creative Ethos of the African Diaspora: Performance Ac.
and the Fight for Freedom and Identity.' In Caribbean Quartery. Volume 53 Nos. 1&2.
March-June. Brian Heap (guest ed.). Kingston: The University of the West Indie.
Katz, David 2000: People Funny Boy. Edinburgh: Payback Press.
King Omar Promotions 2007: Tribute To The Greats: Celebrating the Foundation Stones of the
Jamaican Music Industry. 10th Anniversary Souvenir Magazine.
Mandingo 2007: Mandingo News and Views. Issue 6. London: M. Williams.
2005-2006: Mandingo News and Views. Issue 4. London: M. Williams.
Salewicz, Chris & Adrian Boot 2001: Regae Explosion: The Story of Jamaican Music. Kingston:
Ian Randle Publishers.
Punching For Recognition: The Juke Box as a
Key Instrument in the Development of Popular
'Too often only half the story is told. And the background, the upheavals and
changes the island of amaica went through just before and since independence, gets
forgotten in the face of so much music" Prince Buster
This essay aims to establish the centrality of the Jukebox as major element in
the development and sustainability ofJamaican popular music from mento to dancehall.
It is intention of this essay to establish an iconic status for theJukebox and explore its
relevance in affording a space for resistance and examine its importance as a catalyst
of social interaction, urban poor catharsis, mimicry and masquerade.
Jimmy Solo and Cuz at famous Jazz Hut, Rose Lane, W. Kingston
The Juke Box
The Jukebox was an invention of the late 19th century which developed when
Thomas Edison applied for a patent for a "Phonograph or Speaking Machine" Gert
J. Almind states that "That particular invention became the basis of the first
American automatic music machines with coin slots called 'nickel-in-the-slot machines
Another invention was the disc record (vinyl), by Emile Berliner and patented in
1888. Pretty soon both disc and cylinder players were fitted with coin slots. According
the Almind, the first demonstration of a coin operated phonograph took place in San
Francisco in November 1889 by Louis Glass, general manager of the Pacific
Phonograph Company. Glass and his partner William S. Arnold had applied for two
patents. The "Coin Actuated Attachment for Phonographs" (cylinder) and "Coin
Actuating Attachment for Phonographs" (disc) that same year. Today, Louis Glass is
often regarded as the inventor of the juke box concept.
The machines were an instant success. In fact, Louis T. Glass was able to boast
at a 1890 Conference in Chicago for operators and manufacturers that the first 15
machines had made an estimated $4,000 from December, 1889, until May, 1890. That
was a significant amount for the time. Almind also reminds us that;
"The first really successful coin-operated phonograph in the States
was developed and filed for patent in 1891 by Albert K. Keller, who
soon assigned the patent rights to the Automatic Phonograph
Exhibition Company in New York. The Albert K. Keller designed
automatic phonographs with Edison mechanisms were at first
manufactured in collaboration with Ezra T. Gilliland of the Gilliland
Sales Company, and installed in arcades in many big cities."(Allmind,
By 1927, the American manufacturer the Automatic Music Instrument
Company rolled out the world's first electrically amplified multi selection
phonograph. This was a significant signpost in the evolution of theJuke box. With
amplification, the Jukebox was now able to compete with large orchestras, at the cost
of a nickel.
The Juke box developed its name fromJuke joints which were popular in the
20s and 30s in the Mississippi Delta region of the United States.Jukejoints were
makeshift drinking houses adjacent to cotton fields. The Juke joints were generally
considered seedy and low brow establishments, but offeredja! and rhythm and blues
musicians a regular venue to play. Lorenzo Turner, points to the African origin of
the word. He asserts that the word comes form the Gullah word "Juk", meaning
infamous and disorderly. This he says comes from the West African Wolof word
"Jug" used to define someone who leads a disorderly life, and a Banbara word "jugu"
meaning a wicked, violent or naughty person.2
In Jamaican creole "jook" is still a popular expression, but the word has
multiple uses and interpretations. It denotes a specific pelvic movement when used to
refer to a dance movement in popular music. In fact, Elephant Man's recent "Jook
Gal' music video, directed by American Gil Green, had scenes in aJuke joint with
dance moves associated with the act of"jooking"; thus confirming the commonality
of the word to the two distinct black cultures. Throughout the Caribbean and its
diaspora, the word also has a sexual connotation to signify the act of coitus. It is also
liberally used to represent the act of physically prodding someone with a sharp object
With the advent of thejuke box, the blues and ]atZ musicians once a staple in
Juke joints were gradually replaced. Every underground "speakeasy" needed music,
but increasingly could not afford live bands. Tavern owners preferred the juke boxes
which were provided by an operator at no charge, and lured significantly more
customers than the bands.
Prohibition, the legal ban on alcohol by the US congress further entrenched the
role of jukeboxes in American pop culture. By the 1920s and 30s the mechanical
phonographs were replacing liveJukemusic. Hence it was not long before that these
machines were calledjukebox. Paul Oliver (1998) elaborated;
In the late thirties the inroads made in group entertainment by the
record industry were bolstered by the introduction of the mechanical
players, which could handle as many as fifty records at a time. They
were set up in the country districts at every crossing cafe, and in every
joint and juke. The latter gave them their name. Juke-boxes began to
replace live musicians everywhere; florid, chromium plated and
enameled in genuine pop art fashion, they were installed at roadside
booths, even on breakfast counters" (140)
Juke box manufacturers of the period refused to use the term Juke-box, instead
they referred to them as Automatic Coin-Operated Phonographs (or Automatic
Phonographs, or Coin-Operated Phonographs). In fact based on interviews of
former employees of juke-box manufacturer, Wurlitzer, who claimed that when the
origin of the name was discovered in 1937, Farney Wurlitzer banned the use of the
name; he thought it was degrading and felt that a automatic phonograph was too fine
a machine to be labeled with such a derogatory term. Wulizitzer never used the term
until 1972 for its flagship model 1050 when Farney Wurlitzer died. (Cillis, 2006)
The Juke Box
Originally known as rockabilly (white) and race music (black), mainstream
America shunned rock androllup to the 1920s. Respectable genres of the day included
light Classical, Swing, Jaz orchestras, or show tunes. Hence rock and roll was never
considered worthy of a radio broadcast. Seminal Blues and rock & roll pioneers, such
as, Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith, Roosevelt Sykes, and
Carl Perkins with their wild "devil" music; had to find another medium of exposure.
The avenue of choice was theJukejoint and thejukebox. The Juke box thus made a
very poignant connection with the underclass and the down trodden blacks in
American society. Indeed, Muddy Waters who was a tractor driver and one of the
innovators of urban blues operated ajuke joint to supplement his income on the
The juke box was first introduced to the Jamaican entertainment scene in the
early 50s. Though there are no definitive dates as to exactly when it was first used, all
evidence suggests that it became popular in Jamaica during this period. Through the
evidence of persons interviewed it would suggest that most juke boxes came from the
United States of America.
Cyril Ehrlich, in speaking of the advent of the juke box in Britain noted that
"Juke boxes, which had been common in pre-war America, came late to Britain. In
the 1930s there were merely "an experimental handful", of juke boxes across Britain,
but by 1955, over 500 were licensed." (Erlich 1989:130) Given its status as a British
colony then, it is plausible to suggest that the island closely followed the trends
impacting its colonial master.
The proximity of the United States combined with its hegemonic influence
overJamaica's popular culture also significantly affected the timing of the Juke box's
introduction in Jamaican rum bars. Similar to the Delta region of the United States,
the Juke boxes in Jamaica were scattered in bars all over Kingston and in every rural
community's town square. Almost all rum bars/pubs in the corporate area were
located in down town Kingston and frequented by working class men and women.
Among the early operators in the Juke box business, were the likes of Isaac
Issa, Prince Buster, and JJ Johnson. By the 60s and 70s entrepreneurs such as Mrs.
Powell of Bridgeview in Central Kingston, Winston Riley of Chancery Lane. The
HooKim brothers of Maxfield Avenue, Beanie of Matthews Lane, Scotty form
Bridgeview, Fung Yee of Hanna Town and Mr. Clarke, became major players in
theJuke box business. The early juke box featured American rhythm and blues of
African American musicians such as Fats Domino, Roscoe Gordon and Lloyd Price.
Jamaican music was a rarity in the initial years. However mento and caypso recordings
were later added following a series of successful recordings and the work of Stanley
Motta, Ken Khouri and Stanley Chin and the introduction of the 45RPM 7inch.
(Chang and Chen,1998: 15). Chang and Chen in Reggae Routes, recalls that among the
artists who recorded mento were Count Lasher, Lord Flea, Lord Fly, Laurel Aitken,
Lord Tannomo, Lord La Rue, Lord Power and Baba Motta. Denzil Laing and the
Wrigglers should also be included among that list of pioneering recording artistes
According to Chang and Chen the first commercial record made in Jamaica
was Lord Fly's "WhaiAy"recorded at Stanley Motta's. They also noted that most
mento recordings of the time were raunchy and contain double entendre. They stated,
that "The raunchier material was heard only in the privacy of homes or on sound
While their analysis of the role the sound system played in establishingJamaica
music seems fair, their study of the evolution of the music business may be deemed
inadequate. Like most studies to date, they slighted over the pivotal role the Juke box
played in exposing mento/ska/rock steady/reggae performers/recording artistes to the
Jamaican audience. In their review, the pair mention that "most performers were
previously known only to live local audience but [that] radio had made them famous
island wide".(p. 15) Such an assertion is problematic on two fronts.
Firstly, radio would not have done an effective job of exposing mento, given the
biases against indigenous music forms especially in the 1950's and through to the
1960's. More fundamentally though, as mentioned by Chang and Chen many of the
better and more popular mento records were deemed "not fit for airplay" (NFAP). By
their own observation the mento recordings of the era were "bawdy" and
"suggestive".(p.15) Hence the role of radio in exposing early forms of Jamaican
music is thus quite questionable.
Secondly, Chang, and Chen failed to even acknowledge the significance of
theJukeboxes in popularizing these "bawdy" mento/calypso recordings among the
masses ofJamaicans. Via the Juke boxes, the recordings found a perfect home in the
bars of Western and Eastern Kingston, as well as rural communities across the island.
Owing to its strong roots in rural Jamaican folk culture, the mento recordings
resonated well in the rural communities. The rapid urbanization of Kingston also
peaked during this period. The significant population shift from the rural to the urban
centre also ensured that the "suggestive" mento recordings remained equally popular
among the residents of the expanding capital city, many of whom had strong rural
roots. Similar to trends in the United States of America, mento consequently became
The ]uke Box
the music of the people, and as it grew in popularity, it became an important part of
the Juke box compilation.
Kenneth Bilby in Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Musicfrom Rhumba to Regge lauds
the role of the sound system in promoting the new music. He states theseee early
efforts at recording mento were soon over shadowed, in the late 1950s by a new
phenomenon, the "sound system," which would play a crucial role in Jamaican
popular music over the next few decades" (Manuel with /bilby and Largey 1995:
155). While acknowledging the pivotal role of one technology, Bilby, like other
scholars, remains mute on the equally crucial role of Juke boxes as disseminators of
the music and one of the focal points of urban inner city culture. Given the
aforementioned, it is easy to share Mike Alleyne's perspective in his critique of
Manuel (with Bilby and Largey's work). Alleyne posits that "the imperatives of
cultural anthropology assume so much of the textual foreground that commercial
realities, vital to the dissemination of the evolved folk forms, become an invisible
undercurrent." (Alleyne in Ho and Nurse 2005: 289)
Lloyd Bradley, (2000)similarly overlooked the value of theJuke box as a major
tool in the promotion, socialization, camaraderie and cultural hybridity in the
formative years of the Jamaican music industry. This omission by Bradley, is
particularly surprising given that a principal figure in his book was Prince Buster.
Interestingly, Buster was a Juke box operator whose popularity as a recording artist
was boosted by this fact. In those days, Buster's Juke boxes were unique as only his
own recordings and those of the artists he produced were available in them. Clearly,
this gave Buster a distinct advantage over his rivals, as he got additional exposure for
his own recordings and his major productions which included the Skatalites and the
Manuel, Chang and Chen, and Bradley were all found wanting in their analysis
of the role of sound system as the main promoting tool forJamaican music. There is a
clear lack of deeper interrogation of the dynamics which created "so much music."
Versions galore spreading the sound.
TheJukebox was perhaps the most pivotal promotional vehicle for earlier
Jamaican music forms. Arguably, ska, rock steady and later regae owed their popularity
to a great extent, in the early years, to the ubiquitous Juke box. By the beginning of
the 1960's Juke boxes were a common feature of rum bars, ice cream parlours, and
even in tuck shops throughout down town Kingston. Just the shear numbers ofJuke
boxes island-wide, playing Jamaican music daily, dwarfed the output of the sound
system which played only a few times a week and at best numbered in the hundreds in
the 1950s and 60s.
From personal recollections of my childhood in the 1960s, from West to the
East, Kingston was Juke box paradise. To illustrate the point, in West Kingston on
one block, Charles Street, between Oxford Street and Bond Street, there were about
six bars; Oxford Street between Charles Street and Beeston Street hosted at least
seven others. TheJukebox was the center of entertainment in all the bars. On each
street, road and lane in the "East" (the areas of downtown Kingston east of Parade
and Victoria Park)' and the "West" (the area of down town Kingston west of Parade
and Victoria Park); the Juke box was king. Rum bars, pool halls, skittle clubs and
houses of ill repute (whorehouses) such as Caracas, (East Queen Street) Blue Mirror,
(West Street) and Portland House (East Queen Street and East Street), the main form
of entertainment seven days a week was the Juke box. Hence, along with the sound
systems it became a very potent tool for promoting all genres and styles of Jamaican
Veteran music producer and reggae innovator, Winston "Niney" Holness,
attests to the significant role of the Juke box: "The juke-boxes man promotes,
promote you records just like a radio station, the other thing again they help you to
make money, cause they were the biggest recording(record) buyer"5.
Jukeonomics (Juke box economics)
The economic contribution of theJukebox to the growth and development of
the music was significant. Winston "Niney" Holness affirmed thatJukebox operators
were major players in the retail business. Accordingly, "operators like Fung Yee had
over 500 boxes, so they would ask like Bunny Lee how many new titles him have, so if
Bunny tell him ten then they would buy all ten for all their boxes. So nuff money uses
to mek man!", Niney tells us.6
The business model utilized by the Juke box business was pretty straight
forward. The operators some of whom owned as many as 2000 boxes, operated on a
percentage basis with bar and shop owners. The Juke box operator was responsible
for maintenance, providing new music and clearing the money from the machines.
The bar/shop owner received a 30% share of the money collected at each clearing.
The cost of using aJukebox was one shilling which usually entitled patrons to a
selection of four or five songs. The bar owners were responsible for keeping the box
in good condition and providing the Juke box owner with information on which
songs were popular and in demand. Reputations were built on the effectiveness of
Juke box operators providing well serviced boxes, which were cleared regularly and
had frequently updated records. A box with the right mix of standards hits that did
not break down was important to bar/shop owners, and the addition of new hits was
important to the popularity of a bar.
The Juke Box
Given the level of credit which was usually afforded to regular customers, the
frequent clearing of theJukeboxes was extremely important to the bar/shop owners
as the additional income earned from boxes helped to supplement their bottom lines
and assist with the payment of salaries and/or rent, as well as the replenishing of
stocks. The most popularJukebox owners were the men and women who had the best
looking boxes, usually those that had the "farrin" (foreign) look, indicating the
important role of aesthetics in the process. Among the most popular brands were
Wurlitzer, Rock O La and Seeburg. These were art pieces in their own right utilizing
"spectacular creations of wood, metal, and phenolic resins which danced behind
tubes of enchanting cellophane, Polaroid film, and plastic".7
Furthermore, some Juke box owners used the Juke box business as a stepping
stone to the music business. These included the likes of Pat and Vincent Chin, JJ
Johnson ofJJ Records and music innovator, Prince Buster. In Kingston's inner city
communities, the Juke box was a vehicle of social mobility. Indeed Juke box owners
were among the most respected community members.
In the Bridgeview community of Eastern Kingston, for example, Mrs. Powell
was legendary as a leading member of the community, commanding much wealth and
respect. She owned two bars which were well supported by young upwardly mobile
Kingstonians who had made good for themselves by landing jobs in the civil service,
or were working for companies such as Desnoes and Geddes, Seprod and the
Kingston wharves. Leading sports celebrities, particularly the more popular cricket,
football, cycling, celebrities were also among her regular clientele. Mrs. Powell also
had a liquor store. Next to her store, Mr. Powell, her husband had another bar. The
clientele at this bar was totally different, these were more mature men, some "World
War Two veterans", retired teachers and civil servants.
TheJukebox compilation lessons in cultural hybridity
While Jamaica is known for its popular music, many outsiders are astounded
by the variety of genres which are popular. Our colonial past and Anglo- US
hegemonic structures, r&b, tin pan al/, soul, funk pop, country and western and gospel are
very popular and in the early period of popular music expressions. In the 20th
century the music of the North Atlantic dominated the Jamaican cultural space. With
the advent of the popularity ofJamaican music forms, the high low dichotomy was in
full force. Jamaican music was at the lowest level of the pyramid. OrdinaryJamaicans
reject this cultural hierarchy to some extent but for the most part the music of the
North Atlantic was dominant. This was reflected in the juke box compilation. The
Juke box compilation was and still is a potpourri of popular genres. One could find
songs to suit any taste in popular music. As mentioned before mento music survived
due to the Juke box, ska, rock steady, reggae, dub and dancehallwere supplemented by
choice selections of county and western, gospel, rock and roll, pop and rock. Memorable
notable included the county and western and cross over pop hit PleaseMrPlease by Olivia
Newton John. This particular song had a Juke box reference which said "Please Mr
Please can you play E17" referring to the selection number of the jukebox. Most
Juke boxes which had that song placed it at selection E17. Risque mento tunes such
Sixpence and Beef Inna Bagy were staples for the juke box compilation. Tom Jones
Englebert Humperdinck, Mahila Jackson, Pat Boone, Little Richard, Fats Domino,
representing pop, r&b, gospel and rock and roll had representation in theJukebox
compilation. This allowed for a high level of cultural appropriation and hybridity and
allowed the regular Jamaican to develop a very cosmopolitan musical taste and
Social commentary and Ghetto University
Rum bars have enjoyed a very hallowed space in Jamaican urban culture.
During the 1950s and 1960s the bars were the focal point of camaraderie and
commune. The bars were perhaps the only safe space for poor blacks to gather and
express their views on politics, colonial rule, independence, urban myths and culture.
It was the poor man's university where "learned" ordinary Jamaicans of all
persuasion, gather to let their voices be heard. Garveyites, Rastafarians, Christians,
federalists, labourites (LP) and comrades(PNP) expressed themselves freely among
"equals". Kharl Daley's poem "Miss Chin Rum ba?' aptly describes the dynamics quite
beautifully. It says in part:
Its seven o'clock on a Friday Evening
One by one they came strolling in
Soon Miss Chin's Bar will be full of them
Neighborhood folks on their weekend's thrill
The Barmaid extremely busy
Unpacking Guinness, Red stripe and Ting
The glass-case loaded with fry dumplings
Slices of bread, salt fish and red herring
Cow cod and goat head soup bubbling
Steam fish, jerk pork and jerk chicken
A juke-box with mento and reggae music
Play any two tunes for a shilling
From midday Popsy seated in a comer
Half a sleep over tonic and gin
On his arm clungs his wife Fay
The Juke Box
She'll never leave without him
Aston Ruddock seated at the counter
He will buy any man a rum or two
Yet plenty a man won't ever accept it
For rumors what he and an Englishman use to do
Busha Parkie a regular customer
He metaphorically opens and closes the bar
He's always drinking and spitting
As if his stomach an overflowing reservoir
Now Mass Ken never leaves Miss Chin
Since she and Rocky parted ways
While Agatha, Arthur and Miss Dor are there
Whither its rainy, stormy or sunny days
William perhaps the most intelligent
Yet only a carpenter by trade
He's quick with a joke on a politician's quote
The Juke box remained a centre piece in the daily discourses at the bars. It not
only provided the entertainment through music of all kinds, rock and roll, gospel, boogie,
mento, ska and reggae, but it was also a tool for pedagogy. The brilliant political/
revolutionary opus from the Skatalites, Prince Buster, The Wailers and Mystic
Revelation of Rastafan, were used to inform the local debate on issues such as race
and identity, nationalism, police brutality and colonial and neo-colonial oppression.
The music was used to punctuate the points of the many speakers who would
"punch" the appropriate song to drive home his or her point. A case in point was the
urban myth of the "Three wheel coffin and Mr. Brown" The myth was that the body
of Mr. Brown was traveling around Kingston on a three wheel coffin with three
vultures (john crows) atop. It was said that anyone who came in contact with the
coffin would be immediately stuck (immobilized) as if playing the childhood game
While mainstream media paid scant regard to the story with only a few
headlines in the Star, and drawings from Limonius the cartoonist of the Daily Gleaner,
the accuracy of the story was hotly debated in rum bars island wide. The issue came to
a head with the recording of several rock steady songs on the phenomenon, the most
famous being "Mr. Brown", by The Wailers. As the debate over the story waged on the
song became one of the most frequently "punched" (selected) song in bars across
Juke box along class line
Placement of boxes was based on social standing, class and race. The better
boxes went to the more upscale pubs and bars often frequented by brown middle
class patrons. Even the type of music available was different. In the average
downtown Kingston bar, particularly in western Kingston, Oxford Street, Bond
Street or Pink Lane, the music compilation of the boxes would be a mix of mento, ska,
rock steady, gospeland country which appealed to a working class taste. While the upscale
joints had a very different line up in the Juke box compilations. This would include
very little Jamaican music, but a heavy dose of British pop and American rhythm and
blues. Any trace of Jamaican music was limited to what I have come to refer to as
gentrified reggae, produced by up-towners such as Byron Lee and Ken Khouri, who
were of Chinese and Jewish extract.
The Juke box did not escape the hegemonic realties of colonial and post
independent Jamaica. The majority black and poor population was engaged in a
struggle to forge a Jamaican identity consistent with their own reality and world view.
The ruling class however imposed on the masses an Anglo-American stylistic
aesthetic. In much the same way early blues and rock and rllwere rejected in the United
States of America, the Jamaican elites did not accept the people's music. Radio
reflected this even more poignantly Chang and Chen note that,
"Programming was heavily middle class and did not reflect popular
preferences. RJR's most popular musical programmes for 1956 (in
order of decreasing popularity) were: calypso comer; Treasure Isles
Time; Geddes Grant Hour of Music; Reynolds Hour of Music; Les
Paul and Mary Ford; Bing [Crosby] Sings; Sweet and Swing; [Nat]
King Cole's Count; Hits of the Day; Music by Montavani. And this
was a time when rhythm and blues was the dominant sound of the land
Juke boxes in the Kingston metropolitan area thus became the central site in
everyday life for the expression of working class sensibilities through mento, ska. rock
steady and reggae. Popular records which did not enjoy the privilege and benefit of
airplay due to their revolutionary tone and political messages and mainstream
rejection found a home in juke boxes. Mento tunes, such as "Big White Shirt", and
"Night Food"; rock steady hits such as "Tougher than Tough" and reggae classics, such
as "Beat Down Babylon", and 'Declaration of Rights" which were either banned or
frowned upon in high society, enjoyed free expression and exposure in juke boxes
located in ghetto universities all over Kingston and rural town squares. Along with the
The Juke Box
sound systems, juke boxes became the "voice of the people", a moniker which was
adopted by Prince Buster for his popular sound system.
Adult entertainment, political protest, nationalism, roots culture, Garvey's
philosophy were talking points around the ubiquitous juke box. Nettleford (1998) in
describing the tone of the music states.
in the late sixties the reggae songs (musically more akin to the
traditional mento than the contemporary revivalist) went back to the
Rastafarian themes while maintaining the rudie social comment on
poverty and general distress. The song "Babylon's Burning" reflects a
definite Rastafarian view of the wider society and its likely fate as
retribution for its wickedness.(pp 98-99)
The juke box, as the sound system, was the arena for the contestation of
colonial and post colonial oppression and identity formation.
Masquerading to stardom
Many young talents used the juke-box to hone their singing skills by imitating
American and British stars such as Fats Domino, Tom Jones, Jim Reeves and the
Impressions. A practice Paulo Freire referred to as the effects of "cultural invasion"
Freire argues that:
"the invaders penetrate the cultural context of another group, and
ignoring the potential of the latter, they impose their own view of the
world upon those they invade and inhibit the creativity of the invaded
by curbing their expression" (1972, 121).
Young Kingstonians and other young Jamaicans often sang in front of juke
boxes along with the records of American and British artists of all genres until they
had perfected the styles of these Euro-American styles. In a sense what took place
around the Juke box was a partial expression of Freire's concept of "cultural
invasion" as youngJamaicans felt they had to master the pop aesthetics of the United
States and Britain to be relevant and to have a voice. When versions became popular
in the late 1960s, that is, the instrumental b side of a record, aspiring artists who could
not afford to get auditions at the various studios and talent shows practiced their craft
by using the versions (rhythms) as their soundtrack.
This was ghetto karaoke long before the Japanese had invented the technology.
In an interview with Sly Dunbar, he recounted spending all his money on the juke box
just so that he could learn the drumming style of his hero Lloyd Knibb of the
Skatalites and the distinctive Motown drum sounds.
Gi mi mi Kulture, forging a national identity
In her book "Sound Clash: Jamaican Dancehall Culture at Large", Carolyn Cooper
and Hubert Devonish, outline the struggle to develop a Jamaican language style
based on Jamaican Creole. They note the contribution of some early practitioners but
state that "technology came to the rescue providing a way around the writing
problem." (2004;295). They continue, "technologies involving sound amplification -
tape recorders, and radio -had made it possible for spoken language to reach much
larger audiences than was possible in face to face interaction".(295) They have
managed to include the possibility of the Juke box being including in their
assessment, with the use of the word sound amplification, which would encompass
sound systems, Juke boxes and phonograph players which were getting popular at
the time. They attribute to ska, reggae and rock steady a role of using the language of the
people in its lyrical content. They mention songs such as Sweet and Dandy by Toots
and the Maytals and Ram Goat Liverby Pluto Shervington as songs with strong Creole
sensibilities, "defining for non-Jamaican as well as Jamaican the essence of a
subversively anti-establishment Jamaican national identity" (p297)
These early songs were done is studios from lyrics that were written or
improvised and reached a mass audience through what Cooper and Devonish label,
"records being played with amplification at dances and in other public places as well
as over the radio" thereby allowing for the Juke box, a device of sound amplification
often placed in rum bars and pool halls and other public places and to be placed in
Cooper and Devonish' categorization, as such the juke box, can and must be placed
in the realms of being an agent of cultural identity and national affirmation.
Urban poor catharses
Another decisive advantage theJukebox had over the sound system was it
silence,( a description I have borrowed from Winston "Niney" Holness) that is, it
never spoke back. Patrons could play the same song repeatedly without much
opposition apart from the occasional intervention of a bar maid, or a disgruntled
patron. Hence a victim of unrequited love could soothe their sorrows while listening
to their favourite love song ad-nauseam. Songs such as Ernie Smith's I Can't Take It,
with lyrics such as "tears on my pillow, pain in my heart, you on my mind", were
regularly abused. Other popular targets were The Wailers SmallAxe, "If you are a big
tree well I'm a small axe ready to cut you down" (oppression), Prince Buster's Black
Head Chiney (racism) and Neither One of Us by Gladys Knight and the Pips (heartbreak).
In summation, theJuke box and the rum bar provided a space for ordinary Jamaicans
to work out the emotional anxieties of urban life. The technology not only aided in
The Juke Box
the entrenchment of indigenous Jamaican music forms and cultural hybridity but
provided a release valve for the pressures of every day life
It is clear that the role the jukebox played in the development and sustainability
of Jamaican music is unquestionable. While this important role is significant it is clear
little work has been done to elucidate its contribution. The Juke box like the sound
system was the main technological device which aided in the dissemination and
promotion of Jamaican music. While sound systems concentrated on Jamaican
music, the Juke box also played a pivotal role in the exposure of several genres of
music outside of Jamaica. Significantly contributing to a cultural hybridity which
ultimately found its way inJamaican music and enriching it to some extent. This paper
is attempts to place the Juke box in a central role in the development of not only the
music but many of the players who sued the Juke box business to enhance their
position in the music business. TheJuke box was also critical to rum bar culture in the
1960s 1970s and 1980s and provided the entertainment nucleus for that space.
Working class Jamaican found a place of commune, camaraderie and resistance to
North Atlantic hegemony centred around the ubiquitous Juke box
1. See Almind The History of the Juke box 1888-1913" http://juke-box-dk/
2. See Juliet Gorman "Terms and Etymology." in New Deal narratives; Visions ofFlorida in
3. Sonjah Stanlcy-Niaah citing Rutkuff and Scott in her 2006 presentation Philip Sherlock
I ecturc, "Mapping black Atlantic Performance Geographies: Continuities from Slave
Ship to Ghctto"
4. Victoria Park has been renamed Sir William Grant Park.
5. Winston "Nincy" Holness in an interview with Dennis Howard, 2006.
6. Winston "Nincy" Holness in an interview with Dennis Howard, 2006.
7. See D.K. Pcneny, "The History of Rock and Roll: The Golden Decade, 1954-1963"
Alleync, Mike. 2005: "International crossroads: Reggae and the U.S. Recording Industry." in
Globalization, Diaspora and Caribbean Popular Culture, G.T. Ho and Keith nurse, (eds.) Kingston
and Miami, lan Randle Publishers.
Almind Gert 1985: "The history of Jukebox 1888 -1913" in http://juke-box.dk/
Lloyd Bradley. 2002: Bass Culture, When Reggae was King 2000, london, Viking.
Cooper, Carolyn. 2004: Sound Clash, Jamaican DancehallCulturalat Large, Palgrave Macmillan
DeCillis, Tom de. 2006: "Juke box questions and Answers: Introduction for Folks newly
interested in Juke boxes", http://tomszone.com/jhganda.html
Erlich, Cyril. 1989: Harmonics Allance: A history of the Performing Rights, New York: Oxford
Freire Paulo, 1996, Pedagogy ofthe Oppressed, (1970)Translated by Myra Bergman Ramos.
London New York, Toronto: Penguin Books
Gorman Juliet, 2001:"Terms and Etymology in New Deal Narratives: Visions of Florida in
Manuel, Peter. with Keith Bilby and Michael Largey. 2006: Caribbean Currents Caribbean Music
fi o Rumba to Reggae, Philadelphia, Temple University Press.
Nettleford, Rex M. 1998: Mirror, Mirror; Identity Race and Protest in Jamaica 1970 with new
introduction, Kingston LMH Publishing Company
O'Brien, Kevin Chang, Chen, Wayne. 1998 Reggae Routes The Story ofJamaican Music
Kingston, lan Randle Publisher
Oliver Paul, 1998: The Stoy of the Blues USA, Northeastern University Press
Margarita and Malungu
Brown Girl in the Ring: Margarita and
What jungle tree have you slept under,
Midnight dancer of the jazzy hour?
What great forest has hung its perfume
Like a sweet veil about your bower?
What jungle tree have you slept under,
Night-dark girl of the swaying hips?
What star-white moon has been your mother?
To what clan boy have you offered your lips?
My dream last night was that I was a bird, a hoopoe
Engaged in intimate discourse with you, my Sulayman...
But civilization with its mores and conventions
have blighted our growth...
The excerpts from both these poems capture the intense but fractious passion
shared between trombonist Don Drummond and his love partner, the rumba dancer,
Anita Mahfood, recognized by her stage name, "Margarita." While Drummond is
very well known and highly regarded throughout the world of Jamaican music,
Margarita is best remembered within that same world because of her association with
In any discussion of the male dominated narrative about the development of
Jamaican popular music, this phallocentric discourse must be supplemented by
feminist theory to facilitate a gender-balanced narrative to emerge. In regard to ska,
women singers played a vital role, though in the estimation of some observers, a
secondary one. In the early days of ska, the late 1950s and early 1960s, women or "girl
singers" performed in duet settings with male vocalists. Most notable among the.
boy-girl duets were Keith and Enid, Dotty and Bonny, Derrick and Patsy, Stringer
and Patsy, Roy and Yvonne, Roy and Millie, Jackie and Doreen, and in the pop soul
vein, Tony Gregory and Marcia Griffith. By the time ska was firmly established,
female artists were increasingly integrated into groups. Beverley Kelso and Cherry
Green shared duties in the earliest edition of the Wailers with Junior Brathwaite, Bob
Marley, Bunny Livingstone and Peter Tosh. Rita Marley of the Soulettes would later
be drafted into the group replacing the former two. Of all the females featured at the
time, Hortense Ellis (Alton's sister) emerges as the best vocal talent in the estimation
of most who heard her. However, it was Millicent Small, the singer known as Millie
who also performed in duet settings that broke through and introduced popular
Jamaican music to the international mainstream. Her 1964 cover version of the
American group Barbie and Gay 1957 hit "My Boy Lollipop "peaked at number one on
the British charts and number two in the United States of America thus becoming the
first hit by a Jamaican on either side of the Atlantic.
Businesswomen played an important role in establishing the Jamaican music
industry also. The lone female producer Sonia Pottinger, whose role in the industry
recently received an in-depth study (Walker 2005), was responsible for establishing
the careers of many artists including, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffith, two of
reggae's pre-eminent female soloists. Other women contributed to the music's
growth as well. For example Norma Dodd, Sheila Lee, and Pat Chin, were towers of
strength that laid the foundation for the success of recording studios, distributing and
publishing companies identified with the male half at the head of these "family run"
businesses. In fact, all three have continued to play crucial roles in the international
recognition ofJamaican music. Chin's (Miss Pat) VP Records has become the largest
distributor of reggae and related music in North America. Mrs. Dodd continues to
operate Studio One facilities following the untimely death in 2004 of her husband
Clement "Sir Coxone" Dodd, and Sheila Lee plays an integral role in the affairs of
Dynamic Sounds and Sheila Music the publishing arm of the company she oversees
with her husband the bandleader and businessman Byron Lee. And as some close to
the industry recall,Jean Benson, the Canadian wife of the head of Record Specialists,
was a very active woman who literally ran the place.' Singer, Rita Marley, since the
death of her husband Bob, has overseen the growth of Tuff Gong the recording
enterprise he started.
Overlooked, as these women are in the context of the history and establishing
of Jamaican music locally and internationally, a more grievous oversight is the role
played by dancer and one song vocalist Anita Mahfood. Again, only Klive Walker has
attempted an in-depth overview of her contribution. Concerning Mahfood, the
rumba dancer also known as Margarita, the subject of this essay, it has been argued by
Margarita and Malungu
some critics that her lover, the venerated trombonist Don Drummond, continues to
be lionized even at her personal and creative expense. This, especially in light of the
fact that she was the victim of the murder for which he was convicted, the incident
that abruptly ended both their careers.
This essay attempts to rectify those concerns and at the same time illuminate
Margarita's role in the fashioning ofJamaica's popular music and cultural identity.
Margarita (Anita Mahfood) Gleaner photo
Veve Clark's essay "Performing the Memory of Difference in Afro-Caribbean
Dance: Katherine Dunham's Chorography, 1938-87," a treatise on the lifelong
emersion of the American anthropologist, dancer, and choreographer Katherine
Dunham (1909 -2006) in Caribbean religion, culture and dance, provides text that
opens a window into gender, race and class issues; issues paramount to the
understanding of Margarita's relationship to Afro-Jamaican sensibility and especially
her relationship to Rastafari male dominated culture. For her methodology, Clark
turns to Pierre Nora's concept of lieux de memorieor sites of memory, where according
to Nora, "memory crystallizes and secretes itself' [Clarke in Fabre and
O'Meally,1944:228). An extended quote from Clark establishes the approach.
Ironically, the development of lieux de memorie as a concept among
scholars of French revolutionary history presupposes emotional and
intellectual distances from memory and history. In African diaspora
cultures where peasant communities continue to survive and their
memories with them the evolution toward ieuxde memoir has been
far more simultaneous. Distinctions between memory, history, and
lieux de memories in America and the Caribbean result primarily from
class distinctions rather than the erosion of trust in telling one's
history which currently defines the deconstructionist agenda in
France. Pierre Nora's reading of the French revolution and his notion
of lieu.\ de memorie can be applied universally to traditions of
histonography and history, and to significant events celebrated
Turning to mileux de memories, what Nora terms "real environments of
memory," Clark points out "are especially relevant to an understanding of lieux de
memories or sites of memory because certain obscured black environs or milieux
retained the memory from which choreographers of the 1930s drew their artistic
inspiration. Clark asserts that when choreographers presented "dances of the
diaspora" to patriarchal dominated spaces in North America they "challenged the
norms of male-centered African American performance. "(p.188) Clarke's
insight, therefore, assists in the understanding of Margarita's role in introducing
music and dance reconstructed from historic memory and the creative imagination
- what Clark terms "a memory of difference deriving from folk memory and ritual
observance," (p.190) which was linked to an Afro-Jamaican ethos and its acceptance
by the Jamaican mainstream. The religious, socio-political, and cultural creolization
process of the Rastafari brethren and sistren that enabled the synchronicity of
Margarita and Malungu
these ideologies, and hence Margarita's relationship to Count Ossie's Rastafari camp,
and in particular Don Drummond, is better understood after one encounters Clark. It
therefore is appropriate that Clark's concept "memory of difference," along with oral
and written references should provide my methodology for examining Margarita's
place in the history of popular Jamaican music.
Count Ossie -Gleaner Photo
Margarita's participation in Count Ossie's drum and dance ensemble offers a
lens through which the dialogue of race, class and gender differences in Jamaica -that
have not always been acknowledged as significant elements in that exposure and
acceptance -can be viewed. Their collaboration challenged audiences to recognize
variations of Afro-Jamaican and Caribbean history and culture denied them because
they were not trained to see black dance, music, and art as historical text.
The Jamaican saying, beautiful woman beautiful trouble," is an apt proverb to
be mindful of in examining the relationship between Margarita, and especially her
relationship with Don Drummond, Count Ossie's drum ensemble, and the Rastafari
community in East Kingston. Margarita Mahfood, known to her close friends as
Anita, was an olive skinned Jamaican of Syrian Lebanese lineage.2 Considering the
racial, colour and class preoccupations, perceptions and realities of mid twentieth
centuryJamaica, Syrians, though more privileged than Afro-Jamaicans, had not yet in
significant numbers been entrenched in the circle of upper-class Jamaican society; a
social class primarily populated by whites and browns, stock, which usually
descended from the planter tradition and the beneficiaries of social, economic, and
other privileges virtually denied Black Jamaicans. These disparities are tied to the fact
illuminated by Sherlock and Bennett (1989) that "African family structures were
seriously eroded over 300 years of British rule."(p.335) They assert that immigrants
from "the Middle East was not subject to such a long and intensive period of
deculturisation," allowing them to "retain more of their original cultural values" while
being integrated into main stream Jamaican society.(p.335)
Margarita was the daughter of a smalltime fishmonger, not, as suggested by
some accounts, the privileged middle class girl they invested her with. She attended
Alpha Academy, a high school for girls, which in contrast to Alpha Boys Home where
Drummond as a youth was institutionalized, was a desirable educational institution
attended by daughters of the elites and middle class. Having a name seemingly
associated with Jamaica's upper class, bearing "high colour," and straight hair, Anita
Mahfood would have been accorded access to the privileges enjoyed by the island's
elites in keeping with the social attitudes that existed on the island during the 1950s.
Her matinee idol looks and attractive body was of movie star potential and would also
have been an asset to her advancement. However, Margarita rebelled against her
perceived privileged status choosing instead to become a rhumba dancer, a style of
dancing at that time in Jamaica more frequently called "belly dancing"3 and a
profession not considered desirable among the upper class. In addition, she found in
the ghetto areas of West Kingston and the hills of the East an environment of
derelicts, Rastafarians, and musicians people she felt connected with.
Following the Government ordered police raid and shutting down of the
Rastafari community, Pinnacle in 1954, Rastas established a broader communal
network by setting up campsites across the island. Margarita became a regular on
Count Ossie's camp at Rennock Lodge, joining a group of sisters already there (Mack
1999). Douglas Mack who organized a camp in Doncaster identified other camps of
the period following the closing of Pinnacle. Brother Lover...established his own
Margarita and Malungu
camp on the Long Mountain Road area of Wareika Hills. Count Ossie's camp was
along Windward Road opposite Slipdock Road before the 1951 hurricane forced him
to relocate to Adastra Road where jazz musicians Don Drummond, Little "Bra"
Gaynair and vocalists the Folkes Brothers joined him. There were camps at Poker
Flat, Ackee Walk, Foreshore Road, Greenwich Farm, Tower Street and Mountain
View. Then there were Bro. Skipper's Camp on the Dungle behind Coronation
market, Prince Emmanuel's Back-A-Wall and Brother Brown's Camp in Montego
Bay. These, among others, represented the scope of Rastafari camps across the
Corporate (Kingston and St. Andrew area) and reaching as far as the North coast of
Jamaica'. Douglas Mack provides an understanding of Rastafari camps and their
importance to the brethren and sistren who "pass through" or "rest" there. Indeed
these camps were marronage like communities of spiritual, cultural/artistic and
intellectual ferment that would profoundly shape Jamaica's identity as well as the
The camps were (the) places of retreat from Babylonian pressures of
life, where we acquired our spiritual meditation. We became avid
scholars of the bible, reading, reasoning, and interpreting the passages
while chanting our songs of praise to the 'Most High.' [These
sessions were known as Groundations, where] (t)he beating of the
Akete (drums) was an integral part of the Rastafarian chanting.
Brethren would dance around the Akete and when the vibrations
peaked, there would be shouts of lightning and thunder in unison, as
if to invoke the power of the Almighty One.(Mack 1999:66 and 82)
Within the Rastafari community in Rockfort therefore, Groundations
provided a distraction from life's burdens and tribulations. Through herbal and
spiritual rituals and preaching about the divinity of Emperor Hail Selassie of Ethiopia,
Rastafari aimed to create a community of peace and love. For that reason, music
comprising drumming and chanting was integral to the communal activities among
the groups. Music was also important in spreading the Rastafari faith. By embracing
modem jazz musicians, dancers and singers together Rastafari and performers were
effective in establishing an artistic atmosphere through improvisation and
self-effacing character. Their artistic collaborations and collective personalities
produced an iconography and thematic consciousness that referenced Africa as
source and inspiration. What emerged, therefore, was a cultural consciousness that
permeated the embryonic stage of Jamaica's popular music. Thus, before the 1960s
hippy "peace" movement in San Francisco spread its influence, Rastafari lifestyle
(livity) and "peace and love" greetings set the mood for the "one love" version of the
conscious reggae generation and "bless," by contemporary cultural dancehall youth.
From Douglas Mack's narrative, we learn that Rastafari women (daughters)
emerged as integral players in the sustainability of Rastafari family and cultural
development. His information about camps in East Kingston such as Slip Dock
Road, Rennock Lodge, Poka Flat and Mountain View provides the sense of family
and community relationship Rastafari brethren and sistren shared and the critical
agency of the women in this. We will focus on two camps, Count Ossie's and Mack's,
since it is in this space and atmosphere that we locate Margarita. According to
The Rastafari sisters who frequented the camps in the early 1940s and
1950's were from various areas. The Sisters from Slip Dock Road,
Count Ossie's first camp, were Sisters Pam, Shirley 'Needle,' Jennie,
Katherine, and Brother Lover's queen with the beard, Sister Daphnie.
Queen Baby I from Ackee Walk and Sister Puncee from Clarendon
were on the scene. From Count Ossie's relocated camp at
Rennock Lodge came sisters Sweeny, Daphne, Joyce, Dotty, Baby
Lov, Mary and Sister Consie. From Glaspole Avenue in Wareika
Hills, where my camp was based, included Sisters Shuggus, Sissy
Maybel, Daisy, Big Cynthia, Panzie, Topsie, Mother Theresa,
Margaritta, Ruby Juvenile, and Audrey who became my wife and the
mother of my children.(pp 69-70).
In addition to identifying camp locations and identifying sisters there, Bro.
Douglas Mack provides the context within which the community survived and the
critical role of the sisters in that survival. Socio economic conditions and social
oppression were synonymous with the condition of the black Jamaican poor and
working class. Therefore, alternative ways of life were attractive especially to those
Jamaicans who held firm their African identity. This provoked discrimination and
pressure from the local elite and colonial authorities and prevented Rastafari males
from gaining even menial work. In those circumstances, states Mack, "It was easier
for the women to gain employment." He further states that "Many sisters became the
main breadwinner in the family. The sisters from the rural areas would teach the
brothers how to cultivate crops to sell at the market. Other sisters would weave tams,
hats, and mats from wool and straw to gain income. A few of the women were
performers. Sister Margarita was an outstanding dancer and singer. Sisters Shuggus
and Maudie were dancers with Count Ossie and the Africa drums."(p 72).
Margarita and Malungu
By the late 1950s Margarita was captivated by the Rastafari way of life. She was
particularly drawn to their chanting and drumming, and participated in
Groundations, where, like Rasta sisters, Shuggus and Maudie, she danced to the
drumbeat of Niabinghi rhythms and jazzy horns performed by Count Ossie and the
African drums. According to Douglas Mack, Sam Clayton and Woodie King,
Margarita's participation compounded her already estranged relationship with the
social class she could have embraced and at the same time it created a perception
among them that she was endangering herself by congregating with persons they
considered to be outcasts.
Rastafari camp sites like Count Ossie's, were targets for police raids and the
brethren singled out and subjected to beatings and arrests. It was a concentrated
effort planned to prevent the growth of Rastafari by the colonial government, one
unfortunately adopted by Jamaican politicians when they replaced the British. It was
also based on the perception that Rastas were violent especially after smoking ganja
or herb, chanting, beating drums and blowing horns. These ideas triggered
nervousness and fear, long held concerns by white and brown Jamaican's that the
sound of drums and horns signaled rebellion. It further reinforced the disdain for
African expressions by the black underclass held by society's middle and upper strata.
Discussing the suppression of Afro-Jamaican culture by the authorities and the
snobbery with which it was viewed by the social elites in the context of race and class,
Sherlock and Bennett, quoting Neville Dawes' Prolegomena to Caribbean Literature, state:
... [The process of colonisation became Europe's battle for control of the
Afro-Jamaican mind. [A]t this point the real Mother Africa was almost dead in the
mind of the diaspora and the colonisation of the African in the Western world was
almost complete."(Sherlock and Bennett, 337) Bro Sam Clayton recounts the
atmosphere of a raid and provides a view of the colonial mindset of the police and the
treatment of Rastas by them when raids were carried out. "Once there was a raid at
Count's camp and the police had us all lined up facing them. DizzyJohnny's 5 tam was
left hanging on a tree and was retrieved by one of the officers who asked, 'whose tam
is this?' so no one answered. On asking a second time Dizzy answered, "I man tam.'
The officer slapped Dizzy across his face reprimanding him, 'nuh bother with the I
man business an me.' He then used his police dagger to destroy all the drumheads
while shouting "Is them drums that make you all mad."
Margarita at the same time, by positioning herself among the Rastas and their
activities, was seen as less than upright by the class that normally would have claimed
her. Addressing that attitude Barry Chevannes also reminds us that: "[T]he drum and
the dancing stimulated by it, were regarded as too primitive for any self-respecting
person."(Chevannes 1995:10). Margarita, therefore, would have been regarded as
part of that group of undesirables. Endearing for her flirtatious personality and liberal
relationships, Margarita's free spirited persona was seen by some of her peers as
improper.7 It did not help that she abandoned her husband, the welterweight boxer
Rudolph Bent, who was also the father of her two children.8 At this stage, Margarita
moved out of their home, Bent was spending time in New York where the "purse"
was more lucrative and where he could fight regularly in order to increase his
income.9 To others, Margarita was considered a liberated woman before the term
became popular in the modem era of feminine assertiveness and gender equality.
Having known each other for some years, she and Drummond had by then
established a personal partnership. The relationship of the couple created concerns
for the "brethren" in the community and in particular among the musicians who
worried that the trombonist fragile mental state would be unable to withstand the
dancer's free spirited nature and enticing persona. Impervious to the opinions of
skeptics, the dancer set up domestic residence in the vicinity of the Wareika Hills with
On the optimistic side, however, Margarita was cheerful and like Drummond,
she was regarded as an artist of stunning abilities. Wearing his dance historian and
choreographer's hat, Rex Nettleford muses that dancers who preceded Margarita and
who may have been influences, were Mamasita and Rosita, two outstanding dancers
of an earlier era. They along with "Daisy Riley the great rhumba dancer would have
been the sort of models for the dancers of the 1950s."10 Margarita's talents were
highly regarded, even enviable; she was recognized for her grace when dancing and
for her professional success. As a dancer she was booked to work the best nightspots
and theatres, such as Club Baby Grand, Club Adastra, Club Havana, and on the stages
of the best theatres including Ward and Carib. On many of these shows not only was
Margarita given top billing over other dancers, but also, she was a regular recall for
jobs. So impressed with her talent and persona was the impresario Vere Johns that he
presented Margarita as the female lead opposite his son in the theatre piece Sailor's
Song. However, it is for her rhumba dancing that we remember Margarita best.
As a result of Cuba's geographic proximity to Jamaica, and early 20th century
migration to harvest sugar-cane there, Cuban music and dance got to Jamaica
relatively early. Their rhythms influenced mento,ja!Z and ska, and by the late 1950s the
dance craze that included the cha-cha, bolero and rumba was popular among club goers.
At the same time, with Hollywood's commercialization and exploitation of the
"exotic," between the 1940s and 50s, rumba in The United States of America
represented all Cuban music, and to an extent Mexican. For some clarity, I turn to
Margarita and Malunyg
Ned Sublette's narrative Cuba and it's Muic, where he defines rumba as "a complex of
percussion driven dances." He contextualizes it like this: "Rumba can refer to the
dance or to the music played. But, most important, it refers to the party where it all
goes on, a collective, rum-fueled atmosphere." Quoting Mara Teresa Linares,
Sublette he continues: 'Rumberos are selective. Everyone who participates has to be
good, and everyone struggles to be the best. In fraternal combat they grab their turn at
singing, or try to get a shot at playing the quarto to show off their licks, or they jump
into the centre to dance.'(Sublette 2004:257)
This description of the "rumbd' session resembles Groundations where drums,
singing and dancing predominates, only, the rum is replaced by ganja. And like the
Rastafari gatherings, and the persons that participate, "Rumba has always been
associated with manual labourers, particularly with dockworkers, and with the
Abakua [secret society]. "(p.258).
Margarita was considered the best and most popular rhumba dancer in Jamaica.
Characterized by the Latin motion (sometimes called Cuban motion or hip sway)
arising from bent knees and gyrating pelvic, some considered Rumba's sexually
charged Afro-Cuban aesthetic, lewd. To others, however, "rumba was the most
erotic and sensual Latin dance, for its relatively slow rhythm and hip movement,"" a
style Margarita mastered and that was greatly anticipated, especially when she was
dancing to songs like Peanut Vendorand Siboney. Her sensuous movement emphasized
gyrating hips and rhythmic undulation that invited tactual fantasies, reported several
contemporaries on the dance circuit. Star (Delores Chin-Jackson) who was also a
dancer and friend added:
She was different from other dancers. She didn't work the room
allowing patrons to slip bills between her costume and her skin; no,
she never wanted to be touched. To her, dance was a spectacle; she
wanted to be seen so she danced from the stage.
This former dancer also praised her for the ability to simultaneously move parts
of her body independent of others and said Margarita's only competition came when
Cuban dancers were around, adding "only a few were Margarita's equal."
According to several sources, after associating with Count Ossie and his
drummers, the jaZZ musicians in his circle, and absorbing their cultural reasoning,
Margarita's dancing was later articulated with an awareness of what Johnny "Dizzy"
Moore calls "plantation steps." Surviving members of Count Ossie's group agree.
Woody King recalled that: "she became more animated, adding staccato jumps and
prances, springing from leg to leg in forward and backward movements."' In
addition, Bro Royo contends that her dancing was now infused by ritual ecstasy that
she at times seemed to be outside herself, as if in a trance, or intoxicated by herbs. The
drumming had her grounded in a sort of Jamaican dance, a local "patois." Her body
language articulated an Afro-diasporic vernacular14 She at this point danced a style
identifiable with what Africanist scholar Robert Farris Thompson calls a modern
hybrid. Like the multiple sensibilities that infused ska, her movements were a
demonstration of diverse Caribbean influences animated by staccato movements,
sanguine attitude, subtle Mediterranean nuances, and a muse informed by Rastafarian
From times in Africa, through slavery, and continuing to the modem era, dance
was integral to the cosmology of Afro-Jamaicans. Being both secular and religious,
dance in the worldview of blacks was used as both entertainment and religious
activity. According to socio-cultural scholar Mervyn Alleyne (1988):
For Africans and their New World descendants, there was no rigid
dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. This at first sight
may seem strange, but on deeper reflection it can be explained in
terms of the traditional integration of music, dance, and religion in
The integration of spirituality with dance and music is true especially among
Revivalists, Kumina people and Rastafarians. It also is manifested on the dance hall
floor among impoverished Jamaicans who, as if in another world, forget their
troubles and dance. Heather Royes in her 1978 manuscript 'The politics of music and
dance in the African Caribbean setting" said:
Music and dance form an instrument for spreading their
(Afro-Jamaican) ideologies, attracting converts and releasing within
the people a feeling of power over everyday suffering and poverty and
oppression, as well as a physical closeness or even oneness with the
great gods and spirits of their religion.(Alleyne 118-119)
Through music and dance, Rastafarians spread their conceptions of spirituality,
humanity and social consciousness to the local community. Concepts conveyed
through brilliantly performed music and the chanting of Rastafari prayers and songs.
No less brilliant than the musicians with whom she associated, Margarita's dance
inflections provided inspiration that spurred their inventiveness as she in turn was
inspired by their sound. At times it was not clear if she was dancing to the band's
music or the band was playing music to her moves. Count Ossie's Mystic Revelation
of Rastafari drummer, Bro Royo, recalled:
Margarita and Malungu
Margarita was an international rhumba dancer. Dem call belly dancer
in Jamaica. She used to come by us because she liked the drums.
The African nddim had her doing a different thing. She leaping now,
and making good steps, and breaks, so it's different now, those pelvic
movements not going [so hard] anymore. You are getting African
movement now; more cultural, just shape the whole thing. She
created a new impact, and loved what she was doing.(quoted in Lee
Dance, states Albert Murray, ...not only antecedes music and most of the
other art forms... [but it]... seems to have been the first means by which human
consciousness objectified, symbolized, and stylized its perceptions, conceptions, and
United by the drums of Count Ossie, the trombone of Drummond, theja!
instrumentalists, and Margarita's dancing, a diverse and multi ethnic assemblage of
artists, personalities, and common folk began gathering at Wareika Hills to reason,
smoke herb, and witness the genesis of ska. They occupied front row seats to observe
the development of what would become a national cultural phenomenon and artistic
expression, a style of playing that would evolve into Jamaica's first internationally
embraced music. Each session was like a ceremonial occasion, a ritual of oneness
inspired by nationalist ideology, Africanist identity and Rastafarian concepts.
According to Floyd (1955):
In all African societies, ritual aspired to the dramatic; it sought to
become ritual drama in which Dance, Drum and Song validated and
highlighted conflicting and contrasting expressions and
interpretations, and established, built, and sustained accord.
...Sometimes the onset of these sacred, blissful, altered states,
although brought on particularly by drumming, were aided by the
ingestion of hallucinogens.(pp 20-21)
Margarita not only lived and danced among the Rastas but also participated in
some of their rituals. Herman "Woody" King, who was a regular at Ossie's camp
during the 1950s had this to say: "Neither Drummond nor Margarita were heavy herb
smokers, but, yes man she smoked, mostly spliff, and Drummond in the early days
when he and Bra [Gaynair] would track together to Ossie's camp."15 Because of her
popularity and commercial appeal, Margarita was able to introduce the Rastafarian
rhythms that captured her imagination and often provided dramatization to her free
form dance of liberation directly to a pop oriented audience. This feat, however,
required some shrewd negotiations by the dancer. Booked to perform during the
Christmas holidays in the late 1950s, Margarita first had to convince the impresario
Vere Johns that the Rastas should provide the music, or else, she threatened, she
would not perform. The first show was held at the Ward Theatre and was supervised
byJohns' son, VereJohns Jr. After informing Johns Jr. that she would be dancing to
Count Ossie and his drummers, he allowed her after reiterating that his father doesn't
work well with Rastas (Lee, 2003). Having thrilled the unsuspecting audience at the
Ward, Margarita and her entourage set out to the Carib Theatre with expectations
high. It was more difficult to convince the elder Johns at the Carib later that day
however. Again, the memory of Count Ossie's drummer Bro Royo allows him to
recount the confrontation between Margarita and Vere Johns Snr." When we get
there Vere Johns says no, it won't work. He said, Oh! You are going on with a whole
heap a Rasta man? No, No, No Maggie, you can't do it! You are prepared to
disgrace us, because, I mean, a lot a Rasta men. She says "Mr.Johns if these people are
not going to play, I am not going to dance". And he says "all right then, all right". And
she says [to us] "come, come," and we turn back. Him said "alright, alright, come
Maggie, come and tell them fe come." Johns, however, placed the drummers in the
darkest spot on the stage with instructions that the lighting staff shun them (p.254)
Bro. Royo continues to reminisce:
So it was Christmas morning and Margarita had two shows, one at the
Ward Theatre and one at the Palace [Carib]. So we all went to the
Ward Theatre, It was like the revival of all the people's souls. It
was like the whole place crashed! People got crazy about the new
[At the Carib, Vere Johns] put us in the comer in the back. [He
told] the light man to put the spotlight on Maggie when she dance
and then we go in to play, ...Explosion! When the drum started to
play, everybody in the crowd: "Wha? Who dat? We want to see the
musicians!" Maggie caused quite a stir, because man- she could
dance. Not many women [were] like her, I tell you. From then on
Rastas can go on stage and perform, even wear them beards.
Margarita cleared the way. It was Margarita who opened the door
for us, not the jazz musicians. Great girl! Our own Helen of
Troy.(quoted in Lee 254)
As much as she was ostracized for her association with the underclass, the
Rasta community, and her relationship with Drummond, within the middle class and
the sight of Vere Johns, Margarita was nonetheless perceived as a Jamaican white.
That colonial residue that determined class difference placed her in that advantageous
Margaria and Malungu
position. She could therefore demand what she thought was rightfully hers, even as
the privilege to do so challenged cultural hierarchy. Debora Thomas (2004) in her
book Modern Blackness argues that:
British imperialism was not merely a system of economic exploitation
and political domination but also one of cultural control that
attempted to socialize colonial populations into accepting the moral
and cultural superiority of Britishness.(p.4)
She posits that although the nationalist agenda of the country's post
independence rulers was an effort to foster a national cultural identity, it nonetheless
favored "selected elements of previously disparaged Afro-Jamaic an cultural practices
[which] also marginalized alternative visions, [particularly] those of the rapidly
growing urban unemployed."(p.4) Rastafari as a spiritual and cultural expression of
African Jamaican heritage and cultural identity was one such "marginalized
alternative vision" that was left on the periphery of the government's social and
cultural agenda. However, the majority African Jamaican community, also
marginalized, had within its numbers many who either embraced or viewed with
affection Rastafari African centered beliefs.
Margarita's Syrian background and her Middle Eastern heritage privileged her
own performance of memory. Her interest in Latin American dance influenced by the
commercialism of rumba or belly dancing, popular at the time in Jamaica, and the
dance vocabularies she absorbed as an insider with an affinity for the aesthetics of
Count Ossie's Rastafari community, added variations to her choreography that
allowed the emergence of a diverse performative text as a way to view black dance
and culture as history. This aesthetic melange fit cozily with Margarita's social
attitude and "mulatto" identity. Like those of Dominican and other imported Latino
and Caribbean dancers, including some fair skinned Jamaican country girls who were
passed off as Latinos, this hybrid or creolized acculturation helped us to better
understand Jamaican society on the eve of independence. In many ways Margarita
was the antithesis of the typical brown or hybrid woman elevated by Jamaican society
through choice schooling, job placements and social acceptance. Her personal
associations and professional choice was nothing short of an affirmation of an
identity that rejected the restricted and controlled ideas of femininity and class
divides. At the same time, however, Margarita enabled an acceptance by Jamaica's
middle and upper class -mostly men and women who considered themselves
cultured- of a deeper version of black Jamaican dance and music. They were able to
rationalize their acceptance because the dancers were not black and the dance as such,
honourable and not the outrageous looseness or pagan emotional abandon they
associated with black dance. Margarita's acceptance reflects what Clark describers as:
Social opposition existing simultaneously and paradoxically in a
society governed at a distance, ... and further controlled economically
and socially in those days by former plantation families... or their elite
mulatto co-conspirators. In such an environment, dance of the
majority black population demonstrates the contradictions of New
World acculturations.(Clarke in Fabre &O'Meally)
Similarly, Don Drummond and Margarita's relationship was a contradiction. It
was paradoxical because they represented social opposites; he was from the black
lower class, a representation of the enslaved plantation family, further stymied by
circumstances which made it difficult for his parents to care for him and that led to his
institutionalization at Alpha School for Boys. She was the product of a family with
name recognition in the business community, perceived as middle class, and was
considered Jamaican white. Yet, they represented the "art couple" of the
marginalized Afro-Jamaican community they were a part of. He was her mystic man,
she his cosmic love light.
Drummond was the focus of Margarita's poetic muse that stimulated her only
recording, WomanA Come. Of the poetics inspired by Drummond, it is this surrealist
lyric of Margarita's mantra that perhaps most effectively encapsulates the mystique of
the eccentric trombonist. In reaching out to Drummond, Margarita best captured the
essential characteristic of one of the strangest artists Jamaica has ever produced and
embedded her own persona into his. In 1965 when Margarita recorded Malungu, a
song better known as Woman a Come, it was arguably the first solo performance by a
female artist of a truly Jamaican sound.16 It was also a song considered by many an ode
to Drummond. This was pivotal of the moment since she was not a singer, per se,
and there were female singers already recording, all-be-it, as supporting voices in duet
performances with more established male vocalists.
Margarita's opportunity to record was linked to her relationship with members
of the influential Skatalites and in particular Don Drummond. The poetic meditation
released from her mind the mythical Drummond of her imagination. On that
eventful summer's day, accompanied by members of the Skatalites, Margarita entered
Duke Reid's Treasure Isle Studio and in a lean voice she chanted Malungu Man,
commercially released as Woman A Come to what sounded in its time a strange
Margarita and Malungu
Ayata, Jah dawta, from Venturian border... a come
Aya, Ayata woman a come
Ayata Jah dawta woman a come
Jah dawta Ayata a come to sound, Ungle Malungu man
Ungle Malungu man, Ungle Malungle man
Ayata Jah dawta from Venturian border woman a come
If you see him before I do
Please give him my heart message so true
Tell him I just don't want to be without him
For I'd be lost and lonely and blue
He is my love my life my all
Ungle Malungle man, Ungle Malungle man
The king of ace from outer space Ungle Malungle man
He speaks the language of the breeze
And harmonizes it with the symphony of the trees
And when I'm in my solitude
I can hear, I can hear the breeze singing to me
Not imaginary sounds but true melody of my beautiful Ungle
So if you see him before I do
Please give him my message so true
Tell him Ayata Jah dawta from Venturian border woman a come17
Margarita's song is both a work of art or art song and an incredibly moving love
song. Her vocal tone describes completely a woman deeply in love talking about her
man. Drummer Lloyd Knibb in relating the circumstances of the session states:
"When we recorded, she call it Malungu, but Duke never liked the title of the song, to
him it sound like obeah or something, so him change it to Woman A Come."'1
Musically, the minimalist arrangement given Woman A Come features the tenor
saxophonist Tommy McCook and trumpeter Baba Brooks dancing between the
rhythm inspired by Knibb's campsite groundation style drumming. Knibb, who
remembers the session well, added:
That tune that she sang it shouldn't have been played in that tempo.
It should have been a rock steady tempo... but she couldn't sing in
tempo... so I going change it to a burrm beat and that is what took
place. She sing it right, right, accurate, burru... playing the burru. Cos'
she use to Count Ossie sound so she coming off that sound.19
Margarita's vocal phrasing mimics that of Drummond's trombone and is
reflective of his personality. It evokes Drummond's spirit, that of the mystic,
magician, and trickster, the man of her muse. It helped create the living myth that
engulfs Drummond's enigmatic personality in music anecdotes and lore. In spite of
his acceptance as a musical hero, the trombonist was also known for his eccentricity,
reticence and elusive nature caused by missed engagements, which resulting from the
continual mental bouts that dogged him and made him check himself into the Bellvue
asylum in East Kingston. Drummond, at times, also exhibited what to others was "his
strange behavior," which was attributed to his psychological state. He would at times
perform an entire set, placing his trombone at the microphone but without blowing a
single note, an act he sometimes replicated in recording studios. Perhaps he was
rehearsing the music as he heard it, quietly sliding the trombone action to match the
notes he would later choose. This activity is not as strange as it may seem, but
certainly, for some observers, thoughts of "strangeness" will be entertained especially
when someone whose mental capacity is questionable in the first place performs the
act. In fact, many instrumentalists, particularly saxophonists, finger their instruments,
silently practicing in anticipation of actual performance. However, it is dear that
some have perceived such action by Drummond as an act of madness. This
perception was shared by some of the musicians with whom Drummond spent most
of his creative time. Drummer Lloyd Knibb and bassist Lloyd Brevet of the
Skatalites, both vociferously complained about the trombonist silence during the
recording of Down Beat Burial on a Prince Buster produced session. They challenged
Buster to get rid of "this mad man" so that they could get on with it or they would
leave. They were concerned that they would not make a second session on time thus
lessening their chances to increase that day's income.
Prince Buster related that Drummond was late for the session, which caused
the unfavorable atmosphere in the first place. On display of their irritation,
Drummond reacted by further delaying the session, turning away from the
microphone each time he was required to solo, which increased the annoyance of the
drummer and bassist. Brevet then shouted some expletives, adding, "Why do we
have to play with this mad man?" Drummond pushed his hat to the back of his head,
removed his knife from his bag, stood by the studio's exit door and proceeded to
clean his fingernails. He then calmly and lucidly said, "Who want to play, play. Who
don't want to play, don't play." Both Brevet and Knibb then shouted to Prince Buster
indicating their willingness to continue the session.20
Lester Sterling, a Skatalites charter member, also remembers the concern he
and others shared when at the first two rehearsals of the band, Drummond never
Magaita and Malungu
removed his horn from its case. Instead he listened and left reassuring the others he
was indeed rehearsing. Their skepticism was turned to delight when on the first gig
Drummond displayed a thorough involvement with the repertoire, according to
Sterling. Much of Drummond's living actions have become the source of mythic lore.
Agreeing with Joseph Campbell, Samuel Floyd writes:
Living myths are not mistaken notions and they do not spring from
books. They are not to be judged as true or false but as effective or
ineffective, maturative or pathogenic. They are not invented but
occur, and they are recognized by seers, and poets, to be then
cultivated and employed as catalysts of spiritual [and cultural] well
being (Floyd 1995:22)
Margarita's reference to Drummond as captures his "strangeness' and invokes
the myth and lore of Ananse. And while West Africa provides much of the spider's
myth, on this occasion it is taken from the folktales of the Yaos of East Africa. The
story goes: "Mulungu was driven from earth by the conduct of mankind. He went...
to call [on] the spider, [who,] went on high...nicely." 'Who then said,' "you now
Mulungu, go on high."' Mulungu joined Spider and went on high."aekyll 1907:xvii)
It is from that "high" or "higher ites" that Drummond emerges in Margarita's
organically chanted mantra as Malungu. Ungle Malungle man, the king of ace from outer
ipace... here, Margarita could have said from higher ites, metaphorically invoking
both the spiritual and artistic high and the high from the hallucinogenic herb chalice
smoked at Rastafari groundings, a ritual in which, as Woody King confirmed, both
Drummond and Margarita were well grounded.
In the final stanza, Margarita locates herself in the cosmic realm of the mystic,
making the listener aware that she too is of the same eccentric and linguistic clan as
Drummond. And when I'm in my solitude, I can hear ... the breeze singing to me, not imaginary
sounds but true melody, of my beautiful, Ungle Malungle man. Here it is interesting to note
tenor saxophonist and Count Ossie camp regular Cedric Brooks' observation of
Drummond's habit of, "going into the hills by himself and play to the trees."21 And in
dosing, the essence of her elegy, as if by intuition, also sounded a prophetic plea. In a
way forecasting the fatal note on which their world would collapse. Ifyou see him before I
/Pkasegive him my heart message so true/ Tell him I don't want to live without him/For I'd be lost
and lone and blue, /He is my love my life my all/Tell him lyaataJah Dawta from Venturan
bonier, woman a come.
Though establishing a solid meaning for Venturan border eludes my queries, in
a broader sense, it may be linked to venturing out, to travel from Venturan border to
sound Ongle Malungu man. It may also be linked to venturous, or venturesome, the
willingness for taking risks without guaranteed results. Not finding Malungu,
Margarita sends a message: Tell him lyaataJab Dawtafrom Venturan border, woman a come
(I am here). Furthermore, the significance of a border reference is important, it
establishes, or implies that there were boundaries. They were geographical, social, and
personal boundaries real and conjured, which separated the singer/dancer from her
subject. Venturan border, perhaps, could also be read through a socio-spiritual lens to
represent the crossroads, the point at which vital decisions are made. It is where one
comes face to face with the trickster in life's journey, Eshu-Elegbara or Elegba "the
very embodiment of the crossroads" (Thompson 1984). In sum, Drummond's
persona may reflect the myth of Elegbara. Robert Farris Thompson tells us:
Eshu-Elegbara is also the messenger of the Gods, carrying
sacrifices, deposited at crucial points of intersections, in messages
that test our wisdom and compassion.
Because of his provocative nature, Eshu has been characterized by
missionaries and western-minded Yoruba as 'The Devil.' Outwardly
mischievous but inwardly full of overflowing creative grace,
Eshu-Elegbara eludes the coarse nets of characterization.(p.19)
Creolized throughout the Caribbean Eshu Elegbra is manifested in the persona
of trickster deities "Legba/Elegua in Haitian and Cuban folk religions, Eshu in
Trinidad and Grenadian Orisha, [and] Ananse in Jamaican folklore" [Chevannes;
2001:8). Lloyd Knibb views Venturan border, the crossroads, as the metaphysical and
physical space/place occupied by Margarita and Drummond, and at the same time,
Knibb further reveals the trombonist's trickster personality.
The day when she was doing that tune, Don Drummond was writing
a tune at the same time, and Margarita came to him and say "Don you
remember how this part go" and Don looked at her good, and she
repeat the question, and him stab her with the pencil. I took her to
the doctor, get the hand fix up...when I came back with Margarita,
the both of them hug up and walk around the whole studio like
nothing never happen. Yeah! Man, like nothing never happened.
Two of them kiss up and walk up and down the place... that's
Venturan border; they walked around Venturan border.(Knibb to
Miller, February 7, 2006)
Whatever the meaning of Venturian border, what remains clear is the psychic
borderline and/or physical space shared by Drummond and Margarita.
Mararita and Malungu
Played sandwiched between Drummond's Don Cosmic and Green Island,
Margarita's Woman A Come adds to a trio of music that provides the listener with a
glimpse into the realm Drummond inhabited and that they both shared.
Margarita was divided between the strong willed independent and rebellious
social advocate, dancer and fighter for human equity that "in a way, [may have]
worked against the upward social mobility that her [perceived class], race and
education could potentially deliver.(Walker 2005:132) Yet, Margarita was also a
trickster, a provocateur, alluring and testing, always intent on teasing the emotions of
the men around her. As a youth in Bournemouth Gardens I once saw her fighting her
husband, the boxer Rudolph Bent, then seductively toying with him. The former
boxer and national coach Emilio Sanchez shared the same address as Bent and
Margarita on Ocean View Avenue. He recalled:
I think he met her at Club Havana. I think they had one child, a girl.
One morning Margarita showed me some marks where Rudolph hit
her. 'Him beat me up, see, Ruddy beat me last night.' But she was
laughing like it was a good thing. I said, Rudolph beat you and you just
take it like that laughing. Wha happen, you like it? But she just kept
laughing like a mad woman. Yu know... she sometimes acted like she
half mad. Margarita was a carefree girl nobody could tame her.22
But, as Lorna Goodson's poem, For Don Drummond suggests, destiny's plan was
for Drummond to "find a woman with hair like rivers, a waist unhinged and free; [so
he could empty] some of the sorrow from the horn's cup; into the well below her
belly; In the Rockfort area, Margarita is remembered stepping proudly with
Bobby Budness birdnestt), a local madman that lived in a cave in the Wareika Hills
before she settled with Drummond. Among her peers, some recall her flirting with
musicians in both Count Ossie's camp and the Skatalites band, which was cause for
their concern when the outgoing dancer and the distant trombonist first established a
familial union, Clayton, Moore. McCook, Ossie and King, intimated. The many
"strange" actions she and Drummond exhibited characterized Margarita's blithe
personality and Drummond's fragile state of mind. In a manner unconcerned with
the consequences, their personalities like their actions sometimes were at odds with
each other's. She was, an artist and an established personality with a career
independent of Drummond's. He was the star of the Skatalites and to the black under
class, Jamaica's favorite musician. To his fans, he was Don Cosmic, the mad
On January 1st, 1965 Drummond overslept and missed his New Year's
performance with the Skatalites at La Parisienne Club. Arguably, Marganta may have
purposely manipulated the dosage of his medication, which caused him to go into a
deep sleep. With Drummond asleep, this allowed her to perform at Club Baby Grand
and Club Havana, where, following an outstanding show she returned later that night
for a quickly scheduled second performance without having to deal with
Drummond's disapproval. Upon her return home early in the morning of January
2nd, 1965, and following an argument between them, Drummond delivered a fatal
stab to Margarita's chest. Musicians close to the couple including Lloyd Knibb and
Tommy McCook expressed the opinion that Drummond's missed gig on that
disturbingly distressful and tragedy filled date was not accidental.23 They are of the
belief that Drummond had missed live and recording dates in the past because
Margarita altered the dosage of his medication to facilitate her own schedule. As
McCook explained to Capital Radio's David Rodigan: "She was a dancer... she
wanted to go dancing which he didn't like for her to go dancing while he is
somewhere else [... so] she gave him his medication late so that he wouldn't get up in
time to catch the gig."24
Other suggestions are that in a jealous rage Drummond stabbed Margarita.
However, this doesn't garner any merit with some within the community that they
both were a part of. On the other hand, statements supplied by a neighbour that was
used in the trial confirm that on Margarita's return in the early morning of the New
Year on January 1, 1965, an argument ensued which led to Drummond stabbing her
in the her chest causing her to bleed to death before the police arrived. Perhaps it was
one more stabbing game by the couple that went too far, the one that got out of
control, or conceivably, in the heat of an argument an angry Drummond lost control
and inflicted the wound that killed Margarita. It may even have been a clinical state of
madness, an attack of the schizophrenia that he had to live with that caused
Drummond to commit this nefarious deed. After all, it was on the latter count that he
was committed to the Bellevue mental hospital, this time as a criminal lunatic.
Perhaps in a community where personalities command compassion the complete
picture of the sociological implications of Margarita's death must include the
aftermath- the idea that, since they were such a popular couple, no one wanted Don
Drummond to pay with his life.
In the opinion of some contemporaries, "Both were of such that if one didn't
harm the other, the other would".25 Following the stabbing of Margarita, Drummond
did seek help on her behalf by going to the police and telling them according to
Knibb and McCook that "A woman stab herself up the road." Reports from the
community immediately following the tragedy are that because he was known to be
mentally troubled, and possibly, because he was "Don Drummond" the star
Magantia and Malungu
musician, the police at first took his report lightly according to Bro Sam's Woody's
and Dizzy's personal recollections.
Psychiatrist Dr Fredrick Hickling who was then a young intern was present at
Margarita's post mortem. He is of the opinion that since the wound did not puncture
Margarita's heart, but severed an artery, if help had arrived on time her life could have
been saved. He recalled that it was a "small penknife" that caused the damage.26 "I
don't think he wanted to kill her; he wanted to indicate his displeasure. We are a
strange people. There are many paradoxes in our lives," Hickling later said at a public
forum on June 18th 2006 at the same venue.27 Again, an excerpt from the poetics
inspired by Drummond, this time Mervyn Morris' Valley Prince, rests Drummond's
act on his unstable state of mind. "I love a melancholy baby, sweet, with fire in her
belly; and like a spite, the woman turn a whore. Cool and smooth around the beat she
wake the notes inside me and I blow me mind." Klive Walker's observation
encapsulates the general opinion of many who lament the route Margarita's life had
Anita Mahfood did not seem interested in a life of light skinned
privilege. Instead, she lived a bohemian existence of a rebel, free
spirit, and independent woman at a time in Jamaica of the late '50s
and early '60s when her behaviour would have been perceived as
nonconformist to the extreme.(Walker 132)
Margarita's nonconformist approach to life fortified her willingness to
appreciate the diversity ofJamaicaness and the dominance of black Jamaican culture
in the shaping of a national identity. This allowed her to embrace the lifestyle she lived
and to take as her partners black Jamaican men, including among them, one of the
peasant/working class and Rastafari community's favourite sons. As a couple
Drummond and Margarita were the antithesis of accepted and conventional social
order. In many ways they represented Jamaica's art couple in the same way the
Mexican artists' Diego Riviera and Frieda Carlo did.28
Drummond and Margarita represented the arts personality that, in spite of their
creative achievements, stayed connected to the community that nurtured and
sustained them. At the same time the couple defied class perceptions imbedded in the
consciousness of the upper echelons of Jamaican society. It is obvious she freely
exercised her choice of company and companion. Margarita's attraction and
relationship to Don Drummond may be summed up in words from Afua Cooper's
poem, Even Warrior Women.
Even warrior women
sometimes have to cease listening to Artemis' songs
and listen to the silver chants
of the young griot women in love...
But even warrior women know there comes a time
when it's .the first moon full of silver light
that she has to sing to...
because the martial rhythms have been subdued
and now she walks [and dances] to a different beat, for a while at
Because of her dance routine with Count Ossie and his drummers, Margarita
contributed to the acceptance of Rastafari musicians as purveyors of cultural
concepts and socio-political capital. Their performances cleared the path to the
historic memory expressed by Rastafari that in the 1950s and 60s were viewed with
contempt, and primarily from a distance. Unlike those audiences on the outside and
on the periphery, others who were in touch with the Rastafari had conveyed to them a
"style and mood" of dance that represented an Afro-Jamaican/Caribbean vision of
memory; a creolized version of dancing made more complex by Margarita's infusion
of a Mediterranean muse and Afro-New World creolized sensibility. Pierre Nora's
concept of leux de memories or sites of memory, mileux de memories, what Nora terms "real
environments of memory," and V6v6 Clark's idea of memory of difference, fortifies
this judgment. By remaining among the peasant/working class of Wareika Hill in the
East Kingston community, retaining a social and creative interaction with Count
Ossie and the musicians there and her personal relationship with Don Drummond,
Margarita drew her inspiration from a wellspring of Afro-Jamaican African creativity
Thus the community represented sites of memory, "real environments of memory,"
and memory of difference. Whenever she performed, especially with Ossie's drums
or the Skatalites, Margarita was defying the idea of maintaining gender, class and race
divisions in Jamaican "patriarchal dominated spaces" and its hegemonic social order.
On stage, at Ossie's camp, and as midnight attraction at dance halls, although
the musicians were Rastafari brethren, the lead female dancing of Margarita
privileged the socio-cultural synthesis imbued in that performative narrative.
Accustomed to experiencingja.t musicians like Drummond, McCook, and Gaynair
extrapolate ideas to inform solo improvisations over Ossie's drum rhythms, and like
"vocalese" and scat singers29 have with jay and blues, Margarita effectively copped this
feat and functioned as soloist. Her "choreography literally replaced the section in a
jag/blues song, during which musicians improvise on the theme; in this instance,
black dance is improvising."(Clarke in Fabre & O'Meally 195) It is here that
Margarita's visually syncopated movements convey to the audience a way of
Margarita and Malungu
recognizing and appreciating black performing arts, in her case, music and dance as
historic source. Sections of her "off centered" high steps, leaps, head tilted back, and
dipping shoulder moves have become stylized in the dance floor ritual of blues dance
regulars and the expression of contemporary partygoers. This is particularly so when
dancing to Oh, Carolina, any number of Drummond's burru inspired tunes, her own
Woman A Come and other songs inspired by the off beat rhythmic phrasing of
The dance moves, gestures and attitudes accompanied by the music are not far
removed from plantation music, dance steps and associations with black resistance.
Writing about plantation activities between the period of British conquest in 1665 and
the Great Earthquake of 1692, Gardner described the music of the Koromantys as
"heroic and martial." He wrote that Africans exhibited "a sort of pyrrhic or war dance
in which their bodies are strongly agitated by running, leaping, and jumping with
many violent and frantic gestures and contortions."(Alleyne 106-107) Drums, no
doubt, generated these actions. Assisted by Margarita, Rastafari cosmology, Niabinghi
music has since become closely associated with the Africanism of the collective
cultural consciousness among Afro-Jamaicans.
Margarita, however, has been a marginal figure in the historic narrative of the
development ofJamaican music and its cultural shift to a more Afro centered identity.
This is so because she has been presented and accounted for as a murder victim of
questionable moral character. Many in the middle and upper classes have vilified her
for her associations with what they considered low life individuals. At best, through
the literature available, and because of her perceived station in life, her ability to dance
and her "mulatto" appearance, Margarita's persona has been portrayed as exotic,
cavalier and rebellious. Margarita Mahfood, however, by the accounts of the older
Rockfort artistic and local community, was much more than that. As far as they are
concerned, she represents a seminal figure in the island's musical and cultural growth.
This is so because of her persistent groundings with that community, how she shared
creatively with its musicians, becoming part of the Rastafari camps and her residency
in the neighborhood. Furthermore, Margarita is viewed by some in that community
as their "Own Helen of Troy" because of her insistence of bringing to the surface
Rastafari artistic skills. For instance, the way we dance to Niabinghi flavoured songs
like Oh, Carolna, which were restricted to Rastafari camps in Rockfort and other
depressed areas before Margarita danced to Rastafari drums in public performances.
As pointed out by many, including folk historian Olive Lewin, "Colonial politics
caused Jamaicans not only to be ignorant of their African past but also to despise
sounds, sight and ideas that did not synchronize with those of the ruling powers."30
Margarita and Drummond by living a life of difference "helped people to see that,
contrary to the impression given, there was much beauty in Jamaican [life, dance],
music, and other arts."31
Margarita's success was, therefore, inspirational to those who wished to
express themselves by way of black dance. She also provided a sense of belonging and
self worth to others in spite of the continued reliance of upper strata Jamaicans on
colonial Euro-centric beliefs and attitudes toward roots expression. Perhaps both
Donald "Don" Drummond and Anita "Margarita" Mahfood were true Venturians,
and not subject at all to the social or mental mores and the hypocrisy of a system
established through a steady reliance on, and also built on a solid foundation of
gender, class and race bias.
1. Neville Lee and Barry Chevannes both remember George Benson as a former
salesman from WIRL, The Guyanese company that was an affiliate of the local
enterprise operated by Edward Seaga and later taken over by Byron Lee.
2. Philip Sherlock and Hazel Bennett in The Stoy of the Jamaican People state that: "in the
early years of the twentieth century, some Jews, Lebanese and others from the Middle
East began arriving...The more recent arrivals from the Middle East left their homes in
Palestine and Lebanon, then part of Syria..[they were]often referred to as Syrians"
3. The rhumba dance will be discussed below in note 11.
4. See Chapter 6 of Mack (1999)which looks at the Rasta camps in Jamaica 1940s to
5. Johnny "Dizzy" Moore, the musician who became a founder of the famed Skatalites
6. Information gained at a reasoning with Brother Sam Clayton and Dr. Clinton Hutton,
at Sam's yard, July 31, 2007.
7. Bro Sam in interview with Herbie Miller, April 2004.
8. Rudolph Bent was from Honduras but like Clement Berza and Emileo Sanchez,
campaigned out of Jamaica. Sometime after marrying Margarita he left for New
York to further his career as a boxer. Bent lost by a knock-out to Sugar Ray Robinson
in three rounds on October 20, 1965.
9. Frank Collins interviewed by Herbie Miller, Kingston, August 19, 2006. Collins was a
co-manager of Bent.
10. Rex Nettleford in conversation with Herbie Miller, September 8, 2006.
11. Website. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumba_(dance),Oct.4,2006
12. Star interviewed by Herbie Miller in 2006. Delores Chin-Jackson was a folklore and
13. Woody King and Johnny Moore in interview with Herbie Miller, summer of 2006.
Margaita and Malungu
14. Royo, Sam Clayton, Moore and King in interview with Herbie Miller, summer 2006.
15. Woody King in telephone conversation with Herbie Miller, July 9, 2006.
16. Millie Small's 1964 hit, My Boy Loa/l p, pre-dated Margarita's Woman a Come. It was a
cover of Barbie and Gay's 1957 R&B hit, done over in a pop style catering to foreign
taste while muting the dominant Jamaican off-centred horn riffs, syncopated
rhythms, and heavy bass.
17. Margarita recorded for Duke Reid's Duchess Label in the mid 1960s.
18. Lloyd Knibb in conversation with Herbie Miller, February 7, 2006.
19. Lloyd Knibb in conversation with Herbie Miller, February 7, 2006.
20. Prince Buster in telephone conversation with Herbie Miller, New York, 1998 and
Buster conversation with Miller, August 5, 2006.
21. Cedric Brooks in telephone interview with Herbie Miller, New York, 2002.
22. Emelio Sanchez in conversation with Herbiew Miller, July 18, 2006.
23. Over the many years that I have been associated with the Skatalites, I have listened to
Tommy McCook and Lloyd Knibb express the opinion that Margarita deliberately
manipulated Drummond's medication on ocassions. This made him enter a deep
sleep, which often made him miss his performances. They were convinced that this is
what happened on the night of January 1st, 1965.
24. Website. http://www.geocities.com/Sunsetstrip /Disco/6032/Margarita.htm
25. Prof. Rex Nettleford in conversation with Herbie Miller, September 8, 2006 at the
University of the West Indies, Mona.
26. Hickling made this observation at the Barry Chevannes Conference at the University
of the West Indies, Mona, February 2006.
27. Cited by Mel Cooke in "Deadly Sex Play Between Drummond, Margarita" in The
Gleaner, February 21, 2006, p.C24.
28. This was also true of Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln in the 1960s and Miles Davis and
Cicely Tyson during the 1980s. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, perhaps, represented the
ultimate art couple by virtue of their long marriage and work within the black
community and their artistic achievement.
29. Vocalese is a style of singing lyrics written and arranged based on the performance of
jao instrumentals. That is, they are lyrics arranged and performed in the key expressing
the nuance, timbre, and wholehearted feel of the instrumentals on which they are
based. Best known amongst its practitioners are Eddie Jefferson, King Pleasure, and
Jon Hendricks. Scat singing is the use of worsdless vocals in the same way that
instrumentalists, particularly soloists, perform jazz songs. Louis Armstrong, Ella
Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughn exemplify this style.
30. Lewin, Olive "Traditional Jamaican Music: Mento" in Jamaica journal 26. No.3 1998.
31. Lewin, Olive inJamaicaJoumral26. No.3 1998. p.49.
Alleyne, Mervyn. 1988: Roots of amaican Culture, London Auto Press.
Chevannes, Barry. 1995:Rastafri: Roots andIdeology. Kingston: The Press UWI.
Chevannes, Barry. 2001: "Ambiguity and the Search for Knowledge:An open-ended
adventure of Imagination" Inaugural Professorial Lecture, The University of the West
Indies, Mona. Kingston, Jamaica, March 22.
Clark, Veve.1994: "Performing the Memory of Difference in Afro-Caribbean Dance:
Kathrene Dunham's Choreography, 1938-87. Edited by Genevieve Fabre & Robert
O'Meally, History & Memory in African-American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press.
Cooke, Mel.2006: "Deadly Sex Play between Drummond, Margarita." The Gleaner, February
21, 2006, C 4.
Cooper, Afua. 2006: Copper Woman and Other Poems. Toronto, Ontario: National Heritage Inc
Floyd, Samuel A. 1995:The Power of Black Music: Interpreting Its Histoy from Africa to the United
States. New York: Oxford University Press
Jykell, Walter. 1907: Jamaican Song and Stoy. London: David Nutt.
Lee, Helene. The First Rasta: Leonard Howell and the Rise of Rastafarianism. France: Lawrence
Hall Books, 2003.
Lewin, Olive. "Traditional Jamaican Music: Mento." Jamaica Journal26, no. 3 1998: 49,50.
Mack, Douglas R. A. 1999: From Babylon to Rastafari: Origin and History of the Rastafarian
Movement. Kingston: Research Associates School Times Publications,
Murray, Albert. 2000: Stomping the Blues. 2nd Da Capo Press United States:
Philip Sherlock & Hazel. Bennett, 1989: The Stoy ofthe Jamaican People. Kingston, Jamaica and
Princeton, NJ: Ian Randle Publishing Ltd and Mark Wiener Publishers, Inc.
Rampersad Arnold and David Roessel (eds) The Collected Poems Of Langston
Hughes."Nude Young Dancer" p, 61, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1995.
Sublette, Ned. 2004: Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo. Chicago: Chicago
Thomas, Deborah A. 2004: Modern Blackness: Nationalsm, Globaliation, and the Politics of Culture
in Jamaica. Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press 2004.
Thompson, Robert Farris. 1984: Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and
Philosophy. 1st Vintage Books New York: Vintage Books.
Walker, Klive.2005: Dubwise: Reasoningfrom the Reggae Underground. Toronto: Insomniac Press.
Ernest Ranglin, Creative Activist, Initiator,
Innovator, Living Legend.1
I should like to share with you a personal testament, a personal review of the
varied demonstrations of a musical giant, a gentle genius, a great example of what is
right about Jamaica. My comments proceed from listening, observation and
appreciation, and are personal, and relate to my musical education, my own musical
In 1972 at a conference at Indiana University on the "The Social Role of
Jazz",Richard Abrams, a presenter, spoke of a jazz musician describing his playing of
Jazz as "body and soul trying to get together".2 He was just trying. Ernest Ranglin hs
brought body and soul together; body expressing the dictates of soul through
spontaneous composition improvisation, to which he adds the colour and tone of
spirit, mind and heart. It is this total involvement of Self with a capital S that makes
him endure through so many years and continues to make his offerings young and
fresh, yet bringing to his performances the advantage of vast experience and
Ranglin is a self-taught musician, who studied, on his own the accepted
musical primers, honed and pruned and shaped his style, listened to the accepted
masters and outclassed many, and continues to learn, to absorb influences, and
transform them, making them uniquely his own. So many of our young musicians
today are reluctant to learn the elements of the music of the region, preferring to play
a Berkeley method in an often mediocre. fashion; not recognizing that this is a means
to an end, not an end in itself Ernest Ranglin has allowed himself to grow, and in
growing has found his own voice.
He developed as a musician when the leisure market was expanding, when
what we refer to as jazz was popular dance music. In the Caribbean the slow,
sensuous sounds of the blues, the inflections of swing were being played often from
commercially acquired charts or from careful reproductions of what was heard on
record, but very often took on the flavour unconsciously of the pervasive 3.3.2
patterns of early calypso/mento/goombay/merengue/rumba the characteristic
rhythms of the region, and this rhythmic feel contributed to the acceptance, the
growth and spread ofJazz.
Our bands were facsimiles of fairly large U.S. aggregations, playing ensemble
music. These groups were training grounds for the host of horn-players and other
instrumentalists who started the trek to add a certain kind of excitement to the
European musical scene, making contributions that were well before their time.
American musicians had introduced into the mix the concept of the solo, and the
soloist and improvisation took on new significance and importance, for Jamaican
groups as well.
Before this period improvisation had meant colouration, decoration and
attention to texture, sticking very close to the original melody. What characterizes
improvisation today is streams of spontaneous melody. It then becomes clear that
the beat is being irregularly subdivided and moves across bars with impunity. Thus,
lines are created that are unequal in length, with emphases and accents occurring in
unexpected and unpredictable spaces. Herein lies the creativity, the excitement
It is easy to create phrases that are metrically straight and to continue the
compositional process by creating answering phrases of the same length. It is not so
easy to create a sound tapestry that depends on variation of (to use cricket
terminology) 'length and line', sometimes dropping it in the 'block hole', providing at
times something that 'rises sharply', or a deceptive delivery that has you 'clean
bowled' and looking behind at your middle stump. Anyone who has listened carefully
to a Ranglin recording, or better yet, observed him in full flight will know exactly what
That describes his cascades of notes, judiciously chosen. Yet he sometimes
subscribes to the tenet that 'less is more' and we can be treated to a contrasting spare
reading of a melodic line, notes even more judiciously chosen.
His harmonic sense is another area that we must consider. A close friend of
mine: Barbadian pianist Adrian Clarke, expresses joy and appreciation for singers and
musicians of exceptional talent by identifying with them in a rather special way. He
often speaks of Ella Clarke, Sarah Clarke, Dizzy Clarke and so on. When it comes to
this harmonic sense I think of Ernie Whylie. Doesn't that have a lovely ring to it?
Ernest habitually moves away from standard chord charts when playing
standards, moving away from the expected progression, coming up with surprising
substitutions -an E minor 9 in place ofa Bb major 7 or a compound chord combining
all those notes how do we describe that E minor 11 or G minor 9 with an E bass -
whatever! He creates his own energetic, often idiosyncratic tension filled blocks of
chords (weep Debussy and Ravel) Fine soloist that he is, his spontaneous
compositions would have taken those fine composers some time sitting at the
keyboard with manuscript paper and pen, drawing on influences of New Orleans and
the music of the near and far East, in experimentation of the Impressionist and
Ernest Ranglin (Publicity Photo photographer unknown)
The other remarkable feature of this self taught master of his instrument, is that
he has mastered the art of playing in all keys at frightening speed and has released the
potential of his chord progressions by manipulating more and more notes in solos,
creating beyond the fretboard notes that do not exist for other guitarists, changing the
accepted technique of plucking to a rather upright 'walking' of the fingers beyond the
Who can forget the solo in the early Wailer's song "It hurts to be alone"? This
may be a good point at which to tell you about the formal meetings of Bob Marley and
Earnest Ranglin. The story has grown over the years, but there is a strong kernel of
truth in it. As Marley's popularity grew, he sought classes at the Jamaica School of
Music, not in an effort to expand his voice range, to improve its resonance, to work
on projection, in fact to preserve his natural instrument. He wanted to expand his
knowledge of the guitar. He wanted lessons with Ranglin who was teaching part-time
at the school, driving in from the North Coast where he was residing and working.
Needless to say that if they met it was only sporadically. The legend grew in the
telling and says that they never met for the scheduled sessions. When Ernie did
manage to come, Bob was in studio or off on tour: when Bob did arrive, Ernie was
But back to the business at hand. My exposure to Ernest's music started in my
early teens, as I tagged along with my brother, broadcaster Dwight Whylie to the
studios and the library of the then Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (BC) at which
Sonny Bradshaw was a significant presence. At JBC, I was always listemng. At the
theatres and clubs ( obviously, without my mother's knowledge), always observing,
exposed to a musical education not given me by my piano teacher.
I grew to know and expect a mix of metres 3/4, 6/8, 4/4, learn of the
existence of a time line to which all instruments of the ensemble related what I later
came to understand were African derived forms. I became aware of the pentatonic
scales of folk music coming into dynamic collision with European diatonic scales
creating new intervals and allowing a melodic freedom
.I heard in the music the falsetto notes and slides that came from work music
and religious ritual. I was introduced to the phoenomenon of antiphonal music,
which allowed for the participation of all the instruments, the lead instrument
announcing a phrase, echoed and embellished by others. This was usually prefaced by
a quick shout of "fours"
I absorbed the influence of the drum. In the early colonial years ofJamaica, the
drum was regarded as an instrument of political disruption, a morally suspect noise
maker. That it went underground accounts for its tenacity, but also allowed for the
development of subterfuge methods for maintaining rhythmic integrity. Long before
slapping with the thumb on the strings of the bass guitar became popular, Ranglin
played percussive patterns on the body of the guitar and created clave patterns on the
upper reaches of the strings. Of course his being a bass player of some talent did not
hurt. This means that he can be a whole accompanying rhythm section to himself,
achieving percussion, hints of a bass line, chordal patterns and melody, and we are
treated to such solo playing from time to time, as Spirit moves him.
This master of many genres and styles kept abreast of all movements i the azz
and popular areas, moving right along with the absorption of the samba tradition into
the mix, and his bossa nova renditions are some of his most satisfying tunes for
listening. Who, having heard them can forget his versions of Corcovado, and Blue Bossa?
His solos contain excursions away from the expected line and those of us in the
audience with a little musical training often wonder how he is going to resolve it all
harmonically. But his sense of time and location in the structure of the tune is so
secure that he can abandon it in long improvised stretches, moving away to keys that
seem to bear no relationship to the tonic key, and to return in time to the home key at
the appropriate moment.
To many of us lesser mortals, this happens quite by accident, and I know that
when I 'go to bush', I have to be brought back home by a kind colleague humming the
tune, or my bass man leading me along by playing the significant notes of the
progression rather loudly.
His playing of chromatic side slipping was my first exposure to such a
harmonic approach, and this within his complex melodies at breakneck speed his
cascading passages of improvisation the hallmarks of his playing, yet he can be
equally cool, lyrical, gently emotive, and a master of programming.
More recently in his modem incarnation, he has returned to Jamaica's popular
music, a genre in which he was an originator, a seminal influence, before rhythm
became the primary or only concern. His current period has taken him back to his
roots, and he studies those traditional forms to which he had not been exposed as a
youngster. The research is an ongoing process and his phrasing has taken on a fusion
of mento and other traditional social forms, rastafarian rhythms and
There is nothing pedestrian about this creative input and output, and it has
drawn to him a new audience who stay to be exposed to his other idioms and styles.
To return to the personal, my own compositions and arrangements have been
influenced by a study of the traditional forms of the region, by exposure to people like
Adrian Clarke already mentioned, Sonny Bradshaw in whose groups I play, and my
good friend Monty Alexander ( who I am assertive enough to say has absorbed
something from me in our musical conversations), and Ernest Ranglin, from whom
Monty has drawn inspiration and with whom he has collaborated on many occasions
80 Ernest Rnghn
Whatever those of us who are young (or masquerading as being so) have
achieved, we have done by standing on the shoulders of our ancestors, benefitting
from the results of their struggles, their creative endeavours. Today, mindful of that
truth, I salute Ernest Ranglin, creative activist, initiator, innovator, master guitarist,
1. Presented at the Symposuium on Earnet Ranglin, held at the Philip Sherlock Centre,
UWI, May 12, 2001
2. Fordham,John: Jan Dorling Kindersely, London.1993 (pp 43-44)
3. The principals of the Wailers were Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny
Social and Aestrhic Roots of Ska
The Social and Aesthetic Roots and
Identity Of Ska
University of the West Indies at Mona Lecturer, Clinton Hutton (C.H.). talks
with Jamaican popular music historian-aesthete Garth White (G.W.) about the
formative years of Jamaican popular music and the impact these had on him in
shaping his own career path as a Jamaican popular music scholar.
C.H.: The Jamaican popular recording music culture has inspired and spawned
a number of professions and interests, including your own. How has this inspired
you and shaped your own agency to be?
G.W.: The reason for my interest was that, fortunately, I was born on the
fringe of Trench Town, on a road named Greenwich Crescent, which leads us into
West Road, the main road in Trench Town, which is now Arnett Gardens. And so
I was exposed from very early to many different types of music. In fact, I had a
similar experience as some of the artists who would fashion this music. I kind of
grew up with it.
[I]n the park where [there] is now a round about, at the top of West Road in
Trench Town on a Sunday evening or sometimes dunng the week, you'd find
Revivalor Poko people holding their kind of session. There would be sound systems.
Any number of them in Trench Town. And in fact, right opposite where I lived,
there was a big famous, early dancehall named Live Wire Club.
Live Wire Club was the place where they had the famous, some said eleven, some
said seventeen sounds, in one of the earliest clashes. But we didn't call it clash
then. It was rivalry. But it didn't have the undertones of violence or bad feelings,
you know. Seventeen sounds... in one dance.
[T]here would also be the occasional Kumina visits, in that same park.And in
Trench Town, as most people know, you'd have had several Revivalchurches.
Now this is in addition to Rediffusion. Since many people really didn't have
radios or turntables then, but depended on Rediffusion that is the arm of Radio
And then now, to top it all off.. my yard was kind [of] like the traditional big yard
[for] the kind of area, so that in fact, one of the time, a room was rented to a
sound man named Granum not one of your frontline, your A line sound systems,
but probably a low B. So I had access to the music, from any number of angles.
Interview with Garth White
And from very early, I started to play and even, "thief out" is the word, (which is
going to recur) "thief out" and go when Mr. Granum [was] playing over Live Wire,
as a seven/eight year old. So my exposure to the music is very long, and I suppose,
this is what has impelled me to follow it up and to document it, since I know it
almost from the start.
C.H.: Why to document it?
G.W.: Well, in the early stages, we didn't know, or most people didn't
appreciate that this was something that ought to be documented. Where this
interest first came to me, [I] was in secondary school.... That is JC (Jamaica
College)... where there was something of a class [war]. I don't want to call it class
war, because we were really on fairly amicable terms. But you'd find that the better
off, the so-called upper class folk used to scoff, in no uncertain terms, about this
music which we, who were coming from [the] innercity, or "down the bottom,"
[liked]. [W]hen we returned from holidays, we'd be boasting about this new song
and so on, and some of the other people, the upper class people, would be saying,
"cho, that is buff-buff music man, that won't go anywhere."
So from very early, [we] embarked on something, for want of a better word, like a
crusade. Crusade is not a good word, given what the history of crusades [was], but
I think you understand what I mean. So you have to take on the mantle of
defending the music, from early.
Then a fortunate circumstance again was that, numbered amongst the teachers in
JC in the '60s, were two very important persons in music scholarship, if you want
to put it that way. One, there was Carl McLeod, who incidentally taught me
drums, for cadet. Carl McLeod is arguably, one of our best drummers trap
drummer,ja- drummers. And [two] Jimmy Carnegie, who allowed us to use h's
state of the art equipment, and exposed us to even [a] wider music field by carrying
And what you would find happening is that some of the upper class (for want of a
better word) students, carried some of their classical [European] pieces. Jimmy, for
his part, ever tolerant, was willing to allow everyone to have [his] say, or play [his]
So you would have him with his vastja!, collection. Zadie (if I can remember the
name) would carry his Bach and Beethoven... and we would carry our latest local
thing and put it in the mix. You have to remember that JC, at that time, was also
the place where Monty Alexander was, and he actually started a band while still...
I was also a choir boy, moving right through the ranks from soprano to alto, to
tenor, to bass. So the church, the established church music, was also part of my
Soaal and Aesrhtic Roots of Ska
background. So I suspect... all of this helped to give me this abiding love of music
and to want to see our indigenous music creation get[s] the credit that it deserves,
and also try to push it, to a degree where it could become commercially successful.
C.H.: Did the atmosphere of independence form part of what inspired you to
want to see this indigenous creation become something that we should embrace
and you want other people to know about it?
G.W.: Yes that is part of it. Clearly too, because we were young this
generation that is responsible for the creation of this music was hopeful,
expectant, quite confident in the late 50s, coming up to the 60s... that this new
stage in our socio-political life would lead to a betterment of the social standing,
the level of living of the population in general.
The fact is too, [it was] just around the independence time [that] the educational
system was being opened up, so that people from the lower strata, who would not
have been normally able to afford secondary education, were now able to access
this. All of these factors helped to make us want to prove that we had a culture.
Because it wasn't only music in fact that "class war" that I am talking about,
also involved dress and food and the kind of females that you like. All of this was
a part of the whole picture.
And when we got independence, some of us who actually [were] in favour of [the
West Indies] Federation, said well, "Since that is not going to work, we have to go with this
[independence]. We can't be satisfied with this colonial status." Some aspects of
self-reliance involved the] development of your livity, your culture, your ways of
doing things: dressing, eating, walking, social relationships, music, all the aspects of
When independence dawned, even though some of us were fairly young, (I believe
I was about fifteen or so [years old]), we were still old enough to know that a new
page was being turned and that we would have to contribute to developing a
specifically Jamaican culture.
C.H.: What were the ways in which you transmitted the ideas that you were
developing about music?
G.W.: Well, in the first instances, down at JC, it would mean going on almost
like a sound system selector, that is, carrying the most recent sounds... on the
campus to "beat down a sound bwaai" (boy). You would be carrying these records to
prove that we [are] going on because by then, a mean the music had blossomed,
that you could not deny that this was musical. This was the thing we had to prov
at first. So [in] the face to face interaction with the school population, we even
went so far as to try, in association with somebody like Monty Alexander, play[in!
Interview with Garth White
in] the chapel, the songs that were then popular on the radio and on the sound
system, to a selected group of fellow students.
This was the first attempt at dissemination. Then I was also encouraged [by] Derek
Gordon. [H]e used to play guitar in Monty and the Cyclones [band]. He also had
an interest [in Jamaican music] and a good record collection. And it was [he] and
Jimmy Carnegie who first planted the idea in my head of writing about the music.
I [started] writing about the music for the Jamaica College school magazine, then
from these, I came straight onto the campus [of the University of the West Indies].
And again what I found up here, [on the Mona Campus], was a willingness to listen
to varied music forms, but [there was] a dominance of capso. So again you had
This was 66. This was some four years after independence. The academic
circles, the intellectuals were not all that conversant with what was happening on
the local music scene. And then as we did in the chapel and the dining room atJC,
some fellow students and myself would try and imitate these sounds in my hall,
Irvine, on the piano that was available.
That was a strange thing. I don't want to digress, but one of the striking things
about the early days of the music is that there were instruments like pianos in most
schools and halls. There wasn't this threat of theft or vandalism. So you will find
that a school like Waul Grove, or Rousseau, or Trench Town, or Irvine Hall, all the
halls had a piano on a raised area, so during lunch and after lunch, fellow students
and myself would actually be playing these songs on the piano.
The way you did it was that three of you, one playing the bass line down the lower
reaches of the piano, the other person playing the chords, and the other person
playing the melody upon top there. So we did a reasonably fair replication of the
popular music of the time.
What this led to now, was a request from a cultural committee that existed in
Irvine Hall, to formally speak on the subject. [W]hen they staged Culturama,
which is a series of events focusing on the various cultures of the Caribbean [on]
hall, [I] was asked [to speak]. [T]his was the first time, I believe I would be doing it
C.H.: At what point did you begin to transmit ideas about the music beyond
the UWI campus to a wider audience?
G.W.: Possibly as a result of hearing that someone was taking this music
seriously, to the extent that he would be lecturing on it, I was then invited by JIS
(Jamaica Information Service), I think it was Peta-Ann Baker, she happened to be
working there. And she, not strange, but as a female who possibly didn't originate
in the innercity, had a love for the music. [So too], someone like the present
Social and Aestrhic Roots of Ska
director of tourism, Basil Smith. They and myself felt that although the radio
stations had come around to playing local music, there still was something of a
fight. You could discern that not all the songs were being played on radio,
particularly those of Bob Marley.
So Peta-Ann arranged this series... Well, [Lennie Littlewhite and Peta-Ann were
the producers of the programme] for JIS and Smith and myself were the
correspondents [doing] four to half a dozen fifteen minutes shows on radio.
I used this opportunity to focus particularly on Bob Marley, at a time when he had
success with Simmer Down and It Hurts To Be Alone, to some extent, One Love and
Love andAffection. You found that his weren't being played, neither the bottom end
of the [Coxsone] Downbeat years [nor] their embryonic attempts of producing
Round about the same time, or it may be before, I wrote an article, for Impact,
which was produced by Rupert Lewis. This article was then reproduced in an early
issue of CaribbeanQuarterly. [In this article], I was dealing with a larger subject: rude
boys and the bludgeoning innercity culture. [T]he title of that article was "Rudie
Oh Rudie" But it brought into the picture the influence and impact of the music
and the sound system and the dancehall at a fairly early stage of its development.
C.H.: What are your views of the impact of the sound system on the
development of Jamaican popular music?
G.W I have heard it put that the sound system was your community radio
station, because given the fact that many people, or most people couldn't afford
the equipment to play music, and quite probably, weren't satisfied with the fare that
the radio was offering, the sound system took up this role of providing music and
entertainment for people who could not afford to enjoy music in this way, outside
of the sound system.
What is particularly interesting about the sound systems is that they began relatively
[simple]. Downbeat (Clement Dodd) and Duke Reid, although they were not
necessarily the first sound, (because you hear that the first sound really was Tom
The Great Sebastian the first sound in the sense of being one that was amplified
to the extent that we know sound systems now), had hooked up radios to turntables
and rudimentary speakers to draw patrons or customers to their respective liquor
stores. This was the fairly humble beginning of what would mushroom into this
system nowadays, where we are talking about mega watts and huge boxes and all of
this all growing out of the need to provide music for a wider community.
It is different when you compare it to other countries in the world, where music
was listened to at home, or in the concert or stage show presentation. Sometimes
Interview with Garth White
in the US (United States) case, at house parties, but nowhere have I seen where you
have this large outdoor gathering which is being serenaded by a sound system.
The literal meaning of the word, that you have a system that involves not only a
wide selection of music, but playing this music with sufficient power, that it could
fill a fairly large space and therefore, accommodate a large number of people,
people who had very little by way of entertainment outside of this setting.... It is
out of the need to provide music on a regular basis, to take the place of the
declining rhythm and blues, that the music industry in Jamaica really was born.
After this you get your deejays, and we can't leave out the fact that part of the draw
for some of the sound systems were not only the music, the toasting by the deejays,
but also the dancing of virtuose dancers. People would travel from all about to see
someone like a Pam-Pam [or a] Persian. They were almost at a level with the
singers and musicians. So the dance is part of it as well.
C.H.: In the second half of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s, a set of
songs was recorded through the initiatives of Clement Dodd, Duke Reid, Cecil
Campbell (Prince Buster), Chris Blackwell et al. Among these songs were Boogie In
My Bones by Laurel Aitken, Oh Carolina by the Folkes Brothers and Easy Snappin' by
Theophilus Beckford. Those songs were not Ska?
G.W.: No, but Easy Snappin'was getting there.
C.H.: What is the difference between Easy Snappin'and Boogie In My Bones?
G.W.: The after beat is more accented [in Easy Snappin That guitar that is
playing the chords, serves a double purpose, that is, it provides a reference for the
singer to know the key that he is singing. And it also is an alternate or additional
rhythm, in that it is emphasized as much as the main down beat, which was the
feature of Rhythm and blues.
Rhythm and blues also had an after beat, but almost as an after thought. In our case
now, we emphasized that after beat, so that it added to the syncopation of the
piece. [W]e must remember that this music was being created primarily for
danc[ing]. mThis widened the instruments which would influence the dancers'
moves. You could now take your main cue from the bass, or from the guitar, or
from the drum.
The difference with something like Carolina, if you noticed] m Boogie In My Bones
and Oh Carolina there is a resemblance in the drumming. I think it was Drumbago
or if not, it was the drummer of the Caribs [band], because they were the people
who backed up Laurel Aitken. There is, strangely enough, similarity between that
drumming and the hand clapping andfunde used in Carolina.
So the complexity in music creation is that you can combine certain elements and
come up with something that is different from either or any of the elements taken
SocialandAestrhtic Roots of Ska
on their own. So that move to emphasize the after beat is what led to the
emergence of ska.
C.H.: Why the move to emphasize the after beat? What is it in Jamaican
music tradition, its aestheticism, that allowed for this?
G.W.: Well, it derived from the Africaness of the majority of the Jamaican
people. We may not have retained that rhythmic subtlety that obtains in the
Motherland, in Africa, where you can have different measures and rhythms going
at the same time. We have poly-rhythms and cross-rhythms that can be going
across each other. But we really don't have different metres at the same time. In
other words, you rarely find as you could find in African music where 4/4 and 3/8
and 2/6 are going together at the same time. We don't have that.
Where we make up for that is by having a number of rhythms crossing each other.
This enables the dancer to concentrate on different instruments and also, to move
in a particularly sinuous way, based on his response to the various instruments. It
is the sense of rhythm that led us to want to create another main rhythm, so to
speak. Because that guitar after beat, when ska really blossoms, you'd find that so
much interest in the ska that you could have four or five instruments playing it.
You could have the piano, the guitar, a sax, trombone, trumpet, mouth organ
- all of them. So what you have there now, is a richness harmonically, because
they are harmonizing, each playing a different note.
For somebody like the famous after beat horn man [ska] Campbell, he could add a
certain edge to it, sharpen it. You know it is difficult to find words to describe why
the ska is so important. But I think it is underlined by the fact that so many
instruments would be used to produce it and this would be now in counter point
to your bass. So a lot of things [is] happening rhythmically simultaneously, and this
leads to that particular character in our dancing now that is different from
European and even Asian. [Y]ou would have so many things happening
simultaneously, that a set of dancers need not be obeying the same rhythmic
impulse and yet they are all in time.
C.H.: Now tell me what is the difference between Easy Snappin'on the one
hand, and Housewives Choice by Derrick and Patsy and Forward March by Derrick
Morgan on the other hand. Which has more the characteristics of ska?
G.W.: It is not a difference in kind but in degree. What has happened by then
is that the ska is now accepted and so you can move at a quicker pace [than Easy
Snappin] and still be accentuating the ska. These latter two selections have the pace
of rhythm and blues, but you don't get the truncated after beat that you get in
rhythm and blues. They are still emphasizing it. They are able now, with the
quicker tempo, to still emphasize that after beat.
Interview with Garth White
I must give a humorous thing that we used to say about Theophilus Beckford. We
used to say that the reason why Easy Snappin'was so slow, was that although
Theophilus Beckford was a fairly accomplished player, he had difficulty in
coordinating that right hand playing the chord with the left hand playing the bass.
So that is why you have that space in Easy Snappin', because he is playing the ska.
He is the main man playing it.
When ska reached its hey days, [leaving] the '50s and going into the '60s now, you
have all kinds of musicians, big musicians like Aubrey Adams,and the same Monty
[Alexander] who have no problem in playing the most complicated of chords
quickly but still emphasizing [the after beat].
So that is different from r&b, in that it is emphasized. It is an after beat in the true
sense of the words. But it also can be played at a quick tempo. I never did get
[to] Theophilus Beckford about that. But if you listened to many of his songs, you
will find that same thing applies, TellMe Little Lady and Georgie And The Old Shoes
C.H.: So we can say that there is a tendency in some ska to be slower?
G.W.: Yes. It is a myth for some people to say ska is a fast music. But it is not
necessarily always up tempo. Yes, you have slow ska.
C.H.: What of mento's influence in the aesthetic construction of ska?
G.W.: Mento was really both the sensibility and the actual music [that] helped
to balance the influence of rhythm and blues, which would then result in something
new coming into being, although the influence of r&b was so heavy. Heavy in
[terms of] instrumentation, vocal stylings, theme, all of this. Part of this is because
the populations that were creating these two music were virtually
indistinguishable, although there were significant points of difference.
We were in a majority in Jamaica. They were in a minority. We could move around
fairly freely. They were not so lucky. But there was an identity of experience. So
that, there was not any disjunction at all in our appreciation of rhythm and blues.
And the sound systems [that] were providing the music for entertainment and
dance in the early stages they used to play mento and rhythm and blues.
When we are talking about Jamaican music too, it depends on [at what point] you
are going in, because where we have started [in this interview] is really the '50s, the
era of the sound system, but maybe we could speak of the '40s, or the '30s, when it
was the big bands [that] were providing the music. [B]ig bands, up town big bands
and down town or innercity big bands.
C.H.: These bands were the actual training ground for the
professionalism of the musicians who formed the core of the players of
instruments who created and developed the sounds of Jamaican popular music?
Soal and Aestrhtic Roots of Ska
G.W.: Yes. They, as you rightly point out, were the people who were the
underpinningss, the disciplined base over which these hopeful amateur singers
would attempt to create music. They had a solid foundation in which to
experiment. These big bands would mix their music fare: [indeed] they would
provide a lot of mento, although observers from early in the 20th century, pointed
out that as has happened with the Delta blues, the American urban dweller[s] could
appreciate the Delta blues but wanted to distance themselves [from it], if even a
little, because it conjured up so many things they wanted to forget. Country
bumpkin, sufferation, hard work and thing in the [cotton] field. [W]ell we too, in
the sugar plantations and other rural systems, the migrant to the town where this
music was going to be fashioned, would listen to mento, especially suggestive
pieces. And mento is well known for that.
So although people would want to distance themselves, the were still willing to
listen and you can think of large numbers of mento songs that were popular right
through the '50s. And these would be played by some of these bands. That strand
is going to be continued with calypso to a lesser extent, cha-cha, rumba, the kind of
Latin side of the music creation. All of this was going to be included in ska.
This is what makes it difficult to define, because you can take up one piece and it is
reminiscent of rhythm and blues, you take up another piece and you [are] hearing
revival [or] mento in it, take up another piece and the Latin tinge is very
But to get back to the rhythm and blues: part of the thing was that it was this new,
brash urban music that dealt with urban conditions. That's one. Two: the
American[s] were the earliest people who we saw in a performance mode, in
popular music.... From quite early, we would get rhythm and blues acts like a
Shirley and Lee and a Louis Jordan, and a Rasco Gordon out here in [amaica on]
stage performance. So we not only had their records, we saw them live. And the
music is really a lively, energizing music well suited to the time.
Rhythm and blues declined, in a sense, because of its popularity. Post [World] War
[I] into the early 1950s' it gained the ear of a wider American public and, as
usually, even though I say so with deference to some of my White friends, White
folks tend not to want to seem to be left out of anything. [Some] White impresario
get the idea that if they can only find some White people who can come close to
this new music that the Blacks are producing, then [they] going to bathe, in a
And this is exactly what they did. From [Elvis] Presley and so on: I am not saying
that they did not make some good music, that sometimes you are hard press to say
why it is rock and roll and not rhythm and blues, so close are they.... But the
bottom line is, they usurped the [music and] became the people who were most
Interview ith Garth White
widely recorded. And the same feel was not there as obtained in the hey day of
r&b. And so the output declined and this helped to propel our local dance
promoters and sound system operators to try and come up with their own mix.
Now knowing the popularity of rhythm and blues, some of the early attempts were
straight forward imitations. But balancing this, was the fact that... most of the
early sound [system] operators were still willing to record mentoesque pieces,
especially in the years before ska really gelled as the preferred rhythm. So that I
like to think of them as revival-mento. It's a combination of both reflecting the
rural background or exposure to rural forms on the part of urban innercity
dwellers. This is reflected in some of the early pre-ska music.
I can think of the Mellowlark's Time To Pray, Laurel Aitken's, himself, a prime
exponent of the rhythm and blues side of things, [and a mento singer as well], with
Judgment Day and a rare tune he has way back then, named Night Fall. The Latin
tinge is seen in somebody like Wilfred Edwards. This Latin tinge [is] provided by
the guitar work of somebody like a Ranglin, who is a virtuoso, who can play all
types of music.
So in the early stages, that late '50s period, while most of the promoters and the
producers were trying to capture a r&b feel, the fact that we had such a strong
indigenous musical tradition meant that even when we were trying to produce strict
r&b, there were undertones, overtones of these elements of indigenous tradition.
And there was also music that we more popularly placed as coming in a straight
line from our own [forms], like mento, revival and other rural forms.
C.H.: In one of several interviews I did with Clement Dodd, he told me that
the first set of music that he recorded, was what he called calypso. Mento then was
often referred to as calypso. These, he told me, got lost in the shipping when he
sent them to the United States of America to be re-mastered. His recording of
mento songs and, perhaps, among them, some real calypso in his debut recording,
is in line with what you have been saying.
G.W.: It is quite clear in my mind that you can envisage the position they were
in. There it is. We know we have [these traditional forms]. Most Jamaicans, even
the highly cloistered ones of the upper classes, still have some exposure to
indigenous music in one form or the other, whether they are hearing the drums
from a distance, whether they [are] passing a Revival church, whether they [are]
hearing the funeral marches of the burial societies, all of us get exposed to our
particular brands of music.
But the ones that were available on records, or the ones that you see via films or
personal appearance [on stage shows] [are] rhythm and blues. So it is almost logical
to see why in fashioning a music to dancing and to satisfying] the demand that is
out there, rhythm and blues would have a heavy influence.
Social and Aestrhtic Roots of Ska
But this is in the context of a strong indigenous tradition. And this shows itself in
any number of ways, both songs that are directly derivative of the indigenous
tradition and some which combined elements of the indigenous tradition with r&b.
And some which include Latin influences and importantly jazz.
C.H.: What are some of your thoughts on the influence of jazz in the making
of Jamaican popular music, in particular ska?
G.W.: Jazz and rhythm and blues were the music of the early band members
who had served their apprenticeship in the swing bands of the '30s and '40s. We
are talking about bands like Eric Deans, Roy Cobourne and Relva Cook and Milton
McPherson, Sonny Bradshaw, Val Bennett. Many of these people had passed
through Alpha [Boys School] or the Jamaica Military Band. They served many
years being formally trained and so achieved that technical proficiency that could
only be satisfied by the needs of a music like jazz.
So that when you have somebody like a Don Drummond or a Roland Alphanso, or
a Tommy McCook, or even the same Val Bennett, because he carried over from
that period, Sonny Bradshaw: jazz featured greatly in their training, in their
background, in the music to which they were exposed and the music which they
would subsequently play. Because they managed to combine this technical
proficiency... in fact, it was one of the early endearing features of our early ska
musicians that although they were playing and accompanying amateurs, rank
amateurs in many cases, some [were] professional, but in the majority of cases,
persons who had just come up with a song it is an endearing quality that these
well trained musicians didn't scoff at them.
They would be critical. They would even tell a young hopeful that he or she
had to go back and do a little bit more practice and come back. But they were
always willing to put their skills at the service of the fledging form. And this is
what, more than anything else, gave it its vibrancy. Because these were top class
C.H.: What you are saying here is that the pioneering musicians of Jamaican
popular music, played a critical role in guiding the singers, who were in the main
amateurs, to success? Also when we look at ska, it was not the voice that
dominated, it was the instrument, that is, the instrument that was not the voice?
G.W.: Yes. That is clear. Although you can hear the potential in someone like
Bob Marley and an Alton [Ellis] and a Toots [Hibbert]. In some of these early
recordings you can almost visualize the music pushing them to perform. Well,
look at Simmer Down,2 that introduction [by Drummond].Anybody singing after that
introduction has to come good. And then the humility of Roland [Alphanso] on
the solo, where he doesn't try to dominate. It's a laid back solo that fits in with the
theme of simmering down. And this is Roland who is another virtuoso. You
Interview with Garth White
know what I mean. And that only comes from competent people who are
confident of their abilities, so that they [were] able and willing to share what they
have, with people who [were] just beginning to go on the road of creating music.
C.H.: In fact, one of the things that I have picked up in interviewing
Ernest Ranglin is that, apart from being the great guitarist that he is, he was also
virtually training, guiding, teaching some of these youngsters along the way.
G.W.: And give credit where it is due. I think it was Beverley's, that is, Leslie
Kong, an early producer, not so much for [Prince Buster], [where] Ernest, [the
guitarist] would also play the bass. He was the bass man [on] many of these
Beverley's recordings. And you get these anecdotes about Skatalites members and
people like Ernie Ranglin or Drumbago or a Trenton Spence [who] would be
pointing out to these young hopefuls the rudiments, in a manner akin to [that]
famously read about Joe Higgs' influence on the Wailers.
But they would be teaching the young hopefuls the rudiments of harmony. [A]s
ska developed, we found that we had harmony trios Wailers, Gaylads, Maytals.
Their music teachers were actually these musicians.
C.H.: And of course, we could argue that the first star of popular Jamaican
music was really not a singer, but a player of instruments, Don Drummond. Tell
me about him.
G.W.: Interestingly, the first instrumentalist who used to inspire some of my
friends and school mates, was not even Drummond. It was Rico [Rodriquez]. We
were enamoured of a kind of biblical thing that the trombone had. And it was
Rico's tunes [that] actually hit the public before Don's, even though Don was
Rico's teacher at Alpha.
I am wondering if we don't have to go back as far as Coney Island3 where the
instrumentalists [who] used to perform... were the Stars. You'd have a singer, and
we would know about that singing tradition that comes from the itinerant
troubadour like Slim and Sam, but you get the impression that the musicians had
pride of place in the early days. Probably because the singers would come and go,
but the band personnel would remain at places like the Coney Island, so that they
would develop a following.
So when you go into Coney Island you know you may buck up Trenton Spence
[or] somebody like Drumbago, Baba Mac [or] the trombonist [Carl] Masters.
When [music was] being provided at the Coney Island and amusement parks it
was the virtuoso musicians [who] the people wanted to hear.
So this carries over now, into these musicians who [were] going to staff the big
bands and people hear that these people [were] really worth listening to. They were
top flight musicians. Then we started to record and the same things applied
Social and Aestrhtic Roots of Ska
because the musicians [were] confident [in] their abilities. So they have to be in the
They are going to come around to accepting that your front line performer, namely
your singer, is going to be the person in the long run, because of lyrics which [are]
going [to] appeal to your listener as distinct from instrumental music, that maybe
open to any number of interpretations, based on what the listener is experiencing.
But as you rightly point out, our first culture hero, musically, was the
Don had an early tune/solo, On The Beach by Owen Grey. It is very early you
know, it and Don Cosmic. They are either late '50s or '60. And then he leaves
because of one of the first instances of his mental break down and Rico fills the
gap. Rico is the trombone4 now.
When I think of Don, I always remember the particular rapport which seems to
develop between the musicians of the Skatalites. Because you can hear pieces
where Don is responding to Brevett's and Knibb's work and the rhythm section -
quite apart from the after beat which is giving him the chord which is telling him
the key, and the other front line instrumentalists who he is going to bounce off to,
or he is going to influence, because when they are playing, Don just gives a
fantastic solo. Roland has to rise to the occasion, or Tommy or Dizzy [Moore].
This just kept going on and on and on in a band like the Skatalites.
He was always seemingly introspective, brooding, quiet. I don't think I have ever
seen Drummond hassled, or in a hurry. A really cool cat. [The] bugas [tennis
shoes] that [he] used to wear exemplified some of the things about the man. He
was just cool and unassuming. You could also see [that] some of the times, when
the music really got to him, the rest of the band members would appreciate that
and allowed him to prolong his solo. Knibb would have hinted that they [were]
going to return to the theme, but Don [kept on] going, and everyone recognized it
and just allowed him.
I was not there at the famous one at [the] Carib [Cinema], where they said that they
were waiting and waiting and waiting, and Don wasn't on the band stand, and of
course, despite the [presence of] the other soloists, other musicians recognized as
great, the person who still held centre stage, because of just the mastery of the
instrument and his imaginativeness, [was] Don Drummond. [B]ut Don does not
try to overwhelm you with virtuosity unless the tune demands it.
You get instances of songs, either his own composition or when he is soloing for
someone else, where he just fits in. And it is almost simple. I think it is [Delfeayo]
Marsalis who said it's almost nursery rhyme like in its simplicity. And then you
can buck up other occasions when either the complexity or the theme, or the depth
of the mood when you get Don really pulling out all the stops and you find out that
Intenrwti with Gadth ,
this man is
". rarely hear anyone
Because he is doing with the trombone
capable of doing.
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Social and Aestrhtic Roots of Ska 95
I saw him also in a jazz setting, not only with the Skatalites, playing with people like
the same Tommy [McCook], Carl McLeod, Lloyd Mason, Cecil Lloyd, at the club
that would become Studio One. That time it was The End, and they used to have
jazz concerts there. [Again] I was a young person then [and] overwhelmed by the
sheer hero stature of this brother. [So] you would observe him at a distance and I
always remember being struck by his humility. How he would just come in quietly,
even if he was late, and the band was playing and then you would see him take out
his bone and start to rub it down with his chamoi, and you can see that he is
listening to what's going on and you see Don signals that [he is] ready and notes
upon notes, and the audience, spellbound. No one wants him to finish, you know.
In a particular way, Don was able to capture both the joy of the independence
period, the melancholy of not being certain that things are going right, for the
poor, a certain anger, but still restrained. A complicated character was Don. And
then you have to factor in the fact that he was also a romantic. One of the classic
examples in modem music of this genius tormented by romance and this is also
reflected in his playing.
Bob Marlcy was then in a group, The Wailers, along with Peter Tosh (Winston Hubert
Mclntosh) and Bunny Wailer (Neville O'Reilly Livingstone) along, at a certain time,
with Junior Brathwaitc et al. This was the music of the Wailers that was not being
played on radio at this point.
2. By the Wailers with Bob Marley in the lead, Simmer Down was produced by Clement
3. :oney Island was a kind of Amusement Park.
4. White argues that: "the use of the trombone and the double base is a feature of ska,
the real ska" I Ie notes that "is the reason why somebody like Byron Lee's or some
other band at the time lacked that 'umph' that the Skatalites had. It has to do with the
use of the double bass and [the trombone]."
The top double bass players at that time included Lloyd Mason, Lloyd Brevett, Taddy
Mowatt and Cluct Johnson (Clue-J).