Ghana Roadtrip

John1010

Hurtling into Fanti country in a beat-up Benz with a wonky gear box, the potholed roads make us zig zag, narrowly missing kamikaze goats and African versions of maxi taxis. Women walking between villages with loads on their heads and babies on their backs and cutlasses in their hands. I’m on the way to a clinic in the middle of nowhere with a Trini warrior named Dr Susan Alfred from Matelot who trains young village women to become dental technicians.
Our young driver Sammy swerves in time to the Bunji I am blasting. What is this music? I say soca…He says ahhhhhh and nods his head.
Different vibe, same energy. Keeping us moving forward.

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Singing Super’s Blues

There will be no other super man in town
I an I coming alone to sing I song
Using methods beyond the human knowledge
They will say for sure this is advantage
Because when the music start flowing
I’ll be dancing and singing
Creating pure happiness
Like a torpedo mama
I working under water
But is trouble when I surface
Superman, Super Blue

 Why it is you shaking, you don’t know. Well, you kind of know. You kind of know why you are here in this moment screaming and drenched in sweat, getting on like is your first time in a fete and you never knew it could be this sweet. You kind of know that this is where you are supposed to be. The drums matching your heartbeat, the bass making you do things with your boomsie that defy explanation.

 In 3 Canal’s Back Yard Jam under a mango tree we are in the Royal Temple of Soca and the High Priest is presiding. The High Priest is back from the wilderness. Thirteen years of wandering. Thirteen years that we missed him and forgot about him and remembered him in moments when Despers would play their mindblowing version of Rebecca.

 In the Backyard Jam, this Temple of Soca, everyone here is initiated into the mysteries of mas and the music of this place that could make you jump out of yourself and become part of a living, breathing wave. Look, it’s not like I thought before that moment that the Fantastic Friday song was his best. I have childhood memories haunted by his voice. He tiefed my head—a black Super Man—larger than life and more real than the on-screen flying man. Super Blue soared in my musical soul.

 With that kind of grounding, with that kind of brilliance, it is hard to deal with auto-tune and techno-ish beats. But then you realise that these are trappings. And at the root is the voice. At the root is the same Super.

 There are young people and old people and in between people like me there. I take myself from the sidelines and end up in the middle of a soca mosh pit. I lose a shoe and a hat and at some point my dress is way above its anticipated hemline. None of these things matter in the moment of contact. Some portal is opening.

 This Blue so super he could ward off maljo. He could take us all with him to a place of our collective imaginings. You are elated by the way your spirit soars. You missed the blues he is singing. The wailing in his voice. Like he is calling for something that is buried deep deep down and dragging it out of you. It is the sweetest pain.

 It is a triumphant return. After we whispered and laughed aloud at his wandering. We scream with joy at his return. Expect him to solve all our soca problems. We get carried away by the music. We get carried to the place from which we are unsure of the return.

 In the midst of the madness, I watch him good. His eyes closed. His brow furrowed. He is travelling and we are following. He is taking us on a painful journey with him. Some of us don’t notice. Some of us are too distracted by the sweetness of the music to hear the pain.

 The next day, after I have regained my composure I head back to Woodbrook. In another backyard, are a few hundred Orisha devotees dressed in white singing praises to Obatala. The same reaching for the sky. The same drums grounding you and singing making your spirit levitate. This is the original temple of soca. Some get carried away. Some find the spirit in the dance and the spirit dances in them, weightless, beautiful, magical.

 The sun fades and the white clothes glisten in the twilight. I stamp the ground in the rhythm of the drum, re-rooting myself. Reconnecting to the heartbeat, to the things that make me Trinbagonian. The music. The desire to transcend this space we occupy.

 Yes this is magic. But I am still thinking of Super Blue. The sweet sadness: I just came to say I love you. Only love can create music like that. Not competitions. Not prize money. Not the soca mafia. Love. The love power takes you. To a place that you are not entirely unfamiliar with. The liminal point between ecstasy and madness. Between the darkness and the dawn.

 In backyards. Away from the cameras. Away from the politicians. Away from the brand management and the under-nourished winer girls in beads and feathers. There is salvation in soca. There is healing in wining. There is catharsis in putting your hands over your head. I am thankful for the reminder.

 
 

Published in the Trinidad Guardian on January 19, 2013

Advantage Never Done

We so amazed

We get back de stage

So give we a wave

We taking advantage

On the stage

Dem gyal on de stage

For two days

We head for the stage

To turn a new page

We cannot behave

Stage or the grave

We taking advantage

Advantage

Start to jump on the stage and leh we make front page

Advantage, Machel Montano HD

It’s their privilege, not ours, to take advantage.  They don’t need to apologize.  They don’t even need to tell the truth.  They could get vex and self righteous.  That is their privilege.

On the Trinidad and Tobago stage they could behave how the hell they want.  They could put on what kind of mas they like, while we jump and ray on the sidelines.  Spectators in this masquerade that is governance.

Advantage.  They really taking advantage.  Of a young girl called Reshmi.  I mean really in a country where macoing is a national pastime, isn’t everyone qualified to head a spy agency?

And all the people who have the qualifications on paper but sit in their offices collecting their nice fat three times what a local person would get salary, is anybody going to take advantage of them?

Meanwhile Ministers falling all over themselves to tell their version, as if there was some kind of lying competition they had entered and there was a big prize for the best explanation for why they are qualified to hire and fire and then play bess liar.

Well you couldn’t say that they were being untrue to our culture.  I never hear so much Pierrot-esque explanation in my life.

Advantage when they get on the stage in truth yes, Machel boy.  Like the sweetest seer man of soca, the Boy sings the thing that hurts us the most right now.

And makes us love it because we love this kind of pain.

Advantage all round.  From the banks to the bandits.  Everybody taking advantage on us poor Trinbagonians.  And we must be like it so.

In fact, I think we love it.  We love it more than we love ourselves.

Advantage on the stage.  Advantage in the Parliament.  Advantage from King Louis and his band of council imps.

For 363 days out of the year we allow the government to take advantage of us. The government has a good time bending us over and putting it on us with some emphatic vim and vigour they could give the Boy a run for his chooking money.

Stamp on it, Andy Johnson. Stamp on the free press. Trample it until we’re all a bunch of yes men, doing no more than covering the endless, tiresome, mind numbingly boring effluent coming from these so-called leaders.

Oh oh oh oh advantage, yeah.  Sing it like this is Carnival Tuesday and you’re already on the Savannah stage.

Advantage is the road march that price gouging business owners and useless opposition and surly public servants have been singing for years.

I wonder how we would be if we didn’t have those two days? I wonder if we would be taking advantage too.

Trampling on the rights of our workers. Stamping on our children.  Ramfling our environment.

Is we privilege to take advantage. It’s a historical position really. A self-fulfillment of prophecy.  Those who are the most oppressed then become the worst oppressors.

Hear what, if I had the power, I would make Machel Montano more than just the Road March winner.  I would use my considerable influence to make him some kind of Minister of the Pulse of the Nation.

The Boy is more than a soca artist.  He is a seer man, a healer.  He is qualified to be a leader of public thought.

He wouldn’t need a certificate for that.  His credentials are undeniable.

Machel boy, the advantage will never end. It will continue until all of us will become advantage takers in our own right.

The stage is in front of us.  Time to get advantageous.

For two days I wonder if we will take the opportunity to take advantage?

In all the song and dance about multiculturalism I wonder if these advantage takers and the rest of us understand that Carnival is the time when we used to wage our wars?

Who needs civil war when you have mas and pan?  Who needs Ministers’ platitudes when you have soca’s bare essential truths?

I wonder if we will really take the opportunity to advantage our leaders the way they advantage us.  If we will create new motifs and songs and actions to send the message to these advantageous winers that we won’t always be willing to take their instructions.

We won’t always jump and wave and be entertained at their pappyshow leadership.

One for Uncle Ellis

I heard the news about Uncle Ellis on Thursday and it struck me again how these people always choose to go in the Carnival season.
It’s as if the other jumbies get restless around that time.  They miss them, the old talk, the jam sessions, the lime.
I only ever knew Uncle Ellis from a distance. From back in the days when I was new to this media thing and his nephew Tony gave me a bligh on his WEFM station.
They came with the territory, Uncle Ellis and his brother Aldwyn who we all called Pa Chow. A soca man and a mas man.
Days playing mas with Minshall.  Pa Chow building kings.  Uncle Ellis steering Charlie’s Roots to be one of those cutting edge kind of bands that you can’t put your finger on just what so different or so special about them.
In a country where we like to put people in boxes, where African people must sing and dance and Chinee people must mind shop and Syrian people must sell clort and Indian must plant garden, Uncle Ellis stood out.
Plenty talk about soca mafia.  Two generations of talk about who sell out to the Chinee.  And I shake my head and laugh because if you don’t know your value who is going to know if for you?
Before soca mafia there were artists dying in poverty.  There were steelband clashes.  There was Spoiler drinking himself to death and pan men losing their minds on coke.
Before Uncle Ellis there was this crippling self-doubt about who we are what talents we have to offer the world.
Now we don’t have young people wanting to be soca artists anymore.  Now we want to be stars.  We want to ride a rhythm and wave a rag play in some nice all inclusives up town.  Do a video and get big up on Synergy and Tempo.  Push a big Lexus like Iwer, pull down some warm advertising dollars.
And I wonder what Uncle Ellis could have done about it.  What his nephew Tony could still do.  If there is anything that can be done.
I wonder if anybody from the Ministry of Culture ever asked Uncle Ellis what he would have wanted in a Performing Arts Academy.
Another Carnival coming on faster than 160 beats per minute. And the same Carnival questions there, unanswered.  The same problems there, unresolved.
And Uncle Ellis gone to the big Carnival of the sky.  He’s managing a band starring Kitchy and Uncle Andre and John Isaacs.  Maestro’s there too and Roaring Lion.  Uncle Ellis holding reasonings with Brian Honore who I see coming with a dreader than dread Smelter Robber mas. Shorty I is trying his best to get them to behave in the Lord’s house.  Clive Bradley is conducting.
I regret that I didn’t think to record some of those late night studio sessions when Blakie or Rudder who pass through.  I regret I didn’t get to ask all the questions that now keep me awake.
I fear that we are losing all these wise people, without first hearing their stories.  Just sit and listen to them for hours and hours.  If we really are serious about forging a civilization, then we do ourselves a disservice by letting Uncle Ellis go before we have a chance to absorb some of his wisdom.
Uncle Ellis gone and I mourn the passing of yet another historian, teacher, keeper of our stories.