Week afore May 4, 2012

       Relatively quiet week on my stretch of the beach.  The weekend passed without any incident aside from Raymoan and Goat Boy Willy continuing their feud. Willy appeared in the wee hours Saturday morning as we were securing the sound system after our last jump up.  While Raymoan was climbed about the stacks fastening the canvas covers, Willy scampered out from behind a stand of sea grapes and began to pepper our sallow likkle rat-like sound bwoy with a volley of hard unripened blood oranges. Raymoan howled. Willy ran. Raymoan took after him and the two disappeared into the night. Our dibby dibby Raymoan returned around dawn unsuccessful in his pursuit.
       Saturday I went diving with Captain Sparky, Tana, Snus and Caleb. We laid at anchor a few leagues off Skank Harbor where a Panamanian registered rust bucket (known affectionately as the Ora Verde) was scuttled back in ’03 when a US Coast Guard cutter ordered it to come about.  Rather than surrender his illicit cargo consisting of bales of Columbian collie, the smuggling vessel’s Belizean captain splashed petrol about to set his contraband aflame and then sank her. Under the cover of heavy smoke, he escaped in a rubber raft along with his ship’s mate and the two crewmen.  Before the cutter could intercept them, they were picked up by an extremely fast cigarette boat which they had been attempting to rendezvous and swiftly escaped in the direction of Navassa.  The smoke drifted on windward breezes across the eastern side of the island. Monkeys and parrots were falling out of the palm trees for days. Unburned bales of the potent cargo drifted ashore for weeks.  This began what Mad John refers to as the ‘Save the Bales’ movement in Dub City.
       We dove the wreck which lies in only about thirty feet of water. It has become something of a growing reef in the last decade and the amount of corral expansion surprises me each time I’ve been down there. We spent the afternoon fooling around the Verde. Snus and I explored the wreck while Tana languished on the deck sunning herself, then Caleb secured several large conch and prepared a delicious seviche before Tana and I bid them farewell and put ashore above Dub City.
       I stayed at Tana’s until Tuesday morning before heading back to the main studio in Heartbeat. Tuesday afternoon was spent overseeing a relatively simple recording session before doing Irie Tracks’ monthly books and meeting payroll. Yesterday afternoon I returned to the beach along with Paco.  I ate a hearty chowder dinner at Mama Celeste’s, visited with Blind Pew over a Barbancourt and turned in early.
       Paco, Peachie and their chum, James Wong Howl, a retired Jamaican policeman, often fish together.  An inscrutable cynic with a desert dry sense of humor, Howl has lived on our island for about three years. Last night they went bonefishing a mile off Spivey Point in an area of shallows and mudflats known locally as The Cloisters. They’ll often do this overnight in pleasant weather. Packing Howls’s elderly wooden dinghy with ice, beer and gear, the three, barefoot and clad only in cutoffs and t-shirts, set out shortly after dark.  On his hip, James Wong Howl always wears his vintage Webley break-top service revolver. With a lantern burning at the tiny boat’s bow, drifting on the current, they were at The Cloisters by about ten last night.  They baited and set their fishing poles, then settled in for a night of boon comradery.
       They drank, dined, sang and laughed into the blue hours. The fishing was slow. The bonefish weren’t even nibbling. About three in the morning, Paco suggested they might try gigging for a while, using forked gig poles to spear bonefish as they passed beneath in the shallow waters. James Wong Howl held the lantern aloft while Paco and Peachie peered into the shadowy waters and tried to snag the passing pairs of fish. They speared a couple of paltry specimens which flopped about in the bottom of the small boat before Howl handed the lantern off to Paco so that he could try his luck. James Wong favors a small razor sharp gaff hook on a short pole over the forked gigs. Spotting what he thought in the dim watery light to be a solitary bonefish, James Wong Howl yanked the gaff hook upward and snagged the fish’s tail, tossing it into the boat.
       It was then the three realized what Howl had caught was not a bonefish at all. A very angry three foot barracuda with a gaff hook through his tail lashed about on the wooden boat’s bottom. Their bare toes within inches of the madly snapping sharp teeth of the enraged barracuda, Paco and Peachy danced about squealing and cursing. “I fix sumbitch!” shouted James Wong, drawing his revolver and firing three quick rounds into the denizen of the not so deep. The barracuda ceased snapping instantly as the three slugs passed through it and through the boat’s wooden bottom. They sank in less time than it’s taken to read this blog entry. There, still hours before dawn, they found themselves a mile from shore standing in waist deep water in the dark. Luckily the waxing moon was near full on the clear night to help guide them back to Spivey’s Point.
       I was sipping Blue Mountain and eating scones with O. W. Jeeves on my little veranda at Number 9 Tigertail Trail when the quite disgruntled trio came walking in dejectedly this morning.  They were heading back out with Caleb’s help this afternoon, hoping to retrieve their gear and James Wong Howl’s sunken dingy. They have yet to return. Big Hubert’s angry at Peachie who should have reported for work an hour ago.
       Natty Bumpo wants to warm up Dread Sound System # 2 just now so I need to go fire up the generator, pull a few dub plates then grab something to eat.  I’ll nicee up the dance at 10. Riddim Come Down!


Week afore April 27, 2012

     Earlier this evening as our young webmaster, Ricky Vinyl, was walking up to my digs to post this evening’s jump up playlist on the Dread website, he decided to take a stroll out to the end of our modest neighborhood wooden pier to enjoy the always beautiful sunset. Ricky walked out 50 paces admiring the sun’s slow multi-color slide into the azure blue Caribbean. It was breathtaking. Sadly the pier is only about 49 paces long and young Master Vinyl’s quite rapid slide into the sea was far faster than that of the sun’s, but certainly no less breathtaking. When we dry out Ricky and the playlist, it’ll be posted. 
     (5-2-2012 Ricky Vinyl sez… 4-27 playlist now where it wants to be.  Hit the link and ye shall find.  Beware too of long walks off short piers!)

     April 21 marked the 46th anniversary of the visit of Haile Selassie in 1966 to the newly independent nation of Jamaica.  Bongo Mon invited several of us out to his home in the Rasta community  at Spivey’s Point Saturday night.  A grounation or binghi, a Rasta ceremonial observance filled with chanting, drumming, singing and feasting was held to celebrate the holy occasion.  Bongo Mon, whose real name is Geoffrey though no one but wife Naomi ever calls him that, heads one of several Rastafarian families who make up the small settlement.  They grow virually all their own food which is supplemented by fishing.  Bongo Mon and his older son, Caleb, operate the water sports hut catering to the tourists on the north shore, renting sail and boogie boards, paddle boats, snorkel and scuba gear, and arranging dive trips with Captain Sparky.

     Over 100,000 of the faithful rushed to see the living embodiment of the Christian Trinity that April day in Jamaica back in 1966.  The coming of an African king who would be the Living God had been foretold by Garvey and Howell. In the midst of the throng was a 14 year old Geoffrey Hilliary Desmond. He wouldn’t be called Bongo Mon for a few years yet.  He wasn’t a Rastafarian before seeing Selassie several times the next few days.

     When he attended church back in those days it was Catholic mass and about once a month he accompanied his mother’s mother, Granny Bernice, to Poco services in Spanish Town. Mass washed over him as a light rain leaving little impression. The frantic Pocomania services were exciting and colorful, certainly a far cry from solemnity of mass, but though he enjoyed the music, young Geoffrey failed to see any far beckoning light.  He prayed along with his fellow classmates as each school day began at the Seventh Day Adventist school which he’d soon leave. He prayed along them again before eating his lunch. But he prayed simply by rote while his mind was vexed for a way to afford a motorbike he so desired.
     But in the crowded streets of crowded Montego Bay that crowded April day as the visiting King of Ethiopia and his entourage made their departing journey to the international airport, Bongo Mon glimpsed the little man in the very formal military uniform with all the shiny medals and felt a great longing and at the same time, a rich fulfillment he’d never known.  He witnessed light and magic and his destiny. Later as he rode back to his native Kingston atop a produce truck and pondered all his strange new feelings, he took them into his heart and he’d kept them there. He was not alone in those thoughts and meditations that day.  And attaining a motorbike didn’t seem a part of it.
     Trying to understand anyone’s religion from the outside is virtually impossible and objective.  It’s like trying to understand another’s relationship with their loved ones.  At the least we are being intrusive and presumptive. At best we’ll always find ourselves on the outside peering in through stained glass windows.  The King of Ethiopia’s given name was Tafari Makonnen.  In his Christian North African native language of Amharic ‘Ras’ translates as ‘head or prince’. He was, in fact, Ras Tafari Makonnen, known as The Lion of Judah and many other titles. He held the distinction of being the 225th direct descendant of the Biblical King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The belief in his divinity is the foremost tenant of the faith named for him.
     In a recent issue of Esquire magazine, the one with the subtle word ‘SEX’ emblazoned in huge letters on the cover, there’s an article on the newest documentary on the life of Bob Marley. Some American visitor left a copy of the magazine at Pew’s bar the other night. Knowing the blind mixologist would merely toss it in the trash, I carried it back to my hut. As I read the short positive review of the Marley film I was immediately offended the writer saw fit to refer to Rastafarianism as a ‘nutty’ religion. What religion doesn’t seem nutty to outsiders?
     We stayed at Spivey Point until well after sunrise before returning home very tired, inspired and happy. Sunday disappeared into a long deep slumber beneath mosquito netting and the slow motion ceiling fan in my digs. Monday found Natty Bumpo busy correcting an error in the sound system’s equalization only he heard. Everyone else seemed thrilled with the sound at last Friday night’s jump up. I ventured into Dub City Tuesday morning, stopped by the main studio in Heartbeat and didn’t return to the beach until last night.
     When arriving home at Number 9 Tigertail Trail I discovered two gifts on my front steps. Both were from Mad John(the Conqueror Root – the Warrior Artist), peace offerings he hoped might allow his re-entry into our social world of the Friday night jump ups.  In spite of his questionable ways, we’ve missed the wiley rascal. One gift was a small Bulla cake he had made. It was quite tasty in its’ simplicity. The other was a little land turtle who I named Cactus Jack 2, but sadly he ran away sometime during the night – very slowly. I had already forgiven Mad John his transgressions of last fall when he was caught shucking tourists by selling used Christmas cards and bogus treasure maps to either King Christophe’s treasure or that of Henry Morgan. His story varied depending who he was trying to sell the maps. He and his questionable chum, Dr. Tuskaloosa (unlicensed), will be back with us this Friday night.
     The only other news of the week was the continuing escalation of hostilities between Raymoan, our sallow rat-like dibby dibby sound boy, and his fellow goatherd, Goat Boy Willie. Raymoan discovered Willie’s camp Thursday when Goatboy was out grazing his herd. Raymoan chose to burn Willie’s only pair of socks. The feud continues.
     Peachy iced down more cold ones than usual for tonight. After last Friday night I’m pretty certain there will be more reggae children finding their way to my stretch of the beach when Dread Sound System # 2 cranks around 10. Raymoan and Maxie have finished raking the beach. Ophelia is busily braiding cornrows into a pretty tourist’s blond tresses. I see Leroy has lit the first of the torches, but it’s Big Hubert’s jerkpit smoke that’s making me hungry. Probably about time to walk over and see what Pew’s drink special is tonight. Ites.

Week afore April 20, 2012

     With the work completed in reconstructing the control tower destroyed in last fall’s Tropical Storm Nicole, the Dread Sound System # 2 is now almost jump up ready.  Busy week. We caught Goat Boy Willie trying to steal some scrap lumber on our dibby dibby Raymoan Ameche’s watch Monday night late. Ameche  and Willie have long feuded over ownership of specific goats, so Raymoan took great pleasure in busting Goat Boy, who immediately toadied, bowed, scraped, apologized profusely, then grabbed one of Raymoan’s spotted kids and ran away, the goat bleating and Goat Boy laughing like the mad man I’ve long suspected him to be. Raymoan has sworn vengeance.
     Tuesday morning Natty Bumpo oversaw the burying of the audio snake in the sand stretching 30 meters from the stacks to the control tower. We’ve never buried it before but since we’re planning on leaving the new system up all the time now, Natty thought it for the best since it was always getting stepped on in the past or dancers were always tripping over it.  I spent Tuesday in my little beach studio preparing some new tracks blending classics with the more obscure, but all disks very danceable.  Wake the town and tell the people. Ras Eddie Ille rode his Honda 90 in from Dub City around sundown with a nice batch of fresh dubplates and more than a few scorchers. I never ask where he gets them. Good jams. We set up half the night with Ophelia and Little Annie previewing them. We’ll mix some of them in and nicee up the dance this Friday Night.
     Mama Celeste’s auntie, Miss Claudelia, has been kind enough to supervise the sewing and construction of our wonderful new canvas covers for the speaker stacks and that’s a lot of canvas. She, herself, is not sewing since she’s quite elderly and rather arthritic, but she’s overseeing the work done by her god daughter, T Claudette, and several of T’s friends who live in Heartbeat.  Miss Claudelia’s late husband Arthur was a sail maker. She certainly knows the craft and has been a severe taskmaster to the girls, who love her dearly. Not having to completely strike the stacks each week will certainly be a blessing to everbody’s backs, not that anyone ever complains (except sallow rat-like Raymoan and sometimes Leroy) plus there’s always plenty of friends who, though they’ve already danced for hours, volunteer to stay on to help out. Wednesday morning Peachy and Smiley brought Miss Claudelia down to the beach to watch the covers be fitted a final time.  Old Blind Pew brought her out a punch and flirted with her. She giggled like a young girl. The corner of one canvas which goes over the port side of the bass bins failed to drape properly and she saw to it that the girls corrected it immediately. She loves her JA music, a dear lady who hopes to be with us Friday night. Before she married her late husband, they say she used to see Duke Reid on the sly. Don’t know. I wasn’t there. But the massive and crew can’t thank her and the girls enough. The stacks should be able to stand out in almost any weather now snugly covered in red, green and gold waterproof canvas when we strike after each jump up. And the newly roofed control tower with louvered drop shutters…well, all things be irie with System Number 2.
     Thursday was loud! Much louder than we ever turn it up at the jump ups. Were we to use those high settings, regular folks’ ears would bleed, but it doesn’t faze the crew. Eddie just grins and shouts platitudes to Jah. “Got fe run bus up 100 clicks fe him fe purr at 10” Natty says. He demands everything be just right. Natty and Ras Eddie put the system through its’ paces at full wattage. Studio One riddim’s boomed out to sea all day and into the dusk.  Many fisherman hailed us from their boats while only a few complained the loud music was disturbing the fish. Twice ships tooted a salute from far off shore. People from all up and down the south side of the island wandered over to check it all out. Many danced about happily. Friday nights have been quiet since last year’s big blow down. I think they’ve missed us. Everywhere were smiles. A pair of John Crow vultures circled slowly above drawn by all the activity. They reminded me of Mad John and Dr. Tuskaloosa. Dogs barked and ran about. Children squealed. Young dons and their dancehall divas raced up and down the beach on motorbikes. Laughing gulls expressed their dismay by diving time and again toward the horns. A somber old pelican stood stoically atop the control tower roof, shifting from side to side with the beat and nodding his approval as Raymoan trotted back and forth adjusting the crossovers’ settings and  changing the positions of the horns at Natty’s direction. By suppertime Natty was satisfied with his sound and went home to rest. In the middle of the afternoon Snus came by to tell me Mad John was sorry for all his past indiscretions and wanted to come back again. We banished him from the beach last summer when we found him trying to sell bogus treasure maps and used Christmas cards to the tourists. I joked with Snus and said I’d think about it. Went to bed early.
     This morning dawned beautifully beginning with a pink glow over toward Haiti then gave way to a glorious golden sunrise. I sat on my little veranda at Number 9 Tigertail sipping Blue Mountain and watching the long line of women and girls parading up the Shore Road toward their destination, Heartbeat’s market day. Each carried a basket or bundle balanced perfectly atop their head. Many of them will be here tonight after dark for all the fun. Raymoan and his brother-in-law Maxie swept the beach as the tide receded. Later they’d gather wood for tonight’s bonfire and prepare torches by attaching hunks of old tire to stubby bamboo poles. Peachy and Smiley unloaded sacks of long grain rice behind Mama Celeste’s. Big Hubert was already beginning to cook. The smell of jerk goat smoking above his firepit filled the morning air with promises. Bongo Mon carried blocks of ice down the lane to Pew’s where the elderly blind man prepared his famous punch in a huge stewer. Lazy day for me. I’ll probably take a nap later, then ice down some cold ones. It’s a busy day for everyone who works on our beach. Everyone except your reggae crew. We’ll get busy about ten tonight.  Soon come.