Dreams, Dons & Dancehall

It’s really hard for me to paint an unbiased and objective portrait of Tivoli Gardens. For a bunch of reasons. But let’s see how this goes. My grandfather opened a drugstore in July of 1945 on Spanish Town Road, which was and still is, one of the main arteries in downtown Kingston. A block or two away from an area that 18 years later would be developed and named Tivoli Gardens.

By 1945, decades of post-emancipation urban migration by thousands of rural Jamaicans had already started the creation of what was becoming one of the largest shanty towns in the Caribbean. No running water, no sewage system. Dogs, pigs and goats roamed unpaved dirt tracks scavenging what was left from whatever humans had already picked from. People were making do and constructing extremely creative housing solutions: old abandoned cars, cardboard boxes, pieces of zinc and scraps of board were pieced and patched together. The area was called Back O’Wall, given the name because it was where people and things that had no use to the greater society were thrown-at the backside of civilized Jamaica- walled in by their destitution and kept out of sight and hopefully out of mind.



In 1962 a Harvard educated Lebanese-Jamaican by the name of Edward Seaga was elected member of parliament for West Kingston. Back O’Wall fell within the boundaries of his constituency. Seaga, who died earlier this year at 89 years old, was a man full of contradictions. He was passionately benevolent and extremely conscious of the plight of impoverished constituents. He also led with an unyielding authoritarianism and cold pragmatism. Both aspects defined his political career. 



As a sociology major he studied the people. He was already very familiar with the area having spent a significant amount of time living there and doing research on the Neo African/Judeo-Christian religion called Revivalism. Revivalism was practiced by many rural Jamaicans who had relocated to Kingston with their traditions intact. Bredda Eddie, as he was affectionately called by his constituents, was also a record producer and label owner. Both became outlets for his deep love for Jamaican culture and music. 



Seaga was a political strategist par excellence whose tenacity would later make him become leader of the right leaning Jamaica Labour Party and eventually prime minister. He knew that in order to continue to secure his placement as member of parliament he would have to lock in a base of voters. However, no politician had ever won West Kingston for more than one term. He did it by creating Tívoli. It was Seaga’s brainchild when he was MP of Western Kingston and minister of Development and Welfare. He envisioned, crafted and implemented his idea of a Jamaican urban utopia. From 1962 until his retirement in January 2005, for 43 years, Edward Seaga was the uninterrupted political representative for West Kingston.
To build Tivoli residents of Back O’Wall were swiftly moved out, willingly and some unwilling. The area was completely bulldozed and in its place housing, schools, community centers, medical facilities, parks and sports fields were speedily built over the course of three years. Some would describe it as a political purge of sorts since residents who were supportive of Seaga and the Jamaica Labour Party were returned to these new facilities and became eternally grateful and more importantly, very politically loyal. 



The energy and the personality of Tivoli Gardens, as well as many parts of West Kingston, became a hybrid of Seaga’s national mandate for cultural, political and economic development as well as the rural traditions and social dynamics of its inhabitants. Jamaican music, arts, dance and sports were all institutionalized within the community. Most of the early musicians, performers, bands of Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae all had West Kingston roots. Dancehalls and concert halls were rooted in the constituency, with Seaga even owning one of the most famous- the legendary Chocomo Lawn. 
In later years, 2002 to be exact, my family’s sound system Swatch International started what became the largest weekly street dance in the Caribbean. It was called Passa Passa and held in Tivoli on Wednesday nights in front of the same store that my long deceased grandfather opened 60 years earlier. Passa was unique because it changed the perception that many Jamaicans had of the community. Diverse groups of people from all over the country and the globe would make it a point to be in Tivoli to experience authentic dancehall music , culture and personalities. All in an environment that was safe and orderly without ever an incident. This flew in the face of the then common narrative that Tivoli was a crime infested ghetto whose inhabitants were prone to violence and unwelcoming of outsiders.


This reputation, though unfounded, had had its genesis from an earlier decade.

You see, Tivoli became a pawn on the chessboard which the geopolitical tensions of the cold war were played out in the 1970s. Seaga, who by then had become the leader of the Jamaica Labor Party, was strongly opposed to the leftist leanings of the ruling Peoples National Party. Michael Manley was the charismatic leader of the PNP.
Manley had cultivated strong ties with Cuba and Russia and was determined to lead Jamaica as a democratic socialist country. Many Jamaicans feared that we were the next in line to join Cuba and Nicaragua in becoming a fully communist state. America very much believed this and dreaded the thought of another red outpost with missile striking capabilities in its backyard.
Well, this is where we will try not to say too much. But let’s suffice to mention that the streets of Jamaica became filled with American M-16s and Soviet Ak-47s and West Kingston became ground zero in a bloody, brutal battle that was probably being scripted from offices in Havana, Washington and Moscow.
Tivoli Gardens and West Kingston were surrounded by areas that were all politically aligned to the left leaning PNP government and with Tivoli as the defacto capital of the right leaning forces, they were all hellbent on its destruction. Tivoli was viewed as the ultimate garrison and ground zero in the war for the ideological soul of Jamaica. 
Continuous strikes and counter strikes lead to an undeclared civil war in which thousands islandwide were killed in the lead up to the 1980 elections.



The JLP won that election and Jamaica has embraced a mostly capitalist economy ever since. Tivoli has also remained loyal to the JLP even subsequent to the resignation of Edward Seaga in 2005. However that loyalty has been strained over the last decade for one particular reason. In 2010, the JLP government as a result of an extradition request from America, grudgingly removed a prominent community leader and flew him to New York to stand trial on drug trafficking charges. His name was Christoper “Dudus” Coke. 
Dudus was considered the Don of West Kingston with Tivoli being his home. He was known as The President.


His father was Lester Coke aka Jim Brown, who was also considered the defacto boss of Tivoli Gardens and West Kingston before him during the 1980s. Dudus was quiet, intelligent, attended a prominent high school and became the leader after the death of his father. Loved and feared, his brand of benevolence and leadership, one dedicated to a sense of order allowed West Kingston to become a place where internal crime was almost unheard of. He was perceived by some as the final arbiter of justice within the community. Some would say that his power and influence extended all across Jamaica and perhaps the globe to places where migrating Jamaicans had settled. Yet America wanted him to stand trial and the community didn’t agree with that at all. They closed ranks and the entry points into Tivoli were barricaded with booby traps. The President was going to be protected at all costs regardless of the wishes of the both the Jamaican and American government.

The defense included lots of men with lots of guns. All were seen in Tivoli by US surveillance planes and internal informers who were by then both feeding information to the Jamaican military. All in preparation for an invasion of the community to get Coke dead or alive. On May 23, 2010 the military and police broke through the barricades and the resulting carnage left 73 civilians and one soldier dead. Well that was the official report. From the community’s count that number is closer to 120 civilians killed. The soldiers had burnt bodies. Also it seems that Dudus and most of the warriors who were defending him had left after preliminary mortars were fired by the military and before any actual fighting started. It is also suspected that a significant number of the civilians killed were executed in cold blood by soldiers as they sought information on Coke’s whereabouts. 
Dudus was eventually captured en route to turning himself into the American Embassy and quickly extradited. He stood trial and was sentenced to 23 years in a federal prison. 



Tivoli lost its Don. As a result, over the last few years, there has been some violent internal strife between various factions vying to fill the void left by his departure. However, in the face of this, the community remains vibrant. Music and sound system culture is alive and well. Tivoli Gardens sports teams and cultural groups still excel nationally. Entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency as an area are still strong in the DNA of the residents. 

Tivoli has been through decades of regular onslaughts by various forces. Some may say many were brought on because of the legacy of how and why it was built. But because of these challenges the residents have built up a communal resilience and particular fortitude of character that does not exist in many Jamaican urban communities. There is no question that Tivoli will have to evolve and take a proper place in the new 21st century Jamaica which everyone is desirous to see. I only hope that the culture, energy and strength of spirit of the residents are channeled to positively impact their own destinies. 

Cookshop Review-Doreen’s in Regal Plaza

Doreen’s is a popular year to year cookshop in Regal Plaza near Cross Roads.  I have often passed it when I do business in that area but have never been hungry at the time. However, based on numerous recommendations from my twitter family, I decided that it definitely deserved a try.

It’s a very popular spot, which is generally a good sign. A full Jamaican lunch and breakfast menu is on display in a crowded space which can accommodate probably 20 in-restaurant diners.

I recommend take out. It’s hot in there and you aren’t going for the ambiance because there is none. I was there at prime lunch hour so there was quite a crowd. Interestingly, they were all patient and most were regulars who were familiar with the staff and the different non-menu combinations that could be ordered.

I stuck to the two basics lunch staples that I generally use to evaluate most local cookshops.

Curry Goat and Fried Chicken.

The fried chicken was really, really on point. Nicely battered, well seasoned, perfectly golden fried.

I got rice and peas and a piece of yam and a little greens. they offer other “food” selections with meals so be sure to ask them what they have for the day. The rice and peas was seasoned properly and full of coconut milk flavour. Proper, Proper Sunday rice and peas.

The goat was good. Not great, but it could hold its own. The white rice was a little wetty wetty and not shelly as how I personally like it. A decent serving size for the price is a definite win. Also the goat was spicy and hot. It tasted freshly cooked and not like it was microwaved up from the day before or from the morning. Only real problem for me was that the goat was cut up a bit too fine and plenty bone was in it. But truthfully, I’ve had worse goat and paid far more for it.

Doreen’s is definitely going to be on my list of spots to grab a road meal from now on. The parking in Regal Plaza is a little difficult at prime times, but you will find one eventually. The place itself has a real grassroots Jamaican energy. Like it’s your auntie and her daughters doing the cooking.

I like it. Check it out and let me know.

Ambience-LOL

Taste-A minus

Presentation-B

Service-B+

Price-A

Overall Experience-B+

 

 

 

Jamaican Restaurant Review-Triple Tz

Triple Tz Restaurant at 1 Annette Crescent has become one of the top lunch spots around town.
It has a full range of standard  Jamaican lunchtime fare in addition to a few items not typically found in the regular cookshop.
It has comfortable covered seating and a full service bar. Fans are scattered throughout the dining area and do a respectable job at keeping the environment cool.
I have been twice for lunch in the last 2 months and both times the experience was pleasant.
The wait staff is affable and efficient. They are neatly dressed, knowledgeable about the daily menu items, smile pleasantly and most importantly they are generally attentive and quick.
On one visit I ordered a standard a lunch staple, fried chicken with rice and peas with a little oxtail gravy. The other person in my party ordered curried goat and white rice.
Both were proper. The chicken more so. It was perfectly seasoned and golden fried to perfection. The oxtail gravy was plentiful and flavorful. A small green salad was included on the plate and was very fresh.
The curried goat was fine but needed a bit more pepper and seasonings for my taste. It was imported mutton. You can tell as it didn’t have the heavy ram goat flavour that some of us love. But such is life, local rammy meat is not very common anymore at most restaurants or cookshops.
The portion was also a bit moderate considering the price was possibly twice as much as a regular garrison curried goat lunch. All in all it was a proper meal and equally nice were the fresh lemonade and June Plum juice which we had to accompany it.

On my next visit I ordered the lamb chops and my party ordered the steamed fish.
I asked before what type of fish they had and they said it was snapper fillets. The waitress upon questioning said that they were the frozen ones sold in bulk.
If you are a fresh fish lover, ask what fish they are using for the day first before ordering.
Don’t do it if they say the fillets. Long frozen fish has a particular texture that no amount of cooking and seasoning can make right. We are blessed to be surrounded by water and have many restaurants serving fresh caught seafood. Suffice to say, despite me warning my date, the fish was ordered and though not bad tasting , left a bit to be desired if you are a proper fish lover.

The lamb however was tender and done kind of “stewish grilled”. I never quite got around to asking the waitress how it was actually cooked, but it was juicy and not chewy as lamb tends to be at times. Served with a small side of fresh vegetables, the portion was decent sized for lamb in Jamaica but if you are hungry, it is moreish for real.
The rice and peas was once again very good, with the fruit juices fresh and variety abundant.

Triple Tz is a nice spot. It’s more expensive than a take out cookshop and that is to be expected. It’s not unreasonably priced. For 2 people with a flask of rum and chaser, 3 grand supposed to can cover yu ting. It’s a very popular spot for lunch meetings with many of the New Kingston and uptown crowd coming there regularly.
Soooo, if it’s a one away move you deh pon, Triple Tz is not the place. You will run into people you know.
All in all it’s a good non-pretentious local restaurant to visit and have a comfortable Jamaican home style lunch.
Check it out if you haven’t before.

Ambience-B+

Taste-A

Presentation-B+

Service-B+

Price-B

Overall Experience B+

 

P.S. Pardon the shitty pictures. I will get this right in a second…

 

 

Scammers, Oh Scammers, Oh Scammers.

Over the next few months I am going to be writing articles focusing on some of the scams, poor customer service, and competence issues we face in Jamaica.
These are situations that we all deal with and many times we accept rubbish service and scams simply because we can’t be bothered. We grumble, cut our losses and try to keep it moving. That attitude actually hurts all of us and it allows businesses and governments to continue to get away with poor and unethical behaviour. I believe that information is power and hopefully some of these pieces can help people to become more aware of the questionable practices of some businesses and demand better.

Toyota motor cars are definitely the most popular vehicles in Jamaica. Historically they have had a great reputation for reliability and are among the most moderate in terms of repair costs. However, like most mass produced goods, sometimes there are faults and quality issues.
It appears that the during the 2000s several models of Toyotas had an issue with cracking and melting dashboards. In Jamaica the vehicle that seemed to have been most hit by the defect was the Prado 120 which was made from around 2003 to 2009. It’s still one of the most popular SUVs here and were also sold in the US as the Lexus GX470.
70% of all of the Prados falling within these years that I have personally seen, have cracks in the dashboard. This is an issue that also exists with a significant amount of the Lexus 470s in the States and by my subsequent investigation, in Prados sold all over the world.
For a high end SUV, the cracking and melting dashboards greatly reduces resale value, destroys the appearance of a good vehicle and even possibly compromises safety if the cracks occur near the airbags.
Mistakes happen. Quality issues can sometimes slip though.
However, what is telling is how a national official dealership for a brand with such a widespread problem has chosen to deal with the issue.
Prados are not cheap vehicles, and one would expect that if Toyota Jamaica knew of the cracked dashboard problem, they would have made some attempt to provide fair recourse for owners of the problem vehicles. Especially if airbags and safety may be compromised.
This has not been the case.
From as early as 2005 when the cracks started appearing, Toyota Jamaica denied that the vehicles had a fault. People were told that they had parked in the sun too long. Some were told that they must have used an improper cleaning agent. The cracks and dashboard melting continue to show up on these models even now.

 

Toyota Jamaica has had a standard routine where whenever someone complains, they act as if  it was the first time they were seeing or hearing of the problem.

Scam.

Customers with cars barely older than 3 years, just out of warranty, were charged upwards of $130,000 for new dashboards and labour to install them. Some gave up and were forced to live with the problem and just believed that they had bad luck.
In some cases, when the customers complained aggressively, Toyota Jamaica said that they would “accommodate” customers and sell them the dashboards at cost, cost being basically a 15% discount.

Scam.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me state that I currently have a 06 Prado. I know of this first hand. This is not something I have heard or read about. I have experienced it personally.
I have also had family members and close friends who had  the same problem and who thought that maybe the issue was unique to them based on what Toyota Jamaica told them.
However, thank God for the Internet and Google.
I searched, and sure enough the problem was widespread and in several countries.

In this one Australian online forum alone, over 120 pages of posts all relating to the dashboard fault.

http://www.pradopoint.com.au/showthread.php?12073-Cracked-dashboard&highlight=Barry 

Also here is a local online forum with the same discussion.

http://www.wheelsjamaica.com/wheels_forum/index.php?topic=124530.0

Similar searches will reveal the issue occurred in New Zealand, other Caribbean countries and the United States.

Because of the pressure placed on Toyota from Australian Prado customers and Lexus customers in the US, they have had to start replacing many of the dashboards. Grudgingly so, but they had to.

https://www.carbuyingtips.com/articles/blog/lexus-to-pay-for-cracked-dashboard-repairs.htm

http://www.carcomplaints.com/news/2017/toyota-lexus-melting-dashboard-lawsuit.shtml

Lexus 470s from 2003-2009 are being covered by a special extended warranty because of how widespread the problem has been and because they took so long to address it. American consumers have sued and continue to sue Toyota to ensure that they get justice.

These are 1st world countries. Toyota had tried to get over, but the customers persisted and because of the outcry and lawsuits, the dealers have had to start to do the right thing.
Not so in Jamaica.
Perhaps because we are a black 3rd world country, many companies believe that we are not entitled to a similar treatment as customers in their other markets. They assume that because we don’t have proper consumer protection agencies, they can do as they like and we will accept whatever they tell us.

Some dashboard replacements have apparently been done here free of cost, but Toyota Jamaica has been very secretive and did not and have not informed most of their customers.
I can only deduce that they can get the replacement dashes from Japan at no charge since it is now an acknowledged factory defect. But then it appears that they pick and choose who they give the dashboards to as part of the extended warranty.
They continue to sell them to most customers.
It’s a scam. It’s unfair. It’s unethical.
Strong words, but recently we have seen VW taken to court for cooking the figures of their carbon emissions. It is not wise to assume honesty and fairness anymore from many of the brands that we had grown to love and trust. Consumers must be diligent and proactive and the sharing of information is our most important tool to keep them honest.
I am disappointed with Toyota Jamaica, and this merely brings an obvious fact to light.
If a dealership does not provide proper warranty support or customer service, it does not make sense to purchase a new car from them. There are enough used car dealers here that bring in Toyotas at a fraction of their cost. People pay a premium to purchase new cars from the authorized dealer because they expect a certain standard.
If you are not going to get that standard or service, you are better off saving a significant amount of your money and buying elsewhere.
Buyer beware and be aware.

 

Jamaican Restaurant Review – 4U -The Pho Was Faux

The Jamaican culinary landscape continues to expand with the arrival of the first ever Vietnamese restaurant in Kingston.

4U is located in Manor Center on the lower floor near the former NCB location. Many Vietnamese restaurants throughout North America all seem to be located in rather nondescript strip malls, and 4U fits in perfectly with this aesthetic.

 

The decor is adequate with Vietnamese style murals and some eclectic wall and lighting fixtures. It seats approximately 30, however 5 or so of the tables are low Asian style seating that may turn off some customers.

 

 

There is also a rather oddly placed green astroturf area that is intended to facilitate cushion seating on the ground. That may  present some difficulty if you have a Mom like mine to take out for lunch one afternoon. The actual proper chairs are of an office variety and not the most comfortable, but perhaps the intent is to have people eat quickly and leave soon so as to maximize the limited seating.

I went to 4U on the second day of its opening, the service was great. Attentive informed staff, clean restroom and fairly quick food delivery.  The menu is very moderately priced, however small and somewhat limited. The spring roll appetizer has pork and a vegetarian or chicken option wasn’t available.Sticking to Vietnamese staples that I had eaten before on many occassions, I ordered the Beef Banh Mi (a sandwich on a french baguette) and a Vietnamese Iced Coffee and my date decided on the Chicken Pho(a traditional broth with noodles and chicken) and a Strawberry Iced Tea.  Both were served in short order, within 15 minutes.

The Banh was wonderfully prepared on a freshly baked bun. The beef was tender and seasoned with the perfect amount of fish sauce and chilli. The lettuce was crispy, as were the shredded carrots and cucumbers. 4U probably also wins and makes history as being the first restaurant in Jamaica to have Sriracha on it tables.   What was lacking however were the typical condiments which are served with such sandwiches. A few pieces of lime, chilli paste, cilantro and some chopped green chilli peppers are the standard fare as far as accompaniments for both Banh and Pho in all the Vietnamese restaurants that I’ve been. I requested lime and cilantro and both were forthcoming even if in grudging quantities. All in all, the Bahn was good, not great but good. My iced coffee was also up to par and made for a good pairing with the sandwich.

The Pho however left quite a bit to be desired. The broth was bland and slightly salty. The bowl had a fair portion of chicken, but was inundated with whole stalks of boiled scallion as opposed chopped offerings in the bowl or on the side. Cilantro was noticeably absent, and once again, no lime and no bean sprouts which are typical inclusions.  Most disturbing however was the use of what seemed like fettucini as opposed to rice noodles. The noodles were of a completely different texture than what is generally used in Pho. It was Faux Pho. The strawberry iced tea was also a poor choice off the menu.  It was merely a kool-aid tasting concoction with an artificial aftertaste. Don’t try it. Trust me.

4U is definitely worth a visit. The price is the major selling point with meals being around $800-$1100. If you have never experienced Vietnamese cuisine before, it especially warrants a visit. Hopefully they will be able to get a regular supply of authentic ingredients and improve on the authenticity of some of the dishes.

Ambience-B

Taste -B minus

Presentation -B

Service -B plus

Price -A

Overall -B

 

Fire Fenton Fast

image

I don’t know Fenton Ferguson personally. I have seen him at perhaps two social gatherings and he appears like an affable, decent, older man, not dissimilar to many of my own relatives. He apparently likes to dance and seemed polite in his dealings with people at the occasions where I observed him.

That’s all nice and good.

However, Minister Fenton Ferguson, as we have come to find out as Jamaican citizens, is an abject failure in his capacity as guardian and manager of the health of our nation. Ferguson has been tasked by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to administer and preside over a difficult and underfunded health ministry at a time when the IMF has mandated belt tightening which impacts all spending on social services. In fairness, not an easy task.  It would be a challenge to any able and competent individual. However, the absolute level of failure, mismanagement and incompetence shown by Ferguson in his handling of the portfolio puts the very survival of every single Jamaican residing in the island in jeopardy.

The audacity of his denial of the existence of a Chik V problem and the prior failure to adequately inform and prepare a public help policy to help to minimize the impact of what was internationally accepted as an inevitable occurrence, cost Jamaica hundreds of lives and billions of dollars. The actions of the ministry led to mistrust, confusion and total chaos as people sought out cures and explanations for a plague that swept the country.  The failure to inform the populace of necessary prevention protocols led to thousands of Jamaicans feeling close to death’s door and in some cases putting many through that door.

Fenton’s shining moment and penance  was his public wish that he too could catch the disease and experience the pain and suffering  felt by so many us

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/I-want-ChikV–says-health-minister

Utter neglect. Utter failure. Utter disgrace.

The huge list of major negative occurrences and issues occurring in our health sector during the tenure of Minister Ferguson has no precedent in modern Jamaican history. That may very well be a matter of bad luck and saltness for the minister. However, his handling of the various situations and the overall decline in the standard of health care are all him and his doing.

The inadequate administration and maintenance of hospitals, the buck stops with him.

The poor ordering and monitoring of supplies for the institutions in the sector, the buck stops with him.

The inability to ably inform and prepare the public for the issues surrounding the Riverton fires and mosquito   infestations, all him.

The failure to move on the critical  issues brought to the fore by Dr Alfred Dawes of the JMDA in May of this year and the subsequent deaths of innocent babies as a result these very same issues is a national disgrace. All Fenton.

The lack of accountability and the blatant hiding of the full results of the internal audit of the health sector has lead to a further loss in confidence and moral within the medical fraternity. All Fenton.

Late reaction and information regarding Hand, Foot and Mouth disease affecting many early childhood institutions islandwide, whose fault? Fenton Ferguson.

The truth is that a good, intelligent leader will seek qualified internal and external advice. A good, competent leader inspires confidence by his actions and statements. A good, sensible leader is forthright and true to the task at hand and leads from the front.

And most importantly, a good leader and true public servant will recognize when a task is greater that their abilities and competence. And though hard to accept, that leader must graciously remove themself from the position of the embarrassment and disgrace of absolute failure.

Fenton it seems  is not such a leader.

We as residents of Jamaica have absolutely no other choice. We have to act.

For the sake of the health and safety of all Jamaicans, old and young, Fenton and the cast of characters that have allowed the further deterioration of an already troubled system must go.

And they must go now.

Oh Green Isle of the Indies

Beautiful song sung by beautiful children.  The Jamaican National song was written by the Honorable V.S. Reid.

I never sung it much during my school days but fortunately it seems that  in later years it became much more  utilized. Powerful and poignant words that are an actual road map to the success as a nation which we seek.

This youtube link is incorrectly labeled Jamaican National Pledge. It is our National Song, our pledge is quite different.

In Praise of Fatty

Why do Jamaican men love fat women? And when I say fat women I simply mean women whose BMI(Body Mass Index) is outside of the upper proportions dictated by conventional western medicine. The variation and determination of  what is “fat” varies so much and is skewed by class, race and even in some cases even age group. But like many of our African brothers who still reside on the continent, a big strapting woman is also a  desired entity for many Jamaican men. Perhaps deep in our subconscious, big body women signify abundance, fertility and wealth.

Many men who have a preference for slimmer women have said that they have gone out of their way to “tackle a big ting properly” because,like Everest, it is just one of those challenges that you have to take on. The degree to which Jamaican men especially of our fathers’and grandfathers’ generation obsess over fat woman is very prominently displayed in all our music forms. Ska, Rocksteady, Reggae and Dancehall have all had big tunes glorifying and speaking about our fatty fixation. So, in this our 50th year I must tribute all the big body woman dem!

Here are my top 10 tunes in praise of fatty in no specific order.

Big Belly Brownman Rumbar Reggae

There was a strain of reggae/Jamaican music that first came out in the early 70’s that myself and some of my  friends affectionately call Big Belly Brownman Rumbar Reggae.

When we were kids it was the type of reggae that would get good play on the radio as well as being very palatable for uptown social gatherings. It however really found its natural home in jukeboxes in the bars where copious quantities of rum were being consumed. It is the type of music that made some big seriousfaced gentlemen allow themselves  to do some little skanking. Something that they would never do to the more grassroots sounding reggae of the day.

It was a particular type of production that was bass heavy but with more chord changes than the hardcore dub reggae  sound that was running the 70’s. The horn arrangements were  more sophisticated and more dominant in the mix than the non-brownman reggae. As a child it seemed to me that the horns and bass facilitated for a kind of  dance move that was easy for non-dancers to do after a few Q’s of  White Rum. It was great music then, but age has actually given me a whole new appreciation of the humour, themes and overall production that went into these tracks.

So without futher ado, for Jamaica 50, here are my 10 favourite Big Belly Brownman Rumbar Reggae tracks in no special order. Please feel free to comment and let me know your favourites of the genre.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIJ797fWW_A&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96zRauey60A&feature=related

When the Gong met The Whistle

In 1972 Chris Blackwell had taken a gamble on an renegade rasta band out of Jamaica called The Wailers. Thus far it had paid off.  He had given band member Bob Marley  10,000 pounds and after a couple of months had gotten back master tapes of great material . When he heard it and did the math, he realized that unlike many of the typical Jamaican acts he had done business with prior, these men spent every penny on the material that they submitted to him.

He also realized  that they could potentially break out of the rut which typically befell reggae music in the UK.  Reggae was a singles market.  Successful acts and albums were a rarity. Popular singles could work well in the  Jamaican immigrant community and possibly crossover into some of the UK youth subcultures ie. Mods and Skinheads. The hit singles would move a decent number of 7inches and when grouped together they could move some compilation albums. The artists would do the UK chitlin circuit of sorts and make some decent money. However Blackwell saw that The Wailers, especially Bob, were possibly the fledgling genre’s best chance of becoming a real contender in the global music marketplace.

Blackwell put together a team to overdub and polish the album into a rock and roll grade classic. He recruited Muscle Shoals session guitarist Wayne Perkins, Robbie Shakespeare to replay bass on some tracks, Rabbit Bundrick on keyboards and organs and a slew of other musicians from Jamaica, the UK and USA. He A&Red the hell out of the project.

The original cover art for the first 20,000 albums was a Zippo lighter and done with the same attention to design as the big budget rock albums of the day. The album was called Catch A Fire.

He organized a UK tour that comprised mostly universities and smaller clubs. Everything was lining up the right way but the real kickoff for The Wailers, Blackwell and reggae music came perhaps because of  one appearance.  While in London in 1973, The Wailers were booked on The Old Grey Whistle Test. This BBC2  television music program was different from Top Of The Pops or any of the more chart based shows. It was a relatively new program but had the reputation of showcasing the real deal.  Grey Whistle was about artists doing  their work in a no-frills, intimate space. Devoid of pomp and theatrics this was where  you saw premier album oriented rock artists. Bob, Peter, Bunny and the rest of the Wailers performed two songs in their first ever UK television appearance. The rest is pretty much history.

In our 50th year, it would be good to look back at some of the methods, ethics, personalities and strategies that worked to turn us into musical powerhouse at one point. Perhaps there are a few lessons to be learnt.

Enjoy.