Jah Levi’s Book of Life

On the afternoon of October 14 1983, the course of reggae music was changed in the most unfortunate way. While  in a car on Grants Pen Road with an 18yr old aspiring reggae artist called Delroy Jr. Reid seated beside him, one of the brightest talents and true prodigies in Jamaican music was gunned down and killed.

His name was Hugh Mundell.

Mundell was 21 years old when he died but left behind a legacy of at least 5 albums and numerous singles. He recorded as a singer under his given name and recorded many of his DJ style songs under the alias Jah Levi. He was born in 1962 into a firmly middle-class East Kingston family. His father was a  lawyer. At age 13, with the help of singer/musician Boris Gardner(who appears to have been a neighbour at some point) Mundell recorded his first song for producer Joe Gibbs. He was attending Ardenne High but was already firmly rooted in Rastafari, Pan Africanism,  Black Consciousness and non-violence. I can only assume that this unlikely progressive thought for a middle-class child was rooted in the availability of conscious literature and consistent exposure to news and issues in his household. I have never been able to speak to anyone close to Mundell to give me the full picture. Augustus Pablo was saddened when I brought up the topic and said we would speak another time. Pablo passed before we had the conversation. Jr Reid who was Mundell’s protege and in the car with him when he was slain is a friend of mine, but the subject still seems hard to broach. Whatever his inspiration, Ardenne student Hugh Mundell aka Jah Levi in 1978 at the age of 16 recorded what is arguably one of the greatest roots reggae albums ever made.

Africa Must Be Free By 1983 received a maximum 5 star rating from Rolling Stone Magazine. Mundell’s smooth wailing vocal innocence paired with Pablo’s supreme production plus a cast of  legendary musicians and engineers had created a classic.  The album is included in Tom Moon’s 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die.  And yes. The album is that good. With its dub mixes of all the songs, Africa Must Be Free kept my meds firm through many dark and difficult situations. I humbly suggest that if you are a lover of good  music you give the album a listen. In this our 50th year,  Mundell would have been 50 years old and could have potentially evolved into our next Marley.

Gone but not forgotten. Hugh Mundell.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KSak7spluY

Red Stripe – Our Beer

 

I am not a beer drinker. If and when I do drink beer, Heineken is my preferred choice. But I,  like many Jamaicans grew up with a sense of pride knowing that we had our own real proper beer. Red Stripe was one hundred percent Jamaican. As a brand it spoke to everything that was cool about Jamaica. Fun, family, music, the beauty of our land and the personality of our people.  The ads that were run on JBC TV in the 70s and early 80’s made indelible marks on the psyches of myself and probably the entire post independence generation of the time.

Years later when I lived abroad I would stock my apartment with Red Stripe because if I had visitors I knew I would lose my yardman stripes if I didn’t have one to offer. Red Stripe was the realest calling card for a cool dude from a cool culture. When you are  in Babylon,  holding on to the aspects of your culture that embody your Jamaicaness become much more important than when you are home. I wore more Clarks in farrin, spoke more patois and even started to drink Red Stripe now and again.

Not anymore though. Red Stripe is currently seen as a has been beverage in the local market that has moved to stronger alcoholic pleasures. That happens. Tastes change. Products age out and  hopefully are nurtured and tweaked back into relevance.  What really sucks though is how badly Red Stripe has been marketed locally over the last decade or so.   An iconic Jamaican brand has pretty much been made into a laughingstock locally with a series of shabby ad campaigns which peaked with the highly touted and quickly cancelled “Bear” campaign.

 

My bredren Sandor spoke about it pretty much in detail in fairly polite terms in his blog.

 

They really did it with those. Really really rass up di ting .  Hopefully at some point some level of intelligence will take over the  local marketing and redeem a great great Jamaican brand.  Ironically, the overseas marketing of Red Stripe continues to be cool, quirky and well received.  Non-Jamaicans proving yet again that they understand our products and assets better than we ourselves do.

 

But what I have  located, as a tribute to our 50th year of independence is a reel of Red Stripe ads. It’s very long and spans over 4 decades.  I am sure you will see some classic ads that tell the tale of our special Jamaican lifestyle and reflect on how really and truly, Life is just for Living.

 

 

 

Presidential Protocols

So Christopher “Dudus” Coke, past student of Ardenne High, Don of Western Kingston has been sentenced to the maximum term of 23 years.

The President will not be in the residence at any point in the near future. West Kingston and eventually the greater Jamaica will come to terms with what this absence will mean and the benefits and negatives that will become apparent over time.

The fact that I said that negatives may exist will rub some people the wrong way. Please feel free to be so rubbed. Unless you have some understanding of the complex dynamics of Jamaican Culture, Politics, Economics and Society in this our 50th year it is pointless for me to try and explain.

Perhaps some of the nuances of power, peace, war and money are best explained by Christopher Coke himself. The balancing act that exists a society that is built on a constant battle between warring factions fighting for scarce benefits and spoils is best told and explained by those who live it.

This is a wiretap of Dudus from around late 2006. He is speaking about Cowboy one of his top soldiers who has been accused of perpetrating criminal acts in the vicinity of Coronation Market. Dudus discusses the cost of war, the heaviness of the crown, ghetto justice and why he  spared Cowboy’s life.

Four years later, Cowboy was one of the three new witness that gave testimony against Coke that possibly resulted in his receiving the maximum sentence.

Mattathais Schwartz, who I have interviewed in my previous posts got access to this phone evidence which was available in the NY Southern District Court.

If you understand Jamaican patois and know Jamaican street culture this is probably one of the most interesting pieces of audio you may hear. Download it here.

Death, Lies and Videotape Pt. 2

HERE IS THE CONTINUATION OF THE INTERVIEW WITH MATTATHIAS SCHWARTZ

Was it easy to get information about the existence of the US military plane from the American govt.? What was the actual process?

I filed requests with several agencies in the U.S. government under the Freedom of Information Act. Confirmation of the plane came through the Department of Homeland Security. A copy of what they sent me can be read on my website here:

http://www.mattathiasschwartz.com/download-the-dhs-tivoli-gardens-foia-document-here/

So at no time was there hesitance on the part of the US govt to provide the information?

There was a great deal of hesitance. Many people and institutions declined to answer questions that I posed to them.

 

Is there any way to get the actual footage recorded by the plane into the public domain? Are you interested in pursuing the story further?

Yes and yes. I want to make the footage public and I am pursuing this goal through multiple channels. The footage is an invaluable piece of evidence in determining what took place in May 2010 and who exactly was responsible for so many civilian deaths.

Do you think that there may have been more US involvement than that which has been formally recognized?

I wouldn’t want to speculate—what I try to do is amass as much evidence as possible and then talk about what the evidence shows. Right now there is no evidence that has been made public suggesting that the U.S. had “boots on the ground” during the Tivoli operation. Most of what we do know is in three paragraphs from my story, below. I should also say, however, that the U.S. and Jamaican governments both have a great deal of nonpublic material and evidence about the operation, and that I am a long ways from being convinced that the U.S. did not have a more direct involvement in the operation than has been disclosed up to now.

+++

The State Department and the D.E.A. have also officially acknowledged that the plane assisted the Jamaican government during the Tivoli operation. The P-3 Orion, they said, in a statement given to me this fall, passed information “to U.S. law-enforcement officers stationed at the Embassy, who provided that information to Jamaican authorities.” The statement said that U.S. law-enforcement officers had not made “operational decisions” during the incursion, and emphasized Jamaican responsibility. “The video material was not viewed in the Embassy,” a State Department spokesperson said. “It was viewed at a tactical-operations center, and I don’t have the location of that.” When asked whether there were U.S. officials at the tactical-operations center, the spokesperson said, “I don’t know. I can’t clarify that for you.” A D.E.A. spokesperson said, “We were absolutely not involved on the ground in any of the operations.”

But parts of the D.H.S. report appear to contradict that assertion. The plane was assigned “at the request of and in support of the Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.) Kingston Country Office,” the report reads. “Surveillance support is needed to increase officer safety.” Later, spokespeople from the State Department and the D.H.S. said that this referred solely to Jamaican officers. Major General Stewart Saunders, who led the Jamaican Army during the attack on Tivoli, retired shortly afterward, and declined repeated requests for comment, as did Prime Minister Golding. Numerous other officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, the D.E.A., the Justice Department, and the State Department declined to comment, saying that they had to wait until Witter’s report was completed or until Coke was sentenced.

It is clear that the U.S. played a major role in tracking Coke before the operation. “We were constantly involved in the investigation,” Bill Sorukas, the chief of the International Investigations Branch of the U.S. Marshals Service, said. “We provided information and intelligence on Coke and associates he was with.” He noted that the U.S. collaborates closely with the Jamaica Fugitive Apprehension Team, a special unit of the police, and that the “investigation was worked jointly” by the D.E.A. and the police. A senior Jamaican parliamentarian added that the U.S. government had provided satellite images of Tivoli in response to a 2008 request from Jamaican law-enforcement officials who said they needed help tracking Coke.

+++

What did you think when the former Minister of Security Dwight Nelson denied the existence and involvement of the US military aircraft?

 I thought that he was being less than honest with the Jamaican people.

The coincidence of the article being published within 4 weeks of Jamaica’s general election led some to believe that the timing was deliberate. Conspiracy theorists here have said that the US govt. wanted to punish the JLP and ensure their loss in the election. How do you respond to this?

It is a coincidence. The U.S. government has no control over the New Yorker’s publication schedule. That is not how the media works, at least not in the U.S.

The issue of credibility on the whole became a major reason for the JLP’s loss. The denial of the US plane which we all saw was one of several nails in their coffin. How do you feel being the person who basically put a spotlight on this particular lie?

It is indeed interesting that the U.S. can fly a plane over Jamaica, a plane that millions of people saw, a plane that was photographed by the chief photographer at the Gleaner, and that the Jamaican government can continue deny its existence months later.

Has there ever been to your knowledge the equivalent incident in your country’s entire history? If not, what comes closest?

History never repeats itself exactly but here are some (very) rough and debatable analogs that come to mind: The attack on David Koresh’s compound in Waco, Texas, 1993. The bombing of the MOVE compound in Philadelphia, 1985. The 1967 Detroit riot and 1965 Watts riots.

What would you like to see happen now? What is in your 1st world media eyes appropriate closure? With West Kingston, the state, the victims, the criminals, law enforcement, Jamaican society?

We need to know what happened. All evidence must be released. This includes videos, ballistics, autopsies, and records kept by the U.S. government, the Jamaican government, and the security forces. If it appears that the law was broken during the attack on Tivoli Gardens, and, based on the evidence in my story, I am convinced that it was, the guilty must be brought to justice.

I did this piece to hopefully remind people in Jamaica that two years after the Tivoli Incursion there has been no release of any of the information related to any of the questionable killings which took place. None. 

I ask one thing. Please email or call any of the contacts listed below and ask them to pressure the Jamaican government to seek answers. Included is the phone number for the Office of the Public Defender in Jamaica. His name is Earl Witter. He is the person who has been given the mandate to investigate the questionable killings. For the international contacts you can refer them to the article in the New Yorker and this blog post.

Jamaicans For Justice—- http://www.jamaicansforjustice.org/

Amnesty International http://www.amnesty.org/en/contact

Office of Public Defender 876-922-7089

National Integrity Action Ltd —–http://niajamaica.org/contact-us/

Human Rights Watch attn José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director http://www.hrw.org/en/contact-us

European Union in Jamaica http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/jamaica/about_us/contacts/index_en.htm

Death, Lies and Videotape

The events leading up and subsequent to the May 24, 2010 Tivoli incursion taught me many things about Jamaicans and Jamaica. Some of them were sad confirmations of things that I had long suspected but would never have dared to verbalize in good company.

One of the things I confirmed was that a significant number of our populace have goals that extend only to eating their next meal. Regardless of the extent of systematic  abuse meted out to them or their loved ones, the lure of an immediate meal, hustle or even a promise of  “soon come” is often enough to keep them loyal and hoping.

I also confirmed that the social, political and class divides that Edward Seaga and many others spoke of over four decades ago are as pronounced and perhaps even more rigid than they have ever been, regardless of the superficial proclamations of “Out of Many One People” which has become a meaningless mantra.

I saw how misguided political agendas by both parties caused potentially great Jamaican statesmen to become liars, in some cases to become spies and informers for imperialist powers and others  complicit in ignoring the murder of innocent civilians. All in the name of politriks.

But honestly speaking, the most important thing I learnt was the extent to which the value of a Jamaican life is determined by how far above or below HWT one resides.

Just over 70 persons were officially acknowledged to have been killed in West Kingston during the operations to capture Christopher Coke by the security forces. I have heard from numerous sources, some of whom I have very strong belief in their integrity, that the actual dead may have numbered closer to 120. And to this day, almost 2 years later, not one iota of justice, recompense, reconciliation and even respect has been shown to the bereaved.

The understanding or acceptance by Jamaican society is that all these casualties were simply combatants hell-bent on the protection of their don and got their just deserves.

That is not the truth.

I am not going to fabricate fairy tales that every person killed was a churchgoing choirboy who was brutally murdered by evil security forces. The law enforcement officials came under severe fire and whatever means that they deemed appropriate to save their own lives and accomplish their mission, I as a law-abiding well-meaning Jamaican was in complete support.

The real problem is that they did not stop there. The truth is that many innocents were executed. Handcart men, vendors, mechanics, just regular working men who looked like they could be in some way connected to the Presidential System were put onto the ground and shot in their heads. Jamaican men were dragged from their homes and killed. Without charge, trial or jury…..they were shot like dogs.

Some were dumped in shallow graves in May Pen Cemetery and there are people claiming that others were burnt in furnaces over the old Public Works grounds.

The real dilemma is that no one cares. The mistake of the Jamaican populace is their largely held belief that everyone who lives in such an area, who did not leave, was a supporter of Coke and therefore deserving of death.  The real tragedy is the popular sentiment that ghetto Jamaican lives are cheap and plentiful.  Their deaths really amount to nothing but a relief to society, as we, the legitimate and proper bearers of the title “Jamaican citizen”, have merely gotten rid of a current or a potential criminal.

So when the TVJ news poll during the week of May 24 asked viewers “Should Tivoli residents be allowed to bury their dead?” it all became perfectly clear to me. No one can or will ever have to give me permission to bury my dog. I live uptown, I have my tings, mi have mi rights or so I would like to believe like Keith Clarke probably did.

But those 2 legged dogs in Tivoli need to get approval from us before they are allowed to bury the other two-legged dogs that we have killed. Michael Sharpe read that poll on TVJ and was seeking the public’s answers with a perfectly straight face. What we as a society fail to recognize is that the same knife that stick sheep will stick goat. When any human life within a country is undervalued, it undervalues all lives in that country. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. When anyone of us can be killed by the state without accountability, then all bets are off.  Regardless of what side of Half Way Tree one resides.

So herein lies the purpose of this blog post—- There was one article in the media which stood out and somewhat humanized the overall situation and the loss of life which took place in the Tivoli incursion.

It was not done by our local media. It was a piece in The New Yorker Magazine by a young white non-Jamaican male by the name of Mattathias Schwartz. He did the story that every Jamaican journalist should have been interested in doing. He did the piece that spoke to many of the issues that us as a society should have been concerned about subsequent to the incursion. Sadly we were too busy asking whether or not the dogs should have been allowed to bury their dead.

Here is a two part interview that I did with Matt. I simply wanted to find out a bit more about the opinions of the outsider who probably has done the single definitive piece on the Tivoli Incursion of 2010.


Had you ever been to Jamaica before? If so, what were your impressions?

I traveled to Jamaica as a tourist. Then I met someone in Kingston who told me about aspects of the Tivoli/Coke story that hadn’t made it into U.S. media, and I got started reporting. To some extent, Jamaica reminds me of Philadelphia—corrupt politics, insufficient housing, lots of murder, lots of exploitation by an entrenched power elite. Jamaica is what you would get if you put Philadelphia on an island in the Caribbean and left it alone for twenty or thirty years.

 How long were you here while doing the Tivoli story?

Eleven weeks, spread out over three trips.

What were your impressions of Tivoli as a community? What were some of the more memorable moments and characters?

 There are lots of “eyes on the street” to borrow Jane Jacobs’s term for informal public surveillance. If you come in from outside of the community, you need to be prepared to explain yourself and your reasons for being there to residents. “Unity” is a word that you hear a lot when Tivoli talks about itself, and it is true that the community has a great deal of spirit and unity and identity as a neighborhood. Tivoli is very closely knit.

What was your impression of Dudus’ role in the community?

It is hard for me to say with certainty. I wasn’t actually present in the community during the time that he was in charge so what I know comes from documentary sources and interviews with people who were there—police and residents. Among residents, there is a lot of love for Dudus and a lot of fear as well and sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between the two.

You must have heard an abundance of stories in your research that you eventually culled down for piece, did you get the impression people in West Kingston lied a lot?

Jamaica is a small country—about 2.7 million people the Internet tells me. So when you are looking into an event with as much impact as the Coke extradition and the Tivoli Gardens incursion, it is hard to find someone in Jamaica—let alone West Kingston—who doesn’t have a direct connection to the event. And when you or someone close to you is involved in an event, that makes it harder to give an honest, complete account when some reporter who just met starts asking you questions.

What was the most surprising/shocking discovery you made during your research?

I would meet an individual who claimed that they had never had any involvement or relationship with Dudus or his father. Then I would later learn, from another source, that they had a rather close relationship with one or the other. Or I would meet an individual who would claim that they had a relationship in the distant past that was now over. Then I would turn up a piece of evidence that the relationship was far more current than they had let on.

The first part of my answer to this question does not apply to the dead of May 2010, however. I remain convinced that Radcliffe Freeman, Andre Smith, and dozens of others who died during the incursion were innocent noncombatants killed in cold blood by the Jamaican security forces during the incursion. I have published a great deal of evidence to this effect, evidence that was vetted with great care by myself and the magazine’s factcheckers. I challenge anyone in the Jamaican government or elsewhere to produce evidence to the contrary.

Were you surprised that no Jamaican media had really done a comprehensive piece on the Tivoli Incursion?

No, I was not surprised.

Why weren’t you surprised?

Well, let me modify that slightly. Some of the Gleaner’s coverage—bothprint and video—immediately after the assault on Tivoli was very good.And the Observer has at least two columnists who have worked hard tokeep questions surrounding the civilian casualties in the publicconversation. When you ask why there was no comprehensiveinvestigative piece in the Jamaican media, and why I was notsurprised, it’s difficult for me to say exactly. I do think that thereany many excellent and honest journalists in Jamaica, and that they covered this story as well as they could, given the resources that they had.

Have you been approached by any human rights organizations, charities, judicial organizations about your piece?

I came into contact with some organizations like these, such asAmnesty International and Jamaicans for Justice, during the reporting process.

Did you actually speak to any Jamaican politicians?

I assume you mean during the process of reporting the story … if so,the answer is yes, I spoke with numerous Jamaican MPs as well as other politicians and government officials.

What were the US impressions to your article? What did your editor think? Was it a popular story?

I wish that there had been more outrage in the U.S. regarding the story, particularly given the fact that a U.S. citizen was killed and the U.S. government assisted with the operation. The U.S. public certainly wouldn’t stand for something like this occurring in a U.S. city. I am frankly surprised how easily the Jamaican public appears to have written off the killing of dozens of Jamaican citizens by their own security forces.

Here is part 2 of the interview


Passa Passa Memories

This is a guest piece written by a good friend of mine @dalveyG .  It sums up a lot of the sentiments of those of us who know what Passa Passa really was about and were able to experience some of the nuances and personalities that make it one of the most interesting events in the history of Jamaica.

I miss Passa Passa.  Not the Passa Passa of the DVD fame, the one with the camera so much under girl’s skirts, it seemed like a tampon.  No, I miss Passa Passa, the social gathering.

I caught the Passa Passa bug right in the middle.  My first experience was an anniversary dance in 2004.  I was right on stage when the judging was taking place for the skimpiest outfit. The winner – a young woman with her jeans jumper cut so close, you could see her pubic hair.

But, that was not my Passa.  My Friend, Big Black Barry was genetically tied to Passa Passa, and in the summer of 2004, I was bored a lot.  That was not a good combination.  Most Wednesday nights, we would make our way down, round about 1 in the morning.   From 1am to 7am, you could find me leaning against the wall of Miles drug store on Spanish Town Rd.

Passa Passa was an interesting experience for me.  From my vantage point, against the wall, it was like a drama –  I watched as a multitude of relationships played out in front my eyes.

The Wannabe, Hype Artist…trying to get the DJ to play his CD, certain that if it got a forward at Passa, it would be a certain hit, locally and overseas.

The Thug Wannabe, making sure he passed in front of the light, the corner of his mouth approaching his ear, trying to seem to the world like the new tough kid on the block.

The real thugs, never seen in the lime light, but who could be found on the outskirts, their easy smiles belying their harsh realities.

The Video Vixens – fresh from Quad – certain that being caught on video and shown on Hype TV, or on DVD’s overseas would cement there position as the hottest thing ever to wear fur lined boots.

They all came to Tivoli.  There was a feeling of peace and security.  As long as your vehicle was parked out of the road, and not blocking anyone, and you observed the norms of decency and civility, you felt that all was well, and the party would continue until you left.

In a country with high rates of police shootings, murders and motor vehicle accidents, I was painfully aware of the fact that it was very likely that several of the persons there partying on any one night might not be there the next week. However, that did not stop you from living in the present.

Passa Passa was the place where I could led down my guard and be me.  Guinness  or Rum and Cranberry in hand, weed smoke blowing in the wind, Genius or Maestro on the mic, between 1 and 7 on a Thursday morning, all was well with the world.

Never once did I witness an incident. (Me, who had to run from House of Leo, during the Willy Haggart Period, ducked from bottles at multiple Stings, shootings at several dances).

Never once did I feel that my personal security, nor my property was in danger.  I was content to lean against the wall, and watch the world “over the wall” and “flowers a bloom”.

I never really knew the Passa Passa popularized by the DVDs.  Later, when I moved to live to another country, I realized the world only knew Passa Passa between the hours of 6 and 7, or as it is known, cratches morning.  So, I encountered a foreign version of Passa, where the focus was on girls taking their underwear off, and dry humping on asphalt.  Understandably, the culture rejected this, and the name of Passa Passa is forever tarnished in at least one country.

But, I woke up missing the Passa I knew.  Those days are probably gone, but I miss them, and I am the better for having had them.

Immortal Technique

I started buying records when I was around 8 years old.  Seven inch 45s were around 50 cents then, which worked out to be one week of saved lunch money if I ate nothing. So maybe once every month I would have saved enough to buy one record. This would have to be the record that I could play every day for a month straight because I didn’t have shit else to play. In other words it had to be a real monster tune. Arleen by General Echo was my third music purchase ever.

How do you explain Arleen?  How can you explain in real terms the impact of the Stalag Riddim which Echo rode? As a child I just knew it made me feel good. It was funny, I could dj along with it, I could dance and do my 8yr old badman skank to it. It sounded like what great Jamaican pop music should.

I guess decades later I can put it in perspective as being one of the most  perfect dancehall songs ever. Echo’s comedy, social commentary,pop culture references, wordplay, melody and flow turned this song into an anthem. Other dancehall songs had made noise before but never in the way Arleen did.                                                                                                                                                   The Stalag riddim with it’s almost ominous bassline became a monster that still to this day is unstoppable.  You felt Stalag. It massaged our souls in a way few riddims had done before. It made subwoofers work overtime and made any artist worth their salt get a hit.  I knew at age 8 that this was a special song.

“Papa Riley sen mi dung a riva side fi go hear dem sing/ Disa rubadub hard/Di people love it so/An Jah Jah know it haffi reach numba one”

Winston “Fiya” Riley was its producer.

I knew Riley. I met him around nine years after that childhood purchase. His nephew Sherman and I lived on the same street in a scheme called Hughenden. I knew Sherman had some family in the music ting that he would hang out with on Saturdays but I never knew or drew the connection. By this time Riley’s Technique’s label had had countless hits and was battling neck and neck with King Jammys to be the most influential producer of the 80’s. One day, with my interest in music growing, I went downtown to Techniques Records on Chauncery Lane to see what the was going on.

I met Riley that day. He was a serious man, with a raspy hoarse voice. He wasn’t inna no skin up or smiling ting, Fiya was all about music business. His shop then wasn’t more than 10ft by 10ft which was stocked sky high of mostly 45s, some albums, some cosmetic products, and maybe a clothes iron and possibly some panties for sale as well.  His modus operandi in business as I later learnt was to try to control all aspects of his business in a grass roots way that would never leave him out of the loop. He produced the records, he pressed them, he wholesaled them to other stores as well as retailing them in his store.

He took boxes upon boxes of his records to the UK and the US and took the train with them all over to the ethnic record shops in Brooklyn, Brixton, Bronx, London and anywhere else he could. He would buy American music on the way back down to sell in his shop in Jamaica.  Fiya was always always on the grind.

Throughout the years as I got involved with music, he and I did business together. I was happy when I realized that miserable grumpy Riley actually respected and liked me. He looked out for me. In a business of snakes, Riley played fair. He was a hard negotiator but always held up his end of the deal. He was willing to give advice and opinions freely. He would cuss you to your face and happily buy you a drink afterwards. Fiya was the real fucking deal. He understood patience, hardwork and persistence in a way that I wish I could. Sherman said it best to me once. He said that,”Fiya doan believe it real if him neva haffi work fi it.”  It’s an old school work ethic that is pretty much lost on my generation and all the ones subsequent.

Over the last few years Riley was working to expand his Orange Street located Technique’s Record shop into a full studio and Jamaica’s first reggae museum.  He was doing it the only way he knew, brick by brick, one piece of equipment at a time and without any real assistance from anyone. He loved Jamaican music and to his last healthy day he was still on the grind. Still planning to record songs and still believing that our music had a special power that could make people around the world move. I never doubted what Winston Riley said. He had been there and done that while being involved with Jamaican music from its inception to its current stage.  He had number one records in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and in 2002 with Tony Rebel and Suade. No other producer in Jamaican history has that pedigree. And he was still on the grind.

Winston Riley died lastnight. He had been shot last November and never regained consciousness. Words can’t really express how I feel now about Jamaica, its treatment of its icons and what our music and society has evolved into.

RIP Fiya. Condolences to Kurt, Donahue, Sherman and the rest of his family.

This is a small snapshot of some of the music that made Winston Riley a legend:

At age 16 Riley formed The Techniques with two other school friends. They were inspired by the American Doo Wop and Soul groups of the era. They recorded a bunch of tunes for Studio One and then moved into the rocksteady era with Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle label. This is one of my favourites from that period.

Riley left The Techniques and started producing for himself under the Technique label. He recorded many of the major acts of the 60’s and eventually hit number one in the UK with Dave and Ansell Collins. The name of the song was Double Barrel. It is arguably the first rap song to top an international chart. The year was 1971

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hw01eOeOyk&feature=related

His next hit was the actual Stalag 17 riddim done by Ansell Collins. It was named after a popular movie of the day that was shown on JBC TV. It was a straight instrumental originally.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvuWmmhe754&feature=related

In the 80’s Riley worked with many new artists and became one of the go to producers. His songs helped define the music that we call Dancehall.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSPdb08xEuQ

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

Singers had a special place in Riley’s production machine. As a singer himself he would always take chances on new and unknown talent. These were some of his classics.

Thank you again Mr. Riley. Your work will live way longer than any of us.

The Perfect Pumpum

I never really given much thought to the possibility that women may have real issues with the appearance of their vaginas. I guess as a man your main concern is just the ability to do a good job when you get some pumpum . Other than the obvious grooming and phatness adjectives, the nuances of pumpum structure are for the most part lost on most men.  Apparently this is not the case with a significant amount of women who go to great extremes surgically to alter the appearance of their vaginas. A procedure called Labioplasty has become big business in certain 1st world countries.  Is this happening in Jamaica and other 3rd world countries? I invite comments and answers to the following:

Is there such a thing as a ugly pumpum?

If it is ugly, can’t it be covered by the proper haircut?

Is there a racial/cultural component as regards to what constitutes pretty pumpum?

Check out this documentary which actually got me thinking about the issue.

My Favourite Jamaican Degenerates Pt. 1

So this post is going to be one of many. It’s a nice easy series because they are so many degenerates in our culture that have their own special attributes that make them uniquely Jamaican and notable. Some of the degenerates I know personally, some I know of, and some are random sightings on my journey through life.

Don”t get me wrong, as somewhat of a degenerate myself I have a special place for all these people.  Most times I see things in them that are so disgusting that the spectacle of their existence sickens my stomach while it warms my heart.

So without further ado, introducing to di werl, catty like  Miss Nicky Black.

Please note, this is not fit for airplay or prudish ears.

The Issue Of Vybz Kartel

I didn’t want my first ever blog post to be about anything really serious. The range of material that will eventually show up here will hopefully range from music, current events, pumpum, food (not that pumpum is food), technology and global youth culture.  However, because of the glaring lack of real discussion on Adidjah Palmer’s incarceration and it’s relevance to Jamaica and our current demise as a culture, I decided to opine.

I am not a Kartel apologist or groupie. Various UWI academic personas have already done a great job fulfilling those roles. Neither am I an avid Gully fan who has determined that Kartel’s demise is merely God’s triumph over the forces of Gaza darkness. What I will say though, is that pound for pound, Vybz Kartel is the best dancehall dj to have ever come out of  the idiom. I say this by tallying all the criteria which people who have a little sense use to assess a dancehall artist’s strength.  In all of these, Kartel ranks between A and A+.

Check it:

Lyrics/Wit—-A+

Flow/Melody—-A+

Variety of Themes/Content—-A

Actual Voice—-A

Prolific Output—-A+

Clash Victories—-A+

Overall Dominance of Genre—A+

Don’t get me wrong, there are numerous other acts that have at varying times been rated exceptionally well in all these categories. However Buju and Bounty are to me the two other acts that have been closest and in some of the same categories (ie. voice) gotten better grades than Kartel. But, Kartel’s complete dominance in the DJ category, for as long as he has had it without any close rival, has to some extent sealed his number one place.

The fact that there was no DJ even able to attempt a serious challenge to Kartel’s dominance of the last 4 years is indicative. Mavado is a singer/singjay that because of loyalty to Bounty Killer was forced to attempt to handle war business which traditionally was left to DJs.  The criteria for evaluating singers has, and always will be, different from the standards used to rate MCs/DJ’s.  Asking Usher to clash with Jay-Z is futile and breaks down into a fan popularity contest.  Jigga is supposed to be a lyricist by definition, Usher is supposed to make great, catchy sing-along anthems. Making them clash comes down to whether or not you prefer incredible wordplay or emotive anthemic hooks. It’s a redundant comparison. Apples and Oranges. Apples for apples: Adidjah wins.

And, inspite of his complete dominance of the artform(yea..it is an art form), he is now bleached white, visa-less, hitless and in jail facing possibly multiple life sentences and leaving an empire crumbling.

Why?…. How? ……Is deyso it really reach?

Well….yes. That is where it really really reach. Vybz Kartel fucked himself . He worked arduously to put himself in a situation which may see him forgotten, disgraced and singing romantic, accapella versions of  Ramping Shop into the receptive ears of Kid Ralph.  The G.O.A.T (greatest of all time, di werl boss), may soon have man a use him like remote.

And I am saddened, as all of us who love Jamaican culture should be.  Kartel is a reflection of our society’s best and worst. An individual of amazing talent, intelligence and potential that because of the low expectations and standards of current Jamaican society, fell victim to his basest needs and desires.  He is not the exception, rather he has become the rule.  Yet, perhaps because of his stature as a public figure and his becoming a lighting rod for all bad things Jamaican, we have ignored that it is we : “well meaning” Jamaican society that have allowed for the creation of this aspect of  Kartel.

Kartel’s evolution was helped along by us, who determined that the marginalization and objectification of women made for good campaign rhetoric. Remember that lovely campaign soundbite, “Man have more Gyal“? Yes, gyal like my mother, my sister, my woman. And I occasional style women as “Gyal”  too, Barry ain’t no fucking saint. But for a political representative to overtly use that as part of a campaign to state his party’s accomplishments, even in jest, is indicative of just how low we have fallen. It is also why Adijah was not ostracized as a result of releasing pictures of his “gyal” dem sucking his dick.  It was merely public verification of him having “more gyal” like the politician claimed.                                                                                                                                            The beating of Gaza Kym?  Was this any more shocking or worthy of criticism than the story of the prominent politician who used to beat his former wife like it was a sport a few years ago? Kartel’s a dirty perv and guess what,  that is fine in a free society between consenting adults.  However, the outright explicit nature and subsequent public consumption of his lyrics were preempted by the introduction of  unfiltered American cable channels years ago. Kids now are aware of acts that always existed but that were historically filtered by our local media.  The Werl Boss saw all of this and knew that we were quite primed,  ready and able to accept this into our ears.

Kartel’s agnostic approach, his use of “Lodge” and deliberate Illuminati references were a strategic move to play into what the vast majority of Jamaican citizens see as the failure of formal religious institutions to hold true to their own moral compasses. The hypocrisy of the homosexual priests, the consistent tales of  financial impropriety of all denominations, the fact that Rastafarianism has, for the most part lost its way, all were noted by Adijah.  But most importantly, the use of God by institutions as a means of social control, with Prime Ministers being “ordained and annointed”  was not lost on Kartel.  Hence as the intelligent being he is, why not create his own church, with its own mores and norms?  The cult of Gaza, with the all-powerful Teacha at the helm, telling people that it was ok to “…do what yu feel like.”  It made sense, because the religious and political  hypocrites were telling us to maintain moral high grounds while they were stealing, fucking children, issuing firearms and then appearing smiling  in front of us on television.   All O.K.  We just can gwaan attend the parties and keep smiling,  pretending ignorance while knowing full well that we are drinking the  “wine of violence and eating the bread of sorrow“.  Kartel observed and understood every bit of it and decided to use our inaction to his advantage.

Which leads us to where we are now. Kartel is in jail having been charged with two murders and with credible rumours that a couple more charges will be pressed in the near future.  So the immediate question is why? He had it all…why get mixed up?…it must be a set up.  Well, while I don’t want to speculate on his guilt or innocence let me say clearly that talk of his involvement with high level criminality did not just start two months ago.  Also, given the leadership void left open by parents, politicians, religious leaders, the private sector and most importantly us and whatever group we may fall in, Jamaican ghetto youth have found their own set of leaders.  Nature abhors vacuums. People need leadership, so there is a ting mi hear bout name “Don”. Maybe some of my Jamaican readers know of that ting. So there are now people who are influential in dictating the course of innercity Jamaica and are calling shots in ways that may go against our civilized sensibilities.

But these same civilized sensibilities have allowed for the head of  public sector organizations to steal electricity for their businesses.  These civilized values were/are so muted  that over 100  people were murdered by the state on May 26 2010 without one of the perpetrators being charged or even an inquiry held.  These civilized sensibilities facilitate for people who have raped public coffers to run free without as much as a light bulb of decorum going off in our oh so civilized minds.

But, we look at Adidjah Palmer and call him an anomaly, a deviant, a dutty criminal. Perhaps we need to take a closer look at what we ourselves create and more importantly what we allow to be created. Kartel is a very painful reflection in our social mirror. Perhaps we are not like him. We have unbleached skin, no public sextapes, no murder charges, but honestly we are not very different in our complicity.

Adidjah Palmer is guilty of knowing better but allowing his future to be dictated by the same system which he tried to manipulate. We are guilty of allowing the system to get to a point where it is all one big grey area. It’s never right or wrong.It’s all about who is doing it, their connection to us and if they can get away with it.                                                                                                                                                                         Time will tell whether Kartel is able to get away with it. Whatever it is.