Birth, death, and all the other parts of life surround us. But it is the writer, the poet, acting in a public role, who creates context for us to understand the emotional meaning/significance of events within the community.
The dub poet, Malachi, has written a tribute poem and a brief narrative, and I give thanks to him and Alton Ellis for enriching our lives.
For Alton Ellis, O.D.
I couldn’t take it
Seeing you standing in line
In this time
With a meal ticket
Your black felt crown shading, just barely
Your majesty’s face
From the blazing Miami sun
Coming down without mercy
As you waited patiently, off stage
For a meal
You had already paid for in Trench Town
Father, take my hand and sit
I will serve you.
For how could I, how could they
How could we not know better
When you had given us so much
With your song dance sermons ?
How could we not know
You stopped this very dance from crashing
Giving us love melodies
That kept us dancing
Holding us together as one
When hungry belly suffering threatened
To make us all victims?
How could we not know you are a pillar
Of the movement that gave us our culture
That you soared before Paragons and Heptones
Feathering from Brown to Beres
To Sanchez crooning
And all the rest of us who hide
Behind blinking facades,
Trying to deny your legacy?
But let them try
For no longer will they see
Feel a weeping willow rocking steady, center stage
No longer will they feel
See black man tears bursting flowing
The gully banks of a black man’s face
No longer will they hear the cock crowing
Prepare the sweet seasoning
For the one day of the week when
Sufferers had good dining
No longer will they know
That love is all that matters between souls
And forever “I’m still in love
With you girl” will linger
The deejays will still spin you
Yesteryear souls will rock steady, get closer
At Merrytone gathering
Choking up reliving, celebrating
A time when love meant something
When the music was as sweet as honey
Pressed from live wax
Losing you is hot
Like seeing yard without Blue Mountain peaks
Growing up in Jamaica, I was always fond of Alton Ellis’s music, so you can imagine how I felt when I introduced him on stage at the Miami Reggae Festival at Bayfront Park in 2005. His sister Hortense had just died and was still to be interred. Alton came and did the show any way and what a performance it was. Tears streamed from his voice eyes as he sang “Weeping Willow”--a tribute to her.
But the time that really made an impact on me was a few years earlier when I emceed a show at Bayfront Park and Alton was on the show. I was standing at the side of the stage. When I looked down, I saw him standing in line with a meal ticket in his hand. He was very humble and dignified. I was enraged when senior female member of the production team jumped to the head of the line and took a large snapper dinner to a so-called super star, who was hobnobbing backstage, and he wasn't even performing on the show.
I went down to Alton and said, "Father, this isn't right. This is disrespect of the highest order. Sit. Give me the ticket, and I'll bring you your meal." He said something like “Thank you, sir,” or “son.” I got him his meal. The experience still lingers in my psyche. It seems my people often times take the greatest of us for granted too many times and it hurts.
An alumnus of Florida International University, Miami-Dade Community College and The Jamaica School of Drama, Malachi was one of the founding members of Poets In Unity, a critically acclaimed ensemble that brought dub-poetry to the forefront of reggae music in the late 70s and carried it forward for a decade. Malachi has also performed as an actor and poet, and is an accomplished writer, publishing and performing his own plays and poetry. He has also become known for his performances in other theatrical productions and on radio, television, and live theatre.
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