October 29, 2008

"For Alton Ellis, O.D." by Malachi

Alton EllisThe death of Alton Ellis on October 10, 2008 sent shock waves through the Jamaican community and many of us have still not fully recovered from the passing of this great artist who gave us so many great songs that were part of the soundtrack of our adolescence.

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

Long ago…

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

Sunday coming…

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

Unfathomable, undeniable

Father Alton…


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.


Born "the son of a preacher-man" in the Parish of Westmoreland, Jamaica, Malachi has become an icon in the world of reggae/performance/dub-poetry. Performing from an early age, his first three poems were written while still attending White Marl Primary School for the White Marl Beacon magazine.

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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Rethabile said...

Powerful tribute. The enriching goes on through this post.

Geoffrey Philp said...

I love Malachi's poetry and it was a pleasure to put this one on the blog.

The strangest thing. I've been humming "I'm still in love with you, girl" at the oddest moments..


Anonymous said...

Geoffrey, once again you've exceeded the mark with this exemplary post.
Dave Lucas

Geoffrey Philp said...

Thanks, Dave.

Alton was one singer who will be missed!


MBB Founder and Editor Denene Millner said...

What a beautiful, powerful tribute. Thanks for sharing your thoughts--I'll have to go put some of his music on...

Geoffrey Philp said...

MBB, Welcome!
I can't wait for Malachi to perform it...


the prisoner's wife said...

beautiful poem.

that song..."still in love with you" has an indelible print on my memory. i remember one of my first dates with beloved, he took me to a backyard party in Jamaica, Queens. the selector was on fire, and had all the couples pressed close with that song. i remember being a little tipsy off the rum punch, but it made the moment even more sweet. i think i held him a little closer than would have on a second date. when i get down...i think about that night & that song.

RIP Alton Ellis..thank you for the memories..

Geoffrey Philp said...

long time no hear, prisoner's wife!

Yeah, great poem for a great singer.

That song will live forever!

Anonymous said...

Profound, powerful,and emotional tribute.RIP in peace brother Alton. Remember that Sunday!!
Thanks for posting the tribute Geoffrey!! Nuff respect!ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID

Geoffrey Philp said...

Esteban, give thanks!
Always glad when you come around this corner.

Bless up,