May 31, 2010

25 Foundational Rocksteady Songs: Winston Barnes

Alton Ellis - from FlickrAlton Ellis via Wikipedia

Between 1966 and 1968, Jamaica produced some of the sweetest music to come out of the island. It was known as Rocksteady and during that brief period, groups such as The Paragons and singers such as John Holt dominated the airwaves from Montego Bay to Morant Bay. Many of the songs written during this period have become standards and have been transformed through endless variations (versions) to become the bedrock riddims of reggae.The influence of these singers songwriters can still be heard in Sean Paul’s version of “I’m Still In Love With you” by Alton Ellis and in movies such as Hot Fuzz. These choons became the soundtrack for an entire generation of youth—children of the Windrush generation-- who were weaned them on Rocksteady.

Now while it may be argued that reggae has had a greater effect in introducing the world to Jamaican music, Rocksteady holds the hearts and minds of many Jamaicans. Rocksteady choons still manage to create waves of nostalgia in listeners because it recalls a time when life in Jamaica was not so hard and murderous. And because there is such an intimate connection between music and writing from Jamaica, I’ve asked Winston F. Barnes, a noted authority on Jamaican music, to compile a list of the 25 Foundational Rocksteady Songs.

Here are Winston’s choices:

1.         “Girl I’ve Got a Date”   -   Alton Ellis and The Flames
2.         “Rock Steady” -   Alton and The Flames
3.         “Puppet on a String” -   Ken Boothe
4.         “On the Beach” - The Paragons
5.         “Take It Easy” -   Hopetown Lewis
6.         “Dance Crasher” - Alton Ellis
7.         “Little Did You Know”- The Techniques
8.         “Never You Change” - The Maytals
9.         “The Train is Coming”- Ken Boothe
10.       “Rude Boy Ska”- The Wailers
11.       “Hard Man Fe Dead” – Prince Buster
12.       “Bam-Bam” - The Maytals
13.       “Shoo Be Do Dah” - The Clarendonians
14.       “Sounds and Pressurem” - Hopeton Lewis
15.       “Dancing Mood” - Delroy Wilson
16.       “Hold Them” - Roy Shirley
17.       “Happy Go Lucky Girl” - The Paragons
18.       “Get on the Ball” - Roy Shirley
19.       “Pressure and Slide” - The Tennors
20.       “Ba Ba Boom” - The Jamaicans
21.       “Walk the Street” - Derrick Harriott
22.       “Everything Crash” - The Ethiopians
23.       “Baby Why” - The Cables
24.       “Little Nut Tree” - The Melodians
25.       “Fatty Fatty” – The Heptones

When I asked Winston about his criteria for selecting these songs, he replied, “Considering I work in radio I tend to be biased to the songs that made the popularity charts at JBC and RJR, but in addition, I totally remember the songs we danced to at clubs (discos!), and parties and therefore could not include all of the really big songs hits in only 25 selections. For example, almost any of the songs I offered, except for Alton and Hopeton's, could be substituted for by "I've Got to Go Back Home" by Bob Andy. Plus Ken's "Train" has international currency thanks to that film of recent vintage.

The two main architects were Lewis and Ellis, who came from
Duke Reid's Treasure Isle studio at Bond Street in West Kingston. In fact in an interview I did with Hopeton he said he just couldn't keep up with the Ska tempo during a recording session, and Jackie Jackson the bassist agreed to slow it down and I think it was keyboardist Gladstone "Gladdy" Anderson who said "this sound steady" or words to that effect, hence the name…"


Winston Barnes

Winston F. Barnes was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and was educated at the famous Kingston College. His first job in broadcasting was as television camera/sound operator at JBC Television and over the years he has been involved with radio and television in various capacities with the Jamaica Information Service TV and Radio Jamaica, (RJR). Since then, Barnes has also worked as the popular music columnist for The Jamaica Gleaner, contributed to Billboard and he has authored essay which accompanied Third World's retrospective double CD.

A widely respected lecturer on Jamaican popular music/culture, Barnes has served as adjunct professor at Florida Memorial University, and is News and Public Affairs Director with WAVS Radio, Fort Lauderdale. Barnes is currently working on book tracing the evolution of Jamaican popular music over the years of involvement in radio and television in Jamaica.

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May 30, 2010

"Warner Woman: Version " by Geoffrey Philp

Warner Woman: Version
(For Edward Baugh) 

She came, they say, wearing a dress as red
as the dirt of the countryside, and stood
at the crossroads of Matilda’s Corner
shaking her fists at the mansions
on the hills. “The Spirit descended on me
to speak these words to the nation,
for they have wandered in paths
that I have not taught them.
For I have heard the cries of widows
and orphans in the streets, but the wicked
who fear neither flood nor famine,
and have built their fortresses, their walled
communities and garrisons have said,
‘Who is there like us to judge us?’
But thus sayeth the Lord of Hosts,
‘Kingston, O Kingston, how I would have loved
to have gathered you to my bosom
the way the sea caresses the shore.
But you have preferred storm and hurricane.
So I say, woe to you for you have slaughtered
my children, the old, and the crippled.
Woe to you for you have stoned and exiled
my prophets. Woe to you for your have defrauded
the homeless and the poor.” Then she ripped
her dress in two, spat on the asphalt three times,
and then, ran like a horse without its rider,
back up to Long Mountain, up into the darkness
gathering around the tops of the trees
with the smell of rain around their roots.

First posted:

May 28, 2010

Old Flame

She's  lost everything--
heat that once fed his hunger,
yet he still hovers


May 26, 2010

Who's Your Don-Dadda?

I had never planned to become a Caribbean-American or Jamaican-American. The idea of being a hyphenated man did not appeal to me, especially since I grew up in post-Independence Jamaica and was weaned on the idea of reclaiming our national identity from the nightmare of our colonial past. I wanted to be true to the words of Dennis Scott who wrote, “these hot and coffee streets reclaim my love.” But this was not to be so. On April 30, 1979, I left Jamaica because my mother was worried about the rising level of violence in Jamaica and the close ties between gun-men and politicians. If only she could see us now.

It was a dread time. Even the music reflects the murderous mayhem that engulfed the island. Listen to the opening lyrics of "Burnin' and Lootin” to get a sense of what was happening in Jamaica.  What is happening now: "This morning I woke up in a curfew/ Oh God, I was a prisoner too/ Could not recognize the faces standing over me/ They were all dressed in uniforms of brutality." The horrors of slavery, which reduced our lives to entries in a ledger and we believed it-- haunts us. 

Still, I didn’t want to leave. But two incidents changed my mind: "The Orange Lane Fire" and The Green Bay Massacre. The violence out of which the Caribbean was born and which continued through slavery and colonialism that divided Jamaica by race, class, poverty, and allegiance to outside forces threatened to tear the island apart. So when my mother eventually sold our house in Mona Heights, there was a part of me that welcomed the inevitability, for I had become disillusioned with those whom I had considered my heroes. I left Jamaica and came to live in South Florida.

My first few years in South Florida were deeply troubling. I couldn’t find my rhythm. I couldn’t find my space. It was a time of prolonged introspectionOut of that introspection, two books about that "watershed period" were imagined: a collection of poems, Florida Bound and a novel, Benjamin, my son.

In the title poem of Florida Bound, I commemorated the two events that changed my life's trajectory:

I never want to tell my story this way,
for is the same old story of my island
losing the young, never growing old to stay
to Brixton and Birmingham, ghettos of England,
Bronx and Brooklyn, to the barbed streets
of Overtown, scattered like cotton chaff, driven
into restless cities by comrades who cut
electoral seat like they own the people til gun
man like bedbug crawl over the land and bite
them in the arse. And brigadistas screamed
'Deserter', for I couldn't bear their rule. Drought
furrowed the land, rankings wallowed
in democracy, and the idren that stay
get lash with scorn hotter than Orange Lane
drown in silence deeper than Green Bay;
lives poured into the earth in vain.

In Benjamin, my son, one of the first novels to explore the connections between garrisons and politicians/gun men/guns/drugs,  I wrote a semi-autobiographical story about a young man’s reluctant return to Jamaica after his father, a politician, is murdered. The novel was turned down for many years by several publishers because the plot and the incidents in the novel--a state of emergency, lock down and roadblocks thrown up by the residents of the garrison-- seemed farfetched. Perhaps, the book violated their dream of what the “islands” were and what they wanted to sell. Little did they know. Given the recent events in Jamaica, time has proven them triply wrong. Yet I find little solace in saying this.

For I now realize that I may never return to Jamaica. Yet I have also accepted that I have a place to fill here in South Florida with my hyphenated brothers and sisters. Out of that seeming misery of rupture and displacement, a strong community within the diaspora has emerged: "Rise oh fallen fighters/ Rise and take your stand again/ For he who fights and runs away/ Live to fight another day."  

We have also listened to other voices from the larger African diaspora such as John Edgar Wideman who has cautioned in Cattle Killing: "Do not fall asleep in your enemy's dream." 

The same conditions that led to the undeclared civil war in the seventies have come full circle. The origins of current crisis begin in Jamaica with a mixture of urban poverty and political ambition and extend America's hunger for drugs. The capture of one "don-dadda" or the replacement of a politician will only be a quick fix to a larger problem that only Jamaicans can solve. For Jamaica. From The Children of Sisyphus to Dog-Heart,  our dreamers have been asking us: Where have we come from? Who are we? Where do we go from here? 

Or as Brother Bob challenged us in "Exodus": "Open your eyes and look within/ Are you satisfied with the life you're living?"

We need to answer that question. Now.


Related posts:

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May 25, 2010

Launch of Anansesem


Anansesem is a one-of-its-kind online magazine of Caribbean and related writing and illustration for children, by adults and children. Founded by Summer Edward, a budding Caribbean children’s literature scholar, the magazine seeks to provide a space to highlight the unique flavor of children's writing and illustration by Caribbean people, and to thereby recognize and stimulate the children's publishing industry in the Caribbean. Edward is also the magazine’s Managing Editor.

She says, “I am really trying with the Anansesem magazine to depart from the idea that Caribbean literature for adults is somehow more valid and more worthy of recognition than Caribbean children's literature. I am convinced that Caribbean children's literature needs to take itself seriously and that the world needs to take its writers and illustrators seriously, just like Walcott, Naipaul and Brathwaite have been taken seriously by the world. But we here in the Caribbean have to take it seriously first.”

Anansesem will be launched online on Monday, May 24, 2010. Submissions will be reviewed by prominent Caribbean literature advocates, Anouska Kock, Carol Mitchell, Sandra Sealy and June South-Robinson. Interested contributors can visit the Anansesem website at for submission guidelines and more information. “I want the people who submit to and visit the magazine to sense that children's literature is a whole other world of possibilities, and that it is just as intellectual, just as prestigious, just as rigorous as Caribbean literature for adults,” says Edward. 

Press Contact:

Summer K. Edward


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May 24, 2010

Interview with author Geoffrey Philp, the premier blogger on Caribbean book and literary events (Jamaica)

This week we have conversation with Jamaican author and blogger Geoffrey Philp. He is the creator of the premier literary blog on Caribbean books, authors and literary events. This Jamaica College alumnus is the author of a novel, Benjamin, My Son; two collections of short stories, five poetry collections and a children's book. His work has been anthologized in both the Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories and the Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse.  He is the recipient of numerous awards, including an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Florida Arts Council, the Sauza Stay Pure Award, James Michener fellowship at theUniversity of Miami, and an artist-in-residence at the Seaside Institute.  He will be featured author  the  sponsored Anancy Festival on  June 26th, 2010.  

At what moment did you realize that your blog had "arrived"?
I guess it was when I was complimented by the African American scholar, 
Houston A. Baker Jr.,  who said that my blog was a treasure and that I should continue with the “fine work” that I was doing.

More @ Interview with author Geoffrey Philp, the premier blogger on Caribbean book and literary events (Jamaica)

Accepting Submissions: The Caribbean Writer 2011

The Literary Gem of the Caribbean

Submission Guidelines

The Caribbean Writer is an international literary refereed journal with a Caribbean focus. The Caribbean should be central to the work, or the work should reflect a Caribbean heritage, experience, or perspective.

Now accepting submissions for Volume 25, 2011. Deadline: September 30, 2010.


This 25th anniversary issue will be dedicated to Haiti and “freedom.” We are interested in works by both Haitian and non-Haitian writers, works that celebrate and document Haitian life in its broadest sense, works that provide a critical and historical overview, works that reflect both the resilience and the struggle that is part and parcel of Haitian reality at home and abroad. The secondary theme, Freedom, is appropriate as Haiti is synonymous with Freedom, being the first country in the New World to earn its independence in 1803. However, the word here, “Freedom” resonates on many different levels, and The Caribbean Writer seeks works that explores and explodes the multiple meanings of this word. Also accepting artwork by Haitian artists or images of Haiti. (Original prints, photographs, paintings).

Submit poems, short stories, personal essays, and one-act plays. Maximum length (for short stories and personal essays) is 3500 words or 10 pages. Only previously unpublished work will be accepted. (If self-published, give details.)

Procedure for submissions: Put name, address, and title of submission on separate sheet. Title only on submission. All submissions should be on a separate sheet. Include brief biographical information and mention previous publications and Caribbean connection, if any. Type (double-spaced) all manuscripts.

All submissions are eligible for these prizes:

The Daily News Prize for best poetry ($300)

The Canute A. Brodhurst Prize for best short fiction ($400)

The David Hough Literary Prize to a Caribbean author($500)

The Marguerite Cobb McKay Prize to a Virgin Island author($200)

The Charlotte & Isidor Paiewonsky Prize for first-time publication ($250)

Book Reviews - Persons interested in reviewing books should contact the editor indicating areas of expertise. Include sample reviews if possible.

Snail mail submissions to address below or email submissions to as attached Word or RTF files.

University of the Virgin Islands
RR 1, Box 10,000
Kingshill, St. Croix
U.S. Virgin Islands 00850-9781
Phone: 340-692-4152
Fax: 340-692-4026
 Email: Website:
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May 20, 2010

The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature

The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature.

Postmark Deadline: July 30

The Vilcek Foundation shall award a prize of $25,000 to a foreign-born writer who demonstrates outstanding early achievement. In addition, four finalists will receive awards of $5,000 each. There is no fee to enter. Four categories of writers are eligible to apply:

Short Fiction Writers
Short Creative Nonfiction Writers


To be eligible for The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in the Arts and Humanities, applicants must meet all of the criteria listed below.

Applicant must have been born outside the United States.
Applicant must not be more than 38 years old as of December 31, 2010 (born on or after January 1, 1972).
Applicant must be a naturalized citizen or permanent resident (green card holder) of the United States.
Applicant must intend to pursue a professional career in the United States.
Applicant must be the individual who has authored the submitted work.


A panel of distinguished members of the literary community will evaluate each application based on its quality, the level of creativity, clarity of vision, impact and the individual's ability to present his/her work in a professional manner.

The prize winner selected by the jury will be a candidate whose work best exemplifies the characteristics indicated above. Additionally, the jury will identify four finalists, each of whom will receive an award of $5,000. Recommendations of the jury will be submitted to the Vilcek Foundation's Board of Directors for final approval.

The winner will be notified in November 2010 and will be invited to attend an awards ceremony in New York City in the spring of 2011. Travel expenses and accommodations will be covered by The Vilcek Foundation. 


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May 19, 2010

Malachi @ Mikey Jiggs Channel


"Dub poetry is a voice for the voiceless. Like the music of Bob Marley - courageous, uplifting, sometimes combative and unrepentant - the downtrodden speak through the poets of my generation." ~ Malachi Smith.

Contributions by Oku Onoura, Mervyn Morris and others.

This is an invaluable source for anyone who wants information about Malachi and Dub poetry.

Mikey Jiggs Channel:

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May 17, 2010

Book Review: Sections of an Orange by Anton Nimblett

By Heather D. Russell, 
Florida International University

Reading Anton Nimblett’s collection of short stories, Sections of an Orange (2009) is exactly like devouring the sweetest, juiciest, richest Trinidadian orange in its entirety -- bitter rind, hard to swallow tough resilient seeds, “mashing pulp” and “sharp-sweet juice,” “tearing pulp from pith” (109), at once gently, at once hungrily swallowing section, by incredible section -- I did not want this sweet orange book to end! Now as a professor in literature who has been reading and teaching novels, short stories, poetry for many many years, I have had to develop my own internal benchmark to evaluate my reading experiences. Not scientific. Purely visceral. My gauge, actually, is whether I am sad as the text draws to a close because I am not yet ready to conclude the journey upon which I have been taken; whether my reading actually slows as I attempt to draw out the last few breathtaking minutes; whether there are literally “wow” moments in the text that render me breathless.

Breathtaking passages are everywhere in Sections. Take, for instance, the one in which Glen, the son of a privileged family meets a reluctant and suspicious Pedro, the proud working class uncle with captivating hands covered with “skin that looks more like bark than an old man’s flesh;” Pedro the tiò, the guardian of his new love Cecelia:

No smiles, no extended hands. Just three people in a small room looking at each other. The wooden walls are unpainted, decorated chiefly with scattered knot holes. The only accessories are white: bleached cotton hangs from a clothesline at the window; plastic, stamped with a lace pattern, covers the table; and in one corner a trinity of partially burned, milky candles have dripped waxy stalactites. “Well, Mr. Mendoza, sorry, I jus’…” Glen’s apology floats unfinished as he looks at Pedro. For a minute he tries to connect this face to Cecelia’s. But Pedro’s firmly-set mouth, bordered by deep folds of tamarind-pod skin, is too far from Cecelia’s simple smiles – the smiles that made him lose track of time (69, emphasis mine).

We have met Glen earlier in Sections, anchoring, centering, healing and nurturing with his own stories of resistance, resilience and survival, the Trinidadian-American narrator who seeks refuge at home in Trinidad, after enduring a freak car accident involving his “On the Side” (title) lover Leigh, an affair marked by secrets and passion and necessity. Later, we meet Push, the gay computer programmer who decides to grow his hair and is first mistaken for Muslim, then Rastafarian, then an artist, then a teacher, but NEVER seen in his own right, only serving as a blank template upon which everyone projects their imagination, fear and desire.

Trauma, in Nimblett’s imaginative landscape, lives alongside the hope and healing inherent in rituals of love and survival. Evangeline Leonard, a.k.a. Eva, whose story is the first section of the orange we consume, a mother mourning her dead son who has been killed in combat, a mother who ritualistically walks around with her dead son’s ashes in her purse every single day. Eva who remembers “the rain-rain, rain, rain,” the night her son revealed he would “Go Army Strong:”

She should not have let her son make a decision in that rain. She should have remembered that pigeon peas are planted on the feast of Corpus Christi and cassava is never planted during a new moon. And you don’t plan your life on a rainy night…she thought, Why I didn’t listen to the rain? My mother teach me better than that. (21)

Throughout Sections of an Orange, Nimblett signals his deft linguistic prowess, the range of his semantic cadences that hip-hop, calypso, jazz-like from Brooklyn to Trinidad and back in a mere sentence: “Tomorrows and yesterdays crisscross like ribbons on a maypole” (118).

Sections genius is surely to be found in diasporically-inflected analogies like the one describing the reuniting, as they stand outside the F-train on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, of two Trinidadian friends who become lovers (a coming together that is both erotically beautifully and tragically foreclosed): “When he [Brian] smiled, he looked like a ten year old who’d just stoned down a juicy yellow mango and caught it before it hit the ground” (100).

Juicy yellow-mango-memoried smiles shift seamlessly to the hip-hop cadences of African American urban vernacular speech marking the verbal exchanges between Brian and the narrator. Nimblett’s characters are multi-lingual and multi-dimensional. Drawn from an unmistakable diaspora consciousness, his characters live, speak, act, out of the multiple subject positions they simultaneously inhabit and that Nimblett is able to capture the quintessentially diasporic, polyrhythmic, fluidity of characters, places, sensibilities and language, speaks truly to his remarkable talent.

Nimblett’s is a powerfully character-driven collection. In Sections we meet mothers, sons, fathers, aunties, lovers, gay, straight, youthfully exuberant, and agedly sagacious. We enter into their worlds, not voyeuristically, as outsiders gazing upon life’s myriad unexpected and unpredictable unfoldings; rather, we bear witness as intimate kin, while passion, death, sickness, love, alienation, mental illness, loneliness, family, community, are given full expression, at times in the most seemingly simple, yet profoundly powerful and complex human renditions of who and how we are with one another.

In Marjory’s Meal, for example, Old Man Moore, who we “meet” in an earlier story and are told dies within a month of his wife Marjory’s passing, in this segment prepares and cooks her favorite meal. She is ill and dying and he has, with “juice of the orange running down his chin, juice suddenly matched by salty tears,” finally accepted her imminent passing. Ritualistically (as with Eva before), he cooks her crab, and pumpkin and brews her orange peel tea and feels, that “for the first time since he has given her a real gift” (86). Marjory’s Meal left me breathless throughout.

Oranges do run through this narrative, but perhaps in no way as powerfully, poignantly, and erotically as in the story from which the book takes its title. I do think it is true, that of Nimbett’s characters, his gay male protagonists are perhaps the most marginalized by, well almost everyone, alienated and lonely, like Push, and Leigh, and Ray, and, of course Brian, who eventually descends into a kind of madness because he’s desperate to recreate “the magic” he has finally found with his fellow Trinidadian friend and lover. But, and it is a critical but, these characters are in no way victims, merely reacting to the heterosexist hegemonic social structures which surround them. Push, for example, the main protagonist in the closing story, “One, Two, Three, Push,” defies, resists, being appropriated by everyone else’s definition of him; invoking and drawing strength from his self-possessed ancestors: his own Tantè Tilda and Trinidadian revolutionary Kwame Tourè, Push literally screams himself into self-definition.

In a similar vein, Brian and Chocolate Man, despite the former’s tragic ending, unite in “Sections of an Orange,” while simultaneously love-making, taking photographs, and eating oranges, they literally pull apart the sections of an orange, piece by piece, traveling deeper to the core of themselves, their “taut, strong,” “raw and real” man selves, finding each other, finding wholeness, creating “new spaces: art and liberation” (111; 124). Such “magic” is both salve and salvation.

The potency of the ancestors, of rituals of resistance, survival and healing, of the knowledge of bush roots, of homeland and home abroad, of beauty, art, poetry, pain, love, love-making, hope, renewal, these are the seeds and pulp and juice and rind and mattering core of Sections. I anxiously await the next instantiation of Anton Nimblett’s fertile, rich, and verdant writerly imagination. The read is truly sweet!


May 16, 2010

Kendel Hippolyte in Bermuda

Kendel Hippolyte

He said in the 1970s, many black poets felt as though they were betraying themselves by following an artform started in Europe.

“It was the time of black power and black nationalism,” he said. “Forms of art and poetry that came from Europe you wouldn’t deal with that. You scorned it. You felt like you were betraying yourself. Over time, I decided that was all bull. Craft is craft is craft. Every language comes with its own history and baggage.”

As a poet, his writing ranges across the continuum of language from Standard English to the varieties of Caribbean English and he has also written poems in Kweyol, his national language.


May 14, 2010

Gathering of the Gods: Miami 2010

The six o’clock train, emissary of Ogun

whistles through West Dixie, the meandering

line that divides Miami, while my daughter

cruises through amber haze and I lisp

my entreaty to the orishas to keep her safe

from flying metal: SUVs that do not heed

Xango’s wrath nor Erzulie’s love, but hurl

through Eleggua’s X, ignorant of his plea

not for blood, but for the respect as the first

to speak in front of the infinite silence

of Olódùmarè who lives in the space

between box cars and kyries of eagles.


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