Mon | Sep 21, 2020

Tony Deyal | Notes and struck chords

Published:Saturday | October 19, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Except for calypso, I am very much like the person film producer Billy Wilder described as having Van Gogh’s ear for music. I might be related to the piano player who was so bad that he was told, “Get off the piano. You’re hurting its feelings.” And yet, despite this deficiency, I am like everyone else who succumbs to the vibes because, as Bob Marley said, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”

Regardless of the music in vogue at the time, the type of instruments used and even the ability of the performers, humanity has always been (unlike a James Bond martini) both shaken and stirred, entranced and awakened by music.

Lao Tzu (born 601 BC) wrote, “Music in the soul can be heard by the universe” and Confucius, almost a hundred years later, “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”

It took about two thousand years before military genius, Napoleon Bonaparte, finally placed music where it belongs. “Music is what tells us that the human race is greater than we realise.”

I was born immediately after the Second World War when the entire Caribbean was going through a period of severe hardship. Food was rationed and clothes, for me, were hand-me-downs from my cousins or the occasional ‘jersey’ (now known as a T-shirt) bought in the only ‘department’ store in the village.


Ten years later, Woolworth’s, the American chain, came to Trinidad and set up branches in the two main cities – Port-of-Spain and San Fernando. There was one radio station and it served up music for all of us – Indian songs for my parents who were a mix of second and third-generation descendants of East Indian immigrants, calypsoes, American ‘pop’ hits that had us dreaming of ‘White Christmases’ or ‘Rocking Around the Clock’.

Nat King Cole made great pretenders of us all and had us pretending that we were happy when we were ‘blue’, black or brown. Even though I never saw ‘Mummy Kissing Santa Claus’, ‘Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer’ or any doggy for sale in a window, one thing we did was dance with our darlings to the ‘Tennessee Waltz’ and dream of moving from ‘Rags to Riches’.

I remember one of my cousins and his friends learning to dance with a broomstick and discovering that ‘Love Is A Many Splendoured Thing’, discussing the relative merits of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet and Perry Como.

Despite the tough times, life was ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’ until Connie Francis found ‘Lipstick On Your Collar’. Even then I was more into songs like ‘The Purple People Eater’ and later, at the ripe old age of 13, Big Bopper’s ‘Chantilly Lace’, which I sang for my children, all four of them, 27 years apart, when they were born and still let loudly loose from time to time.


While we still behaved as if we were forever young, the time passed and the music changed. Inevitably, most of my friends experienced unrequited love or what we call ‘tabanca’ and some also found their sweethearts locked in the arms of others. The remedy was the Wurlitzer Juke Box in the Rum Shop or Snackette.

The sufferer, in deep melancholy, would go up to the bar, buy a half-bottle of over-proof white rum (or Puncheon), get a handful of ten-cent pieces and put them all in the machine with one song only, ‘He Has To Go’ by Jim Reeves. Whether she had a phone or not, he invited her to put her sweet lips to it and tell her friend there with her he had to go.

But all times were not sad. Even from the first night, eleven short of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth’, the assumption that music was indeed the food of love had been made long before any assignation took place and all we fine young cannibals, boys and girls, in wheels belonging to our parents or occasionally to us, switched on the radio in the conviction that music was indeed the food of love and we should have a blast. Inevitably, the reclining seats also became musically and rhythmically inclined and the musical interlude segued into a musical inter-rude.

I am not quite sure when Jamaican music took over – not just Bob Marley – but what was called ‘dub’. While Marley used the term to mean “put the emphasis on” a particular instrument, Wikipedia sees the most frequent meanings as referring to either a form of erotic dance or sexual intercourse, including The Silvertones ‘Dub the P*m P*m’ (where p*m p*m is Jamaican slang for female genitalia), Big Joe and Fay’s ‘Dub a Dawta’ (dawta is Jamaican patois for daughter), and I-Roy’s ‘Sister Maggie Breast’ with its references to sex:

“I man a dub it on the side

Say little sister you can run but you can’t hide

Slip you got to slide you got to open your crotches wide

Peace and love abide.”

I knew that ‘peace’ in the song was misspelled.

I never realised that ‘Pass the Dutchie’ on the left hand side was really a cleaned up version of ‘Pass the Kouchie’ or marijuana pipe, but I was clear about the Trinidadian, Lord Brynner’s ‘Wrecker Pum Pum’ and liked Soul Sister’s response ‘Wreck a Buddy’, but not aware that ‘buddy’ was the slang term for male genitals.

What started all this musing on music was a post by a Jamaican Facebook friend of a song ‘Sronger’ by a Jamaican singer, Assassin, aka Agent Sasco. I listened and then responded, “Can’t decipher all the words but sounds good.”

Despite all the years I’ve spent in Jamaica, my many friends there and even being chairman of UWI’s Canada Hall in Trinidad where I found out that when they called one of the guys ‘Pokey’ (Trinidad slang for the vagina) they meant ‘Porky’ (he was a farmer), I have occasional problems with the language.

But, just to make the point, let my readers in the other countries, Barbados, St Lucia, Canada, the UK, US and Trinidad decide. I leave you with a bit of the lyrics or better yet listen to the song:

“I say give thanks fi obstacles ina we way

Because the hurdles teach we fi jump

Ca hear wa nuh if everything did smooth

Everyday we wouldn’t know we could overcome

Cuz if it don’t kill we I know it bill we, oh yrd

Gotta make mi stronger”

Tony Deyal was last seen saying he doesn’t let his children watch any classical music concerts on TV – too much sax and violins.