No colour in music connection
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Last Saturday night, the most colourfully clad man on or off the stage at the Chinese Benevolent Association, repeatedly made it clear that skin colour had not been a factor in the music connection being honoured at Tribute to the Greats 17.
Philip Chen, dressed in a bright red suit, roused the large audience as he plucked at the strings and sang a few lines from Derrick Morgan's Black Head Chiney, one of several musical exchanges between himself and Prince Buster. Of course, the humour was not lost on those gathered at the Old Hope Road headquarters of the Chinese in Jamaica, who are now celebrating 160 years of their presence in the land of wood and water.
"In Jamaica we never saw colour.... All we saw was the music, which had no boundaries," Chen said. And he honoured three deceased Jamaica standouts, Louise Bennett-Coverley, Olive Lewin and Rex Nettleford, with a mento medley along with the Rhythm Masters Band, Sly Mongoose and Water Come A Me Eye among the songs.
Chen, whose credits include playing on Rod Stewart's enduring 1978 hit, Do Ya Think I'm Sexy, was the most voluble of Saturday night's honorees. There were also a number of representatives - after all, Leslie Kong of the Beverley's imprint, died in 1971, and of the Hoo Kim Brothers who ran Channel One on Maxfield Avenue, Paul was murdered in the mid-1970s. There was a connection with the present when Ingrid Chin, credited as the first female band leader, as she took charge of The Carnations, was accompanied by Richard Chin. They are aunt and father respectively of Tessanne Chin.
Geoffrey Chung died in 1995, but his brother and fellow honoree Mikey, was on the bandstand marshalling the Rhythm Masters. Another of the Chinese Connection honorees was Justin Yap, who operated the Top Deck label.
The theme of racial, as well as musical harmony, which Kingsley 'King Omar' Goodison, who organises Tribute to the Greats had earlier pointed out, was carried through on the night with Kevin Barrett accepting the award for his father, Aston 'Family Man' Barrett. Carl 'Little Sport' Brady was the other non-Chinese recipient.
The night's most sweeping award was accepted by Darlton Yap, who heads the Chinese Benevolent Association. It went to the Chinese Connection, with emcee Norma Brown-Bell, reading parts of the extensive citation. Among those named were the late Karl Young who founded IRIE FM and famed record shop Randy's, which grew into VP Records - Pat Chin among those at Tribute to the Greats 17.
Music by the Rhythm Masters made the awards component, which preceded the performances, much more engaging than a simple handover. Without using a vocalist and with a strong horn line, they played Stir It Up before the award to Barrett; To Sir With Love was chosen for the handover to Ingrid Chin and Do Ya Think I'm Sexy ushered Phil Chen on stage.
At points during the concert, the Rhythm Masters injected music produced by honorees. After Ras Michael Jr, did None A Jah Jah Children and Birds in the Treetop, the Blues Busters' Behold made the cut for the Byron Lee tribute, while I Need a Roof (Mighty Diamonds) and Ballistic Affair (Leroy Smart) were part of the Channel One tribute and the nod to Randy's included Fatty Boom Boom.
Pam Hall made the Chinese connection with her version of Perfidia, saying that it had been recorded at Dynamic Sounds - which was listed under the Chinese Connection honorees as having been run by Byron Lee. Hall's excellent rendition of Book of Rules prompted a recall to the stage, for which she did I Will Always Love You, asking for some reggae after the start, as recorded by Whitney Houston/Dolly Parton, and getting it.
Sonny Wong's wisecracks injected consistent humour into his set, although at a few points, the chatter could have interrupted what was a good set. His opening reggae medley included Love I Can Feel and Tears on My Pillow, Wong urging the audience to stand, and was rewarded with most of the audience members displaying their dancing feet.
The R&B of One in a Million hit the spot and Wong hit the high notes in Unchained Melody to good effect. Concrete Jungle is not standard Marley fare, and Wong (despite a lyric slip in the beginning) handled it well, before wrapping up with Wonderful World, doing most of it in his voice, but infusing Louis Armstrong's growl to further rouse an already enthused audience.
As the night was handed over to Merritone, the sound system continued the Chinese connection with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires' Tiney Winey.