Quality without fear of time
A lot of good things will be said about Winston 'Merritone' Blake over the next few weeks, and not only will they be true, but maybe inadequate to describe and honour his contribution to Jamaican popular music.
As the sound system selector, music producer and night-club operator - along with his brothers Monte, Trevor and Tyrone (who died previously) - died over the weekend in the uncertainty of the post-election period with that closest of close results, naturally, Blake's death was somewhat overshadowed by the recounts and attendant rumours.
Still, Merritone's mantra, coming from the Blake brothers' father, Val, that things of quality have no fear of time, holds true and can be modified for the circumstances around Blake's death to say the quality of his legacy have nothing to fear from the political climate.
Think about it - Merritone began playing six years after Jamaica's first general election under Universal Adult Suffrage, and about two decades before the man who will next be sworn in as Prime Minister was born.
With Monte, along with Craig Ross and Mikey Thompson around, among other inductees into the Blake family at the turntables, Merritone is set to continue until well after a landmark like the year of Vision 2030 has rolled around, whether or not Jamaica is indeed an ideal place to live, work and raise a family.
It is so easy to lose sight of the remarkable among us, because remarkable is ordinary for Jamaica, and the closer we are to it, it seems the less we see. The sound system is a Jamaican invention which has spread worldwide along with Jamaican popular music and Merritone, of which Winston Blake was the most visible face (but never forget that he has operated as part of an organisation), is the oldest one to be still playing today.
Much of that playing has been outside Jamaica. I remember Winston Blake once telling me that he had spent nine months out of a particular year outside Jamaica, playing music. It was not unusual. Somehow, though, despite being on the road so much, he maintained a presence at events where he was not behind the turntables. He went out, keeping that all-important physical presence in situations where he was not required to set the tone through the tunes he selected. As an indisputable legend, he was accessible and that makes his legend accessible.
TRIBUTE TO WIFE
Maybe the first or second time I spoke with Winston Blake was on the telephone. I had covered a tribute to his wife, Cynthia Schloss, and he called from a gig abroad to say thank you. As a relative youngster in writing about Jamaican popular music that I had been deeply engaged with as a pre-teenager, it was only at the event that I knew they were a couple. Winston took time to get my number and call me while he was on the job, just to say thanks and say the story was well written.
I had been to Turntable twice - on a Thursday night as a paying patron in 1996/1997 (it was not too far from where I lived on Swansea Avenue, off Whitehall), so Merritone already had meaning for me. But when he called, it made a huge difference. I am sure I am one of the many, many persons he had a word for over time and that conversation would invariably include an attention to quality, whether or not the word was actually said.
It is this quality - of not only music, but also personality-- which I associate with Merritone, with or without Winston Blake, which also resides with Monte and the rest of the outfit. It is something that is timeless.