Fri | Jan 19, 2018

Prince, Purple And Merritone

Published:Thursday | April 28, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
In this March 2, 2007 file photo, Prince accepts the award for outstanding male artist at the 38th NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles.
Winston 'Merritone' Blake

In the mid-1980s, when personal audio storage space was measured in 60- and 90-minute cassettes (the 180-minute was a rarer sighting than the $5,000 note is currently) and not bytes, I treasured a gold 90-minute Maxell.

I used it for Prince's Purple Rain album. Having to erase one side of a live King Jammy's Superpower session to do so, indicated how important it was to me. I erased part of Major Worries, Admiral Bailey and the crew, so I could listen to Purple Rain - title track and album - repeatedly.

Since Prince died a week ago, two persons have told me about encountering youngsters who knew nothing about him. One was a 19 year-old female. I don't know the gender or age of the other. This is an indictment on much of what passes for radio in Jamaica - at least, the shows that are popular among the younger folk, which seem more intent on having a party on air than presenting a radio show.

I went to a boarding school where boys from different walks of life lived, taking their music along with them. So I was in tune with Silverhawk sound system and Tears for Fears, Creation with Papa San, as well as Elton John and Air Supply. I also had a transistor radio, my Common Entrance present, and I put it under my pillow in the nights after lights out, listened to radio and was educated musically. This was in addition to the choice of RJR and JBC AM stations that I had at home in St Thomas (no FM for me).


However, although the choice of radio stations was limited, the musical fare was not. Which leads me to another purple, Kingston College, which was prominent in the decor at the celebration of Winston 'Merritone' Blake's life at Hope Gardens, St Andrew, a few weeks ago.

Merritone was started by the patriarch, Val Blake (father of Tyrone, Trevor, Monte and Winston), in 1950 and is the world's oldest continuously operational sound system. Merritone was started in the same year as Jamaica's oldest commercial radio station, RJR, which began broadcasts in July 1950 after taking over ZQI, which was a development on VP5PZ. (This information and more is available on RJR's website).

The variety of the music at Blake's send-off, through the live performances and recorded music when Merritone took over, indicated a broad Merritone music listening experience like what I had on radio as a child. I fear that despite now having access to about 15 times the number of radio stations I did when I did, the fare is not proportionately diverse.

The insularity of sonic experience this creates leads to an ignorance of a fabulous musician like Prince, and the music we make for ourselves can only be the poorer for not being attuned to some of the best of what other people who do music have to offer.

Meantime, in prime time, the disc jockey plays his or her productions and those of their friends and people who have given them payment in cash, kind or favour.

And we have the heart to think of complaining that other people are taking over our music! Jamaican fabric!