'Cha Cha Ben' on the verge of Kumina kingship
He's known in the Kumina community as Cha Cha Ben, the dramatic, animated slender man whose Kumina drumming dexterity is second to no other. To see Cha Cha Ben play is to get a lesson in Kumina drumming.
At points he would briskly swipe his hand over and around his head. Then suddenly he would get off the drum, move away for a while, return and catch the beat of the other drummers.
He mainly plays the plain kyas or the repeater drum, and said he won't play unless the bass drums (lead drums) are being played properly. "De bass dem affi play so mi can walk off and go out a shop and say sell mi a pound a flour an come back and catch it," said the 55-five-year-old Ronald Perry, who has been playing Kumina for more than 35 years.
He was born in Prospect, St Thams and said he remembers being paid by his schoolmates to drum on desks. Over the years, he has developed a reputation for his frantic style and unique beats. "Sweet it up," he said. He is admired by onlookers and fellow players, some of whom will not play unless he's playing.
He's aware of his fame; he knows that people go to Kumina rituals just to hear and see him. And he knows why; he's going to put on a show. He said he adds to Kumina, putting more into it, and that's why people make reference to him when they talk about Kumina.
"Anyhow mi never add suppen pon Kumina mi name wouldn't call," he said. He was speaking with Rural Xpress last Saturday just before the funeral of another Kumina great, Jerald 'Maas Jimmy' Walker. He had played the night before at Maas Jimmy's wake, where it is said the Kumina went into overdrive.
It was after the funeral that Rural Xpress got another chance to see Cha Cha Ben in his element. The last event we saw him was at the wake of Kumina Queen Sister Bernice earlier this year. As usual, he was simply electrifying. To him Kumina is no joke, and each performance means much to him.
Cha Cha Ben said Maas Jimmy was "brilliant", a legend, and so the onus was on him to put on a show that does justice to Maas Jimmy's repute. And he might just be in denial when he said he has not reached Maas Jimmy's standard. Many people believe he has, but Cha Cha Ben said Maas Jimmy with whom he had played was greater since he had travelled with the National Dance Theatre all over the world.
Cha Cha Ben said his mentor was a man called Pug Morris; another called Bongo Man was also an influence. He is now mentoring his own young son, who, he said, is developing quite a solid reputation himself.
However, the youths, he said, are generally not interested in Kumina, and because of that "it a dead". And most of those who are involved lack the zest, the flair for which he's known. "Dem come and start play like the old time man dem an nah move it, but mi move it," he said with confidence. He's even toying with the idea of a Kumina school to preserve the heritage.
There are other excellent Kumina drummers in the parish, but there is something special, fantastic if you will, about Cha Cha Ben, putting him on the verge on Kumina kingship. The passing of Maas Jimmy, the drums and time will tell, for he said, "If a man no love Kumina when mi start play, everybody affi love it."