Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
There is a notable difference between Lasana Bandele's speaking and singing voices. The former is contemplative, yet convincing; the latter is laden with urgency, though remaining melodious.
Last Tuesday night, at the Poetry Society of Jamaica's February 2013 fellowship, Bandele, billed as the Storitella for his guest slot at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, utilised both voices to good effect. It was also fitting that he presented poetry and song, as the Fellowship was part of the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association's (JaRIA) Reggae Month programming.
Poetry came first, Bandele describing himself in part as "yesterday's voice", yet which was "announcing the future". His poetry, quietly delivered as he read from the page, was in the main received in kind, the substantial audience listening attentively and applauding at the end of most.
'Mad Dogs' came from his 1972 experience of political violence in Jamaica while living on Jacques Road, where the gunmen were "mad dogs coming down from the hills like locusts". A piece about a relationship described someone as the force in the morning which "washes away the night, revealing the sun's warmth".
Continuing on the personal path, Bandele turned to the culture cultivated in a particular dwelling, detailing the framework for living established by "we in this house", concluding that "we make it safe for children in this house".
The poems were mainly short and the topics varied. Notions of what constitutes freedom were broached as Bandele said "as far as I can see, only the land is free"; he asked "why carry the acid of hate in our tender tissues?" and explored 'Mango Season'. He took the peaceful path against tidings of war in places like South Africa and Ireland, "we with flowers, lots of flowers" meeting those with weapons in their hands.
Switch to song
Bandele switched voices and formats as he said "I want to do a few songs for you", The script went as he strapped on a guitar, commenting on his time at the Edna Manley College during the set-up. There was laughter as he described a year at the School of Drama as "my therapy year".
The songs started with Big City, Bandele's increasing the power in his vocals as he observed "nothing for nothing in big city/you pay with what you've got". His scatting was a growl, Bandele then asking "how can you spread nuclear war/when people die of hunger?".
Living in Shacks was greeted with a whoop and, after finishing it quietly, Bandele acknowledged the greeting as he said "it is really a pleasure getting you guys' response to that song". "Is a big tune," an audience member responded.
Bandele did more talking between songs than he did with the poetry. He acknowledged that there is a lot of bad around, but asserted as he introduced the next song that "it is still a wonderful world. You have to find love. This one is called Love on the Freeway." In that song he pointed to differences between cultures, as "what you do in Jamaica is exotic in the US of A".
"I've learnt from a boy that you must be thankful. Your parents beat that into you," he said. At this stage in my life I realise that gratitude is powerful. As a musician, I know things come by practise. You have a gift, sure, but you have to practise." Bandele said.
Bandele said he lived in San Francisco for about 17 years and when he told some people he was coming home they said he must be crazy. "But if I am crazy to come home, where should I go?" he asked.
As he spoke, there were cheers when some in the audience realised which song was coming up. Bandele eventually said "so see it ya" as he went into the track, declaring "I know what I feel inside".
He was clearly angry about the enthusiastic greeting given to representatives of former colonial masters. Bandele continued in song with Talk Peace and would have ended had he not got a request for Subway Blues. There was another request for Living in Shacks, this time with M'Bala on percussions and Bandele topped off the night of poetry and song with I Love You for the ladies in the house.