Moving tribute to the Greats 16 - DPP, Public Defender, US Ambassador involved in handing out
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
There were no transparently 'surprised' winners and polished scripts whipped out from inner pockets at Curphey Place, Swallowfield, St Andrew, on Saturday night. Instead, the acceptance speeches at Tribute to the Greats 16, the 2013 staging of Kingsley 'King Omar' Goodison's awards show and concert which honours those who have played seminal but often underappreciated roles in Jamaican popular music, were often simple and moving.
Carlene Davis (who also performed), deceased show promoter Stephen Hill, radio broadcaster Alan Magnus, drummer Ras Michael, studio engineer Keith 'Sticky' Parke, dance promoter and early Bob Marley mentor Joseph 'Bragga' Russell and drummer Joe Isaacs were the night's seven awardees. Goodison also pulled on star power of another kind in the presentation, as Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewelyn, Public Defender Earl Witter and US Ambassador Pamela Bridgewater were among those involved in the handing out of awards, the citations read by host Norma Bell. This staging of the awards also honoured the American Connection.
Russell and Isaacs' responses were especially touching. Russell, assisted in taking the steps to accept his award but kept upright by pride and dignity, said the award was unexpected, that he was simply doing the Father's bidding not knowing he would be recognised one day. There had been attention of another kind for a man who promoted dances at Chocomo Lawn (famed as an early ska base), among many other dancehalls across Kingston.
Russell said one of his dances was titled 'Jesus is a Black Man'. "I used to keep that dance on a Good Friday night. The church people fight me down," he said, to laughter. Another dance was entitled 'Babylon Downfall'. "When police see the poster them say them going to mash it up. Dance night them come enjoy themself and want to know when we going to keep the next dance," Russell recalled, again to gusts of merriment.
King Omar added that Russell also kept a dance named 'Hallelujah in Zion', noting that that is how far ahead in nationalism and recognition of ancestry Russell's generation was.
Isaacs, credited with producing famed drummers Carlton Barrett, Sly Dunbar, Winston Grennan and Lloyd Knibb, among others, was named as "high on the list of creators of the one drop beat". The member of Studio One band Soul Vendors, who played on the Heptones Fatty Fatty, Baby Why by the Cables and Dancing Mood by Delroy Wilson, among many other standout songs, said "I have waited many years to have this opportunity".
He used the time not to reel off his accomplishments, but to honour fellow musicians Jackie Mittoo, Hux Brown, Brian Atkinson, Ska Campbell and Denzil Laing, among others. "It was always my wish that one day I would have the opportunity to tell the world (about them). It is so hard to not have your name recorded. If you don't know where you are from you don't know where you are going to," Isaacs said.
Witter, accepting for Parke, noted that when Parke was a studio engineer at RJR he "had records at his feet that he recorded at Studio One. There was a time when the record sheet could not be found and one and two got on the air". This, Witter said, contributed to cultivating an audience for the Jamaican sound among Jamaicans. Ras Michael Jr, who also performed mainly his father's songs in the concert segment, thanked Tommy Cowan "for producing the works of Ras Michael".
The Calvin 'Bubbles' Cameron led Rhythm Masters band started off showtime, with Scully the first performer up. Carlene Davis went into her pre-gospel catalogue to very good effect, especially for the slow Going Down to Paradise (for which she did an enthusiastic pull up), rode a mix on Dial My Number and did the freedom song pair of Winnie Mandela and Welcome Home Mr Mandela to respect from the audience.
Ras Michael Jr, playing guitar as he sang, did his father's None of Jah Jah Children and New Name, the beat changing to R&B as Bunny Brown did extended versions of Change Gonna Come and Always and Forever, his showmanship in full effect as came off the stage to get closer to the audience. His full white suit was in contrast to his guest Bagga Case's full black, Weeping Willow and Stand By Me among the selections which went over well with the R&B savvy audience.
Showtime was closed off by Jimmy Riley, the excitement of Reggae Sumfest's International Night I the previous night reflected in his hoarseness. Still, Riley went through Conversation, Rougher Yet and Black Mother Prays, before Tribute to the Greats 16 went over to recorded music by Merritone and Afrique.