The more things change ...

Published: Tuesday | December 10, 2013 Comments 0

By Gordon Robinson

Playing with Gene Autry against Dr S Blank and Jimmy Hunchback, this was my hand: Six-five; six-four; six-blank; five-four; four-deuce; five-deuce; double four.

Long-time readers remember Jimmy, the worst, yet luckiest domino player. He repeatedly threw away every game yet, somehow, the game would end up coming right back to him. Dr S Blank called himself 'Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Domino', but worked at the university in maintenance.

To my right, Jimmy Hunchback posed double five. The house rules (double-six posed first game; thereafter the holder of double six posed whatever he wanted) made this a surprise move. Permissible, yes, but unusual for good players to keep an exposed domino. Most preferred to pose 'bareback' double six, but weak players (none weaker than Jimmy) tended to treat 'don't pose bareback' as an inviolable rule. Autry chuckled as he played five-ace, to which S Blank slammed down ace-six.

Quick. What was my play? I'll tell you at the end (no peeking).

There's plenty misinformation propagated regarding the crassness of modern Jamaican 'dancehall' lyrics and the upper crust (usually a lot of crumbs sticking together) regularly lament the death of music as we know it. Bible-thumpers berate modern lyricists for their 'slack' and 'violent' lyrics.

Persons dressed in three-piece suits with well-coiffed hairdos (no bleach) remind our modern musicians, in supercilious tones, that they are role models and, as such, must be careful of the effect they will have on our children.

First, remember 'dancehall' is neither a music beat nor genre. The expression 'dancehall music' comes from before Independence when local music was rarely played on radio so one had to attend the dances in the dance halls to listen to the latest fads in music, whether it was blues, shufflebeat, ska, rocksteady, rock 'n' roll, or reggae.

The dance halls were ruled by DJs ('toasters') from the two Winstons (Count Machuki and King Stitt) through the better-known recording artistes U-Roy, Big Youth to King Yellowman himself. Machuki and Stitt would talk over the records shukkin and jiving in the most poetic lingo to hype up the dance.

Then, it was society that affected the music. Nothing has changed. Music reflects society, not the other way around. Lyricists and music writers are poets and philosophers, commenting on society as they see it. If they haven't seen or experienced it, they can't write about it.

So, stop crying crocodile tears over music's demise. It's becoming tiresome after 250 years. Beethoven's music was considered noisy pop. My father viewed Ken Boothe and John Holt's contributions as 'boogooyagga' music. Rock 'n' roll was the devil's music. Hear the commentary of a frustrated Don McLean:

A long, long time ago

I can still remember how that music used to make me smile.

and I knew if I had my chance

that I could make those people dance.

And maybe they'd be happy for a while

But February made me shiver

with every paper I'd deliver.

Bad news on the doorstep.

I couldn't take one more step.

I can't remember if I cried

when I read about his widowed bride.

But something touched me deep inside

the day the music died.

So, bye-bye, Miss American Pie

Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry

And them good old boys drinkin' whiskey and rye

Singin' 'This'll be the day that I die.'"

Music will die when society dies. Until then, no amount of prudish censorship will make the slightest difference. We can keep free-to-air radio 'clean', but the dance halls will always vibrate with the people's music. And people will know where to go to hear their music.

Think Yellowman started 'slackness'? Cecil Bustamante Cooper (Prince Buster), OD, produced 1960s dancehall hits Wreck a P-P and Rainy Night in Big Five. Stanley Beckford's Soldering and The Heptones' Fatty, Fatty were banned from radio play for 'slackness'.

Think Kartel invented violent lyrics? Listen to the era of 'rude bwoy' tunes when the ratchet knife was society's weapon of choice. The Clarendonians, Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker and others glorified 'rude bwoys' in their music. Bob Marley's Hooligan Ska, Screwface, or Talking Blues was no different. Music is as music has always been. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The correct domino play is six-blank. Don't use your protected sixes. Get the lone blank out of your hand before you're forced to play it the other way around. Don't worry. Partner, knowing where your dancehall is, will be way ahead of you.

Peace and love.

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

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