Yuh see me and drums?
I don’t, can’t trust myself when I’m near to drums. They touch something fundamental deep within me, the part that is undiluted Africa, despite the hundreds of years since I left home. Sometimes the drums just lift me up and carry me to a place where my soul lives.
That’s what happened last Thursday night at the Crop-Over Read-In, Birthwrite, at Parliament Yard. Produced by Ayesha Gibson-Gill of the NCF, the production was mighty and also incendiary. In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the riots here, it at times shook the courtyard of the lawmakers with an elemental power.
A large number of the Cabinet was there and I wonder what they took away with them. If they were really feeling the vibes they would have picked up that the natives are indeed getting restless again, expressing it in fiery word, song and dance.
I loved being a part of the programme. My first artistic expression was as a poet, winning a large Coke as a first prize in third form. And I can remember the poem too: “As I look outside I can see/Birds congregated in a tree/The tree is bare and I can hear/ Their warbling melody.” Not bad for a 13-year-old. The brilliant teacher was the late Gordon Belle, a man seriously in love with the English language who passed on his passion to fortunate generations. He used to appear angry but was really very pleased when a student politely corrected his choice of words, as I experienced on a few occasions.
But the programme again. I won’t attempt to review it, since I was involved. I’m disappointed, though, that it didn’t get coverage commensurate with its standard or significance. All the artistes connected with their audience, with voices that caressed, cajoled and hectored. The element of dance brought home visually the pictures painted in words, beautifully, while the drums were the throbbing heartbeat that sent the messages straight to the brain.
I did a collab with talented spoken word artiste DJ Simmons, which put me right in the mood for my next number, Jump for Freedom, originally arranged by Nicholas Brancker but done to drums and percussion alone.
People, is den dat the drums ketch me. Somewhere during the second chorus, something just lifted me up and next thing I knew, I was spinning around and around, doing some dances resurrected from deep within me. One sister who was there wrote on FB that the performance gave her the chills. Actually it made me giddy, because I forgot that when spinning like that, you have to keep your eyes fixed on one spot, so that when you stop, you maintain balance.
So when the drums released me, I had to a lil thing to keep my balance. Apparently I made it look so pretty that people thought it was all part of the dance. Ah, the secrets of artistes! It was a blast though, real ting. That was the second time that has happened to me.
The first time the drums really gave me a “huh!” like that was at a drum circle in Speightstown, organised by my bredren Danny Diallo Hinds; it was a full moon, too.
That programme started with a walk that retraced the steps of the slaves when they landed at Speightstown, I believe, and that plus the fullness of the moon created some amazing vibes. I remember some dancers coming to me afterwards and asking where I learned the steps I did on stage, giving the steps names. Of course I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. When the drums take you, you just do what they dictate.
The sweetest thing about last Thursday night was that after performing in the courtyard, I had to rush off to The Plantation where De Big Show was clashing with Celebration Time. When I got to the BTI car park I felt I didn’t have to drive at all. I was so up that I figured if I just put my hand on the car the vibes would transport me and the car straight to The Plantation, no traffic.
Unfortunately it didn’t work and I had to drive, reaching just in time to go right on stage practically as soon as I got there. The experience of the drums had put me in hyperdrive and I was ready for the Hypa Dawg. I didn’t get the chance to ask him for some pointers before I went on stage, so I had to improvise a Lil Rick version of a dance to Someting Lef In De Bottle, much to the amusement of the crowd. I got it down pat now, so wait til Friday night!
Seriously, though, I would love to do a production of drums, steel and brass, just drums, steel pan and brass. That kind of instrumentation, especially drums alone, can be cruel sometimes, as it exposes songs that are weak on rhythm and full of superfluous verbiage. With drums yuh gotta be right dey, on point, wid de riddim. Okay, the idea’s out there. Anybody interested?
To all the participants in Thursday’s show, very well done. The ancestors are smiling.