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Beyond the Lullaby

Published: 
Thursday, October 1, 2015
Levi's Lore

He knew it was a set up from the moment we handed him into the arms of the nursery assistant. 

I’m sure an eight-month-old baby has no concept of abandonment, betrayal or separation but, as he turned his head to catch my guilty eye, I too turned away before I could see his trusting little face crumble. It was one of those “Life is rough, no pain like this body, deye mon gen mon (behind the mountains more mountains…to climb)” moments. Buddha sure cracked it open when he pointed out that having family, and children in particular, makes it hard to let go. 

But we did—even if he spent the duration till home time bawling and then sleeping away. I’m sure when Ben, last son of my right hand, fully assesses his new daytime environment, in his slow carefully appraising way, he’ll realise it’s full of new things to grab and pound and that he’s in good company—a whole bunch of tiddlers and toddlers just like himself. 

He may actually find home a bit of a let down, after all the endless stimulation at the nursery. But he’ll be good, and so will we, with just a few more moments of breathing space between one plantation and the next. 

Before I got into the car and turned on the music, I couldn’t help but to acknowledge the moment, when a baby, my baby, sets out on his or her own camino of this vida loca loca loca.

The nursery is the first break from the family, so now he’s my boy—on your bike laddie! It’s been delightful watching you grow, despite the sleep deprivation. Who can resist those bright eyes peeping at you through the pre-dawn darkness, little hands tugging, the squeals of another premature good morning. 

We’ve had a lot of laughs. Apparently you share my taste for the absurd and I know you like some rough ’n tumble, clapping hands to the music music music, tracking the birds and butterflies in the garden, making faces, pounding everything in sight, munching and dribbling over my cell phone before pelting it, growling with teething torture, pulling out your sister’s hair, books, especially mine, swinging in the hammock and best of all-bathtime. There’ll be plenty more, but for now, you’re on your way.

Admittedly, I wasn’t nearly as sanguine or sentimental as the previous paragraph might suggest, as I lurched out of the nursery. Convincing myself Ben would survive, I hit the music and drove away. Driving with music combines two meditations, which have to beat back Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. 

If yuh doh believe me, arsk me pardna Eddie “Von Gusto” Bowen, the harchitek of impossible dreams, the jumbie killer self. He knows about the driving levimeditation, all the way to Sans Souci, blindfold if necessary.

 Whatever my emotional fragility or blasted vexation, music always has the effect of a full body and soul massage. I eased the car up into the hills to the accompaniment of Afro-Colombian cumbia, Andean flute trails gliding over the syncopated rhythms, the bass drum booming the beat for stomping feet. Hawks hung in the thermals overhead and the morning expanded into possibility.  

Recently I’ve been revisiting much of the Caribbean music I’ve accumulated in my wanderings these past 25 years: from Haitian konpa to Cuban rumba, Dominican jing ping and bouyon, Surinamese kawina and kaseko, Curacaon tambu and tumba, Garifuna punta and parranda. 

My purpose was to focus on those genres which seem to have got lost below the regional radar, but I was also mindful of the latest round of discussions, conferences and workshops aimed at developing T&T’s music industry and marketing our music.

Reggae, dancehall, calypso, soca, zouk and salsa have all to varying degrees carved niches for themselves regionally and internationally, although it’s debatable how much of a market there is for soca, particularly outside diasporan audiences. 

Salsa’s success is understandable in the context of it being an exhilarating sexy dance and the latest in a long line of Latin dance crazes (from the habanera through son, mambo, chachacha and onwards). I haven’t heard live zouk in Trinidad since the 1990s and Kassav’s last visit, and the Kweyol lyrics might have something to do with this, although like all Caribbean music, zouk is principally dance music and you don’t need to understand lyrics to be able to move your body. 

The language barrier argument doesn’t entirely hold water either, as in Dominica where the official language is also English (but where everyone understands even if they don’t talk Kweyol) zouk, along with Haitian konpa plays continually on the airwaves.

Globalisation, mass culture and marketing dictate taste and trends—but then how does one explain the fact that Watina, an album of Garifuna songs, and overwhelmingly voted Best World Music album of 2007, remains a stranger to regional radio stations? 

As my dear old Dad used to say-there’s no accounting for taste, but as long as I’m the driver/DJ, baby Ben and his sister will enjoy the full range of our Caribbean soundscape.

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