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Monday, April 16, 2012

Morning Murder, a short story


Something heavy hit the zinc fence hard in the yard next to Prong’s bar across the street.

Pi! Pi!

Two shots, two flashes of light.

Then dead silence.

And darkness.

A shadow moved through the door of the zinc fence out onto 6th street in Greenwich Farm and then was gone like it never was.

I had been up to the window in a flash, peering through glass and through the julie mango branches from the first creak of the zinc gate across the street, my wife just now only slightly stirred in her sleep, feeling my absence from her side. I heard her nephew move in the bedroom next door.

“Kenny?” I whispered.
“Yes, John?”
“Somebody get dead”
“Yes, man, seem so”

It was that time of the day when it is technically morning but it is darker than any hour of the night. It is the time when your worst imaginings seem as real as your last breath, when nightmares creep over your fence, and the yard dogs huddle together for safety on the verandah outside of your door.
It was that time of day in Kingston ghettoes that the only ones about were duppies or worse, gunmen.

Since this was 1981 and with general election war time recently finished, the JLP and PNP were sorting out certain movements which would still be felt 25 years later. Here in Greenwich Farm we were just a short walk down the train line from Tivoli, the JLP bastion of power, but PNP was strong here and even WPJ had headquarters up on South Avenue.

But now, one-and-a-half years since the election that ended Michael Manley’s Democratic Socialist dream and ushered in Eddie Seaga’s capitalist reality, politics was starting to take a back seat to the more stark realities of  turf, influence, extortion and something new into the mix for the first time in Jamaica, cocaine. Tribal war started to become a lot more brutal now it was fueled by coke.
Or as one local sage said to me “Guns deh about still, and shot mus’ lick, Massa John.” It was these "runnings" I had come back to Jamaica to document for a US newspaper.

Greenwich Farm had the geographic advantage of being  walking distance to the sea, the wharves, and Customs piers. A lot of the youths in the area used to deal in goods that fell off trucks coming from those piers, and that included staple commodities like flour, rice, cooking oil and gasoline.

“Kenny, you see anything?”
“No sah, me just hear the commotion”

I was still pressed into the corner of the room protected from any possible stray retaliatory bullets by the concrete at my back.

Kenny had now come through the connecting door and joined me by the windows facing the streets.
Both of our eyes strained to see.
My wife started, awake now.
“Wha happen, eh?”
“Just stay there, darling, something g'waan cross the road.”

The light was starting to creep in slowly, softly, as if it too were afraid of being heard or noticed, and all was dead still, almost as if the whole of 6th Street was holding its breath.
“John, yuh did see anything?” Kenny ask.
“ Boy, I hear zinc bang first, then me did see the two flash from the gun, then one man come out a de yard and gone toward Second Avenue. Since then, not a thing.”

Now, I would never admit to anyone outside of this house that I saw anyone or anything at all. It does not pay to admit seeing certain things in Jamaica.
A white Toyota Corolla arrived and pulled up outside the zinc fence  across the way. Three police, one with a big gun got out and went into the yard. They were in the yard for some little while but came out, one of them pulling a lifeless body by its heels. This was unceremoniously left in the dirt parallel to the road outside the zinc door to the yard..

People now started to arrive in their ones and twos, mostly women in curlers and yard clothes, drawn by the blue lights of the police car or by their curiosity about the early morning’s deadly sounds. Kenny recognized someone in the small crowd that had gathered and went outside. He came back in a little while to report:

“Is Danny”
“ Is Danny, from up further ‘pon 6th Street.”
“The youth ?” Danny to my knowledge was not yet 20 years of age.
“Yes man, dem seh dem shoot him over some thiefin’ business”
“What? There’s plenty thief roun’ here who don’t get shot...”
“Dem seh Danny did thief from the wrong local man”
“Oh, I see...”

Still, the police had been on the scene BEFORE anyone else had discovered the body, and since no one on this block even had a phone and they knew right where to look, too, I mused inwardly.
Recently a young, albino recording artiste, or “deejay” named Yellowman had put out a single called “Operation Eradication”. It detailed the exploits of an actual squad of police in Kingston whose brief was to “eradicate” troublesome “criminals” who had in brutal reality now outlived their political usefulness since the very tribal electioneering had ended and new lines had been drawn and scores were being settled. The single was banned from radio airplay, but played day and night on every rum bar jukebox across Jamaica, including the one right next to the yard ironically where Danny’s body now lay.

Danny’s remains laid there in the gutter of Sixth Street until the sun was well up and the ambulance came to carry him to the morgue.

Copyright Donald Callum 2006

Friday, April 13, 2012

Callums in Europe pt 1

Madame Callum on the Place des Vosges

The night after: Antoinette & the fellas relax at La Cartoucherie, Bois des Vincennes
Sebastien et moi-meme by IM Pei's pyramid at theLouvre

I met my girl by the old canal

The sun DOES shine in Dublin, here on Nigel & Sean on Wellington Quay

Maybe someday I'll go back again to Galway, if the sun ever comes out that is

Pyramids seem to be a theme, this one is in Merrion Square, Dublin

Bob Andy

Bob Andy and yours truly at Windfall our home in Jamaica

Keith Anderson more commonly known as "Bob Andy" is arguably Jamaica's most respected songwriter.
Interested, no let's make that "captivated" by music from an early age in Kingston Jamaica where he grew up, a chain of events led him to Studio One on Brentford Road. Studio One by the mid 1960's had become the Motown of the Jamaican music scene. Built and controlled by the estimable Clement "Coxsone" Dodd Studio One was  a recording studio, record label (dozens of labels in fact), sound system, music school and manufacturing facility.
Studio One launched the careers of dozens, perhaps hundreds of singers, musicians, and songwriters that created what the world knows today as reggae, and took that music from its status as obscure third world music craze to international cultural phenomenon a fact driven home to me in the 1970's when I heard my mom singing "Three Little Birds" while she was hoovering the living room.
There were other music labels and other studios and other producers in Jamaica and they all played a part, but it was Studio One that was first and foremost in influence and resonance.
It was here in this artistic hot-spot that Bob was able to foment his talent. The way he tells it recording at Studio One was a collaborative process with singers helping each other, the older ones schooling the younger ones the most well-known example of this being the established Joe Higgs drilling newcomers Bob, Peter, and Bunny aka "The Wailing Wailers" in harmony etc.
Bob Andy like many, many others in those times of the early 60's when vocal groups could be found on every street corner of the Bronx, Chicago, Philadelphia, or Kingston, started a vocal group called "The Paragons". They had a number one hit for Studio One penned by Bob Andy called "Love at last" and they were on their way. John Holt joined the Paragons but as Bob felt their voices were too similar he opted to go solo. He wrote and recorded a smash hit called "I've Got to Go Back Home" that became an anthem especially for the burgeoning Jamaican diaspora forced to leave behind their beloved island home. My wife  used to jokingly tell me to stop the car as she wanted to dance when she heard this song on the car radio.
Bob became friends with Jackie Mittoo the talented keyboardist and director of the Studio One house band and together they produced hit songs for themselves and many others.  Bob wrote hit after hit such as "Feeling Soul", "Too Experienced", "Going Home", "Unchained", :My Time", "Fire Burning" and after teaming up with Marcia Griffiths did a huge cover of Nina Simone's "Young, Gifted and Black" which was a hit in the UK as well. Bob has acted in films and continued to write and record and is in fact about to relaunch in 2012 with a follow up to "Reggae Songbook" his classic monster album for which he has not received one penny in royalties though that will hopefully change soon.
Bob's songs have been covered by over 50 different artistes and in Jamaica alone his hits are re-recorded seemingly by each new generation of singers at least by the ones who recognise great songwriting when they hear it.

I only got to know Bob Andy personally over the past couple of years and I have always feared meeting people whose work I have admired as many times the human behind the work may not be...well, let's say the experience may be a disappointment. In Bob's case the opposite has been true and in fact I have gotten to see that he is a very special and charismatic person and in this case the art he has produced comes from an intelligent, thoughtful, caring man who is loved and appreciated by many and not just his fellow musicians.

Here's a couple of links to Bob songs and if interested you can do your own google and youtube searches, I believe you will be hooked too.