Saturday, March 12th 2016
It’s weekend! While the morning starts lazy, from noon we get ready for the day. First on my schedule is a visit to the artist Doniki, whom I’m supposed to bring a few things from his family in Germany. Renique and Adam come to pick us up, and together we drive through the bright Kingston midday. We meet Doniki outside of the famous Tuff Gong Studio, a place he often works at as arranger, vocal coach or composer. When we pull up, he steps out of a little shack that’s typical for Jamaica, a kind of mini-shop that sells everything from chewing gum over cookies and peanuts to drinks, toilet-paper and insecticides.
A little later we reach Doniki’s home in Waterhouse, a part of Kingston I’m repeatedly told not to visit on my own, especially at night. Well, it’s daytime and I’m not alone, so it’s easy not to panick. A huge rooster eyes us suspiciously when we leave the car, then calmly retreats to its shade (that’s another thing I love about Kingston, there are animals roaming abou freely al over – chicken, goats, cats and dogs are a common sight). Meet and greet with Donikis sons, and then we settle in his room. Adam, who has a workshop at home where he produces them for sale, lights his steam chalice and discusses its advantages over the more common spliff-smoking with Doniki. Here a short summary for those who are interested: Steamers work like natural (non-technical, non-battery-run) Vaporizers. A calabash or coconut serves as body (which might or might not be filled with water), in which two holes are drilled. Into one, a long, thick and hollow kind of straw, mostly bamboo, is inserted – the mouth-piece. The other holds the kutchie, a funnel-shaped piece of varying size made of clay. The weed is stuffed into its bottom, on top of which a filter (of metal or clay) is inserted. On the filter, anything serving as fuel is placed. I have seen normal coals being used, but more commonly dried orange peel or coconut shells. When inhaling through the mouth-piece, the coals are lit and pass their heat on to the weed inside the kutchie. Thus, it is not burned, but vaporized, which makes the inhaled smoke more agreeable, soft in a way, but also much stronger.
Doniki sticks to his spliff, but is very interested in the production process. After two or so hours, we have to say goodbye and leave. Sadly, that was the last time I’ve seen this exceptional artist alive, as he passed away a few months after our encounter (read our orbituary here).
Undisturbed by the dark clouds thus cast over this farewell, we proceed to the Devon House Park at Hope Road, where a book fair is taking place. Live presentations, readings and an arrangement of stalls make the park around the venerable Devon House a colourful experience. We meet Gladstone Taylor again, who is supposed to read from his book as well, and I finally manage to ask him for an interview early next week. Passing the stalls, I’m excited to meet Kellie Magnus and Michael Robinson, respectively author and illustrator of the children’s book series Little Lion, one of which I directly purchase for my son.
After a proper amount of chillingz in the park, hunger drives us out, which we intend to still at a food-mall. I opt for Asian food, which might not have been the best choice compared to the delicacies the others get. However, after eating, Adam and Renique invite us to join them for a Yoga session they are headed to next. We gladly agree, and it turns out to be led by – surprise, surprise! – the one and only Jah9! Around 20 people came to breathe, relax and stretch with the spiritual singer. She tells us that she just got the teacher certificate for kemetic yoga and plans to make this a regular class, so in case you come to Kingston, make sure you ask around for it. Payment is made in form of individual donations in a box in the corner.
Elated and energized, we return home for a cooking session. Joan invited a few friends over, and thus the evening is spent in the company of interesting people, such as Mannin Marsh (who is one of the finalists of a start-up TV Show with his business idea The Vinelist Inc.) and Simon, singer of the band Skygrass.
Sunday, March 13th 2016
Today is the day! I’m so looking forward to this night, the night I’ll finally be able to experience the amazing, legendary Kingston Dub Club. But first things first. Joan suggests a trip to the Boardwalk Beach, and after a few phone calls the excursion crew is all set. We pick up guitarist Dave Stevens and are on our way, get stuck in a little traffic jam, but soon leave the main road and stop at a fruit stand on the road side. Bananas, coconut and peanuts are purchased, and it’s here that we meet Joan’s friends, Jennifer and Jane. It’s only much later I find out that the latter is the Jane Macgizmo, the singer who jumped to fame with her single “Babylon”. Good to know people for themselves! For now, only the beauty of the day and beach count (a beauty that’s secured by an entrance fee, by the way). We secure ourselves a shady spot under a climbable tree, and I jump in the waves right away. A DJ plays the current hitparade (not only Reggae, but Pop songs and EDM music as well), and a few of the young people around show off their dancing skills.
When the fruit snacks are devoured and the after-swimming-appetite starts to stir, we order a delicious meal of fried fish, bammy (a kind of cassava-flour-pancake) and festival (deep-fried flour dumplins). The special thing about the ordering process is that you get to choose the fish you want. The fresh catch of the morning is kept in an ice-cooled box, and the various sizes and colours make a choice difficult. Mine is made, however, and after 15 minutes I realize that it was a good one. Yummie! My only critic would be the exclusive use of plastic plates and cutlery. But that’s an island-wide problem, even in normal sit-in restaurants you rarely find washable dishes, but those made of plastic or – best case – cardboard only. Another big issue is the rather careless handling of waste. A group next to us feasts on the food, but leaves without bothering to dispose of their left-overs in the close-by bin. Of course there is wind (we are at the beach!), and of course, it merrily blows the light foam-plastic all over the place. In this specific case, as it is a paid beach, there are people who clean up area when the day is over, but what about all the other places? What about the waste blown into the ocean and washed ashore somewhere else? It is this ignorance and ruthlessness by many, especially middle- and upper-class people, that cause so many problems and the pollution of Jamaica’s beautiful landscape.
A noticeable exception is the thoughtful community of Rasta & Reggae Revival, in which great hopes can be laid. Most, if not all people I met in these circles are very conscious, not only spiritually, but especially ecologically. Veggie Meals on Wheels, for instance, serves its dishes in calabash or coconut-shell bowls and with wooden cutlery. When cooking, in line with Rastafarian prinicples, only fresh and local products are used, thus minimizing plastic wrappings and long transports. Even in clothing, body-care and jewellery, those people rely on natural products, if possible and available. Love and respect for that – and please let this lifestyle become a model for everyone else!!!
Back to our beach Sunday. After a glorious sunset, we head home to take a shower, relax a bit and change for the big night ahead. I’m teased for my growing impatience, and assured that we will be there in time for the best part of the night. When we finally get going, we stop at Havendale to pick up Exile Di Brave and Jacky, then proceed through a lively nocturnal Kingston. The Dub Club, run by Gabre Selassie, is located at Jack’s Hill, to the city’s north-east, and the closer we get, the more excited I become. After about twenty minutes drive, we are on the winding road called Skyline Drive that leads up and up and up, until a long row of cars indicates the need to find a parking space. A friendly attendant conducts us to a free slot on the roadside, and from exiting the car, I am lost. The air is fresh and clean, the view is breathtaking. Thousands of glittering blueish, yellow and orange lights wink at us from the city far below, and it’s at the same time quiet and filled with subtle sounds. The bass from further up hill, cicadas, an occasional waft of Dancehall parties or sirens from below…
I follow the others almost as if in trance, closer to the bass, and after a few minutes we reach the entrance gate. It’s 500 $ JA to get in (around 5 €), an amount well worth the spending. While the others descend the winding slopes set in stone, I take a break, press a mental “record” button and try to absorb the magic unfolding at my feet. Directly below, the DJ desk takes up more space than usual, as it is the heart of the place, and I see Exile enter its midst (he and his King Harar Sound crew are the guest DJs of this night). To its left, speakers tower up high, emanating the sound of life we all love and cherish. Behind an artfully painted wall further to the left, a dancing fire is lit, giving the steamers fraction ample opportunity to get their coals burning and catch some heat. To the far right, the obligatory craft stalls offer fashion accessoires and snacks, while a path from the center leads behind the stone house, where the bar is located. Everything is bathed in warm, colourful lights (red, yellow and green for the most part, of course!), and people in all shades, from all walks of life, skank to the omnipresent beat.
Once my excitement calms down a bit and I feel able to enter the premises without mouth agape, I wind through the crowd, wave a greeting to Infinite, TJ, Kazam Davis, Rassi Hardknocks and Naoto at the controls and try to spot my friends at the bar. The view that opens from the terrace there makes me forget my mission, though, and again I am lost in the overwhelming mélange of sights, sounds, scents and atmosphere. Instead of finding Peter and Joan, I run into Pete and Ellen, and a little later, Toké, Da Sandwichmaker and Ras Muhamad arrive as well. A visit to the fire is rewarded with a reunion with Adam and Renique, as generally it seems that the whole Reggae-family, of Kingston and abroad, is present. Peter beckons me to join him in the dancing pit infront of the speakers, where he and Mannin have already entered the irresistible flow of the music, and the rest of the evening is spent in a bubble that seems to be far removed from the normal time and space.
Monday, March 14th 2016
The bass still thumbs in my bones. I wake up, fall asleep again, wake up again around 10 am and reluctantly leave bed, since my first interview starts soon. EarthKry! Curious about these newcomers, I arrive at the Nanook once more to meet Tara Johnson (the manager who made this interview happen), keyboarder Phillip McFarlane, drummer Kieron Cunningham and bass guitarist Kamardo Blake. Only singer Aldayne Haughton couldn’t be there, as he is abroad at the moment. Still, we have a wonderful chat about their musical career and their upcoming EP Hard Road. From there, I proceed to the next “appointment”, an interview with Bebble-Rock-artist Koro Fyah. Since the place is not far away, I take a stroll, stopping at a juice shop to buy a bottle of bright red Sorrel juice. I’m welcomed by studio engineer and manager Abishai Hoilett, who introduces me to the Kabaka protégé, and we jump right to the task, speaking about grass-roots farming and of course his upcoming EP Rough Diamond (read the review here).
The third and last interview of the day is with Gladstone Taylor. Back at the Nanook, this amazing writer proves to be an as amazing person, full of pondering thoughts and keen observations. I’m sure there is a lot to look forward to from his hands!
At this point, it becomes obvious that I’ll have to add a part five next week. There is still so much to tell you!!!
Text & Photos: Gardy Stein-Kanjora