Friday, February 23, 2018

Musical therapy

Tomorrow is two years since Keith Smith closed his eyes. Last week, I sat at the Learning Resource Centre at UWI, listening to David Rudder do yet another version of the "Hammer" (amazing how many directions you can take fine music; maybe that's what makes a classic), and as I was sitting there listening to David, my mind upped and slipped back in time, my hand gripping Keith's arm as he took my young, sheltered self and introduced me to a different kind of calypso.

I had not long come to the Express; walking off the street in a moment of rare bravado and typical spontaneity and asking if they would let me write. Soon, I went from being a junior reporter to an even more junior subeditor, which brought me into closer contact with Keith.

It being the season, Keith had written a magnificent article on the David intervention; an analysis of his music that sought to bring context and understanding of the poetics he'd made of the calypso that was causing an enormous amount of consternation over its calypso-ness, which of course, led to heaping debates over what really was calypso.

Keith, as usual, had written his headline, but had suggested an alternative I cannot remember it now. As subeditor, my job was to proofread, design and layout the page and, write the headline. I laboured over it, wanting Keith to be pleased, and feeling pressured because the dazzling quality of his prose and analysis demanded a befitting presentation.

Later, down in the Production Department, as we stood over the light table, cutting and pasting the centrespread together, Keith appeared. When he saw it, he was so obviously mortified, I think it was a sign of his real affection for me that he did not throttle me with some choice words. I had read his headline and its alternative as one, and had grandly spread it (them) across the breadth of the two pages. It was a simple enough mistake; the second part had rendered the first statement more provocative with the titillating "or" suggesting some nuance to be found tongue-in-cheek. Keith conceded that he had, in truth, been in something of a dilemma as to which was more appropriate and that maybe running them together was the solution.

Needless to say, there was no way my shame would let the double appear and so, "Looking for the Lyric" became the title of his award-winning article, but not before we had an argument about a line I'd chosen to highlight from within the piece: "In truth, Rudder is the greatest calypso thief of all time."

Keith was scandalised. "Vanissa, you know what people will think when they see that?" It will make them read the piece, I argued; and he let it stay.

Since 1986, around the time we'd met, Keith had been raving about David as a performer, his capacity to move a crowd, and as he had appointed himself a sort of cultural mentor, one night he had taken me down to the stadium to see for myself.

I can never forget walking down to the seats; overwhelmed by the sounds, the smells, the throng of people, how they all looked so much at ease in this milieu that was so unfamiliar to me. Then David passed by: a slight, diffident figure with a gently rocking gait making a patient way onstage. And it seemed it was all going to be too much for him too. And he began to sing. And he began to chant. And he strode around wielding this invisible hammer, like a Thor commanding cosmic forces.

The living vibration he had hailed in "Calypso Music" had all souls in there shaking like Shango. I was blown away; my hand gripping Keith's arm as he took my young, sheltered self and introduced me to a different kind of calypso.

And the song ended, and I found myself gripping the arms of the two people on either side of me, and it was far into the journey of a night at the LRC. A night where for the first time to my knowledge, a concert of this sort had been staged there, and the place was full, moreso than I've ever seen any lecturer fill it. And the air was swirling with warmth and nostalgia as people explored their mind excursions of the night.

It was an expansive Wednesday, reaching many levels at many levels. If the ubiquitous professor of psychiatry, Gerard Hutchinson, had intended this concert of his to be an experiment in healing therapies, he was spot on.

There was Andy Narell headlining a show called The University of Calypso comes to The University of the West Indies, with musicians like Theron Shaw and Raf Robertson to jazz up the calypso. Relator elegantly segued from calypso to jazz to extempo and although his was the name next to Narell's in the billing, he treated Lord Superior like the star. Superior, so neat and compactly turned out, like he had just been carefully passed through a steam laundry, was brilliant. He pulled out some classics from his bowler hat and ran through a medley with Relator, and although he forgot a line here and there, his voice and memory were impressive.

I'm 75, he reminded charmingly. Sometimes I forget.

Sometimes we forget; sometimes we remember.