In the summer of 2002 the popularity of dancehall reggae in the US charts reached a new level. I welcomed the debut of songs like Sean Paul’s ‘Gimme The Light’ on BET, but as far as I was concerned my fellow Yankees were late to the party.
Jamaica’s dancehall and roots reggae and the soca of Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago were not part of my upbringing. However as a teen I sought and discovered Caribbean music on my own. From the first time I heard Sizzla Kalonji playing while I shopped for headwraps at an African store(cliché I know but that’s how it happened) I was hooked:
From that point on a visit to the world music section was always necessary when I stepped in a record store. In August 2002 my mama’s Jamaican friend, Charmas, was over visiting. I was in my room, cleaning and jamming along to a soca-reggae compilation that an ex burned for me. Charmas knocked on my door.
“Eh gyal”, she said, grinning at me as she entered, “yuh like reggae music?”
“Do I LIKE reggae? Charmas I LOVE IT!”, I answered emphatically.
“Well why yuh nuh say nuttin? Yuh coulda come wid me to a concert last week! From now on I guh call yuh tuh come out wid mi when I go out!”
Charmas’ word was her bond, so for the next ten months I accompanied her at least once a month. Together we went to concerts and reggae nights at local clubs, but our nights at African spots were the best. She knew everyone who worked the door and the bar at those establishments, so in addition to never paying a cover charge we were feted like princesses.
For Charmas and I the party didn’t stop when the heat of summer gave way to the drizzle and gray skies back in the winter of 2003. I simply traded my bare legs and open-toed stiletto heels for fitted jeans and boots. At the time you couldn’t go to a reggae spot in Seattle without hearing a tune based on the Diwali riddim, a high-energy beat with a distinctively East Indian flavor(hence the name).Even now I can’t hear the Diwali riddim and remain still. That beat even made Lumidee’s off-key singing tolerable:
But the song on the riddim that I loved the most was Wayne Wonder’s ‘No Letting Go’:
When the opening chords play and Wonder begins to croon I see myself at 22 years old. Monday through Friday I’m up by 6am to make it to class by 8am. On my long bus ride from home to school to work and back I listen to Wayne Wonder on my portable CD player. The song captured my optimism and hopes for the young man I was seeing at the time. I had yet to encounter a serious, true heartbreak at the time. As a result I didn’t have the sort of baggage yet that would lead me to be cautious. I dreamed of giving my all to him back then. I was young, naive and deeply infatuated. Wide, open wide in the same sense Jill Scott belts out on ‘Love Rain’.
I learned the hard way that getting what you think you want and need doesn’t always end well. And as for the openness, faith and hope in love that my younger incarnation had back then? Well it is quite foreign to me twelve years later. The idea of loving another man the way I loved him-with no reservation, no holding back and no limit to what I would do on his behalf-is an idea that I’m much more ambivalent about nowadays. But I’m thankful that my love of Caribbean music(even when it brings him to mind) has endured. Indeed, sweet reggae and soca have never disappointed and both have a permanent place in my life.