What can we say to each other?

Barbara Gloudon

Friday, March 02, 2012

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WHAT WORDS OF CONSOLATION can anyone offer to Lloyd and Ruth Brevett who have joined the ranks of grieving Jamaican parents, forced now to be making funeral arrangements to bury their son, cut down by a murderer, who, in all probability, he may not even have known?

Okeene Brevett, son of one of our most talented musicians, was on his way home not long past midnight Sunday. Just hours before, he had been celebrating the honour given to his Dad, the noted bass player Lloyd Brevett, on behalf of the legendary Skatalites band. The Brevetts had come from their New Jersey home, along with Okeene and Easton, two of their sons. Now old and frail, the "father" was represented at Sunday's Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) Awards ceremony by the sons.

Okeene received the trophy from former PM PJ Patterson who managed the band in earlier days, then he and his brother Easton took the trophy home to show Dad. Okeene went back out to get something to eat. He was on his way home when out of the shadows came evil... What had been, until then, a joyous time, ended in grief, another senseless waste of life, another moment of shame in a country where too many tears have been shed.

The JaRIA awards, in recognition of those who have contributed to the development and growth of our indigenous music, came better late than never. It must have been with much pride that the Brevetts made the pilgrimage to collect the Award, but the ravages of time changed the running order on Sunday. Ill-health made it difficult for Lloyd to attend the ceremony, so Okeene went to do so instead, accompanied by his brother.

After the awards ceremony, the young men took the trophy home. Easton stayed in, Okeene went out. He never came back alive. A gun wielded by an unknown assailant ended his life.

What has become heart-breaking is that even as we live under this constant shadow of violence, the world outside sees another picture of us — a nation of exceptional talents. We make the music for the rest of the world to dance. They marvel at our creative spirit — but we don't seem to know the extent of the treasure which is ours. If we did, we wouldn't be wasting it in senseless death.

We have just begun, belatedly you might say, to raise the consciousness of our amazing creativity. As to the story of Lloyd Brevett and all the Skatalites, that incredible aggregation of musicians who gave the world a new sound, the full has never been told (Thank you, Buju). I didn't know Okeene but I knew his father from the distance of the audience at a time when respect was shown to the singers of songs and players of instruments. Somewhere along the way we seem to have missed a turn in the road.

Don't ask me how long ago and where, that I became a Brevett fan. The double bass or "standing bass" as I see it now being called, is not a toy for lickle bwoy. It is a man's instrument. Its sound comes from deep down in its gut. It can rumble and it can roar when it has to. It can purr like a satisfied cat when the bow is drawn. To watch Brevett play was a lesson in itself. He remained on his feet all night long, one hand cradling the neck of the big bass, the other plucking the strings or wielding the bow.

YOU DON'T SEE TOO MANY double bass/standing bass round town these days. Somebody said "because it is too much hard work". Brevett played in jazz concerts, in hotel lounges and clubs here. He toured many countries as a member of the world-famed Skatalites. He always sported a snappy felt with his well-pressed suits, for that was the jazz man's style before jeans and T-shirt took over the bandstand.

I'd lost track of him for years and years then, just so, I re-made the connection last October, when we stood in the Council Room of the Institute of Jamaica where he was receiving the Musgrave Silver medal. Musgraves don't come easy. They're not given for long service but for sustained high quality. Only a limited number is given out each time.

Brevett was much older than he was in my memory. The toll of the years were very evident but he still had that indefinable air of a man who knew that he knew. It was our problem if we didn't. By his side, his wife Ruth, guided her man to receive his honour. Despite the ravages of ill-health, he was still every bit the quintessential jazz man, a Skatalite all the way. The Musgrave and the JaRIA awards were indicators that it can take years but "wha a fe yuh cyaan be un-fi-yuh". He didn't deserve the horror of Sunday night.

In his grief, he is quoted as saying he has to leave this place. He doesn't know it anymore. This visit was not just to receive the award. He had come home to get away from the winter cold, to get some good Jamaica sunshine in his bones. No wonder he wants to flee back to Newark.

"How can we sing King Alpha's song in a strange land...." Now, he and Sister Ruth will lay their child to rest in this alien soil. Okeene was 33 years old, worked in construction, lived in Newark like his parents, and loved visiting here... until last Sunday's light turned into Monday's darkness. All we can say is, why?

PEOPLE ELSEWHERE continue to see a whole new world in this here JAMAICA. The other night on Project Runway All Stars, which attracts nuff-nuff audience on Lifetime-TV, our Black, Green and Gold was among the select number of flags of the world given to competing designers to create a fashion statement. Before we could ask "why ours before others", we won — through the imagination of the young designer, inspired by our bold colours.

The Tweeters tweeted all night. What do people see in us that we don't see in ourselves? Why do others hail the genius of our art, hear the music, move to our beat, while we have become dumb and blind to the reality?

ON TUESDAY NIGHT, the Canadian High Commission shared with a group of media and others a sensitive, touching film about Harry Jerome, the first Black man in Canada to strike gold for his country on the international athletics scene. The film was as much about the triumphs and tragedies on and off the track as it was a subtly told tale of the perils of being one of the few Black men in a White man's country, in a time of hostility to its own.

Jerome had visited Jamaica in 1966 to represent Canada at the Commonwealth Games, breaking a world record on the brand-new track at the National Stadium. History was made — and Jamaica was the location, yet again. The Mighty Jerome is a sensitive little film, demonstrating why Canada's film industry remains one of the world's finest.

It would be interesting to see the reaction of our mega stars of today's athletic world to the story of Harry Jerome. He died at the early age of 42, a victim of seizures and growing disillusionment. It was only then that people then woke up to what he had contributed to Canada and the human story.

THE US EMBASSY'S Public Affairs Department brought Black History Month to a highpoint with 'Jazz on the Green' at Emancipation Park last Friday night. Gaye Adegbalola, singer-griot-teacher was "the 11th wonder of the world" according to a friend of mine who has a dictionary of his own. It was indeed a night of wonders. Respect and thanks, Embassy, for the memory, our own Maurice Gordon and colleagues included.


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