Wednesday, November 26, 2008

This One's On The House

At a hillside viewpoint in St. Thomas, I noticed a small exchange of kindness.

I was standing next to a Rastafarian musician with dreadlocks, who was playing on what he called his 'steel pan.' If you have seen this instrument, you know that it is a very shiny piece of steel bowl, with numerous flat surfaces each of which produces a different tone. A skilled musician can play whole songs with it.

He had a table full of calypso and reggae CDs that he was selling. I asked him if he had played the music himself.
“Yeah mon. I recorded them meself.” He could play while he talked. He was selling the CD’s for $8 each.

He had lots of Bob Marley hits (No Woman, No Cry; One Love). Bob Marley and Harry Belafonte seemed to be extraordinarily popular in the islands, at least as far as the regular tourists go. These two giants might well be keeping the entire music economy alive.

The sun was glinting off the faces of his steel pan. Visible behind him, a few kilometers downhill at the dock was our cruise ship – the Norwegian Dawn, looking tiny against the vast Caribbean Sea.

An African-American tourist heard the musician playing Belafonte’s Banana Boat song (“Day-O Day-O”) and walked up to us. They both started singing together. Then the musician gave him what sounded like his standard spiel – about the steel-pan being made out of a 55-gallon drum. The tourist picked up a CD and handed over a 10-dollar bill, smiled, and said, “Keep the change.” The musician bowed gratefully.

And then, not to be outdone, while continuing to make music with one hand, the musician reached into his collection and picked out another CD. “Here. Caribbean Love Songs. This one is for your lady over there. On the house, free. Keep it.”

Both men smiled, happy with the transaction and resumed jamming.
Come, Mister tally man, tally me banana
Daylight come and me wan' go home...

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