My father liked the blues and Lady Day.
He left Jamaica way before the reggae
rocked all night in backstreet studios,
before King Tubby or Augustus Pablo.
But I used to love a boy who loved
dub reggae, loved thick lugs of ganga, loved
on Sunday nights to cross the river, take me
to The House of Roots and Aba-shanti
in the cobbled arches under Vauxhall
where the Lion of Judah decked the walls
and stacks of speakers pumped electric bass,
a single bulb above the smoky haze
and on the stage a little dreadlocked man
like Rumplestiltskin shouted Jah! and spun
his blistering tunes on a single turntable
and shut-eyed men called back over the vinyl
Jah Rastafari. Next door, the old guys
were like wizened goats with yellow eyes
hunched over games of chess and ginger tea,
below the golden framed Haile Selassie,
king of kings. That boy didn’t know my father
was a white-haired godless pensioner
and reggae music never really got me
until I played it on my own: Bob Marley,
U-Roy, Johnny Clark, and even then
it came like hymns or Faure’s Requiem,
Vivaldi’s Gloria. That boy thought I had
a Rasta like Prince Far-I for a dad
not the silent island man who sat
beyond the bedroom door I’d listen at
to catch a woman croon a melody:
I can’t give you anything but love, baby.
Directed by Matthew Thompson.
Hannah Lowe, Chick (Bloodaxe Books, 2013)
Reproduced with permission of Bloodaxe Books.