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Friday, February 28, 2014

Smokey Joe play a big-time mas. Purple velvet and shining brass. Ride through Town on a golden throne. King of the Road in a world of his own. He work all night and day, as the weeks went past. Pounding and beating on metal for fancy mas. He had no job but he used to bet. On the horses, as dock work was hard to get. But his luck was bad, he was in debt. Poor Smokey couldn’t buy cigarette. Expensive cloth, he had to get on trust. ‘Cause playing mas, to him, was a definite must. Yes, he ride through Town, on a cardboard throne. Quite sure that the first prize was his own. “I’m the king,” he thought, as he mounted the stage. “They’ll all see my picture on tomorrow’s front page.” But though Smokey Joe really thought he was blessed. The judges thought different, they were not impressed. They crossed out his name, with the stroke of a pen. Poor Smokey Joe, he had lost again. But the judges called him back. They give him a rice-cold beer. A little silver cup. And he left for Independence Square. —Complete lyrics of the song Smokey Joe, by Andre Tanker, 1941-2003


Andre Tanker, who was a direct descendant of the painter Cazabon, died 11 years ago today, to the day and date, February 28, on what was also, that year, Carnival Friday and, more than a decade later, it shakes me up to think of the music we lost. Anyone alive worth anything, musically, in Trinidad would credit him as an influence; I credit him as a lifesaver: mine.
Long before I met him, through my friendship with his wife’s family I met his music, and it rescued me. (His father-in-law, the athlete, McDonald Bailey, who died last year but will remain in the record books for many more years to come, was my guardian before I turned 18 as a student in England, and, through that mutual connection to the Baileys, Andre and I became close enough for him to ask me to write the liner notes for his first CD, Children of the Big Bang. 


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