The wind-driven rain slaps trees, lawns, and roads breaking the quiet stillness of the neighborhood. As usual, the streets are bare; it's that kind of neighborhood and that kind of night. Occasionally a vehicle rolls through, its tires swishing and hissing on the wet pavement, fracturing the dark peace. Nights like these are a throwback to rain-filled Trini ones when the rain tumbled and fell, poured and drummed, bucket-a-drop, on the galvanize sheeting of the roof. The sweetest nocturnal sound it was and lulled many a Trini child to sleep, safe and sound, wrapped up warm and cozy in a coverlet.
Olive Walke and her La Petite Musicale used to sing a song about coverlets.
Bring back me coverlet, ohIt was a song about the classic war between the sexes in which the feminine voices would issue the challenge to "bring back me coverlet," and the masculine ones would retort scoffingly, by turns, "I en have no coverlet" or "which coverlet?". Olive Walke and her musical group fed a generation of Trinis on the rich musical folk heritage of TT.
Bring back me coverlet, ay.
She paved the way, perhaps, for Best Village competitions in which folks songs like Lillian could be heard and relished. Lillian is the story of a young woman who gets caught up in a relationship with a nowhereian. Dramatically, the song is rich; for though Lillian is silent throughout, yet she is addressed by the singer who invokes the girl's threatening parent as obstacle to Lillian's affair and depicts the nowhereian in a few cutting words.
Lillian, I go tell, I go tell, I go tell y' mamaAs the song continues, the nowhereian is revealed not only as being unemployed and shiftless ("worthless"), but he is also of the lower class (the gutter) and, to make matters worse, is badly brought up, "this man he en got no behavior." The song closes with the despairing admonition, "Lillian, y' too bad, bad, bad, bad, baaad! baaad!" Essentially, Lillian is the story of the values and prejudices of a people for whom the worth of a person is determined by his place in the social order and his upbringing.
Lillian, I go tell, I go tell, I go tell y' mama
Lillian, I go tell y' mama
You there with a worthless feller
Lillian, I go tell y' mama
This man he from down in the gutter.
Of course, not all folks songs are in English. TT's history being what it is, some are in Spanish (the Christmas parang), and others are in French patois. In fact, the words of Maman moi are still elusive. However, there are other songs, war songs, stick-fighting song such as J'Ouvert that recounts the resolute despair of a fighter facing a battle at dawn with no one at his back, chanting: "J'ouvert parait yeux pas l'ame la main assuyer." However, more often than not, this line is set within the context of a description of long-time Carnival.
Long time CarnivalThis indeed is a fitting context in which to place this line from a stickfight chanson inasmuch as Carnival, in the old days, had not only displays of this martial art with roots in Nigeria and Ghana, but also evoked the slave rebellions that were its genesis.
Had more excitement and bacchanal (repeat)
Don't doubt me
They had the diab'-diab' and the diab'-molassie
Pierrot grenade and moko-jumbie....
Chanting: "J'ouvert parait yeux pas l'ame la main assuyer."
That was the beat of the bamboo"J'ouvert parait yeux pas l'ame la main assuyer."
A-ring-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling and she brac she brac-bracThe bottle and the stone and the tamboo-bamboo"J'ouvert parait yeux pas l'ame la main assuyer."
So, tonight's rain is an avenue to the past, to a history and culture that yet lives on. TT has changed, but the sensibility that produced Lillian and J'Ouvert still survives.
This is cross-posted at CaribPundit.