Words by Simone Serwer—
In the late 80s, my family began revisiting Jamaica for the first time since we’d immigrated to South Florida in 1980. Before these trips back to my birthplace, my cultural heritage had been somewhat foreign to me: I finally got to know my own culture firsthand, through unfortunate circumstances. The initial trip back was for my maternal grandfather’s funeral in Yallahs, St. Thomas, right outside of Kingston.
There was a great deal of sadness on our way down but, as it would happen, it was one of the best trips of my life. Everything about Kingston and country was an overwhelmingly pleasant assault on the senses. From the likkle bwoys urinating onto stacks of sugarcane on the side of the hills to the higglers bargaining throughout Halfway Tree. And I can’t forget the superior freshness of the “Kentucky” down the street from my aunt’s house, no doubt from that good country fowl. A week later, while awaiting our flight back to Miami at Norman Manley Airport, I saw a tall, almost see-through man with what looked like equally transparent dreads being swarmed by a sea of screaming people. Why would people lose their minds over this see-through man? I was told his name was Yellowman, and that he was a pretty big star.
After coming home obsessed with Oliver Samuels’ comedic style, someone—I can’t remember who—gave me a VHS tape with about 10 episodes of Oliver at Large, with those ubiquitous static bands and warped sound indicating this tape’s been dubbed and re-dubbed more than a few times. Even better, there were a couple of music videos squeezed in randomly at the beginning of the tape. One was Lt. Stitchie’s “Wear Yuh Size.” Another was General Trees’ “Eye No See,” a hilarious video warning carnivores to scrutinize meat purchased at the butcher shop, ’cause “Dem a kill donkey and a sell it fi beef.” Strutting around Kingston in blazing red pants, General Trees left an indelible impression on me with his lines, “Gimme di neeeeahhhh, and di moooo, mi no wan no ho-ho, or nuh heehaw.”
With its own static bands and warped sound, just like the VHS tape of my youth, this YouTube clip takes me back to the time of that trip, and of discovering my culture.