Memories of Chocomo Lawn


This week I am asking for you, the reader, to share your memories of Chocomo Lawn, should you have the experience in your past. Even better, if you have photos of Chocomo Lawn, then or now, I would be very interested in hearing from you. This site was a “ground zero” of ska, as were other sites such as Forrester Hall, Orange Street, Brentford Road, and many more. Chocomo Lawn was/is in West Kingston and was the headquarters for Edward Seaga during his early years in politics. In a Daily Gleaner article on December 23, 1967, Seaga held a holiday party for thousands of children in West Kingston, and he held the fete at Chocomo Lawn. The article read, “About 4,000 children were given a Christmas treat at Chocomo Lawn, Wellington Street, on Thursday afternoon sponsored by the West Kingston Constituency Committee and the Hon. Edward Seaga, Minister of Finance and Planning. This was the fourth Christmas treat for children of the area since Monday. Mr Seaga assisted by Miss Veronica Carter handed out the gifts at all the treats. Mr. Seaga announced that a special feature of this year’s Christmas treat for the constituency application forms for admittance to two youth camps for boys in the area
between 15 and 16 years were available at the constituency headquarters. To close the series of treats a special dinner for 1000 old people of the area was given yesterday afternoon, Supt. Joe Williams of the Denham Town Police was special guest.”

Years before this charitable gathering, Seaga, had come to West Kingston as a site of culture where he would study and cultivate the music–music of the revivalist religions (kumina, pukumina) and ska. In a Jamaica Observer article on March 21, 2004, former Kingston mayor Desmond McKenzie recalls this era at Chocomo Lawn. The article states, “A decisive turning point in the lives of the residents, particularly the young people in Western Kingston, came with the arrival of Edward Seaga, McKenzie remembers. He would make an awesome impression on them and under his tutelage some would rise to national prominence, notably “Babsy” Grange, Daphne Hurge, Samuel Dreckette, the late reggae superstar Dennis Brown, Winston Bopee who was lead guitarist for We the People band, the Techniques, among others. Seaga had entered West Kingston on grounds that he was researching culture and revivalism in the area. . . .  They were also thrilled by the way Seaga could move to the beat of the revival drums. Seaga eventually bought out Victor’s Pop Band that gave birth to the Techniques. Many young Jamaican talents were nurtured there. Young upcoming stars such as Jimmy Cliff, Marcia Griffiths, Delroy Wilson, Count Prince Miller and the like played at Chocomo Lawn, the cultural centre that Seaga developed. Such was the reputation and prestige of the place that ‘anybody who was anybody played the Chocomo Lawn.'”

One of these “anybodys” was Byron Lee & the Dragonaires who came to Chocomo Lawn, along with Ronnie Nasralla, to learn about the ska. Until then, like most other bands on the island, Lee and his group were playing in the American rhythm and blues styles that were popular at dances and in clubs. Other bands, like Carlos Malcolm, performed jazz. Each club, each studio, was an incubator of sounds from the Caribbean, America, and Africa, but at Chocomo Lawn, the scene was ska and Seaga encouraged his friends to come for a listen, to help spread this new sound. In a Daily Gleaner article, October 25, 1980, the writer chronicles a celebration of Seaga’s imprint on the culture. “Mr. Seaga mentioned such names as Jimmy Cliff, Ken Boothe, Stranger Cole, Toots and the Maytals, Hortense and Alton Ellis who he said always frequent Chocomo Lawn in Western Kingston — the place where ska was born. He said that as Minister of Finance and Planning in the JLP government, he tried to popularise ska internationally allowing Jamaica to be known as a country of creative people. After the ska, he said,
there was the rock steady, then reggae from which super stars like Bob Marley were born. Mr. Seaga said that Jamaican music today was acclaimed internationally, ‘It began as a little seed planted at Chocomo Lawn in Western Kingston, nurtured into a bigger tree and blossomed so that the entire world can see its beauty,’ Mr. Seaga said. Mr. Seaga paid tribute to Byron Lee and the Dragonaires who were celebrating 25 years in the music field. He said they have helped to spread Jamaican music abroad more than any other artistes in the country.”

Though I’m sure the above text will cause some debate. For every person who claims they are the one who started ska, there are an equal amount who feel they know who started it. This is good! This speaks to the passion of the music! There is ownership and pride! So those who may have memories to share of one of these sites of creation, Chocomo Lawn, please share your thoughts here and if you have photos, please contact me at haugustyn@yahoo.com. I am researching this time period and would very much like to hear your oral histories!

You can read more about the connection between Chocomo Lawn and ska here.

Anita Mahfood - Margarita, Uncategorized

Margarita–Ambassador of Reggae


I have long continued the argument that Margarita was a champion, an ambassador, of the Rasta drumming that would go on to become the foundation for the reggae rhythm, and without her, it is possible that reggae would not be the same today. I have found now evidence in the Star Newspaper that furthers this argument.

In my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the Greatest Trombonist, I write: Her relationship with the brothers and sisters in the hills was strong, and so when she performed one time on stage, she refused to dance without the accompaniment of Count Ossie and his group, which were once known as the Rastafarian Repatriation Association of Adastra Road in Eastern Kingston and later became known as The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari. Verena Reckord writes, “The group got its first legitimate stage break in the late fifties. It was an occasion when the late, famous rhumba queen Marguerita (Mahfood) insisted that she would not appear on a Vere Johns variety show (Opportunity Knocks) at the Ward Theatre on Christmas morning unless Ossie’s group was on the bill. Johns was wary then about using Rastas on his show, but Marguerita was his star attraction. He had no choice. Count Ossie and his drummers were hired. They were a hit. They soon became regulars on Vere Johns’ show and other functions.” Margarita was the one who introduced Rasta music into mainstream culture, as well as the jazz musicians who accompanied them which is why Miller calls her a “seminal figure in the island’s musical and cultural growth.” In Helene Lee’s work The First Rasta, Brother Royer, a member of Count Ossie’s camp, credits Margarita with helping Rasta music come to the mainstream through her tenacity. Despite Norman Manley’s demand that “Anywhere you see Rastaman, you have to lock them up,” Margarita refused to perform unless Count Ossie and his drummers performed, and it was only after the “people got crazy about the new sound,” says Royer, that Rastas were from then on welcomed onto stages. “Great girl! Our Helen of Troy!” said Royer of Margarita. She was more like the Josephine Baker of Jamaica.


So imagine my delight when I found an article in the Star Newspaper, August 22, 1961 that mentioned the exact performance that Reckord referenced! The article reads: African Drums at Palace Hour. Fans who attend the Palace Theatre tomorrow night will see and hear for the first time on a stage Count Ossie and his African Drums, the band whose sounds have taken Jamaica by storm. They will also hear the famous “Carolina” which held the Number One spot on the Hit Parade for son long. Featured in the fast moving “Swingaree” which will be presented between two full length films at regular prices will be: The renowned Blues Busters fresh from the North Coast, the famous Wilfred Edwards, golden-voiced Lascelles Perkins and top favourite Hortense Ellis. Coming in from Montego Bay will be Phonso the Great. For variety there will also be Creative Dancer Margarita, Caribbean Rhumba Queen Yvonne Davis 9Just back from Nassau), whirlwind dancers Pam Pam and Colleen and Jamaica’s leading comedian, the inimitable Bam. The Drum sounds will also feature songs by Skitter and Winston and trombone selections by Rico Rodriques. All roads will lead to the Palace tomorrow night. –C.A.T.


The performances were a hit with crowds of the Palace Theatre, according to a Star Newspaper article on Monday, August 28, 1961. The article entitled “‘Swingeree’–A Big Hit,” reads: Upwards of 2,000eager fans thronged the Palace Theatre last Wednesday night to witness the first appearance of Count Ossie and His African Drums, with some of the island’s top entertainers. Scores had to stand and hundreds were turned away. The show was good to the last drop and every item was a winner from Compere Vere John introduced the opening number to Wilfred Edwards’ last song. First came Lascelles Perkins with two numbers and he was followed by Pam Pam & Colleen in a whirlwind dance number. Then Hortense Ellis gave out with “I am not a know it all” and got two encores, after which Count Ossie and the Sounds took over. The fans rocked to the favourite ‘Carolina’ sung by Skitter & Winston, swayed with Rico and his soulful trombone, moaned with Bobby Gaynair and his golden sax and enjoyed “Babylon gone.” Comedian Bam kept the audience in stitches for about eight minutes. Hit of the evening was the dance done to the curvesome Margarita to the beat of the African drums in colourful costume. She received an ovation. Then came the Blues Busters and the audience just wouldn’t let them go even after three numbers. Caribbean Rhumba Queen Yvonne (Electric Eel) Davis also made a tremendous hit with the fans as she gyrated in superb rhythm. Finally Wilfred Edwards closed the show with three favourite selections. ‘Swingeree’ featuring Count Ossie & His African Drums will be seen at the Odeon Theatre, Half Way Tree, tomorrow night at 8.40 o’clock between two great films. It will also be presented at the Gaiety Theatre on Thursday night at the same hour. Supporting stars for these two shows will be The Blues Busters, Margarita, Hortense Ellis, Pam Pam & Colleen and top Comedian Bam. –C.A.T.”

Credit is due to Prince Buster for first recording the drums of Count Ossie that formed the backbone for reggae, but credit is also due to Margarita, Anita Mahfood, for bringing these drums to the stage, where their sounds mixed in the air, knowing no boundary between upper and lower classes. Until this time, and long after this time, the Rastafari were persecuted and considered the outcasts of society. But Margarita championed their cause and their creativity. She used her status as a headlining dancer, a woman from a wealthy family, and her talent to help bridge the class divide by introducing their sounds to the stage. Just a few days later, on September 8, 1961, a photo of Count Ossie and his drummers appear with the caption “Bearded Sounds.” The following month an advertisement for a show at Adastra Gardens appears for Count Ossie, calling his sound “Strange Music from Africa.” All of this was amid article after article of horrible treatment of the Rastafari, headlines claiming they burned babies as a sacrifice, were lunatics, and were murdered, were common during these years. Here are a few of them, and only a few, from 1961 and 1962:

I post these to put into context what Margarita did by supporting the drums of Count Ossie. She took a great risk. Prince Buster may have brought the drums to the studio, but Margarita brought them beyond the hills, beyond Orange Street, to the audiences that viewed the Rastafari as these articles present them. She was a true renegade and a heroine and we owe her a great debt.


Dissension in the Ska Camp


The premiere of the ska in America was controversial then, as it is now. I recently found an article from 1964 called “Dissension in the Ska Camp” that shows even when musicians were in the thick of it, it was a contested issue of who was included and who was excluded, who created it first and who was following suit. So I today I share this article that appeared in the Sunday Gleaner, April 26, 1964 that shows these topics were just as relevant and talked about then as they are now, even more so. The article has no byline so it is not evident who wrote the piece, but Ronnie Nasralla and Prince Buster chime in with their opinions.

First, let’s set the scene. Referenced in this article is the event at Shepheard’s Club, seen above in the photo. This nightclub was located in the Drake Hotel on Park Avenue in Manhattan. It was a hotspot. It was hip and posh and cool. Big stars stayed at the Drake, including Frank Sinatra and Muhammad Ali and later Led Zeppelin and Slade. But Shepheard’s was also swanky and the hot dances of the day, like the Frug, were not only danced here, but unveiled here. So too was the Ska. Shepheard’s even produced a flyer called, “How to Do the Newest Discotheque Dances at Shepheard’s in New York’s Drake Hotel” with step-by-step instructions to dance the Jerk, Watusi, Frug and the Monkey.

The event at Shepheard’s Club was prior to the World’s Fair. This event was held in April, whereas the World’s Fair wasn’t until August of 1964. However, Jamaica’s tourism efforts began before the World’s Fair in anticipation of creating a buzz and capitalizing on the dance craze trend. You may remember the photo I posted with Arthur Murray’s wife and Ronnie Nasralla from this evening at the Shepheard’s Club, and above is another rare gem.

Without further ado, the article:

National sound hits New York but now the argument flares as to what it is and who started it!


LIKE a raging fire, the promotional tour of the Jamaican National Sound, the Ska, has started a smoldering in the underbrush of the Kingston music world from which this distinctive brand of music was born.

Everyone wants to prove who is the true exponent of the Ska and who originated it? What is the authentic style of the Ska dancing? Successful though the promotional tour to the U.S. was, enthusiastic though the reports which came back treat the appearance of a Jamaican troupe of dancers and artistes at the Shepheard’s Club, there is dissension in the camp.

Some artistes who made the trip say their sound was not promoted as much as certain other sounds. Some of the artistes say that some of the other artistes didn’t have a clue about Ska dancing and in fact did the Monkey, the Wobble, the Twist . . . anything but true Ska.

Reports from the other side say that the moves done at Shepheard’s were moves decided on and rehearsed for several nights, together, before the team left the island.

To the accusation that other records were promoted over others, we discover from Mr. Winston Stona of the Jamaican Tourist Board, a co-sponsor of the promotional venture that:

The junket to the Shepheard’s Ska dancing, backed up over recorded music. Shepheard’s is one of a current crop of New York Clubs called discotheques. In this night spot feature entertainment comes from records played on a large turntable, from an amplification booth much like the Jamaican sound system of the dance halls.

According to the Tourist Board spokesman, the promotional venture for the Ska, as suggested by Henri Paul Marshall and Roland Rennie, the music promotion experts who came to the island last month on the invitation of the Ministry of Development and Welfare, was that Ska records and not personal performances by the artistes, would be projected.

The records which were taken to Shepheard’s therefore, were a selection made on the suggestion of the experts who, on their visit to the island, listened to the work of various Ska exponents. The records chosen for promotion were the ones which the experts deemed most likely to catch on with the American public.

These records included the works of Prince Buster, Derryck Morgan, Eric Morris, and others known to the local Ska followers.

Why should there be dissension? Among the tunes featured at Shepheard’s was “Sammy Dead,” the old Jamaican folk tune restyled as Ska by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, featuring the voice of Eric Morris. Certain members of the troupe to Shepheard’s say “Sammy Dead” was promoted over other tunes.

According to Mr. Stona, “Sammy Dead” was actually played twice at the beginning and at the end of the programme of Ska records which he presented to the Shepheard’s audience.

It was also revealed that “Sammy Dead” which is to be released on a Capitol label in the States was specifically promoted on the request of Capitol records.

Prince Buster and the other early devotees of the Ska say this should not be so. And they throw in the argument that in their opinion “Sammy Dead” is not a true Ska tune and why should it be played even one more time than any of the others, which are reorganized as real Ska by the real Ska fans?

Prince Buster, who took the Ska to England where it is known now as the Blue Beat, was very expressive about this. He says he is one of the originators of the Ska and sees no reason why he and others, who worked together on the National Sound, should not have got as big billing.

But who really originated the Ska? As Buster tells it, it was back in 1958 that he, Derryck Morgan, Eric Morris and others used to meet on top of an old house situated on Charles Street near Orange Street. The meetings were inspired because “as boys together, we were looking at making a brand.”

He points out that a number of Jamaican musicians had tried adopting American shuffle sounds to their own style, but it didn’t really work. There was need for “our own sound.” So those meetings on top of the house was to find out just how to make things work, how to find a Jamaican sound which the fans would go for.

Down on the ground you might say the big sound system operators Duke Reid and Coxson were evolving their own sound. It was an adaptation of certain American shuffle tunes re-recorded for the sound system dance audiences. It is said that when the experimenters offered Duke Reid and Coxson the new Jamaican sound they would have nothing to do with it.

According to Buster, the new sound when it was evolved was referred to with great disdain by other musicians and by the public as the Boop-Boop. He even earned the name Boop. And when he and Derryck Morgan, for a promotional stunt, launched Boop-Boop songs deriding each other the public really went for their skins.

But out West, the thump of the Boop, later is to be called Sca, then Ska, was catching on. Musicians who had “boxed around” in various musical combos began to be reorganized as “Ska beaters.” Out west and on the east, they could tell you and still tell you about Drumbago who played the drums and Ja Jerry, Theophilus Beckford, and Raymond Harper, Rupert “Blues” Miller, and Stanley Notice.

These according to the fans and on Orange Street and (unreadable) where sound boxes thump through the Saturday night of every week were the original ska men.

As the craze progressed, getting popularity most of all on JBC’s Teenage Dance Party, other musicians joined the parade, cut dies, met for sessions, helped the sound to grow.

The fans began to acclaim Baba Brooks, Roland Alphonso, Lloyd Brevet, Lloyd Tate, Don Drummond, Lester Sterling, Johnny Moore, Lloyd Knibb and the men whose full names nobody remembers but rather a name like Jackie, Charlie, and Campbell. Later they were joined by the acclaimed pure jazz, tenor man, Tommy McCook.

The Ska caught on, spread and grew, most of all in the Saturday night sound system headquarters such as Forrester’s Hall, Jubilee Tile Gardens, Carnival and Gold Coast on Sundays.

Sound system operators worked feverishly to get the latest biscuits on disc. Early on release, they bore no labels, but the dance hall spies got the names eventually and the sound system which didn’t have the new biscuit last week, acquired it this week, to draw the fans.

It is interesting to find a parallel in the discotheques which began in Paris and spread to London and New York.

In the process of finding who should get credit for what, it is eye opening to hear Prince Buster saying that Louise Bennett played her part in the promotion of this peculiarly Jamaican sound and dance. He says that Louise’s life work of keeping alive the folk songs and rhythms of Jamaica is responsible for many of them coming back into popularity, set against the Ska beat.

Many of the musicians and artistes associated with the Ska movement are fairly young men. However, one of the acknowledged originators and Dean of the Sound has been playing music in Kingston for 46 years.

He is Drumbago the drummer who also plays a flute. His real name is Arkland Parks and (unreadable) Mapletoft Poulle and Frankie Bonnitto.

Drumbago, a mild mannered gentleman, says he and Rupert Miller, a bass player for 36 years, were in on the original search to find the sound which came to be called Ska. He explains their best arrangement of the sound as being basically four beats to the bar in eight or twelve measures.

“You get the sound according to how you invert the beats,” says Drumbago.

Another exponent of Ska and its various offshoots feel that the dance called Wash Wash has every claim to being truly Jamaican, for it is inspired by one of the basic Jamaican show dances … the wash day scene. This is a standard with many nightclub rhumba dancers, with many folk lore troupes.

So what constitutes Ska dancing?  According to the fanatics, true Ska motions are the wash wash, the peculiar washing motion of either clothes or the body, the press along, in which the  dancer thumps out the rhythm with his arms at shoulder level, the move (for which we found no

name) of spiraling down to floor level and back up, the one in which you moved the hips and pumped the arms in the opposite direction to the press along.

The fans say that while the extempore movements are allowed dancing the Ska, these are the definite basic movements which one must know to be IN.

Dissenters from the troupe which performed at Shepheard’s say these movements were not used fully or enough and that at one stage they heard a critic saying that what was being done was nothing new, it looked like a first cousin to the Twist. And that the Monkey and the Pony movements which were done were recognized as old hat immediately.

Mr. Stona says this accusation is not true. He found nothing but satisfaction for the presentation at Shepheard’s and is optimistic for the future of Ska promotion in the United States.

We contacted a spokesman for the Byron Lee and the Dragonaires outfit who made “Sammy Dead.”

He told of having heard the feeling expressed by some of the original Ska sound makers that certain orchestras now playing the sound were only cashing in and didn’t know how the sound began.

The Byron Lee spokesman—Mr. Ronnie Nasralla—says:

“For Byron Lee and the Dragonaires it’s not just cashing in. I know Byron feels that it is full time Ska was organized and promoted so that the best can be got out of it for the benefit of the artistes and Jamaica.”

According to Mr. Nasralla:

“Many Ska artistes were not properly protected or organized before Byron Lee has signed up several artistes for recordings and appearances and we’re taking all steps to see that they’re properly presented.”

“I’ve heard that some people say that Byron Lee is just promoting his orchestra. It’s not true. Sure, as a businessman he will look out for his investments, but let us stop quarrelling among ourselves and promote the sound not only for the good of one band but for all Jamaica.”

Whatever comes of it, Ska is going to be a talking point for many more months. Ironically, like most things, it was an art without honour in its own country until it was discovered somewhere else.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog when I will post a response to this article that appeared in the Daily Gleaner the following Sunday. Apparently the comments made by Ronnie Nasralla and Prince Buster struck a chord and a number of musicians responded with their thoughts, including Eric Monty Morris, Roy Panton, Ronnie Nasralla again, Alphanso Castro, Sir Lord Comic, and Roy Willis who respond with comments of their own.