The editor has been suggesting I tear myself away from
the bosom of the Levites, leave the Big Fug behind and
head for the open road, en route for Scotland or Ireland.
Being a reasonable man Im always open to suggestion,
although frankly Id prefer the sky to the motorway
and the Maroon festival in Carriacou followed by St Lucia
Jazz, to the Edinburgh festival or retracing Leopold Blooms
steps round Dublin, lubricated with that citys finest
In the interest of good editorial relations I reached
what I think was the perfect compromise last weekend and
got as far as Ghana, without actually leaving south east
London. In fact, even before I got to Ghana I managed
an extended visit to India but now Im jumping the
jumbo, so lets get back to the Big Fug, if only
With a view to celebrating the auspicious day some eight
years ago that I walked into Wayne Brownes creative
writing class at the Normandie and suggested to the future
madam shed be better entertained if she left the
class and came with me (she demurred but gave me her phone
number), I invited her to join me on a magical mystery
tour last Sunday. It was magical because as anyone who
has kids knows, sneaking time out away from them requires
all the extempore skills of a Pretender. And it was a
mystery because Id no idea where we were going.
There was a faint trace of Spring in the air that daytransient
blue sky dabbed with lukewarm sunbeamsso I turned
the trusty Bimma in the direction of Dulwich Village,
which is to south east London what Westmoorings, Glencoe
or even St Clair is to town.
Its a kind of well-heeled, white middle-class enclave,
isolated from the surrounding ghettos of Eastern European,
African and Caribbean refugees and immigrants. In this
oasis of tranquillity Georgian mansions front manicured
lawns and bijou shops offer the latest in Japanese designer
clothes or over-priced Belgian chocolates.
My motivation for choosing this spot was entirely altruistic.
I thought the madam might enjoy a glimpse of how the small
minority live; give her a taste of the good life in Tony
Was it Oscar Wilde who said the way to hell is paved with
good intentions? The lukewarm sun did not allow for al
fresco drinking, so we seated ourselves inside a village
green-style pub, rampant with Dulwich Villagers and their
young. Id like to say we had some pleasant conversational
exchanges with the villagers, got their views on the impending
general election or who they fancied as the next pontiff
but our interaction was strictly limited to the defiantly
lingering cut-eye one of the Dulwich matrons directed
at the madam.
Surprised that a colour bar was in force in these parts,
we exited this bourgeois bastion before the bad taste
soured our mood and headed south, back to the immigrant
In furthest flung South Norwood we found the Gold Coast,
a Ghanaian club swirling with Hi-Life, soukous, soca and
Cuban rhythms. Sinking into the rattan sofa and the welcoming
ambience we waved goodbye to the good life of Dulwich
and settled for a sumptuous dish of Keta Schoolboys (batter
fried jacks), fiery spiced chicken, succulent lamb kebab
and fried plantain.
You cant live in the Caribbean for any length of
time and not like your belly, so you wont be surprised
to hear we didnt ride out from the Gold Coast until
long after the late setting spring sun slipped below the
skyline, or before the owner had invited us back to collect
copies of some of his CDs Id been enthusing over.
Who needs Dulwich when theres the Gold Coast, although
the diptych of these two would provide a dedicated social
scientist with some seminal dissertation material on the
state of play in post-mod multi-heritage Britain.
And since were out and about, why stick to the road?
Split me in two and well head for New York via Cuba
and then on to Kolkota, India. Rough Guides continue their
sterling work of bringing the worlds best to your
sound systems with the recently released Celia Cruz album.
The undisputed queen of salsa and the female voice of
Fania Records died in 2003 after a career spanning virtually
seven decades and which took her from Cuba to Mexico,
New York and round the globe.
This posthumous collection spans much of her career, capturing
her dazzling rangefrom Yoruba style chants and rumbas
to the funky Changui son of Santiago de Cuba and scorching
salsa numbersand features some of her outstanding
collaborators like mambo king Tito Puente, conguero Ray
Barretto and Fania director Johnny Pacheco. What can I
say except: caliente.
Mined from the same superlative vein but oceans away comes
one of the most extraordinary albums Ive encountered
since stumbling across Ravi Shankar in the kaftanned 1960s.
Riverboat Records have just unleashed the monumental Calcutta
slide guitar which features Debashish Battacharya, playing
three of his own designed slide guitars, specially adapted
for performing traditional Indian ragas. The results are
the most cogent proof any disbeliever might need for the
transcendent quality of some music.
Battacharya is not merely a virtuoso but the consummate
artist for whom technique is the key to the kingdom. Thanks
to him and his tabla playing brother Ive been drifting
these past few weeks on slow rivers at sunset or watching
dawn climb over the mountains, transported by sounds both
ancient and modern.
My search for the best of modern music will take me to
Queen Elizabeth Hall this coming Monday, to track down
one of the Caribbeans best young sax players.
Jacques Schwartz Bart of Guadeloupe, one time youngest
deputy in the French Assembly, is now playing in young
Turk trumpeter Roy Hargroves big band. I know its
not Scotland or even Ireland but itll be all that