These days, it’s impossible to distinguish barbershops from beauty parlours; barbers from hairdressers.  In the good old days, one visited the barber reluctantly and infrequently.  Once there, a self-explanatory appointment system appeared in the form of a row of chairs.  Customers arriving before you were already seated.  You took the closest available seat to operations and silently waited your turn.  If needing distraction from impending horror, you read from a scattering of aged magazines.  Eventually, the dreaded summons came (usually via a crooked index finger) and you entered the torture chamber.

Today, it’s a drama.  You’re waylaid by a Georgia Engel Finishing School graduate (DB for short) all agog to interrogate you.

“Do you have an appointment?” she asks airily.

“No.  I have cash”

“Would you like facial, manicure, pedicure…..?” at which point I walk outside; melodramatically re-read the signage; and return “You frightened me.  But this IS a barbershop right?”

So, I’ve renamed the barber “The Black Sheep”.

Ba ba baba have you any wool?                                                                                                                                                                Yes Jah, yes Jah, one big bale full.                                                                                                                                                                       Some fe bredda Kayah;                                                                                                                                                                                      some fe Bongo Nyah.                                                                                                                                                                                              But none fe de pork eat jackass                                                                                               him shall burn wid fire.

Since your scribe never surrenders to protocol, I give DB the slip; capture an itinerant barber; and offer him a substantial bribe (oops, sorry “tip”) to keep her at bay until the dirty deed is done.  My instructions are straightforward “You have exactly 5 minutes to ensure that you don’t see me for 6 months.”

Fire redder than red.                                                                                                                                                                                                      Nyah dreader than dread.                                                                                                                                                                           How can you resist Jah                                                                                                                                                                              when you have a bald head?””

Most are initially confused. “You no want me square it up (whatever that means)?”  The more intrepid might even essay “What about your nose and ears? [or “nosehairs” who knows (no pun intended) these days?].”  That’s when I pull rank (well, “age” really).  “Look, son, I’ve been married for 30 years.  I’m not stupid.  I don’t need to look good even if I could.  Only the single, young or ignorant want more women.  I’m just trying to outlive the one I’ve got.”

Finally, the penny drops and he gets to work. But DB is more resourceful than I thought and is lurking in the shadows waiting for me to finish.  “What’s your name?” she asks determinedly as I try paying for the haircut.  I want to deliver a lecture on privacy but it dawns on me this could take forever unless I give her what she needs.  So I smoothly switch to Plan B.

“I’m going to spell it for you, ok?”

“Yes SIR!’ pen poised triumphantly.

“B” I begin.  (She writes intently); “U” I continue; “S”; “T” (she’s yet to look up); “A” (no sign of stress); “M” (she’s into top gear): “A”; “N” (her tongue curls around her upper lip in concentration): “T” and “E”.  She finishes with a flourish as I add “First name Alexander”.  She happily takes my money and rings up my receipt.  “Have a good day Mr Boostamanley” she says as I walk away struggling to keep a straight face.

Lick it back, Jah.                                                                                                                                                                                                                Lick it back Jah.                                                                                                                                                                                                                Look from you de yah                                                                                                         you no know Bongo Nyah.

Bongo Nyah, one of Reggae’s earlier recordings from the studio of Lloyd “The Matador” Daley, still featured the authentic Reggae rhythm courtesy of the great Lloyd Chalmers.  The author/vocalist, Earl Lowe (stage name “Little Roy”) from Whitfield Town, was a friend of Heptones’ lead, Leroy Sibbles.  At 13, Earl successfully auditioned for Jackie Mittoo (Studio One) but remained hitless until joining Daley.  His insistence on sticking to rasta lyrics wasn’t yet popular so this 1969 hit was his only Number one.

I was in 4th form at Campion when Bongo Nyah took Jamaica by storm.  I immediately shipped a copy to my U.S. pen pal (the exciting pre-internet social networking method).  This attempt at exporting the culture certainly failed as I doubt she understood the lyrics.  I remember her name (Pamela Anne Lawrence) four decades later because my pen pal’s initials spelt P.A.L.  Around that time, Campion’s long-time headmaster, Fr. William Rafferty, went on sabbatical.  Fr. Maurice Feres came from St. Georges to sub.  We thought Fr. Rafferty was a strict disciplinarian but we found the follicular challenged Fr. Feres, by comparison, terrifying.  So we got together and altered the lyrics of Bongo Nyah to suit:

Raff’try redder than red                                                                                                                                                                                              Feres dreader than dread.                                                                                                                                                                              How can you resist him                                                                                                                                                                                    when him have a bald head.

Peace and Love


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