A king, master lyricist, versatile musician

Posted by at 5 August, at 18 : 49 PM Print

By Arley Gill

“Kingman’’, that is how we call him. That is Grenadianism at its best. We call each other as we see fit, in spite of how one may want us to refer to them.

It’s an appropriate name this time, though.  Maybe, because he has won so many titles or it’s the imperial way he carries himself. But, we are of the considered view that Edson Mitchell is a King.

Edson Mitchell was born on the 27th of July, 1963.

In the calypso world, he christened himself as Ajamu. Later, we dubbed him King Ajamu when he started winning all those calypso crowns.

He hails from Mama Cannes; to be honest, it is because of Ajamu I learnt of this village. I, myself, hail from a little-known village on the west coast of the island.

From early beginnings, Ajamu declared himself to be a “calypso warrior’’; and boy, didn’t he live up to that billing?

I contend that he is the fiercest calypso competitor we ever have had. Ajamu is a perennial “winner’’. Year after year, he would compete with an assurance and a confidence, only befitting of a king. The country had to stop and take note of a man of small physical stature, with a beautiful, clear and powerful voice.

Ajamu joined the competition in the pre-Soca Monarch period, when calypso reigned supreme. Flying Turkey, the previous dominant calypsonian, had already exited the arena. But, he would return later to compete against Ajamu and Wizard, to provide us with an orgasmic calypso experience.

Smokey, too, was in “pink of form’’ at the time and Black Wizard had returned in 1985 from Trinidad, where he fine-tuned his skills.

Joining the mix was Praying Mantis. Arguably the best calypsonian to never win a crown, Praying Mantis provided a heavy lyrical presence, while a young Squeezy seemed to be always threatening.

In essence, the Grenada calypso scene was a tough one with seasoned and experienced calypsonians.  Ajamu, a  rookie then, had to make his name; and that he did with great aplomb.

Ajamu, influenced by an obviously strong religious background – whether it be his upbringing or his own deliberate search for Jah – gave the world “soul’’ music.

He is a self-appointed spiritual crusader of his country. Listen to “A Prayer for the Nation’’; or “Satan is a Liar’’, where he demands that, “satan go way from me country, move’’. These are quintessential pieces of his work that speaks to spiritual issues.

There are many other songs where he quotes extensively from the Bible to convey his message. No doubt, he is an avid reader of the scripture verses.

I submit that there is no other calypsonian to have promoted and articulated the theme of “love’’, more than Ajamu has.  Like a man with a mission, Kingman has given varied treatment to that theme to reach his intended audience.

From “Kingman Love: African Lady’’, to “Love Thy Neighbour’’, “I Love My Grenada’’, and “Mama Cannes’’, Ajamu has never failed to express his love for God, country and his fellowman. This use of theme, it is my respectful view, gives you an insight into the character of the writer.

Another theme that aids us in understanding the Kingman is his love and respect for women. Here, again, he has never failed to “big up’’ and applaud the efforts of women. “African Lady’’ is only the signature piece on this theme.

“Double Tenor Girl’’, performed at Dimanche Gras and regarded as one of the best performances ever on the Carnival Sunday Night big stage at Queen’s Park, is again a celebration of the contribution of the woman.

The pick of all his women’s theme, however, is the one to his mother – mommy Lyris.

I have only met his mother through his songs. But, one gets the feeling that the Kingman came from a matriarch family where the woman was the central figure and “boss’’. He consistently pays homage to the woman.

“Mommy Oye, Aye’’ was his battle cry in his early years, as if drawing strength from that great woman.  This is evident, even in his many groovy songs where he gets romantic or a little raunchy.

“Juney, Open up the Door’’, his award-winning selection, gave us a different perspective of the Kingman – he can be a little mischievous at times with the ladies.

“Do it for the Children’’ further illustrates the extensive use of human nature themes in the Kingman’s compositions. It seems like he his always preoccupied by those he considers to be vulnerable in society.

In many of his work, he laments the suffering of the poor, the women and the children. This, too, highlights the character of the man and the fact that he is a person of true love.

And, let us not forget, Kingman he didn’t just preach. He gave part of his prize monies to charity, even when he is no millionaire.

Kingman is a masterful composer. He is able to combine appropriateness of language with the theme of his songs and with the music in ways that capture and satisfy the mood of the subject and bring pleasure to audiences.

It is in the metering that I find his work to be really exemplary. He never rushes his words, always having ample time to complete what he has to say in his songs.

Thus, Ajamu’s clarity and pronunciation are outstanding. No doubt, the fact that he is a good singer helps. His music makes for easy listening. It is so soft on the ears with his deft touch to rhyme his lines. Kingman is a remarkable writer and a merchant of positive lyrics.

“Cheer Up’’, one of his  winning selections in 1987, established the path which Kingman would follow throughout his career in seeking to lift the spirit of the poor and marginalised in society, very much like Bob Marley. This is demonstrable not just in his calypsos, but also in his Reggae songs.

As an artiste of the Reggae genre, Kingman is appreciated as a very respectable performer.

It is not true to say that Ajamu has never sung on politics and politicians. He just has never made political commentary his business.

Truth be told, he has made a few glancing political punches. Listen to “Earthly Paradise’’. In the song, Ajamu tries to convince us that once politicians ascend to power, they live in an earthly paradise.

However, his core messages have been loving, caring and uplifting vibes. Although, he did not seem to extend these noble virtues to his calypso and soca competitors.

“Warrior Come Back’’ and “Lick Dem Down” were among his messages to his rivals.

“Look the crown dey, let them come and take it; ah know they want it, let them come and take it’’, was how he toyed and wrestled with those who felt they could beat him in competition.

Then came “On the Road Again’’. What a composition by Ajamu. He even boasted that he composed that song with “such brilliance’’ to win the crown. Plucky, show off, arrogant – some may say. I will say confidence.

In fact, fans of other calypsonians deeply despised Kingman during that period of his gladiator-type approach to competition. That despising, fortunately, I believe has subsided.

In all his themes the spirituality of the Kingman is the common thread that connects his lyrics.   Music, undoubtedly, is Kingman’s strength. He plays multiple instruments and is a qualified sound engineer.

His passion, dedication and focus must be admired by many. Not only did he learn these instruments and went to school to learn sound engineering early in his career, he also invested in a studio. It is not like today where these things are easily obtained.

That ability to play several instruments competently, and arrange and produce songs, is rare among Caribbean artistes of any genre. Ajamu stands tall in this regard.

Ajamu is one of the first calypsonian to arrange and record his songs, and also to win with these same songs that he himself composed, arranged and recorded.

Kingman is also the first calypsonian outside of Trinidad to have mastered the authentic Trini-style Parang music.

Similarly in “Koppa’’, with no French background, he produced an authentic kweyol song. You will swear it is a Haitian singing. Kingman is truly a musical genius.

After 30 years in the business, 26 calypso albums, 4 Reggae albums, numerous singles, 7 calypso titles, Road March and Soca Monarch crowns, and numerous local and regional awards, Ajamu – the “music man’’ – is still on that musical journey.

He is held in high esteem by the younger artistes who refer to him as “Uncle’’ and “Fada’’. His recent collaborations with younger soca artistes are timely and sustain his relevance in a music world that is swamped by new and emerging singers.

At 50 years old, Ajamu is an elder and the father of modern Grenada music; a lot for a young man, one might say.

However, Grenadian calypsonians never really keep going in their old age like the Trinidadians do. Therefore, we are eternally grateful that Kingman is still around.

I pray that one day, he will decide to tickle us with a return to competition.

As we celebrate his golden jubilee and 30 years of music, let us give thanks to the most high for the blessing of Ajamu – Member of the British Empire (MBE).

Thank God, Ajamu is Grenadian. Let us congratulate him and say thanks.

Blessed love.

Arley Gill, a former Grenada Culture Minister, is a regular contributor to Caribupdate Weekly

Commentaries Entertainment Local News

Related Posts

Comments are closed.

About Us

Spiceislander.com was launched in 1999 with the intention of keeping Grenadians and West Indians with up to date news, sports and information. In the early days we were able to serve thousands of West Indians with live Cricket from around the world. We continue to provide day to day information to the entire Caribbean.