“Él fue más grande que Bob Marley”: la impactante historia del pionero del ska jamaicano Don Drummond | Música”

Drummond was one of her favourites. He was a brilliant student – he could read music, had perfect pitch and an exceptional ear. He was in the school band and when one of the teachers was unable to play a trombone part, he stepped in and played it perfectly. He was a member of the British Brass Band, and they would tour the island, playing at concerts and contests. In 1955, he won a scholarship to study music in London, but his mother couldn’t afford the airfare, so he stayed in Jamaica. In 1964, he joined the Skatalites; they were the house band at Studio One, and their music was an instant hit. Drummond became the band’s musical director and chief arranger.

But Drummond was also a tormented soul. He was known to be moody, quick to anger and sometimes violent. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent time in Bellevue Hospital. He was given medication, but it didn’t help. He was released and returned to the Skatalites, but his behaviour became increasingly erratic. He missed gigs, showed up late, and sometimes couldn’t play at all. His relationship with Margarita was tumultuous; they fought often, and their arguments were loud and violent.

After Margarita’s death, Drummond’s mental health deteriorated further. He became paranoid, convinced that people were out to get him. He would hear voices and see things that weren’t there. He would lash out at anyone who tried to help him. He was a danger to himself and others. In the end, he was institutionalized, where he died alone and forgotten.

Don Drummond’s story is a tragic one, but his legacy lives on. His music continues to inspire musicians around the world. His compositions are considered classics of the ska genre, and his trombone playing is revered by fans and fellow musicians alike. Despite his personal demons, Drummond’s talent was undeniable. He may have been a fallen genius, but he will always be remembered as one of the greatest musicians to come out of Jamaica.

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Music was her other passion: she played saxophone and put on records for the boys through a sound system she had built, seeing music as a viable way for her underprivileged wards to make a livelihood. Drummond and his fellow students were exposed to classical, Latin, jazz, Cuban, and blues, Ignatius encouraging them to blend the styles they heard into their own music – a recipe for ska.

The school’s reputation brought scouts for bandleaders, and when guitarist Ernest Ranglin came knocking in 1950, she got him to hear Drummond and Ranglin signed the 16-year-old up for the Eric Deans Orchestra, playing jazz standards for wealthy tourists and the upper echelons of society. Drummond’s reputation grew, and by 1954 he had left and formed his own band, the Don Drummond All-Stars, and would get to play with visiting jazz greats Sarah Vaughan and Dave Brubeck. By the late 50s, he was a huge star in Jamaica and reportedly arranged the Wailers’ first hit Simmer Down, but rarely got paid the money he was due.

As Drummond got older, his erratic behavior became more extreme: he would eat soil and bananas dipped in sand (symptoms of pica, which is associated with schizophrenia), urinate on stage during shows, and stand in the middle of busy streets of traffic with his arms outstretched. He hated being photographed and regularly missed gigs and recording sessions, voluntarily admitting himself to Bellevue for months at a time. His treatment in the hospital would have been brutal, with the use of electroconvulsive therapy and powerful sedatives standard. Black men, especially poor ones, were often kept in cages, no better than tortured. We will never know Drummond’s proper diagnosis: his medical records are practically nonexistent.

In 2017, Augustyn and Adam Reeves co-authored Alpha Boys’ School: Cradle of Jamaican Music, in which they interviewed the surviving musicians and told the stories of those no longer alive, and this year Reeves has published the first of a seven-part graphic novel based on Augustyn’s biography. Trombone Man: Ska’s Fallen Genius is illustrated by Cypriot artist Constantinos Pissourios, who specializes in tributes to Jamaican music producers and sound system operators. Reeves uses Jamaican patois in the dialogue, translated by Mars Dilbert and Kingsley Jahsiah, and Count Ossie’s daughter Mojiba Ashanti read it for cultural sensitivity.

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“I’ve been fascinated by Don Drummond since I was a teenager,” Reeves says. “There was always a mystery around him … rumors. It was all kind of terrible. When Heather’s book came out, it blew everything wide open. But what I also really wanted to do was tell the story of the two women who shaped Don’s life: Sister Ignatius and Margarita. This story is as much about them.” Augustyn concurs: “Margarita deserves a part in this story, too. I didn’t want to see her identity as that of a murder victim.”

Anita Mahfood was born in 1939 into a privileged but troubled family. Her mother was a white Jamaican, her father a successful businessman of Lebanese origin. Violent and abusive, obsessed with guns, he forced his wife to drink and she became an alcoholic, eventually killing herself. Anita was determined to become a dancer: self-taught, she entered talent contests as a teenager and was soon starring in the clubs, calling herself Margarita so her father wouldn’t know it was her.

In 1960, she married the boxer Rudolph Bent. He proved as violent as her father, beating her and their children. She divorced him in 1964, by which time she was in a relationship with Drummond. They had known each other from the club circuit in the 50s but they fell in love in Wareika Hills outside Kingston where bandleader Count Ossie held his Rastafarian camps: musicians would go up there after the clubs had closed to jam all night and smoke ganja, as Ossie introduced them to a Rastafarian style of drumming. Drummond reveled in the freedom it offered to improvise, and he was soon bringing other members of the Skatalites.

Margarita was also a frequent visitor and began to incorporate Rastafarian drumming into her rhumba, bringing its rhythms into the mainstream at a time when Rastafarians were deeply persecuted – the police were authorized to seize any men on sight and shave their heads, and destroy their camps. “She was incredibly brave,” says Augustyn. “She would tell the club owners that she wouldn’t dance unless they let the Rasta drummers play as her backing. These people were considered the lowest of the low. The owners would relent because she was the star.”

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Margarita fell in love with Drummond and his music. In 1964, she recorded the song Woman a Come: one of the few tracks of the time written and sung by a solo female artist, and a love letter to Drummond. “It sounds like she is singing one melody while the band is playing another,” says Augustyn. “This gives it a very unusual sound – quite haunting in hindsight.” But the relationship was fraught and Drummond’s mental health worsening, perhaps exacerbated by the amount of ganja he was smoking up in Wareika. She refused his jealous demands to stop dancing and tried to shrug off his increasingly violent behavior.

Both Drummond and Margarita are now often thought of in the context of the murder, if thought of at all – but Reeves and Augustyn are determined to change that. As well as the graphic novel, Reeves says there are plans for a stage show and TV series based on Drummond and Margarita’s life – deservedly so, given the extent of their influence. “Ska was the first music where people danced freestyle on their own, not in a couple, to infectious music. It happened first in Jamaica, this tiny island that punches musically above its weight, and laid down the roots of rave and club culture.”

Trombone Man: Ska’s Fallen Genius is available now. A free digital copy of the first issue is available to download.

Los Skatalites comienzan su gira del 60 aniversario en Glastonbury el 29 de junio