by Kwame Dawes
Kofi would rather sit in a small room where it is warm and where the light is good and eat simple meals like fufu and groundnut soup with fish and beef, or some bread and bits of chicken, or slices of fruit, or chocolate, or drink something common like water or juice - simple juice - or laugh a laugh of nonsense at the sitcoms on television. He would rather take a bus and travel into the green embrace of St. Mary and walk that slow hot walk along the blindingly white limestone and crystalline pink marl path that cut through the cocoa trees. But he is in a black tour bus that smelled of chew stick, garlic, and marijuana, three weeks into a tour of the US, with his eight piece reggae band, on their way to the twelfth gig of a Tidewater tour. They could stick the words "Grammy Winner" beside their name, and although critical success did not pay the bills, the sweet marriage between hip-hop and reggae meant that anything could happen. Kofi writes their music and lyrics.
They arrive at a concert billed as "Island in the Sun". Men are wearing floral shirts and chino shorts from Banana Republic. As they take the stage to open the final set Kofi raises his arms to calm the crowd, points backward to the band, and begins to scratch a riff to suit his mood. The drummer begins to swish softly on the high hat until he finds the sweet spot, into which he punches a one-drop, driving the riddim, and the bass and keys and horns come in, dragging like a chain gang. A hush falls over the room when the keyboards find a voice and the Hammond organ begins to churchify the sound, calling forth the spirit of slaves and angels who have ascended from the ends of ropes, and the horns begin to bleat in lamentation.
Perhaps because she is one of the few black faces in the room, or it may be the way she moves, but she catches his eye like an old friend in a strange place...
SHE'S GONE is dark and rich and sweet, like meat close to the bone. Dawes writes from the heart, with tears and laughter, and his work reads like blank verse. He is an award winning Ghanain-born Jamaican author of several books of poetry, non-fiction and fiction. He teaches at the University of South Carolina, where he is Distinguished Poet in Residence and director of the USC Arts Institute and the programmer for the annual Jamaican Calabash international Literary Festival. In his first novel, SHE'S GONE, he is scratching a riff to suit his mood.