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Paint the Town Red

Written by Anu Lakhan for Caribbean Beat on no date provided

In dis ya concrete jungle . . .
Bob Marley

We gonna put on de pressure
Sounds and pressure
We gonna keep on comin’ in
To this dance
Hopeton Lewis

I was down in deep meditation
Singing songs of love
When Babylon took I away
And hurt I so bad
Now I want to go home
Anonymous

Kingston in the 1970s. A generation, across class and colour, awakens to reggae, Rastafarianism, socialism, and Black Power. The rocksteady and reggae songs quoted in this slim novel offer a concise and apt summary of the plot. It is not a lyrical read, no more so than the history it recalls mainly through the lives of two youths: Mikey (light-skinned and middle-class) and Carl (dark and poor). The idealism of the times brings with it the certainty that old prejudices and class distinctions have no relevance to these long-time friends -- that is, until a clash with the police kills 11 people, including Carl. Imprisoned that very night, Mikey emerges more than a decade later to a different Jamaica, and to the explanation for his own survival.

Half a century ago, as an immigrant in the UK, Sam Selvon found that the dialect of his native Trinidad need not be confined to the repartee of his characters, but could be used by a thinking, feeling, philosophising narrator. In Paint the Town Red, Meeks uses the powerful and highly idiosyncratic speech of Jamaica to effectively conjure up a time and place that continues to fascinate the world with its politics, ideology, and faith. This is the long-play, prose version of the poetry of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Burning Spear.

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