Archive for February, 2007

February 28, 2007

EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE OF ANA NICOLE SMITH’S APPEAL
BY ONE OF FLORIDA’S LEADING EXPERTS

WILL APPEALS COURT REDEEM FLORIDA JUSTICE?

WILL “BEADLE BUMBLE” WIN THE APPEAL?

OUR PREDICTION ON THE COURT’S ACTION

(CHICAGO)(February 28, 2007) My God, the Fourth District Court of Appeal. I have litigated a pile of cases in that court, and the court doesn’t particularly care for me. I have won some appeals and lost others. Personally, I don’t particularly like the judges.

I had one DCA judge censured; and one judge removed for misconduct (shoplifting). So I could write a negative assessment of the Ana Nicole Smith appeal. But my personal integrity compels me to say the Fourth DCA is one of America’s outstanding intermediate state appellate courts.

Florida courts are among the best in the nation when it comes to accessibility and openness to litigants; in other words, the structure of the court system is open and accessible. It’s the best. Yes, they have a lot of zoo-ready judges; but then as I made clear in an earlier column judges everywhere in America can be loony.

On balance, I think the Fourth DCA will do a good job, and I expect them to try to redeem the reputation of Florida justice, by delivering the body to ANS’s mother.

The problem is that the oral hearing before the court was problematical. Virgie Arthur’s appellate counsel had an overwhelmingly strong case, but she is a lousy appellate advocate and was unprepared for the oral argument. The “guardian” made a somewhat more coherent argument in what is a weak legal position.

I hope Beadle Bumble, a character in Dickens who says, “If the law supposes that�the law is a ass, a idiot” does not win.

Arthur’s lawyer was unprepared and virtually incompetent. When asked about Anna Nicole’s purchase of a burial plot, Roberta Mandel was silent. She didn’t know the trial record. In point of fact Smith purchased no plots; Howard Stern did. No one told her to clarify that point on rebuttal. A weak legal team.

Mandel conceded the “facts” but that is where she should have made her strongest attack. Even though “facts” are usually “found” in the trial court, and are not subject to review on appeal, the Smith appeal was extraordinary.

The nation spent a week seeing that ANS was deranged and under the influence of drugs, as well as grief-stricken. How could her “intent” be controlling, and so clear, when the record was replete with evidence she was incapable of forming informed intent or informed consent? Mandel was silent, again.

This is a case where on common sense the mother should win. The arguments made by Judge Seidlen and the “guardian” are absurd. If the child is too young to decide, let a complete stranger take control. What kind of nutty reasoning is that?

And so the Fourth DCA faces a real challenge. In my opinion, Florida law (Andrews v. McGowan, 739 So.2d 132) completely favors Virgie Arthur. But Mandel’s appeal was presented so poorly that there is a serious question whether she can win.

Ultimately, Judge Seidlen made Florida courts into “a ass, a idiot” by his pathetic performance and by his perversion of both statutory law and common sense. In a case of unfortunate characters, common sense, common law and Florida statutes supported Arthur’s position.

Will she win? She should. Despite the “cold neutrality” of the judicial process, judges still are sensitive to public opinion in a highly visible case such as this one. To suggest that a drugged-up, incoherent woman knew what she was doing when she claimed she “wanted to be buried in the Bahamas” is ludicrous. Roberta Mandel made an atrocious showing as Arthur’s appellate advocate; that could doom Virgie Arthur’s strong case.

Andrews should appeal to the Florida Supreme Court if she loses.

This appeal once again presents graphic evidence of the great difference that a good advocate can make. Mandel had a strong case but she is a lousy lawyer. Stern/Guardian had a weak case but in the face of a weak appellate opponent they may well win.

I vote for Virgie Arthur. Based on the hearing, it’s hard to suggest she will win. But she should. It’s the law.

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Chicago-based Internet journalist, broadcaster and critic Andy Martin is the Executive Editor and publisher of ContrarianCommentary.com. � Copyright by Andy Martin 2006. Martin covers national politics with forty years of personal experience. Columns also posted at politicalgateway.com. Comments? E-mail: AndyMart20@aol.com. Media contact: (866) 706-2639. Cell (917) 664-9329.

Agnes Macdonald – First Lady of Canada

February 28, 2007
Agnes Macdonald, Baroness Macdonald of Earnscliffe

Susan Agnes Macdonald n�e Bernard (August 24, 1836 � September 5, 1920) was the second wife of Sir John A. Macdonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada. She was granted the title Baroness Macdonald of Earnscliffe following her husband’s death in 1891.

She was born in Jamaica to The Honourable T.J. Bernard and his wife, Theodora Foulks. She was raised there and in England before she came to Canada with her mother to live with her brother, Hewitt, a lawyer. It was through him that she met Sir John A. Macdonald for the first time in 1856. It was in 1866, in London, England, where Miss Macdonald had been with her mother that she saw her husband to be who was there to prepare the British North America Act. They married on February 16, 1867 and had one daughter, Margaret Mary Theodora Macdonald, who was severely handicapped both mentally and physiclly (1869-1933).

By 1896 she left her home at Earnscliffe to go back to England. Allthrough her life she was known as Agnes, she died in England and was buried in the Ocklynge Cemetery in Eastbourne, a city just south of London.

Personality

She was known as a lady of charming personality, with a courageous and happy disposition. She had the faculty of making and holding friendships, and was a true helpmeet to her husband.

During her stay in Canada with her husband, she became intimately acquainted with many of the intricacies of the political and historical events of the country and displayed her love of it in the sentiments expressed in many magazine and Press articles.

In England, despite the weight of years, her participation in social and philanthropic work was active.

See You in Jamaica

February 25, 2007

CONTRARIAN COMMENTARY FOR February 24, 2006

ANNA NICOLE SMITH AND THE JUDGES OF BROWARD COUNTY

AND THANK YOU FOR EXPOSING AMERICA’S JUDICIAL SYSTEM TO FLORIDA’S SUNLIGHT

UNFORTUNATELY, BROWARD COURTS ARE MORE LIKE, THAN UNLIKE, AMERICA’S OTHER JUDICIAL SYSTEMS; WE SHOULD NOT BE SMUG ABOUT FLORIDA’S COURTHOUSE CLOWNS SUCH AS LARRY SEIDLEN AND LARRY KORDA

(CHICAGO)(February 24, 2007) Florida is a wonderful place, especially when gleaming sunbeams bounce off high-rise buildings while northern cites are frozen solid. But the state is also an open-air insane asylum, with the inmates firmly in control.

Nowhere is the “asylum” aspect of Florida’s environment more obvious than in the circus tent officially labeled the “Broward County Courthouse.” Judge Larry Seidlen, one of the inmates, said last week his courtroom was not a “circus.” He was too modest. The entire Broward County Courthouse is a circus tent.

Viewers across America have been shocked this week to learn just how crazy Florida judges can be. Many of us have been transfixed by the unbelievable circus in the courtroom of Judge Seidlen. I confess, I watched.

Before unfortunate Anna Nicole could lie in state she has had to lie down for the lies people tell in Florida courts. Lie down in darkness.

Well, as is so often the case with major national newsbreaks, ContrarianCommentary.com’s executive editor, yours truly, was there first. Broward County Courthouse circus? Been there, done that.

I litigated cases in front of Larry Seidlen in the 90’s, as well as Larry (“Crazy”) Korda, another Anna Nicole inmate-judge. I would not trust these men with a grocery list, let alone a serious legal proceeding. And there they were, on national television this week, advertising how crazy justice can be in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

But is Anna Nicole’s case really that unique? Is what we watched a one-time freak show? Not at all.

Not really. In terms of the competence and incompetence of the judges, her case is both extraordinary and very ordinary.

Florida is unusual in that the state has an very open judicial system (for which, honestly, it should be commended and congratulated); TV cameras are routinely allowed in courtrooms and judicial chambers. The result is that we see more craziness than we do from courts in New York or Illinois, where the courtroom doors are firmly locked to avoid media access to judicial corruption and incompetence.

Judge Seidlen made an ass of himself. But then Broward judges are famous for making asses of themselves. In the 90’s I filed a complaint against Judge Paul (“Marko the Barbarian”) Marko, who told a woman in a divorce case she should cruise singles bars because the judge did the same. He accepted punishment from the Florida Supreme Court. Fortunately for litigants, Marko died an early death. He was the worst of the worst.

Seidlen and Korda continue to linger, along with a platoon of other weirdo judges in Broward County. On any given day these failed lawyers are meting out justice to the innocent citizens who have the misfortune to need a court. Most of the time the goofy judges labor in anonymity and, like the giant squid retrieved from the oceans, also last week, the system goes forward, quietly claiming its helpless victims. Every so often a celebrity case appears and then we see inside Florida’s circus courthouses. For real.

But is Florida really that different than New York, Illinois, or anywhere else? Not really. Political hacks and incompetent judges are everywhere.

Somewhere along the line in school most of us read about pre-revolutionary France, where people were jailed for stealing a loaf of bread (“Les Miserables”), or a similar Charles Dickensian era in England when people were sentenced to “transportation” and shipped to Australia for minor thefts. “Tut, tut,” we say, “That’s history.”

But this week, a man in Indiana, a helpless homeless man with mental illness, was released after spending 17 months in jail for stealing a bottle of soda from Wal-Mart. Authorities said he was “lost in the system.” Pretty sad.

If the truth be known America’s courts and courthouses are all pretty crazy places. Pretty sad.

While judicial egos continue to inflate, and judges, especially federal judges, demand and bigger and grander temples for their ministrations, the quality of justice steadily declines. Almost every week, somewhere in the United States an innocent man is released from jail after serving a lengthy jail sentence for a crime he didn�t commit. I stopped keeping count. There have been over a hundred men released from death row after being found innocent. In each case, justice and a series of judges failed.

And still Neanderthal conservatives cry for more punishment, more jails and tougher judges. Why don’t they ask for more competent judges? (Full disclosure: I’m a Republican, but not a Neanderthal.) Judicial incompetence is a nationwide problem, not only in Larry Seidlen’s courtroom.

In Florida, judges are elected, and usually elections turn on ethnic identity, not competence. In Illinois, judges are also elected; things are no better there. One judicial candidate, Frederick Rhine, changed his last name to O’Brien because he said Irish lawyers were disproportionately elected in Cook County (Illinois).

And in New York, the U. S. Supreme Court has just agreed to decide whether the state’s judicial elections are a sham and farce. Additionally, New York still allows plumbers and carpenters to serve as judges in “town justice” courts; somehow, legislators ignore that we are 200 years past the colonial era.

As long as Anna Nicole was healthy and had no need for judges, she was an entertaining floorshow in her own right. Then she died and the real three-ring circus began.

I have been watching and exposing corruption in the courts for almost forty years. So the Anna Nicole’s extravaganza is no surprise. None.

As a young law student, almost forty (40) years ago, I walked into the Champaign County, Illinois courthouse to fight corruption. An old couple had died, and a local judge and Urbana Mayor Stanley Weaver had looted their estate. My thanks: the local newspaper, the News-Gazette, attacked me for exposing corruption. The paper’s owner was friends with the judge and mayor. And so it goes. I went on to be a small part of a team that exposed two Illinois Supreme Court judges (Roy Solfisburg and Ray Klingbiel) for taking bank stock bribes. My reward? Attacks from the court for being disloyal to the judiciary. All this while I was still in law school.

In the 1970’s I lit the fuse that ignited Operation Greylord in Chicago. Over 80 judges and court personnel were convicted. Once again judges attacked me for exposing corruption. Courthouses are spooky places; they don’t like sunlight. Or honesty and integrity.

At one time in the 1980’s I had reversed close to a majority of the federal judges in Washington. I handled an appeal before then-Circuit Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg. On remand, the famous District Judge Gerhard Gesell was furious I had overturned him. But we still won.

I have also filed cases in New York, where one Judge Tomkins went home after work and beat his wife. Another, Joe (“Jose”)(“JoJo”) Cabranes, listened to cases in which his own divorce lawyer was representing clients. Real winners. So I have seen enough corruption in courthouses to fill a bushel basket.

Seen in context, Broward County justice is typical, not atypical. And so while Larry Seidlen, the self-styled “taxi driver from the Bronx” (what is it with taxi drivers?) made a fool of himself in court last week, Americans are fooling themselves if they think Seidlen and Korda are the only wacko incompetent judges in the United States. Our courthouses in every state are full of corrupt nincompoops such as Seidlen and Korda. Florida is among the worst in courthouse corruption and incompetence. But it is not alone. Far from it.

Thanks to my enemies at the Illinois Supreme Court I never did enter the private practice of law. I have devoted my life in the law to exposing corruption and incompetence in the judicial system and trying to improve our courts. And, in the words of Robert Frost, it has “made all the difference” to my life.

Anna Nicole. Rest in peace. Larry Seidlen: go back to driving a cab.

—————Chicago-based Internet journalist, broadcaster and critic Andy Martin is the Executive Editor and publisher of ContrarianCommentary.com. � Copyright Andy Martin 2007. Martin covers national and international politics with forty years of personal experience. Columns also posted at politicalgateway.com; contrariancommentary.wordpress.com. Comments? E-mail: AndyMart20@aol.com. Media contact: (866) 706-2639.

February 24, 2007

WHERE’S OBAMA?

FEDERAL JUDGE AGREES WITH ANDY MARTIN– ILLINOIS LAW IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL

CONTRARIAN COMMENTARY FOR February 24, 2006

I TOLD YOU SO: PART FOUR

SUDAN LAW WAS A JOKE, A FEDERAL JUDGE AGREES

WHO’S THE REAL “CONSTITUTIONAL SCHOLAR” IN ILLINOIS

(CHICAGO)(February 24, 2007) Last year, during the primary election season, I filed a lawsuit against State Treasurer Judy Topinka in her official capacity. That meant I was not suing her personally but rather challenging the authority of her office to take action under the U. S. and Illinois constitutions.

My lawsuit said that Topinka’s support for a “Sudan disinvestment law” sponsored by State Senator Jacqueline Collins was a mistake and a sign of Topinka’s pandering to legislators. My lawsuit claimed that the state law barring investments in Sudan was unconstitutional. The case was filed in circuit court in Sangamon County. It’s a public record.

Given the rather low level of intelligence of Chicago’s news media, and their failure to intelligently investigate either Blagojevich’s or Topinka’s overall fitness as candidates, the Sudan issue was ignored and Topinka was later defeated.

I did not press my lawsuit, however, because I did not want to be accused of being disloyal to Judy during the election season; I had endorsed her for election after the primary. And so I waited until after the election, with its unfortunate result, to reactivate the case. The holiday season being what it is, I didn�t get around to looking at my state court folder until this month.

In the meantime, last August the National Foreign Trade Council had filed a parallel federal court lawsuit to my state court action.

Friday, a federal judge agreed with the Council and me and entered an injunction declaring the Sudan disinvestment law unconstitutional.

Once again, my legal reasoning and in particular my constitutional analysis of misguided public policy in Illinois proved correct. I have a forty-year track record of accurate and prescient legal reasoning. It’s a public record.

Not to put too fine appoint on it, but there is another Illinoisan whom the media describe as a “constitutional scholar.” Yup, none other than Barry (Barack) Obama. Can Obama point to any lawsuit or judicial decision where his constitutional claims were vindicated, where his name appears on the papers? I doubt it. Obama’s constitutional “scholarship” exists mainly in his own mind, and in the minds of media sycophants who want to believe what they want to believe–and the facts be damned.

I tip my hat to Obama as a world-class Kool-Aid salesman, the best since Jimmy Jones. But I don�t think for a minute that Barry O is even remotely a constitutional scholar.

Just mark your notebooks–

I told you so. It’s a public record.

—————Chicago-based Internet journalist, broadcaster and critic Andy Martin is the Executive Editor and publisher of ContrarianCommentary.com. He is a chronicler of all things Midwestern and the authentic Voice of Middle America. � Copyright Andy Martin 2007. Martin covers national and international politics with forty years of personal experience. Columns also posted at politicalgateway.com. Comments? E-mail: AndyMart20@aol.com. Media contact: (866) 706-2639.

Sly & Robbie – Legendary Reggae Duo

February 21, 2007
No matter how advanced drum machine technology gets, reggae at its most genuine will always be characterized by at least one core element: a real live flesh-and-blood drums and bass team. Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare have been called the greatest such team in reggae, while their skills have carried them well beyond the reggae realm. It seems forever that they’ve been identified as a duo, but they’d both honed their respective chops prior to their first mid-’70s teaming. Dunbar had expanded the parameters of reggae drumming in sessions at Channel One studio. Shakespeare’s resume included work with Jack Ruby’s Black Disciples. After hearing and quickly coming to appreciate each other’s playing, they cemented a partnership that’s been 30 years long and is still strong.

Sly and Robbie’s near-perfect steadiness is embellished by their own characteristic touches, including Shakespeare’s subtly penetrating tones at key rhythmic moments and Dunbar’s on-and-off-the-beat accents. Whatever the secret, their playing has graced the music of more reggae stars than you can shake a spliff at. Besides extended stints as the studio and touring rhythm section for Peter Tosh and Black Uhuru, Sly and Robbie have laid it down for Bunny Wailer, Gregory Isaacs, Sugar Minott, Dennis Brown, John Holt, Culture, the Mighty Diamonds, Horace Andy, Judy Mowatt, Yellowman and countless others.

Additionally, the volume of work they took on and the rewards reaped from it enabled them to start their own label, Taxi Productions, which came to be seen as a kind of Jamaican equivalent of Motown. With Taxi, Sly and Robbie were able to boost the profiles of such promising hit-makers as the Tamlins, Jimmy Riley and Ini Kamoze.

As much as they did for reggae, it didn’t take long for the rest of the music world to take notice of the “Riddim Twins'” expertise. Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Herbie Hancock, Joe Cocker, Grace Jones, Carly Simon and others have enlisted the pair’s services. And they’ve put out releases under their own name where the reggae beat was nowhere to be found, including the funk/hip-hop-leaning albums Language Barrier and Rhythm Killers. When dancehall replaced roots reggae as Jamaica’s dominant sound, Sly and Robbie were on the cutting edge of that genre’s programmed grooves, producing monster hits like Chaka Demus and Pliers’ “Murder She Wrote.” Keeping one foot in reggae and the other ever-willing to explore, Sly and Robbie continue to rule the drums and bass roost.

See You in Jamaica

Mighty Diamonds – Reggae Band

February 21, 2007
The reggae road is littered with the bodies of fallen vocal groups that contributed a couple of tunes or an album of note and then disappeared into the history books. But the Mighty Diamonds have persevered, the original trio lineup still intact, having logged some 40-plus albums during a career well into its fourth decade. Their close, soulful harmony sound, offered via both sweet, passionate love songs and conscious political and spiritual material, provided a template that countless others have followed.

Donald “Tabby” Shaw, Fitzroy “Bunny” Simpson and Lloyd ” Judge” Ferguson first came together in 1969 in Kingston’s Trenchtown ghetto. Inspired by America’s Motown sound, they recorded a number of unsuccessful singles for various producers before racking up their first local hit with “Shame And Pride” for Jah Lloyd. It wasn’t until they discovered the emerging Channel One studio in 1975, however, that the Mighty Diamonds became a genre-shaping force in reggae. With Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare’s Revolutionaries behind them, the Mighty Diamonds established their presence with early R&B-flavored romantic hits such as “Hey Girl” and “Country Living,” as well as the more lyrically aggressive “Back Weh A Mafia” and “Right Time.”

That latter track also provided the title of their first release for Virgin, recognized as one of the all-time classic reggae vocal albums. The best songs on 1976’s Right Time, among them “I Need A Roof,” “Them Never Love Poor Marcus,” “Africa” and the aforementioned “Right Time,” placed the Mighty Diamonds in the pantheon of reggae’s most outspoken roots artists, their often militant words belied by their refined, charming vocal harmonies.

Right Time made international stars out of the Mighty Diamonds, and they recorded their next album, Ice On Fire, in New Orleans, using the legendary R&B producer Allen Toussaint. They returned to Channel One for their next few albums, Stand Up For Your Judgement, Planet Earth and Deeper Roots. By the early ’80s, the group was gone from Virgin and began releasing music on their own Bad Gong label and for other sundry companies. A 1981 single, “Pass The Kouchie,” was covered by the British group Musical Youth, who took the ganja references out, retitled it “Pass The Dutchie” and took it to the Top 10 in America.

The Mighty Diamonds have continued to record and tour in the decades since their initial splash (although many of their classic albums are out of print, replaced by poor-sounding, ill-conceived compilations), and while they are no longer considered a front-line group, their past impact is undeniable.

See You in Jamaica

Culture – Reggae Band

February 21, 2007
In terms of his commitments to a strictly-roots outlook, an unwavering belief in Africa as a true homeland and upholding the iconic status of Marcus Garvey, Culture’s Joseph Hill ranks with Winston Rodney (Burning Spear) as one of foundational reggae’s mightiest spokesmen.

Though he’s among reggae’s most recognizable voices, Hill began as a percussionist in the Soul Defenders, one of the in-house bands at Clement Dodd’s famed Studio One. It was also there that he took his first steps as a vocalist, singing lead on “Take Me Girl” (under the name the Neptunes) and the repatriation anthem “Behold The Land.”

Hill’s cousin Albert Walker proposed the idea of forming a full-fledged vocal trio, and with Kenneth Dayes and Walker harmonizing behind Hill’s eloquently urgent leads, Culture (briefly known as the African Disciples) was born. Their initial tracks were laid at the studio of Joe Gibbs, who produced their early singles and their landmark 1977 debut LP Two Sevens Clash. That album, with its militant/spiritual air and rock solid consciousness, ranks alongside works from the same era by Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Israel Vibration and the Mighty Diamonds as a defining moment in the Rasta/reggae connection. After two more albums with Gibbs, the group moved on to Sonia Pottinger’s High Note label, cutting such enduringly crucial discs as Harder Than The Rest and Cumbolo.

The trio went its separate ways in the early ’80s, with Hill releasing Lion Rock under the Culture name. They were back together in full force by 1986, and subsequent albums like Culture at Work, ‘Nuff Crisis and Wings Of A Dove brimmed with the same strengths as the early years: percolating riddims, heartfelt songs (penned mostly by Hill) and robust harmonies. Dayes left in 1993 and was eventually replaced by Telford Nelson. That one personnel change aside, Culture has remained a constant in reggae. Their albums have been released and/or re-released by various labels (Shanachie, RAS, Heartbeat, etc.), but any Culture disc is sure to be loaded with unwavering Jamaican roots vibes. A couple of recent in-concert offerings (Cultural Livity and Live In Africa) showcase the group’s onstage muscle, and their latest studio album, 2003’s timely World Peace, has them sounding as blazingly righteous as ever.

See You in Jamaica

Sister Carol – Reggae Artiste

February 21, 2007
Known as the “Black Cinderella” and “Mother Culture,” Sister Carol has led the way for women in reggae. Her music is rich with cultural heritage and infused with a vital social consciousness that permeates every aspect of life in the ’90s. Many were introduced to Sister Carol through Jonathan Demme’s films Something Wild and Married to the Mob, but her greatest strength is her music � music that carries a social message for people all over the world. There are no books in this musical classroom; learning comes through listening to the teacher. Who knew that the dancehall scene of NYC in the ’70s would lead Sister Carol to a path of movies, albums, television appearances and a Grammy nomination for her highly regarded release Lyrically Potent.

See You in Jamaica

Linton Kwesi Johnson – Reggae Artiste

February 21, 2007
One of the great artists to emerge from the British reggae explosion of the late ’70s was Linton Kwesi Johnson, who combined dialect-heavy spoken word with a heavy roots reggae backing band to pioneer a style called “dub poetry.” Johnson differed from other members of the dub poetry movement, such as Oku Onuora and Mutabaruka, in that his laser-sharp diatribes are usually focused on his adopted country of England, and that he eschews Rastafarianism.

Born in 1952 in the rural Jamaican village of Chapelton, Johnson learned to read from his grandmother’s bible. At the age of 11, he followed his mother to Brixton in London, where he learned about racism first-hand from white Britons’ backlash against the increasing number of West Indian immigrants.

Johnson joined the Black Panther party while still in school and was also influenced by the revolutionary recordings of the Last Poets. Johnson’s early albums from the late ’70s and early ’80s�Dread, Beat an’ Blood, Forces Of Victory and especially 1980’s Bass Culture�each furthered his reputation as a major voice in reggae. But Johnson began withdrawing from the touring circuit by the early ’80s, appearing only occasionally at poetry readings and festivals, and he stopped recording for a few years as well. Making History (1984) was a strong return, but LKJ then disappeared again until the early ’90s, when he re-emerged for the occasional tour. He has recorded sporadically since then, with 1999’s More Time and 2005’s Live in Paris.

Back when Johnson first started publishing and performing his poems in the 1970s, he was denounced for corrupting the youth and undermining the “purity” of the English language with his patois grammar and spelling. But now he’s earning honorary degrees and gaining widespread respect. In a recent poll to determine the top 100 Black Britons of all time, he was ranked #22, and with the publication of Mi Revalueshanary Fren, he’s become only the second living poet ever to be included in Penguin Books’ Modern Classics series.

See You in Jamaica

The Abyssinians – Reggae Band

February 21, 2007
The Abyssinians were one of the key groups to emerge from the roots reggae era of the late ’60s and early ’70s, a classic vocal trio that combined close harmony singing, minor key “dread” melodies, and deeply spiritual Rastafarian themes into a series of iconic hits.

The Abyssinians consisted of longtime friends Bernard Collins and Donald Manning, with Manning’s brother Lynford in tow. When the group first formed, in 1968, in Kingston, Lynford was already in the music business, singing with the eldest Manning brother Carlton’s group, Carlton and the Shoes. In fact it was a song that recorded by this group�an early reggae b-side called “Happy Land”�that provided inspiration for what would become the Abyssinians greatest hit, and one of the most famous songs in the entire reggae cannon.

That song was “Satta Massagana”�a revolutionary step forward in the development of reggae. Penned by Collins and Donald Manning, and sung in dubious Amharic (the title was thought to mean “Give Thanks” in the language), the song extolled Ethiopia as the Rastafarian promised land, explicitly forging a link between reggae and Rastafari at a time when no respectable Jamaican producer wanted anything to do with the movement. But what really made the song a classic was the tension between the soaring, church-ified vocal harmonies, and the spooky, minor key “dread” sound that lent the song an air of orientalist mystery.

Though the song was first recorded in 1969, for legendary producer Clement “Coxsonne” Dodd, it wasn’t released until 1971. Dodd, who had also recorded the original “Happy Land,” felt that the public wasn’t ready for such outspoken Rasta material. He was proved wrong after the Abyssinians bought back their track (at no great expense) and released it on their own Clinch label. It was an immediate hit, and Dodd soon scrambled to release his own version on his Studio One label�sparking a flurry of deejay versions that soon turned the Rasta anthem into a genuine folk rhythm.

The Abyssinians released three more hit singles in 1971 (“Declaration of Rights,” “Jerusalem,” and “Let My Days Be Long”) and more as the decade wore on (including classics “Leggo Beast” and “Ya Mas Gan”). But it wasn’t until 1976 that the group cut it’s first full-length LP, Forward Onto Zion, which combined this earlier material with newer songs to create one of the most enduring masterpieces of the roots reggae era.

Forward Unto Zion won the Abyssinians an international audience, and they followed it up with 1978’s Arise, recorded for Bob Marley’s newly launched Tuff Gong label.
The album yielded the hit single “Hey You,” but was an overall disappointment, and Collins quit the group soon after its release. He was replaced by Carlton Manning, come full circle and turning the Abyssinians into a family unit. The new trio made one final, notable appearance at the Reggae Sunsplash festival in 1979, before taking a final bow that same year. But the posthumous Forward album was released in 1980. Full of previously unreleased gems and domestic-release only singles, Forward was a final revelation from one of the greatest roots reggae acts of all time.

Later in the ’80s, both Collins and the Mannings brothers laid claim to the Abyssinians name and both tried to relaunch the franchise�with varying degrees of success. But neither incarnation could match the storied Abyssinians of old.

See You in Jamaica