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Lord Messam  

 

Last revised: 9/2/13

 

Charles Augustus "Lord" Messam was far from being the most prolific of mento artists, recording only 8 tracks that I know of. But his recordings were consistently of strong quality, and include some of my very favorite mento tracks. Messam recorded strictly in the rural style, and his musicians and backing vocalists were amongst the best. These tracks typically feature a proto-reggae beat, and a quality that is difficult to describe, though words like, light, exotic, floating and nimble come to mind. So far, only one Lord Messam track has been compiled on CD, throwing the benevolence of the almighty into doubt.

In 2013, one of Lord Messam's four sons, Alphonso Augustus Messam (who today runs Black Liberty Records) provided information on his father and gathered the photos his family was kind enough to share.

Messam was born in the Waterhouse/Tower Hill section Kingston, May 19th 1924, where his mother had a house on the main road with a little shop that she ran for years. Alphonso shares with us as follows:

My mom said that as a teenager growing up in Kingston, my father was a very gifted singer and dancer. He had some friends from Kingston that moved to Montego Bay, whenever they would come to Kingston to visit their family or to do business, they would always tell my father that a man with his talent and skills needs to be in Montego Bay and get into to the tourist scene. So one day after not working for a while, he decided to make the trip. He went there and within a short time he put together a dance troupe consisting of 38 people and the took over the tourist entertainment scene. He was really a great singer and unmatched when it comes to dancing, and a very hard worker.
 

From The Daily Gleaner, November 14, 1952.

The billing is described as Lord Messam and Pork Chops famous Mento Band.

This is speculation, but perhaps Lord Flea's adroit banjo player, Pork Chops, from his Capitol years was first with Messam and may even have provided the wonderful playing on Messam's MRS singles.

A survey of The Daily Gleaner shows Lord Messam to be a fixture of the Montego Bay mento scene. Gigs as early as 1949 through 1966 are documented in advertisements, though the span of his performing career was longer, and filled with members of his family. Alphonso recalls:

My mother, Carmen Nelita Messam, who was a famous dancer before meeting my father, was a part of his dance group at one point. They married in 1962. In his later performing years, around 1977, my younger brother and I was also trained by him to perform on a couple of his shows. One particular show stands out when I think back to those days. It was at the Intercontinental Hotel in Montego Bay when my brother and I performed doing the John Travolta dance to "Night Fever", dressed in a white suite and black shirt. Can't forget that show because we brought the house down, and it was fun.
 

    
 


Lord Messam
takes a lady
and she's hot stuff.


Carmen Nelita Messam
charms the  audience.

Why were there so few records from Lord Messam, who was active for decades? It's because he was also known at least as much for his dancing as for his singing. Not only his own, but there is also record of his Lord Messam Dance Troupe. His son Alphonso confirms, "He definitely preferred doing live performances over recording".  After all, no amount dancing skill could be translated to vinyl. Lord Messam passed away circa 1989.

He is buried in Roaring River, Westmoreland. The people of that village felt they when he passed away, because at the time of his passing he had helped to put that village on the map and had taught countless youths how to build the conga drums, various percussion and other instruments. As a matter of fact, at the time of his passing he was suppose to take several of the youths on tour for the first time, so you know how they felt, very disappointed. Roaring River is now on the tourist board tourist attraction list, but my father is not a part of that attraction, or recognized in any way, after he had worked almost all of his life for Jamaica and the Jamaican tourist board. His name is still big in Jamaica though.

My father has helped countless people and their families over the years to reach America and Europe to find a better life, and many bad man, lawyers and doctors and all walks of society respected him highly even up to this day. And the ladies would go crazy over him, he was truly the 1 and only Lord Messam.

Augustus also shared that Lord Messam's sister was a known figure in activist, Rasta and music circles:

I'm not sure if you know of his sister Ivy Richards, but her brother is the Rasta man call Gad man that established the Twelve Tribe of Israel organization in Jamaica, and she was a part of  Bob Marley upbringing in his youthful days, she and Rita Marley were the best of friends, and she lived with Rita until she passed away several years bask. She was well known by everyone in Kingston, and was awarded the Rock Fort picnic garden by Prime minister Michael Manley around 1976, it was in the news paper about an incident when she went to his residence to see him without an invitation. She was also a friend of Miss Lou, Ranny Williams, Peter Tosh and many many more known people. She was a Rebel, a soldier and a Rasta. She was called Niah, and was even featured in one of the Melody Makers video back in the days, She also had a store in Majestic Gardens/Back Too around 1971, she couldn't read or write, but you couldn't fool her when it comes to money at her shop, she was truly a force to be reckon with.

 
 
On the MRS label, a classic single by Lord Messam and his Calypsonians:

Holiday Number          b/w:
Jamaican Mentos.
 

(Thanks to Allen Kaatz of the US for the scan of the a-side.)

The Messam written "Holiday Number" features a proto-reggae rhythm, pointillist banjo, and polyrhythmic playing by all. The overall effect is very dreamy. Messam is in good voice and the backing vocals add to the overall effect. While some of the lyrics are hard to catch, it's easy to get the gist: Messam's girlfriend wants expensive jewelry and clothes, including a "corset to bring down her shape" because "for all she big and fat, she can't wear no drape".

"Holiday Number" by Lord Messam

Some gal will be with you right down through the year[s]
Sharing all your sorrows, and sharing all you cares
But that there come another deres big and fat                    ["deres" = there is]
Then start to worry you with dem fears you know not

This is the holiday number
This is the holiday rumba

Me gal she want a flat
That make me love her not
She want a parasol
and a three pound hat
a duncy panty                       ["duncy" is an affectionate term]
a six pound new brassiere
a likkle pair of shoes             ["likkle" = little]
a pound to fix her hair

This is the holiday number
This is the holiday rumba

Me current gal she want
A new [?] wheel    
She want to wrap with a German heel  [probably a shoe style of the day]
She want the kind of dress that they call "triple sheer"
And the kind of wrist watch that big shot a wear

This is the holiday number
This is the holiday rumba

The sister is so dry that she never come me get
But she call upon her man and say she want hair net
She want silver slipper, she want house coat,
She want a gold bangle to wear on her throat

This is the holiday number
This is the holiday rumba

She want a bag that make with silver latch
She want gold chain and rings to match
She want corset to bring down her shape
For all she big and fat, she cant wear no drape

This is the holiday number
This is the holiday rumba

Me love the gal for true, so me do what ev' I can
But the only man to suit her was a black market man
So every time you hear samilian[?] or a turn [?],  [could be "samolian or a dun", both slang for money]
I can not stand and bun so me 'ave to cut and run    ["stand and bun" could be "stand and burn",
                                                                                   or hang out and smoke" ]

 

While "Holiday Number" is an original composition by Messam, "Jamaican Mentos" is a seamless medley of Jamaican folk songs. "Mango Walk, Gi Me Back Me Shilling, Chichi Bud Oh, Hog In A My Mint Tea" is the listing on the label. Although the other three were very popular, this is the only time I've heard "Gi Me Back Me Shilling". The musical approach heard on the a-side is improved upon to the point of sounding almost otherworldly.

"Jamaica Mentos", traditional, arrangement by Lord Messam

The woman never tell me say you go mango walk,
you go mango walk, you go mango walk
The woman never tell me say you go mango walk,
you pick up the Number Eleven                           [a variety of mango in Jamaica] ["pick up" as in steal]
Beg you tell me the reason why, beg you tell me the reason why, beg you tell me the reason why,
you pick up the Number Eleven

So you give me pound and shilling with the lion penny, with the lion penny, with the lion penny
You give me pound and shilling with the lion penny, girl you must take me for a fool
Just because your big and fat, you want come take me, if[?] it that
You give me pound and shilling and that is that, girl you must take me for a fool
So you give me pound and shilling with the lion penny, with the lion penny, with the lion penny
You give me pound and shilling with the lion penny, girl you must take me for a fool
Me no want no lion penny, me no want to diamond tief                                            ["tief" = "thief"]
You give me pound and shilling, you king of tiefs, girl you must take me for a fool

Chi chi bud, oh! Some of the holler some a bawl,                                       ["bud" = bird]
Some a band neck[?], some a woodpecker, some are brown dove, some are white wing
Chi chi bud, oh!  Why Chi chi bud, oh!
Some are brown dove, some are John Crow, some are handsticker[?], some are band neck,

Hog in my mint tea, him a root up me coco            
Hog in my mint tea, him a root up me coco
One slice of breadfruit, two plate of ackee
One slice coconut, for me go rub it up to curry
All them young girls, when no have nobody
Visit bwoya, him no have no body.                                ["bwoya" = boy]
Hog in my mint tea, him a root up me coco
One slice of breadfruit, two plate of ackee
One slice coconut, for me go rub it up to curry

A magical single. Because these tracks are favorites of mine and they are not in print, here are song clips of Holiday Number and Jamaican Mentos[Click here for notes About the Audio Clips On this Site.]

  Another great Lord Messam side, again on MRS, is the medley of "Don't Tek It For A Joke", which was written by Messam and the old mento standard "Rucumbine", which is credited as a "Jamaican mento". MRS sometimes used this designation if a song was a Jamaican folk song.  The arrangement was similar to the single described above.
Because this track is a favorite of mine and is not in print, here is a song clip of Rukumbine[Click here for notes About the Audio Clips On this Site.]

The flip side, "Poun' Paper" is another Messam penned song. In it, he describes giving his date a pound paper (Americans, think "dollar bill") too early in the date. When the evening doesn't go the way Messam expected (and he did have some specific expectations), he tries unsuccessfully to retrieved the note.

  Courtesy of Richard Noblett of London, on the Souvenir of Montego Bay label, a 78 RPM single by Lord Messam and His Calypsonians:

"The Little Fly"
    backed with
"Monkey".

 

This single is not of the caliber of the sides described above. After all, was there ever a worse mento song than "The Little Fly"? And with two touristy tracks, this is his only single that is not at least in part written by Messam. Even though it pales by comparison, it's still enjoyable.  "Monkey" can be heard on the 2006 CD compilation, "Take Me To Jamaica". Both of these tracks appeared on the mid-1950s MRS LP, "MRS - Authentic Jamaican Calypsos Volume 1".

The first side of the aforementioned LP, "MRS - Authentic Jamaican Calypsos Volume 1", is comprised by 4 Lord Messam tracks. In addition to the above two tracks, there was Messam's renditions of "Take Her To Jamaica" and "Linstead Market". The latter is quite good, with the precise polyrhythmic instrumental opening sounding like a mento music box. This track also appeared on the later MRS LP, "Calypso Date", and has been compiled on two recent CD collections, "Mento Madness" and "Jamaica Mento" Because it's a favorite track, here is a sound clip of Linstead Market made before the track came back in print[Click here for notes About the Audio Clips On this Site.]

"Linstead Market", by traditional, as performed by Lord Messam

I carry me ackee, go a Linstead Market
not a quatty will sell
I carry me ackee, go a Linstead Market
not a quatty will sell

Lord what a night, not a bite
what a Saturday night!
Lord what a night, not a bite
what a Saturday night!

Everybody come feel up, feel up,
not a quatty will sell
Everybody come feel up, feel up,
not a quatty will sell

[CHORUS]

It was a fight, a fight, a big big fight
on that Saturday night
It was a fight, a fight, a big big fight
on that Saturday night

[CHORUS]

Do my mommy no feed me, kill me
take a merry-go-round
Do my mommy don't feed me, kill me
take a merry-go-round

[CHORUS]

All those pickney come run come run
to see what mommy did bring
All those pickney come run come run
to see what mommy did bring

[CHORUS]
 
[ackee = a Jamaican vegetable ]
[quatty = a small amount of money,
   perhaps a quarter of a penny]


<- Chorus

























[pickney = children]
 



Finally, courtesy of Robert Koehl of Houston, Texas, is this autograph from Lord Messam, which is also excerpted at the top of the page. The full inscription, "Lord Messam. Jamaica. Montego Beach Hotel. 'Lord Messam.'" is found on a copy of Duke's "Duke, Calypso and Ska" LP, perhaps indicating that both these artist performed at that hotel.

 

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