From Smoothies To Calypso
Calyspsonian Abdul Shabazz is a man of many talents.
Story & Photos by Dean Greenaway
When local calypsonians line up to challenge Luther B for this year's BVI Calypso Monarch crown, one person who will be coming with something riveting is Abdul Shabazz, popularly known as Bazz.
Calypsonians come from all walks of life, including policemen, construction workers, travel agents and taxi drivers among others. Bazz has a multiplicity of backgrounds including farming, for which he's most well-known, and as a purveyor of natural fruit juices and drinks.
Bazz studied air conditioning and refrigeration in Chicago – a city he loved. While there, he liked the environment but not the water and says he used to fast a lot.
One day I was about to break my fast, thought about how heavy the water was and my thoughts raced back to Tortola, he recalls.
I thought about our sugarcane, marmies, sour soup, genip and all those nice tasting fruits and I said to myself, 'if I ever go back to the islands, I'm going to make some natural juices.' I kept that idea and on my return to Tortola I started doing the juices.
Bazz started his juice business with 27 flavors and had a location on Main Street. He drove around in his pickup truck with his fruits stored in gallon wine bottles in a refrigerator. He didn't use preservatives in his blends, which he sold at Treasure Isle Hotel.
One day while making guava juice he was running late, so he decided he would go to the taxi stand by Treasure Isle and would finish making his blend there. It was then that he hatched the idea that he could blend a combination of juices and they wouldn't spoil.
If somebody wanted papaya and banana, I could blend it and that's it, then wash out the blender, he explains.
If they want passion fruit and mango, I could do that too. I didn't know anything about strawberries until the children of tourists asked for that, so now it's a favorite with everybody, adding that he has had the idea for creating smoothies like this
for over 30 years.
Currently, he has stands at Great Mountain, in Road Town, and from time to time at Smugglers Cove. The location was inspired by the late Chief Minister H. Lavity Stoutt who had suggested that Bazz grow pineapples in Belmont, a residential area which adjoins Smuggler's.
I didn't get around to planting the pineapples, because it was a little too far from everything, but I ended up soliciting on the beach, he reflects.
Every Sunday, Bazz is at the Great Mountain location serving up his various blends. Additionally, he and his friend Toddie, prepare local dishes including fish and fungi, oxtail or pea soup.
You actually get a taste of the island here, he notes.
The Great Mountain stand provides a breathtaking view of Road Town and he says it will become his headquarters:
We'll have a lounge here where people can come on and chill out – get away from the town.
Bazz's exploits into calypso began as a six-year-old in Huntums Ghut. In those days, he said they were not allowed to sing the Mighty Sparrow's songs, but made up their own. He recalled that the calypsonian David Smith sang where ever there was a crowd in Huntums Ghut, usually under a tree, and as little boys, he and David's cousin, Columbus, would find somewhere to try and sing their own calypso.
My father was a preacher so everyone wanted to know what kind of calypso I could be singing at six-years-old, he recalls.
When they came to listen, they got a good shot because I had my thing. But I remember we had a really lively guy in Huntums Ghut named Power Head. He was a natural promoter and he used to take David and I up to Long Look. According to Bazz, Powerhead jokingly told people that the two youngsters were better than the Mighty Sparrow.
Because Power Head said so, we two little idiots thought we could sing calypso, Bazz adds with a smile.
Bazz recalls his early days when he had performed a song entitled 50 Years, which reflected on the history of festivals and early contributors like Emmy Duck and Darwin
Gun Scatliffe. The song was popular and people began asking him to enter the Calypso Competition.
I never followed up on it until we were celebrating the August Festival's 50th Jubilee Celebrations and I wanted to make a contribution in song.
Bazz admits he performed calypso reluctantly for a number of years. His most popular song Computers Don't Plant Potatoes started out as a jingle which Dr. Quincy Lettsome asked him to compose for 2004 Farmer's Week. He never completed the jingle, and instead turned the idea into a song. He says the idea for the song came to him when he went into the supermarket and saw all the imported foods:
All kind a food we importing, but them young people stop cultivating.
cassava, tania, yam and sweet potato, they importing them from Santo Domingo.
tangerine, grapefruit, orange, tomatoes ,
Ah hear dey does buy them from Puerto Rico
School children done tell me flat, gone are the days
and they done with that
They not working fork, cutlass or hoe peak,
they working computer going teek, teek, teek
But when they get tired and they feeling hungry,
they going St. Thomas and buy Kentucky
Jump up high, jump up low,
computer don't plant tomato
Children sow a seed and let it grow,
find something to eat tomorrow
Sing song fast, sing song slow,
computer don't plant sweet potato.
Calypso has a long history. It originated in Trinidad during slavery as a way for slaves to criticize their masters without their knowledge. Today's calypso is still a form of social commentary and Bazz continues this tradition with songs about government. One of his most popular, entitled Good Government, warns politicians that those who fail to perform will only have one term.
What continues to inspire Bazz in the Calypso arena over the last six years?
The condition of the nation, he explains.
I don't hear the calypsonians touching on the condition of the nation. If calypso is going to exist, we have to touch on this, he argues.
If I go on the radio talk show and talk all the time, people will get sick of hearing me like some radio hosts. But if they (radio hosts) sing, they'll have a crowd. However, people always look forward to what I'm coming with and I always give it deep thought.
The amount of time he needs to compose a song varies. Computer Don't Plant Potatoes came to him within a week, a process he calls
fluent, as did 50 Years.
I don't just sing calypso, I also wrote a religious song, he points out.
And I sang it on the passing of the calysonian Macarldie Nibbs in February with all the musicians at that funeral.
He says the song is about life:
There's a line that's drawn and a race we all must run and there's a road that takes us to eternity, takes us home, he notes.
This song is asking God to teach us prayer so we could be strong. It's also requesting that God plant our feet in the footsteps of all those faithful who have gone before us. It goes into showing that there's a race each man must run ever since this earth began. It's from the womb, to the cradle, to the grave.
When asked how he'd like to be remembered, Bazz says he doesn't have to be liked to be remembered. People are always going to remember the niceness.
I always have something to give. I'll call you, 'come, come, eat a banana.' Ok, eat a piece of pineapple, carry this cane for your children. That's how they'll remember me. I always have something to give, he notes.
I'm very conscious of the life I'm living, knowing that I came here for a purpose,
It's a thought worth remembering in song.
This year's Calypso Eliminations will be held during the Emancipation Festival celebrations on July 28th; the Finals will be held on August 4th.