Vibes: My Ode to Heavy D

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

I always knew that I would one day meet Heavy D and let him know how much his music meant to me. Well, really one song in particular. While I have been a fan of the man since I first heard The Overweight Lover’s Is In The House, I have been particularly fond of his Reggae infused songs. The tunes with Super Cat in the early 90’s are some of my favorites of Heavy’s long and storied catalog. That is why when I heard in early 2009 that Heavy D had a Reggae album, Vibes, I immediately copped it.

The song that did it for me on that album is Queen Majesty. It is a beautifully worded ode to a woman that Heavy finds way out of his league. On top one of this lush, classic Reggae break, which by the way is called the Queen Majesty riddim, Heavy waxes poetic on his love and admiration for this woman, this queen majesty. The song is actually a remake of an earlier version by the crown prince of Reggae, Dennis Brown.

At the time, my wife and mother of my 3 young daughters was in the throes of chemotherapy after being diagnosed in September of 2008 with triple negative breast cancer. She had just completed the first round of chemo and she was, in my eyes, wasting away. On top of being bald, she was emaciated, skinnier than I had ever seen her and wasn’t eating or sleeping much for that matter. In December of 2008, while she was undergoing her treatment, my wife’s dad, who she had a contentious and complicated relationship with, passed. Even though they weren’t close it was an extra burden that just added to the overall impact of what we were facing.

Then in January 16th of 2009, the other shoe dropped. On that fateful Friday, one of her many doctors informed us that they had found a blood clot in her heart. Due to the location and size of the clot, she wouldn’t be able to take pills to reduce the size of the clot but would have to have twice daily injections to her abdomen. The doctor insinuated that she was in grave danger of losing her life.

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Uptown Barbershop Trending Topic: Ismael Rivera

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

Before we get into this, it is a must I provide a little context. My barbershop is the quintessential Dominican barbershop. Tons of people, music blaring, barbers dancing as they perform their duties. In short, a hive of activity; in many ways it is a place where a party is taking place and they just happen to cut hair. This is the kind of barbershop where you may find yourself being served little plastic cups of sweet espresso while you wait for your cut, as a whole host of street peddlers enter and exit the establishment to hawk bootleg DVD’s, clothes, sunglasses, watches. Maybe even furniture. Another thing that takes place at my barbershop and others like it is conversation. Straight up, loud, unfiltered, non-politically correct, sometimes anachronistic, man talk.

October 5th – This day, however, the barbershop was eerily soundless. Instead of the usual, over the top boom bap of the blaring Latin music, I walked into a graveyard-quiet room full of people utterly entranced by the multiple tv screens playing the same thing. I know what you are thinking, an Uptown barbershop full of Dominicans in October, they must be watching playoff baseball. But no, unbeknownst to me, this particular day was the 78th anniversary of the birth of the incomparable Ismael “Maelo” Rivera.

For those that don’t know, Ismael Rivera aka El Bruju de Borinquen or his more famous moniker El Sonero Mayor, is in my humble estimation the greatest of all of Salsa music’s many giants. While I absolutely adore Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades, Hector Lavoe and the rest, you simply cannot have a serious discussion about Salsa without talking about Maelo. In fact, arguably the greatest Salsa band of all time, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, originally came about because of the unfortunate break up of Rivera’s and long time friend Cortijo’s band.

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