Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 19th 2014 Contents DR KIM JOHNSON
Of course everyone will be cele-
brating Tubal Uriah Butler today
for launching the modern labour
movement, and maybe a few hats will be
tipped to his deputy Adrian Cola Rienzi,
who continued the struggle through legal
But it is about time Trinis give recognition
to the calypsonian and pan pioneer who led
the strikers, Rudolph Xavier, who was shot
and sentenced for it while Butler was in hid-
Born in 1911, Xavier, who passed away in
the 1990s, was the second youngest of his
seven siblings. They lived in Besson Street,
Port-of-Spain. His mother was a vendor in
When I met him years ago, he shared one
of his most vivid memories of the nearby
quarry from those days.
"I used to stand every morning by the gap
to see the prisoners from the jail marching
under turnkey protection, going to work," he
told me. "The men were wearing flourbag
jail clothes, in their belt every one have an
enamel or galvanize cup, and they carrying
tools--shovel, pickaxe, crowbar, sledge ham-
mer--marching from the Royal Gaol to the
He couldn t have suspected how close he d
come to joining them later in life. Opposite
was a barrack yard where on Sundays, the
little boy watched Grenadians holding their
African drum dances.
As a teen Xavier moved with his mother
to San Fernando, where history would touch
him. As he did in Port-of-Spain, he assisted
her vending in the market, but around 16, he
developed greater ambitions. He borrowed
an older brother s khaki trousers and, claiming
to be 21, he sought work in Pointe-a-Pierre.
He started rolling pitch oil drums in the
bond for six cents an hour, nine hours a day.
When that ended he got another job on a
pipe-fitting section, and there it was that he
began singing for his supper.
"There was no machines, no crane, no trac-
tor, no forklift," he explained. "Everything
was man-handled. If they had a tank to build,
men dragged the sheets there from the nearest
spot where the trucks dropped them."
They d put the steel sheets to roll on four-
inch pipes, and the men would be heaving
as they responded to the call of a chantwell:
Call: Mary gone a-mountain
Response: High land dey
Call: She gone for yellow plantain
Response: High land dey
Call: Hooray, Miss Mary
Response: High land dey
Call: What you going to cook today?
There were long, slow chants to drag steel
sheets with, shorter ones to lift rigs with,
staccato spoken call-responses for threading
pipes. Every one of the many different manual
gang tasks was done in the African fashion
to song, and the leader who set the rhythm
of work was the chantwell.
The chantwell s was an invaluable role
which depended on the inspiring qualities of
his singing and his sense of timing because
it determined the pace and efficiency of the
work. It was a job once done by a young Ald-
wyn Roberts on the railway in Arima.
"My job was to sing and to see if everything
was going properly, or else I d have to stop
the gang," said Xavier. "If you singing too
fast the men might bawl, Hold it, hold it,
but when it going good the fellas get a zeal
and they vex when the work stop. If we work-
ing near the road, people passing by would
stop and join us, because we working with
harmony and love."
Back home with his friends Xavier also
sang, this time to the rhythms of gin bottles
and lengths of bamboo. Sometimes he d sing
with more orthodox instruments, such as a
guitar or a cuatro, at a christening. And as
was inevitable, he became the chantwell lead-
ing a tamboo bamboo band, Toll Gate bamboo
band from Cipero Street.
That was where he limed, even though he
was living on Coffee Street in the 1930s, and
he quickly became known, because of his
leadership qualities, as King Xavier.
Then it happened. On Saturday, June 19
Cpl Charlie King was burnt to death in Fyz-
abad while attempting to arrest Butler.
The next day, Sunday, Xavier was helping
his mother in the market, where people were
grumbling about the attempt to arrest Butler.
On the Monday he went to work by Coffee
Street when a large crowd marched up calling
for King Xavier.
"Pointe-a-Pierre shut down and we going
to shut down Usine Ste Madeleine," they told
him. Intimidated, his boss closed the work-
place, and Xavier left with the protesters,
leading them with his singing, unifying the
determination of hundreds of men and women
with his improvised call:
• Continues on Page B2
...remembering calypsonian who led strikers
• Twitter: @GuardianTT • Web: guardian.co.tt
United in song
Newly retired from The Tonight Show, tel-
evision host Jay Leno is now being awarded
the top US humor prize for following in the
tradition of satire and social commentary of
Mark Twain, the Kennedy Center for the
Performing Arts announced Wednesday.
Leno will be honoured with the Mark
Twain Prize for American Humor in a per-
formance by his fellow comedians October
19 in Washington. The award recognises
people who have had an impact on American
society through their humour and social
"Like Mark Twain, Jay Leno has offered us
a lifetime s worth of humorous commentary
on American daily life," said Kennedy Center
Chairman David Rubenstein in announcing
the award. "For both men, no one was too
high or too low to escape their wit, and we
are all the better for it."
After learning about the prize, Leno said in
a statement that he s honored and is a big fan
of Twain s. (AP)
Jay Leno to get top US humour prize
Union members march into Fyzabad for
Labour Day in 2013. PHOTO: TONY HOWELL
Dr Kim Johnson speaks at a recent lunchtime talk at Nalis. PHOTO: KRISTIAN DE SILVA
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