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We need more artists like trailblazer Ras

IONEERS: Ras Elroy Bailey (third from right) and Black Slate brie y hit the charts with reggae song Amigo, but the band was best known for heavy roots and culture tune Sticks Man

WE LOST another great member off the 'golden generation' of black Brutish music the other day.

Ras Elroy Bailey was the bassist with the group Black Slate who came out of north London in the late 1970s and hit the top of the charts for a single week with the UK pop reggae song Amigo.

Amigo was for the mainstream charts. On the UK street level the group was best known for the heavy roots and culture tune Sticks Man which was, unusually, sung by Ras Elroy. It wasn’t just the heavy bass line (a classic of reggae inna Inglann) that made this a hit tune on seven- and 12-inch in dem days, but also the lyrics of the song.

Sticks Man is the story of what we had to do to maintain, let alone survive, with our heads held high as young black men in the European disposition that our parents had brought us into when they left their sunshine homes looking for a better life.

Still, let’s not blame our elders for that grave mistake. How were they to know back then that we would have fared much better had they stayed where they were in the Caribbean or in Africa?

How were they to know? How were they to know that they were condemning their children and their children’s children to an unmitigating eternity of remorseless antithesis to the black condition? How could they have known that their sons would not be given the opportunity to thrive and be men by a system that isn't interested in giving them jobs or any other basic human rights?

So, back to the ‘sticks man’. When I say it was what we had was to do, I should really qual- ify it by saying that was what some of us rebellious yutes decided we had was to do. In reality, of course, we didn’t had was to do it at all. It’s just that when you grow up in certain dispensations you don’t know any better.


When you grow up in the dispensation that I was in back in the ghetto of Tottenham, north London, in the 1960s and 1970s and, even before you started wondering why you were being set upon by the pack of baying wolves that was the ‘system’, you were looking up at some of the older yutes who were exing like they didn’t have a care in the world.

They looked like they didn’t have the cares of your father and mother who went to work all day and every day (except Sunday) and, day by day, you saw the daily grime wearing them down – slowly but surely.

The ‘sticks man’ wasn’t having none of that. And, as a yute, I couldn’t help wondering..... Well, it was this continuous wondering that sucked me in.

Before I knew it I was sucked into the world of the ‘sticks man’, the pickpocket, by the older yutes who I looked up to and before I knew it I was graduating form the school of the 'sticks man' having learned how to dip my fingers in your pocket without you even knowing it and relieving you of your hard-earned money in the leather wallet you stashed it in – whether in your back pocket or your breast pocket.

It was an unwritten rule, I won’t lie, at the ‘university of the sticks man’, that you had to ‘stick it’ to the white man the way the white man was sticking it to your parents every single day of their working lives, just because they are white and just because your parents are black.

It took me a full three weeks, but I eventually graduated. And... while I’m not proud of it, I graduated with a first class honours in ‘sticks man’. By rights, with that quali cation, I shoulda gone all the way to the top... of the queue to jail. And I would have if it had not been for that Black Slate tune that Ras Elroy sang. Because the repetitive refrain in the song is: “Sticks man, why you do dat? Robber man, why you do dat?”

I cannot thank Ras Elroy enough for saving me from a life of ignorance. Because, as we now know, the ‘sticks man’ of yesteryear is the ‘waste man’ of today and tomorrow. And, even though I never knew him and he never knew what part he played in my upliftment, Ras Elroy would get in touch by text message every now and then when I was broadcasting live on the BBC to let me know that he was listening and the he loved my programmes and he was a big fan of mine. I couldn't believe it. I had too ask live on air, "Is that really The Ras Elroy from Black Slate?"

And he would reply by text that it was. And my eyes would literally ll up with tears, though unable to disclose what I am disclosing here – that this man saved me from a life of unnecessary criminal drama.

By all accounts he was a decent dread too. Even as I write this Joel has just passed through my yard, and we got to talking and he mentioned Ras Elroy without realising that I was writing this tribute.

Joel was one of the yutes that Ras Elroy looked out for as an up and coming musician. He took Joel under his wing and showed him how the music business works. Joel added that Elroy was one of the nicest guys – always happy and positive and full up of jokes.

We need more musicians (and people in general) like Ras Elroy in our lickle black community. If there were a couple more artists like him, some of the black yutes wouldn’t be stabbing each other up.

Okay, there would still be some ignorant ones who don’t get the message as there were with ‘sticks men’, but a regular diet of conscious lyrics amidst all the other bad bwoy yarns would speak to yutes loud and clear and hold a mirror up to their bad ways by showing them they don’t ‘had was to do’ foolishness and other non-positive behaviour to maintain, let alone survive.

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