Part 1: Context
I first heard this song on a record of original Ska tunes from Jamaica [Intensified] during the 80s. (Ska is a rhythm and style of music that began in Jamaica in the early 1960’s as a forerunner of Reggae.) I thought the song was cryptic and haunting in a borderline psychotic way. I liked the off-beat lyrics and the drumming. I noticed some Rastafarian terminology but did not dwell on it. All I knew was it was sung by someone named “Marguerita”. It was not until the advent of internet and YouTube that I began to learn more about the singer and the (barely discernible) subject of the song. In fact, a book has been written about the song’s protagonist Don Drummond, the “Ungu Malungu man” of his ill-fated lover Margarita Mahfood.
Apparently she was a Jamaican of Lebanese heritage who had been a dancer. She was involved with the first Rastafarian communities, including Count Ozzie’s community at Wareika Hill. Drummond was the gifted trombonist of the band the Skatalites. He murdered her for unknown reasons in 1965 and later died in an asylum. Those are the sad facts as far as I can gather. I have not yet read Heather Augustyn’s biography of Drummond but I plan to.
I often wonder – does the sordid end of the singer behind the song add anything to our appreciation of the tune or does it just render it more disturbing?
Part 2: Unhinged Analysis
I am still moved by this song – as I was the first time I heard it, independent of the context (which I was unaware of until I had known the song for about 15 years). The words are powerful in a primordial way. From the first drum-roll and those crazy lines calling Jah Daughta’ from the “Penchurian Border”, this song plunges you into linguistic and cultural delirium. It is the voice of a lone woman yearning for her mysterious lover: the Ungu Malungu man, he who speaks the language of the breeze… and harmonizes with the symphonies in the trees. It’s an aural vision of Edenic splendor. And yet the woman is pining away in her solitary state. There is an echo of Billie Holiday in the word “Solitude” as she bends the note upward. She is not with her man – but she is waiting for him as she sings to an unknown audience:
“if you see him before I do / please give him my heart-message so true
tell him I don’t want to live without him / for I’ve been lost and lonely and blue…
He is my love my life my all…”
It has something of the surreal intensity of Song of Songs; the Shulamite wandering lost in search of her Solomon. Romantic yearning is pushed to the point of hermeneutic breakdown and linguistic implosion. The words teeter on the Penchurian border of Ungu-Malungu nonsense – or is it glossolalia and soul communication beyond words?
Part 3: Lyric Line of Flight
Lebanese soul keening in the sea breeze of Jamaican dusk / falling into Caribbean depths from Levantine heights / Jah dawta danced her way from Lemuria to Penchuria / transported to the border from the country of madness / her steps sliding in the trombone’s skanking plaint / Queen Mother of Eden, world’s first woman / calls from island foliage to her King of Ace / singing from the interstices of her rib / where Eve turns Abel in Canaanite love / the notes of her melody slightly off / like country-style horns / the dissonance sharp – arresting / was he Adam or Lucifer to her ? / why did he enter her garden ? / no trace left of Margarita / just one pearl of pulsating thunder / love lost in the bloodshot eyes of her musical murderer / play on
Part 4: Poem
Margarita in Limbo
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover!
Coleridge, Kubla Khan
Rolling in calmly, herald of thunder
the border crossed—and then the madness reigns.
Subliminal rip-tides drag us under
while the Arawak arrow-poison drains.
Your Penchurian passport stamped: Anita
We follow your voice to Eden in memory
Pearl of great price in limbo; Margarita
you sing us a paradise purely sensory
Xaymaca met Lebanon on your isle
in Nature’s temple of living pillars.
The trombone slid as you flashed a smile,
turning rude boys into Rasta killers
You sang of a forest where word is thought
where love flows free in harmony’s vein . . .
in death your fame arrived unsought;
a three-minute heroine you remain—
but those three minutes liberate time,
set free the thunders of our soul
explode the colors of a tropic clime
where musical rhythm paints the whole
The skank turns into something different;
volatile, combusting like flaming rum.
The island downpours’ dark effluent
washes your wound. Selassie soon come . . .