We Won’t Let Them Die!

“Lord” Byron Downing as he appeared in an interview from 2008.

We usually equate the Ukulele with the famous Hawaiian singers.

With the news of the death of one of the few remaining Panamanian Calypsonians, “Lord” Byron Downing, we can’t help but feel even more motivated and convinced that they are gone but not forgotten. We are also convinced of the great importance of preserving our wonderful Westindian heritage here in Panama and for the entire world to recognize and cherish.

Byron Downing left this world on Sunday April 24, 2011 to be with his ancestors.  He was only 79 years old, but, in his own humble way, he left a part of the Westindian Intangible heritage behind that will never fade from our cultural scene. The Calypso, that simple musical rhapsody that reached his soul,  made him become  known to the musical world of Panama as Lord Byron and he popularized the  “Push Push”song.  He also sang as lead voice with many popular groups including La Nueva Alegría, (The New Joy).

We picked up some details of his life from a series put out by Vanderbilt University, College of Arts and Sciences.  It is entitled Voices From Our America and in it you will find a section highlighting some Panamanians of West Indians descent.  Please do look it over as they include audio clips from the interviews of the personalities they spoke with.  Among them was Byron Downing and in his interview you are given a wonderful opportunity to listen to his voice during the interview.  Please check it out here; his accent, gentleness and exuberance just jump out at you.

A real grass roots artist, his best memories are from his childhood in Wachipali.  He says he was probably born in Bocas del Toro Province.  Both his parents, Doris Dowman (dedicated to domestic work) and James Emmanuel Moisden (a tailor), were from the Island of Jamaica and so were his grandparents.  From Bocas they went to settle in Wachipali of the district of Calidonia near the Little Market, the popular  Calabash Alley known to all childhood calypso enthusiast to be precise.

From there he admits that life as a young person was filled with adventure and joy as well as many challenges since he says that back in those days there was extreme discrimination against blacks, especially the Westindian blacks who were the most visible and always harassed with the negative Chombo.  Naturally most black boys had to become adept at either ducking street fighters or learn to defend themselves somehow.  Hence, he says, he had to “fight, fight, fight.”   This was par for the course in those days when most black boys alone most of the time as he was had to always be ready to fight.

He reveals a very different environment in those days on the streets of Calidonia and of his Wachipali of Panama City and Colon.  The air was filled with a vibrant blend of West Indian English, Spanish what the Spanish called  Wari-Wari and also a great musical atmosphere.  He himself picked up and learned how to play the ukulele which, he admits, he could never buy strings for.  He met up with most of the famous Calypsonians of his time which we have described in our previous articles here, including The Mighty Sparrow whom he says he sang a duet with on one of his trips to Panama.

He remembers that the days of his youth were “the good ‘ol days” and, although this may seem like something trite coming from an old timer, he underscored it by saying that his ancestors, the Silver People, were a people who loved to go to church and he recalls the “jumpy-jumpy” churches, or the African derived churches and how he used to love that musical heritage.  We’ve described these “jump up” churches in our series on the Beji-nite legacy amongst our Westindian people in Panama.

We cannot say goodbye to this wonderful part of our cultural past as we are striving, working and actively promoting the restoration of our Panamanian Silver Heritage and culture.

Our Silver People Law, which seeks to legally establish the Black Canal Zone areas, particularly the Silver Cemeteries of Silver Corozal, Mt. Hope, Gatun and Paraiso as National Cultural and Historic Patrimony, just passed first debate at the Asamblea.  We know this because we were there vehemently presenting our case to the Honorable Legislators.  Needless to say, most of them were left wide eyed and open mouthed with the facts that we started to present to them.

We are presently preparing other  presentations for  our case in greater detail for the second and third rounds of debates after which, if it passes, it will go to Plenary Session to be signed into the law of the land.  We will keep you all posted on this important turn in our efforts.  In the meantime, dear readers, you have a lot of reading to catch up on in what is our Intangible Cultural Heritage.

This story continues.

12 responses to “We Won’t Let Them Die!

  1. I am glad to read your article. It seems some talented people just do not get the recognition they deserve sometimes. Lord Byron sounded like a very colorful and talented guy.

  2. I knew Byron growing up. He was in the Brigade with Scanna and Cafe, Chichombolo’s brother. They lived in Calabash Alley also called 3 Iron. You should have used a better photo of him. Ken

  3. Hey Kenny:

    That is all the photos we could get, man. You don’t know what we have to go through to get images and photos of our own people! By the way I remember all them Marshalls that you mentioned; but you didn’t mention Tito, or their cousins who lived at la “Cuchilla de Calidonia.” Also did you know them guys from “M” Street who used to gang up and go round beating up guys? Because I am still looking for some of them! (smile) And, I’m still looking for Ratón too and him hiding from me!

    But you have to wait for some more articles on them, especially how one of them met me the first day of school in Abel Bravo in Colon.

    Happy reading.

  4. Hey Dude, How is it by you ? I was Tito’s first trainer. You know that Tito died up here? Some one introduced me to Tito’s son in Brooklyn and the next week Leroy Pratt told me that the kid died. Do you remember their sister Mala? The guys on M street knew who they could mess with. I see Spider when he comes to NY from California. He is a different and very good guy now. Cuidate

  5. Hey Kenny:
    I really thought that Tito Marshall’s first trainer was Flaco Bala? You must have done a good job as a trainer because I remember my Compadre Jaslyn McLean (Pilito Bro), telling me that Tito, who he called “Pepsi Cola,” and “Punching Bag Tito,” got knocked out a couple of times in New York. Is that true?
    I was in California and I never ran into Spider or much of anybody from home.

    Hey, when you plan to come to Panama, send and tell me so we can meet and laugh about the old times in Calidonia.
    I still remember to “keep my chin up, hands up and my butt off the canvas!”


  6. I was in Panama in 2009 with my best friend Roberto Knott. Panama is the very best place to go. I just got turned off seeing black people beggging for money.

    I still have not gotten over that. I guess times are different now Most of my friends left Panama. Only Jetro, Grillo and Lindy are there. I took my grand kids and their Mom to Decameron. I ate a lot of stuff I was not supposed to eat.

  7. Kenny,

    You are so right re: seeing a new Panama.

    Although we have been living back here now for eighteen years we can’t help but to notice that we descendants of the Silver People are like we never existed in this country. That is why we started to work on giving our forefathers their rightful place in the history and culture of our country.

    Our work is not frivolous and we so have noted to the Diputados at the Asamblea Nacional. So, Dude, I myself want the whole world to know who did the work on that Canal they are enjoying.


  8. Roberto’ you are right on point there. I have problems with the people that pretend that everything is cool. When Robbie Knott and I transit the Canal I said our forefathers builtt this thing and they never transit it.
    When I was in Jaapan the catcher for Tachikawa AFB was a kid from Balboa ‘ when found out that I was Panamanian he said I was his homeboy’ told him no. He did not feel good about that, Ken

    • Hey Kenny:
      When were you at Tachikawa AFB? I was there from ’59-’62. Send me a rivate e-mail so that we can rap in private about this. However I had a similar experience with a guy who graduated from Christobal High school when I was in California. That is way we must learn about our Silver People forefathers and not let incidents such as those shadow our perception of our unique history and culture.

  9. Dude’ I saw Pilito when Roberto and I went to Panama. He was at a party at Brunnie Fishers house in a Area of Los Pueblos. She is Roberto’s sister, she is married to the Fisher kid. Small world.

  10. Kenny:
    Pilito and I go way back to those days when i was in primary school and Institute. But since the day I left Panama and came back the first time; I found that the man had couple of times showing me a two faced friendship, then I was removing too many dagers or “machetazos” from my back. So I decided to remove him from my sphere of influence.
    I know you would understand that comadres like those one dont need.

  11. Hola. I played for the Itazuke AFB Baseball Club. When we played the Tokyo Area teams (Tachi, Yokota, Johnson and Camp Zama and Yokohama Navy) We hung out there for a couple of weeks.
    We had spring training at Clarke AFB in Manila P.I.
    I was at Itazuke from 1956 t0 1958.
    Drop me a line directly and we can rap.
    Arigato Gozaimas.