Monday, April 22, 2024

Fatman Weekes singing the blues


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Don’t hang this reggae master on the wall yet; for while he seems to have been forgotten by a few of his generation, and music fans under 20 don’t know him, he helped to make dub “the force” in Barbados.
When Irvine Fatman Weekes won the 1984 Richard Stoute Teen Talent competition, it was a victory against the odds: dub was still very much a subcultural genre enjoyed solely among “ghetto yutes” in the Farm and New Orleans, and most of Weekes’ Teen Talent rivals were covering hits from the biggest international acts of the day, such as Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.
But the then 18-year-old Weekes, encouraged by the show’s founder Stoute, went to the stage with two original dub numbers, Barbados Island In the Sun and Liberty. The rest, as they say, is history.
‘I won with dub when people were fighting it down in Barbados. In those days, only about four dub songs used to play on the radio, and when people knew I was entering Teen Talent, they asked me what foolishness I was singing,” he recalled.
In fact, those were the days before the popular chanters like Kid Site and Li’l Rick came to the fore. “In my time there were chanters in the Orleans like Kapula, Ranking and Papa Browne; and the Farm had Itchie, Rico, Shovel and Echo, but I took it to the national level by winning Teen Talent,” he stated.
It was after this fuse was lit that a fresh breed of DJs like Kid Site, Li’l Rick, Daddy Plume and Ranking Rickystepped onto the scene.
Today, Fatman is a healthy-looking 130 pounds lighter than the 360 pounds he carried “back in the day”, but he has to use a walking cane and can no longer rock local dub parties or tour St Vincent or Jamaica, as was his full-time job prior to a serious vehicular accident in September 2008.
Sitting in the passenger seat of an uninsured car, he suffered a broken right femur, which had to be refitted with steel implants. The resultant pain, he recalled, caused him to have to use painkillers routinely, but he was not eating as well as he should have been, which led to a bad case of acid reflux.
“As a result, I have had to watch my diet much more rigidly. But it has caused me to lose 130 pounds in a year, and I’m now lifting dumbells to tone,” the artiste told WE Magazine.
But misfortune struck again late last year, when his mum Christophene passed away. “That set me back somewhat, because to lose a mother isn’t easy,” he added.
Now, Fatman is not only fighting his way back to good health and fitness – since he also used to win dancing competitions executing the Bogle and Butterly on the floor of Frontline disco in Cavan’s Lane, The City in the 1990s – but he wants to get back on the stage and in the studio.
“Music was always my full-time job; playing at parties as a DJ, touring St Vincent, St Lucia, Jamaica and Grenada to perform, and making a contribution to Crop Over,” he recalled.
Few can forget the trio known as 1 000 Pounds Of Blubba that set Crop Over ablaze and took Fatman, Biggie Irie and Mighty Whitey to the top of the regional charts with Rub De Belly Pon Me. For that song, he also won a Nation Publishing Company music award for Best New Artiste in 1997.
“To see ‘big’ people doing something felt good! I really enjoyed representing the ‘big massive’,” was how he described the song which was, in many ways, a response to Mac Fingall’s Big Belly Man.
Memories like these are now bittersweet, since his pride in seeing local reggae artistes progress is also mingled with the fact that his name is hardly remembered.
“I hear Barbadians talk about all kinds of dub people and they don’t call my name. They seem to forget Fatman, but I’m the one who made the dub kick off in Barbados.”
“I really want to get back on the scene. It’s been too long,” he added wistfully, noting that his last national stage appearance was around 1999.
Some of his most memorable moments were outside of Barbados, though: the first was a show in St Vincent at which Cutty Ranks was the headliner but the crowd kept calling for Fatman. “Jack Farrell [the veteran promoter] had to take me back to St Vincent twice in one week,” he recalled.
The second was when reggae superstar Buju Banton, now serving time in prison in the United States, called him on stage to chant two songs with him in St Lucia.
“Reggae has come far in Barbados – even studio-wise. I’m glad to see promoters giving local dub artistes some exposure. I’m also glad to see artistes like Peter Ram and Li’l Rick still holding on to the genre,” he told WE.
Weekes, who will turn 45 next month, has indeed come a long way as a result of his own positive outlook and the support of his close-knit family.
“It’s good to be nice to people when you’re up so that they don’t reject you when you’re down,” he advised, mentioning the support of his sisters Julie, Denise and Sita, and friends such as “Jah Wonder, Lawndie, Allan, Jack, Stephen Clarke, Richard Stoute, Gabby, Simeon and Ms Sawh”.
“I used to live good with people, and never got into any trouble or quarrel,” he added.
Having penned conscious songs like Yute Man Be Wise, Ain’t No Sense Turning Back and Return Of The Fatman, Weekes, whose favourite reggae stars include the late great Bob Marley, dub chanter Yellow Man, Buju, Sizzla and Luciano, also writes occasionally for young local artistes.
He is on the way back. 


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