Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would do what I did last night. As all of Jamaica should have been doing. As all Jamaicans living and dead should have been doing. As all people who love to see people reach for their highest star should have been doing. I was doing it. I was in front of my television watching NBC’s The Voice. Tessanne Chin, from my beautiful island of Jamaica, was in the finals–down to the last three singers. We knew this from last week. Tonight was the night. I had no idea the day before that I would feel as I did now.
Up until a few weeks ago, all I knew about The Voice was what I read and heard from friends who had been following for some time. I heard about the Jamaican singer, who used to back Jimmy Cliff. I tuned in. I was transported into another world. Tessanne sang Pink’s ‘Try’. The world had a new star, right here on Earth, and she was Jamaican and proud of it. She wanted the world to know about “bred an butta”. No twang. No shame in how she spoke. We heard and saw the love from her father as he watched “My baby” sing. The roller coaster was on its way.
I wont go back over the weekly dramas that got us to last night. It was a thrilling ride that seemed to reach places farther in our emotions than singing usually can. It was goose pimples every time “Our Tess” reached and held a high note. Her eyes a little moist. Her coach stuttering; speechless again. Our eyes, filled with tears. We hope for so much. She did not disappoint. She sang difficult songs. Not difficult because of what they demanded from a singer, but difficult because of what many of the songs represented.
The one-time back-up singer for Jimmy Cliff paid him the ultimate tribute with her rendition of ‘Many rivers to cross’ and she crossed the many rivers with the first bars.
Tessanne did the very dangerous thing of singing one of the iconic songs from our national hero who is not a National Hero, our most unifying person over many decades: Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ speaks to Jamaicans (and I hope the world) in ways that no other song can or does.
We were all emancipated from mental slavery.
Jamaicans cannot tire of saying “We likkle but we tallawah”. My little daughter and I are in Miami, with her mother (who’s attending a conference). We two walked around South Beach yesterday morning. It was unseasonably cold, in the mid-60s degrees fahrenheit. I was jabbering about ‘tallawah’. “What does that mean?” she asked. “Stong and sturdy,” I told her. I did not see in her the image of Tessanne, but I could have easily.
In the evening, she asked her mother if we could invite her colleagues to our room to watch The Voice together–about 40 people. I poo-poo-ed her idea and we discussed how it would not be practical. You know, being very adult and proper. We went to our room and started to put on pyjamas for bed. “You see. Imagine if we had 40 other people in here now. How could we cavort around comfortably?” She got the message. We turned on the two TVs in the hotel room. The Voice in real stereo, surrounding us with sound. We sang along with every performance that Tess put on. Our girl and we were proud of her. “We’re biased,” I said to my daughter as we critiqued what others sang and how other coaches performed. Tessanne and her coach, Adam Levine, were perfect in our eyes, in our minds.
Then, she sang her final song, Whitney Houston’s ‘I have nothing’. For us, she nailed it.
Simply, again, all the words had their intended meanings and more. If I don’t have you! Tessanne had us…had all of us.
We ran metaphorically as soon as the show ended and began voting–early and often. Proud to have many email accounts. Proudly pounding phone keys. “Thank you for voting for Tessanne Chin…” Only 10 votes each time? How could we vote more? We were like crazed and hungry people hunting for crumbs–all of the people we knew had to understand that they had to support our efforts. Messages went worldwide. Spread the word! Enough would not be enough, until it was more than enough. She had to win!
My daughter curled into her bed. “Have you voted, Daddy? I’ve sent in all of Mummy’s votes and I’m calling now on Skype.” I did not, this one time, tell her to put down ‘that device’. “Ring away, child!” I thought. She pulled the covers up and went to sleep quickly.
I followed messages from friends on Facebook and Twitter during the show and burst out laughing too often to count and they praised Tessanne and savaged her opponents and their coaches. I kept following messages into the late night. How as Tessanne doing? Very well, it seemed, as I was fading and needed to sleep.
But, now the hardest part of the journey is still before her and us. We want this result badly. I want it very badly. Our reputation needs this result. Small is beautiful. We are small and despite all of our flaws as a nation, we are beautiful people.
Tessanne wont save our economy. She wont stop us killing each other. She won’t save Goat Island. But, she will raise eyes to look at us anew. The same way the Jamaican singers whose songs she sang did. The same way that the very perfectly flawed Whitney Houston did: her soul, at rest, must have glowed as the notes reached higher.
Dawn is about to break and a few hours of voting remains. That’s the prosaic part. A Jamaican friend in Bulgaria whom I urged to vote replied “Have mi dutch pot right sida mi gettin ready fi celebraate!” We think Tessanne brought down the house. We want to know that everyone else thought so, too. Please win for yourself, Tessanne, and win back a little something for us.