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Keane started concentrating on playing music -- mambo, kaiso, highlife, and “free form” jazz. . . .

Some of his early poetry, probably because of his music, shows some of the first signs of the jazz

inflections that would come to significantly influence Caribbean freestyle and dub poetry decades later.

 

 

Shake Keane – The St. Vincent Connection 

in Modern Caribbean Literature

 

 

A House of Nehesi Caribbean Author Feature

News Release

Ellsworth McGranahan “Shake” Keane was born in 1927, in St. Vincent. He completed his early schooling on the island and worked at the St. Vincent Grammar School as a teaching assistant of Music, French, and English literature.

Keane was taught to play the trumpet by his father, Charles, and had his first public recital when he was six years old. At age 14 -- a year after his father’s death -- he led a musical band made up of his brothers.

In the 1940s, with his mother Dorcas working to raise six children, the teenager joined the Ted Lawrence and His Silvertone Orchestra and the horn-playing of Keane became a feature of the annual Vincentian carnival, better known as “Vincie mas’.”

Keane’s complimentary passion to music was poetry, which he had been writing since childhood. Before leaving for England in 1952, to study English literature at London University, Keane’s first two books, L’Oubli (1950, self-published) and Ixion (1952) were published.

He did not complete his formal studies in Europe, but went on to recite poetry and prose for, and eventually became a producer at Caribbean Voices, the influential BBC General Overseas Service program.

Keane started concentrating on playing music -- mambo, kaiso, highlife, and “free form” jazz. By the late 1950s and into the 1960s, he was considered one of the best flugel horn players in Europe and became known in international jazz circles.

Some of his early poetry, probably because of his music, shows some of the first signs of the jazz inflections that would come to significantly influence Caribbean freestyle and dub poetry decades later.

In 1972, the musician who had played with the likes of Lord Kitchener, the Joe Harriot Quintet, and Kurt Edelhagen, was back in the region, reciting his poetry at the first Caribbean Festival of the Arts (CARIFESTA) in Guyana.

In 1973, Keane accepted an invitation from the government in St. Vincent to serve as director of culture in Kingstown, capital of the island. In 1975, the department was closed after a change in the colony’s government administration.

In 1979, when of St. Vincent and the Grenadines became an independent country, Keane self-published The Volcano Suite - A series of five poems. That same year he won the prestigious pan-Caribbean literary prize, Cuba’s Premio Casa De Las Americas. Casa published the winning collection, One A Week With Water, concurrently in Havana.

In 1981, he attended CARIFESTA IV in Barbados and emigrated to the USA, where he was unable to find immediate work because of his immigrant status. But in Brooklyn, New York, where he settled with his third wife Margaret, Keane intensified his poetry writing and attended less to his music.

His poems have appeared in the literary journals Bim, Kyk-over-al, Savacou, and Caribbean Quarterly and have been anthologized in Caribbean Voices, Caribbean Verse, and You Better Believe It. The only CD of his music, Real Keen: Reggae into Jazz, was released in 1991 in London.

His contemporaries, literary giants, revolutionary poets, scholars, and admirers such as George Lamming, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Gordon Rohlehr, Philip Nanton, Val Wilmer, and Cecil Blazer Williams are among those who hail Shake Keane as one of the innovative fathers of modern Caribbean literature.

At age 70, ailing with stomach cancer, the gray-bearded giant who towered at six-foot-four, died in Oslo, Norway, in 1997--at the start of a jazz tour.

In 2003, Shake Keane, poet, musician, educator, was honored by his country with the unveiling of a life-size bust at the Peace Memorial Hall in Kingstown. Keane’s authoritative collection of six unpublished manuscripts is scheduled for publication in 2005.

OES Editor Note: Article courtesy House of Nehesi Publishers, © 2005. Sources: Margaret Bynoe. George Lamming. Nanton, Philip.  “In Memoriam - Ellsworth McGranahan ‘Shake’ Keane, 1927-1997,” Wasafiri Spring 1998: 40+. Nanton, Philip.  “Real Keane,” Caribbean Beat Mar.-Apr. 2004. Nanton, Philip.  “Shake Keane’s Poetic Legacy,” The Society For Caribbean Studies Annual Conference Papers. Ed. by Sandra Courtman. 2000: 1. Rohlehr, Gordon. “The Problem of the Problem of Form,” The Shape of That Hurt and other Essays. Port of Spain: Longman, 1992: 28. Val, Wilmer.  “Shake Keane - The anger behind a free form of jazz” (Obituaries), The Guardian 13 Nov. 1997: 18.

Photo Credits (above) Shake Keane, St. Vincent author and national hero with his trademark beard and beloved horn. (Courtesy M. Bynoe)

Contact

Lasana M. Sekou

542.4435 P.O. Box 460

Philipsburg, St. Martin

Caribbean

Tel/Fax (599) 542-4435

E-mail: Offshoreediting@hotmail.com

posted  11 April 2005

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update 2 August 2012

 

 

Home  Inside the Caribbean  Lasana Sekou

Related files: MAWA 2003  West Indian Narrative-- Part One  Part Two   Part Three  Part Four  Experiment in Haiti  West Indian Narrative

George Lamming and New World Imagination  Eric Roach and Flowering Rock  Kam Williams Interviews Colin Roach