Caribbean Fever - Your ONLY destination to all things Caribbean and more
To the U.S. government, Christopher “Dudus” Coke is Jamaica’s Al Capone. But for many Jamaicans, he’s more like Robin Hood-and he’s also a player in the local music business.
After the U.S. government issued an extradition order for Coke on Aug. 25, 2009, over alleged drugs and arms trafficking offenses committed in the United States, a number of reggae artists headed into recording studios to voice their opinions on the man known in Kingston as “the President.” Foremost among them was veteran roots reggae singer Bunny Wailer, whose “Don’t Touch the President” portrays Coke as a benevolent “Robin Hood from the neighborhood.”
“Dudus is a man of peace who makes sure people in his Tivoli Gardens community don’t commit crimes,” says Wailer, a founding member of the Wailers alongside Bob Marley.
Among Kingstonians, stories abound of how Coke has funded children’s education, paid for senior citizens’ medication and reduced crime levels. But that’s in stark contrast with Coke’s image as leader of a gang widely blamed for more than 1,400 murders. Coke is the current leader of Kingston’s notorious Shower Posse, co-founded by his late father, Lester “Lloyd” Coke.
The Jamaican government declared a state of emergency in the capital city May 23 as police fought gun battles with Coke supporters who oppose his extradition to the United States. The subsequent violence has reportedly led to the deaths of more than 70 civilians as police and army units continue their hunt for the alleged drug kingpin.
His music business connections involve his Tivoli-based company, Presidential Click, whose offices have now been converted into a police post by the authorities. It stages two major annual concerts: August’s charity show Champions in Action and the free pre-Christmas extravaganza West Kingston Jamboree. Both events have featured some of the biggest names in reggae and dancehall including Shaggy, Beenie Man, Elephant Man, Queen Ifrica and Tarrus Riley. Their future is now uncertain.
The most recent West Kingston Jamboree, held Dec. 7, 2009, at Tivoli Gardens’ community center, was notable for the public ending of a feud between dancehall superstars Vybz Kartel and Mavado. In front of several thousand cheering fans, the pair embraced and performed songs together. By brokering their appearance, Coke ended a longstanding musical war fought initially through the artists’ ultra-violent song lyrics, before spilling over into intermittent skirmishes between their rival fan bases.
“Getting warring gangs in Jamaica to sign peace treaties is something Dudus did regularly,” Mavado’s manager Julian Jones-Griffith says, “so Mavado and Kartel looked at it like, ‘If he can stop men out there from killing each other, then what is our lyrical feud to squash?’”
Through the years, Coke has been name-checked in several dancehall songs-not surprising, given popular music’s tradition of romanticizing outlaws, from “Stagger Lee” to the Mexican drug lords extolled in modern-day narcocorridos.
Two of the songs that have mentioned Coke were Wayne Marshall’s “It’s Evident,” which revels in “rolling high like the President” and Soltex 3000’s “Killa Walk Prezzi Bounce.” Both were initially issued in 2006 on Greensleeves Records’ “Redbull & Guinness” compilation.
Others have tak