Monday, March 30, 2009
RONNIE NASRALLA’S ‘LESSONS TO LEARN’
Ronnie Nasralla’s book “Lessons to Learn” could have also been titled “A Brief History of Entertainment and Marketing in Jamaica”. I remember the wonderful photographs of Ronnie with local and foreign stars, lining the walls of his office at West Kings House Road where the Canadian High Commission now stands. He and the late creative genius Celli Mahwingkee ran the dynamic NCM advertising agency.
The book is written in true Ronnie style – warm and honest. He had a stint at teaching at Campion Hall, the predecessor to Campion College and among his charges were Gordon “Butch” Stewart and jazz pianist Monty Alexander. Ronnie reminds us of the importance of strong friendships and the power of the human spirit. Ronnie recounts the beginnings of “Byron Lee and the Dragonnaires” comprising a group of St George’s old boys. He managed and promoted the band for 35 years, taking its name far and wide. Ronnie speaks admiringly of founder Byron Lee: “a professional …a strong disciplinarian, with band rules that all had to follow or else out!”
By 1965, Ronnie had over 50 musicians under his management, including the Blues Busters, Toots and the Maytals, Pluto Shervington and Ernie Smith. Recalling his early years working in clubs where “bands played for as long as eight hours in dimly lit bandstands (receiving) little or nothing to eat or drink”, Ronnie had promised himself that he would do something to change all that. They advanced on the Annual General Meeting of the Musicians’ Union, brought in a new regime, the new Jamaica Federation of Musicians with Sonny Bradshaw as President and Byron Lee as VP. Our musicians should know that it was through Ronnie’s initiative that, to this day, “bands play for only 5 hours maximum, get 3 breaks, a hot meal and at least 2 rounds of drinks for each engagement.”
He was refused entry at Liguanea Club in the late 60’s, “because I was Lebanese. I found out afterwards that (they were also against) Jews, Chinese, Indians and Blacks.” Ronnie worked to gain membership and by 1982, was elected president of the Club. He collaborated with Arthur ‘Turo’ Ziadie to open its doors “to every Jamaican, no matter what race or colour”, recruiting the impeccable James Samuels as the Club’s new manager.
Ronnie now lives in Atlanta with his dear Rosemary, enjoying the accomplishments of their seven wonderful children. There are many other great stories in this book, but no more – get “Lessons to Learn” at the Dougalls, Ardenne Road!