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Merritone goes Cuba with love

By Howard Campbell
Observer senior writer

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Merritone Memories Dream Cruise from South Florida to Havana, Cuba, is being hailed as a success by its principals. According to Monte Blake of Merritone sound system, response to the February 26March 2 sail exceeded expectations.

“It was a fantastic voyage. Based on exit polls and unsolicited comments, it was a resounding success,” said Blake.

The cruise was organised by Paul “Mr Flavours” Johnson, a Jamaican events promoter who lives in South Florida. It took place on the Majesty Of the Seas liner, which sailed from Fort Lauderdale to Key West off the Florida Keys to the Cuban capital.

Johnson estimates that over 2,400 fans made the trip. Most of them were Jamaicans — many of whom live in South Florida, the tri-state area and Canada.

“The five days and four nights were filled with activities and theme parties, with Turntable Night and the Pajama Party night being the favourites,” Johnson told the Jamaica Observer.

Johnson dedicated the venture to Winston “Merritone” Blake, who was synonymous with his family's sound system until his death in February 2016 at age 75.

Monte, his younger brother, said the cruise is a novel idea to not only keep the Merritone name alive, but for Jamaicans to experience Cuba, their much-maligned neighbour.

“Havana is a delightful city to explore, with bars filled with live music and generally very friendly folks. Future cruises should have a dedicated party room for the 'Merriments' family; also a bigger accent on Jamaican cuisine.”

Live entertainment came from singer Michael Schloss, brother of Cynthia Schloss, Winston's wife who died in 1999. The Kool Vibes Band from St Vincent and The Grenadines replaced singer/musician Benjy Myaz, while Monte Blake, DJ Fernando Bogle, Norman Lake, Eric Cyrus, Richie Clarke and Mikey Thompson, manned the turntables.

Johnson selected Cuba as the cruise's stopover spot because of its close ties to Jamaican culture. Several Jamaican musicians, including Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso of The Skatalites, and Rita Marley, were born there.

McCook and Alphonso, both saxophonists, were pioneers of ska, which emerged from Jamaica in the early 1970s. That sound is strongly influenced by Afro-Cuban music.