Edward ‘Solly’ Solomon – heir to the CMEA Icon Award

Ah...the fashion styles of yesteryear. From left, Rob Lowe, Jah Mitch Ebanks, Ed Solomon and Jeff Japal.

I honestly cannot pin down the exact year and place that I first heard Edward Solomon performing, so I’m going to play it safe by saying it was a long, long time ago.

Being fascinated with calypso music since I was a young lad, the Carib–rhythms and back beats of the conga drum would send me daydreaming to the islands long before I ever pressed my toes into the white sands of the Caribbean.

Humble and the Meek

I do recall his band’s name. They were known as Humble and the Meek, and they were performing at what was then called the Apollo 11 Club in North Side (today known as Over The Edge). The musicians were dressed to a “T” in matching shirts and pants, sporting Afros the size of a stork’s nest.

As a rookie to Caribbean music, I was captivated by the sound, yet I could not take my eyes off the pretty North Side girls in their extra short mini-skirts that were so fashionable at the time. Tourists and locals gyrated across the dance floor while the band played an assortment of reggae, ska and American-style soul. My preference was the calypso music, and that evening Ed burst into one of my favorites – a risqué number filled with double entendres – a cleverly veiled Sparrow classic.

Infused with the scandalous lyrics and melody was the heavy rhythmic pulse of Ed’s drums to form the “flow of the calypso.” Ed grinned and swayed as his hands smudged the skins of the congas. A calypso or samba without a conga is like a country song without a steel guitar; the conga drums are essential in an island band. I could see that Ed was a master at this instrument, and along with his raspy, smoky lead vocals, Humble and the Meek were, without question, the most popular local band of that era.

There's no denying that Ed Solomon has a killer smile. - Photo: Stephen Clarke
There’s no denying that Ed Solomon has a killer smile. – Photo: Stephen Clarke

Music and fashion icon

Like most young men who grew up in Cayman in the ‘50s through the ‘70s, Ed spent some time at sea. However, the life of a mariner just did not suit him. Anyone who knows Ed, owner of Arabus Boutique in George Town, can only wonder how such a trendy, stylish man lasted any length of time on a rusty tanker in the middle of the Atlantic. It has been said that Ed Solomon is the Ralph Lauren of the Cayman Islands, where his musical skills may lean toward the jazzy side, but his taste in clothes is certainly swanky.

Arabus, located coincidentally on Edward Street in the islands’ capital, is the destination for Cayman’s designer buffs and passionate fashion aficionados. Walk around his shop and one can quickly see that Ed Solomon has an appreciation of well-made things.

Ed has always been a good friend of mine, yet when it comes to taste in fashion, Ed’s impeccable clothing sense and my nonchalant attire are like two ends of a lightning bolt. I’m a Wal-Mart man. Having said that, Ed once got me out of a predicament when I was asked to perform for a large gathering of conventioneers at The Ritz-Carlton. The event organizer insisted that I wear a tux. Me? In a tux? All I could do was laugh and refuse, and then they reminded me of a contract, so I went to visit Ed at Arabus for some apparel guidance.

By the time Ed had finished with me, I was standing on the stage donning a flowered shirt, a tux jacket with tails and black-striped tuxedo pants cut off at the knees in shorts style. Ed was playing congas behind me.

Ed-Solomon-(5)A performer at heart

After his stint at sea, Ed went to live with family in New York to finish his high school education. During that time, he started playing congas for the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, an assembly of young African-American modern dancers whose performances changed forever the perception of American dance. The experience was inspiring and cultural, however homesickness soon proved more powerful than the lights of Broadway.

Back home in Cayman, Ed joined up with Richard Ebanks, Leonard Bodden, Junior Jennings and Vivian Paddyfoot to form Humble and the Meek, as mentioned earlier. At the time, there was no radio, TV or cinema in Grand Cayman, so weekend dances were the main form of merriment. The venues were few but the band stayed busy playing at Club Inferno, The Galleon Beach Hotel, Eastern Queens and The Apollo 11.

Four decades later, Ed is still pounding the congas at Hemingways every Monday night alongside the Mainstream Band. Besides that gig, he is always in demand for private functions and studio recordings.

On the evening of Jan. 24, the Cayman Music and Entertainment Association awarded Ed with their highest honor – the ICON Award. It is an award presented to an individual who has significantly advanced the development of music and culture in Cayman. There is not much more to say except “well deserved.”