Count Lasher: Jamaican recording star and banana lover, "lover" being the operative word. Image: MentoMusic.com
Background: The banana we eat today is a variety called the "Cavendish." But it isn't the breed your grandparents ate. That fruit was known as the "Gros Michel," and it was - by all reports - a bigger, hardier, and better tasting fruit than the one we now consume. But the Gros Michel was susceptible to a disease that wiped it out as a commercial crop by the 1960s. The Cavendish was only adopted because it resisted that disease. Today, a new form of the disease is back, and this time, the Cavendish is the banana getting sick. There's no cure in sight. But did everyone prefer the taste of the Gros Michel? Apparently not...
There are tons of banana songs - the Chiquita jingle and Day-O (actually called "The Banana Boat Song") are among the best known - but my current favorite has to be "Robusta Banana," a song recorded in the 1950s by a Jamaican singer named Count Lasher. Here's just one verse of the song, which mentions several banana breeds:
"Gros Michelle" she said, "is not too bad" - People like it when it is cooked with shad - But I don't eat shad. I eat fresh fish - So I've got to have Robusta in my dish"
I was made aware of the tune by Mike Garnice, an expert on Jamaican Mento, a musical precursor tp the ska and reggae most of us are familiar with. Mike read my book, and became a banana enthusiast: "I am now the foremost banana expert where I work, and always have an eye out for non-Cavendish varieties. I'm writing you to make you aware of a c.1956 Jamaican song about bananas. It's by Count Lasher, Jamaica’s greatest mento star. I think you’ll get a kick out of the lyrics. My next trip to Jamaica will have to include a Robusta!"
I had to let Mike know that Robusta is a form of Cavendish, and the reason it probably was preferred was because it was fresh! As noted in my recent post about Coquimba, the banana company that's trying to bring just-from-the-tree Cavendish to local markets in the U.S., a fresher banana tastes far better than one that's been shipped and stored and refrigerated and gassed (in order to delay ripening) on the way to supermarkets, as the bananas we buy are.
Jamaica was where the very first supermarket bananas (of the Gros Michel variety) imported to the U.S. originated, back in 1879 - they were imported to New Jersey by a sea captain named Lorenzo Dow Baker. He went into partnership with a New England entrepreneur named Andrew Preston, and the company they founded - Boston Fruit - is known today as Chiquita.