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My quest for Rih’s history: Happy Birthday Robyn Rihanna Fenty

It was our penultimate night in Barbados after 3 weeks of island hopping in the Caribbean. As you may imagine, with major holiday blues at this stage and a lingering sense of irritation resulting from an incident with our hotel the previous night, I packed our bags grudgingly probably hesitantly, not looking forward to returning to England. Neil’s in the adjoining room emptying the safe to pack the gadgets, travel docs and all things saved. A thought springs to mind on how we could spend our last day in Barbados. “Babs, please when you have a moment, could you have a look at the pages of Lonely Planet, see if there are things we haven’t done in Bridgetown. Perhaps we can do something tomorrow”. I requested of him. Skipping through the pages, he responds, “Errrr, looks like we have covered most things darl”. A little deflated notwithstanding my sense of adventure dancing in pride at how much culture we managed to cover but also basking in satisfaction at how super chilled this holiday was. “Oh you know what we haven’t covered? I retorted. “What”? Neil responds. “I actually had on my list of places to visit Rihanna Drive. Could check that out tomorrow” I said, as I continued folding clothes into our luggage, an act which was becoming somewhat less cumbersome and as a matter of fact seemingly therapeutic in this situation. Neil maps out our proximity from Rockley to St Michael in anticipation for planning our travel schedules the next day. The next morning, after checking in, breakfast, and check out, we haul our luggage to concierge for baggage hold, hop on the infamous dollar bus in front of our hotel to Kensington Oval. How surreal. We are back to one the first places we began our trip 3 weeks ago when we watched the 3rd day of the cricket test match between England and West Indies. So we walked a few metres into what used to be known as Westbury New Road. Now renamed Rihana Drive.

Just before we got to the building, we met Rih’s former next door neighbor, a lady who was warm, friendly and kind. It was extra blazing that day in Barbados and actually for the first time since our trip, a little humid.

She invited us to her home to cool off, offered to show us a gift personally gifted to her from Rih. It was an album of Rihanna’s exclusive photos. Packaged in a white box and a perfectly designed cut design of ‘R’ in front, we could see it was signed, sealed and personally gifted to her.

We had a chat with her. I asked her about Rih and what sort of a person she is. She says in her Bajan accent “Lovely. Very lovely girl you know. She still comes round to visit us when she is in town. She was around recently. She don to earth, very friendly, plays too much, full of energy. We call her Robyn round here. Everyone from here knows her as Robyn. We love Robyn”. I replied “Yeh,man”! She added, as I slowly flicked through the album, pausing to admire a very striking photo of this beautiful, sexy cleopatra. “This is Robyn when she was a good girl. Now she good girl gone bad” And we all cracked up in unison. We thanked her, signed the book and tipped her for hosting us. So that’s how we ended the holiday visiting Rihanna’s former home where she lived and grew up as a little school girl. Perfectly positioned in the middle of the drive.

The street (or drive) consisted of old fashioned, traditional Bajan style bungalows. There were all contrastingly decorated with bright colored wall paint, summer garden flowers and porche ornaments holding unique titles. It was bright and clean. A cute little street. You could see it was probably once a run down community. Potentially evident in its residual unmanicured characteristics. It was very quiet other than a few mechanics at the top end of the road working on a van. It was like ghost town. I gathered the locals are probably tired of cars pulling up on their street, tourists loitering, taking photos and perhaps trying to chat up neighbors that they now all hide away from the unending activity. I could be totally wrong. So yes, to honour one of the greatest artists of my generation, the Bajan government honours Rihanna by naming Westbury New Road after Rih on their 51st year of Independence. How many superstars get that eh? Oh I must mention, as we left the neighbour’s home, her husband pointed us to the owner of the building who had just pulled up from his car. A local Bajan guy with gold teeth and heavy jewelry. He appeared like a typical American hip hop rap star about to shoot a music video. Heavy duty outfits, dark sunshades and a toothpick stashed to one corner of his lip garnished with a bit of swag. You could see he was trying so hard to stand out, perhaps to make a statement as an attempt to appear special. You know. “I own this house which y’all murderfuckers from across the globe travel to visit”. It was funny. He greeted us nicely and we stopped to chat briefly with him. He tells us they are blessed that Robyn was discovered. He informs us that Rihanna’s mum rented the property from his family which he now runs. He thanks us for coming. Tbh I couldn’t catch some of the things he said as his accent was strong man! The pride the Bajans have for Robyn is overwhelming. They celebrate her everywhere. It warmed my heart. She is literally their diamond. They couldn’t have found a better noun coined from her own record. After taking it all in, I mean - this little girl’s history and her current reality as a top global female artist, we wander back through Cheapside to Broad Street before hitting the Old City Bar at old Bridgetown for our departure drinks.

Did I mention it was Friday on the island. What a depressing day to be going back home I said to Neil. Everyone knows Fridays are island days for fried fish, rum punch, partying and having a damn great time. Bridgetown is buzzing with music from all corners. But we fly tonight. It’s a grand logistical mistake. “Could we squeeze in Oistins for Friday Fish Fry before heading to the airport Babs?” I asked coyly. Neil responded “I would love that too darling, but that would be pushing it. We will miss our flight. It’s too tight for time.”. He said this with no conviction whatsoever that we needed to be at the airport for 5pm. He was right. I was being a silly little girl. We dreaded heading home. So there! Rihanna Drive The reality of this little girl’s dream fascinated me after this visit. You read their (stars’) stories and hear crap on media about their lives and we almost forget many of them started off worse than some of us. Less privileged than many regular everyday people. We fail to relate with their reality, their hustle, their talent and art which has been a steady trajectory to their success and wealth. We don’t recognize their dreams, their histories, their suffering, their deprivation. We see them ready made and judge them if or when we don’t like them. The world is disgusted by their wealth as if it was simply handed to them on a platter. Rihanna lived in a little home with her Mum and wider family, a home located in what was previously a very deprived community. But she had big dreams. She had grit. She was a born star. Bigger than her reality, her community, even her country. This little beautiful Bajan girl is now a global superstar who has sold over 250 million records. Let’s not even talk about her beauty line, Fenty. As a young black woman, I find her story beyond remarkable. Now, If this doesn’t inspire anyone, I don’t know what will. "Welcome to Rihanna Drive... My home. My whole life was shaped on this very road. I was just a little girl riding bikes, running around barefoot, and flying kites in the cemetery, but I had BIG dreams. Dreams that were born and realized right here. Thank you to my family, my country and the people of Westbury New Road! You will forever be a part of who I am, and for that I am honored to have this place named after me.” Robyn Rihanna Fenty I celebrate this woman today as she turns 31. I celebrate her for an amazing mark she has made in this generation as an artist. Her art is genius. She may not be every one’s cup of tea but she is a diamond. I will leave you with her quote... “I know that saying 'believe in your dreams' it sounds cliché, but I guarantee you the only thing that got me here was believing in my dream." Happy Birthday Rih xx 20th February 2019

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