Sun | Jan 20, 2019

Counting before Christmas

Published:Sunday | October 19, 2014 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Contributed Prince Buster
File Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert

As October edges up to November – and none too slowly at that - the merchants of good cheer are revving up to start the countdown to the day when presents that are supposed to bring happiness are opened. For while putting up the cheery Santa Claus and his elves, as well as Prancer, Dasher, Rudolph, and the rest of the reindeer sets the mood, it is the 10, and nine, and eight days left for Christmas shopping that really bring on the urge to go out and buy.

However, in Jamaican popular music, the count, whether down or up – or the listing of items in sequence – is liberally applied outside of Christmas.

One prominent example is Toots and the Maytals’ Six and Seven Books of Moses in which Toots Hibbert, who has the voice of a preacher and moves of a Saturday Night Fever regular, goes through a number of books in the Old Testament. In the biblically based number, he sings:

“You have Genesis and Exodus

Leviticus and Numbers,

Deuteronomy and Joshua

Judges and Ruth

The sixth and the seventh books

They wrote them all

The sixth and the seventh books,

They wrote them all”

On the other hand, Bob Marley and the Wailers put a number on each item as they count the numbers on the streets at home as they journey far away from familiar territory in Natty Dread:

“Then I walk up to First Street

Natty Dread

And then I walk up to Second Street

Natty Dread

Then I trod on through Third Street

Natty Dread

And then I talk to some dread on Fourth Street

Natty dreadlock inna Fifth Street

Natty Dread

And then I skip one fence to Sixth Street

Natty Dread

I’ve got to reach Seventh Street”

There is a change in tone as the distance from familiar space hits, and Marley sings:

“Natty 21,000 miles away from home

And that’s a long way for Natty to be from home”

From Beenie Man’s statement of three bad-man laws, back to Prince Buster’s commandments of man to woman, counting is common in Jamaican popular music. However, Prince Buster’s is a standout. How could it not be, with this start:

“These are the ten commandments from man

Given unto woman

Through the inspiration of I, Prince Buster


Thou shall have no other man but me.”