A Foggy and Raggy road
It is a happy coincidence that two of my all-time favourite Jamaican popular music performers, Capleton and Burning Spear, have songs with similar titles which use travelling by road to represent life struggles, through which they are assisted spiritually.
Burning Spear's Road Foggy and Capleton's Raggy Road were released decades apart, but are actually chronologically closer in music than the gap between release dates indicates. Like other Studio One artistes who later reworked their songs, the original single, Foggy Road, from the early 1970s was redone as the more popular Road Foggy (with the name reversed) on the 1980 Hail H.I.M. album. Raggy Road is on Capleton's 1997 I-Testament album, close to quarter century after Foggy Road was released on Burning Spear's Rocking Time album in 1974.
However, the music for Raggy Road is from 1969, as it is set to the rhythm for Satta Massagana, recorded by The Abyssinians. It is not surprising, then, that both songs feature impressive hornlines - they are both from that wonderful era where a Jamaican recording was not quite complete without saxophone, trombone and trumpet.
Commitment to Jah
Lyrically, Raggy Road has much more words than Road Foggy - which does not mean that one or the other says less or more. And they both speak about difficulties on the road, which can be taken literally or figuratively. What they do have in common, though, is a commitment to Jah to take the traveller through difficulties.
Both are largely solitary journeys, with sparse mention of human companionship. Burning Spear sings:
"My way is so long and the road is so foggy foggy
My head never swell, my heart never leap, I never have no fear for anything."
He does not fear because he has a source of strength to call on to protect him from the human elements which would present themselves as obstacles. And although they are enemies, Burning Spear does not take an adversarial stance:
"Be with I Jah Jah
They and them that hate I
They and them that fight against I
Some of them judge I wrongfully
But never mind my brother I will go on."
Using his style of repetition, plus extended sections where the horns are given a lead role, Burning Spear's concise lyrics make for a full song.
On the other hand, Capleton goes to town lyrically on Raggy Road, packing in longer verses also to the excellent results that Road Foggy also enjoys. The song's strength is underscored by its placement and the crowd's reaction at Sting 2014 where, after a long early morning set, Capleton said he could not leave without doing Raggy Road and duly delivered it.
While Burning Spear sees obstacles along the way that Jah helps him overcome, for Capleton it is the choice of faith that makes for a difficult journey. He is informed about the hardships he will face from the very faith that he has chosen, as Raggy Road starts with the spoken introduction, "and I saw an I-ngel ascended from the east having the seal of the living king, Emperor Haile Selassie the First, the Most High. And he cried out in a loud voice, saying oh oh".
Capleton transitions seamlessly from speech to song as he does the chorus:
"It is a raggy road
Road is so rough
Road is so tough."
It is not until close to the end of Raggy Road that Capleton actually identifies the life journeys that prove so difficult:
"It is raggy road
Emanuel road so rough
A raggy road
Selassie I road so tough
A raggy road
Marcus road so rough."
In-between, he speaks about his time on the path and the integrity with which he has travelled, despite efforts to derail him
"Trodding this road for the longest while an mi career nuff a dem waan fi soil (hey hey)
Trodding this road for the longest while an never yet try pop off all another man coil
Trodding this road for the longest while a long time David House an dem no stop till de soil
Trodding this road for the longest while and give away more than one tenth of the spoil
Trodding this road for the longest while until my lamp never run out a oil."
Capleton's attire signifies that he is ready for the journey and also sets him apart from the pack:
"De binghi man no mogel
Binghi man no pose
Inna me turban an me ancient robes."
Still, there are consequences to those who choose to oppose the good deeds of the faith:
"Whe dem a conceal
We come fi expose
De righteous works
Nuff try oppose...
Judgement take dem an den dem explode."