Wed | Aug 23, 2017

When Lik Wood just meant rewind

Published:Thursday | October 8, 2015 | 10:00 AMMel Cooke
Beres Hammond
Dennis Brown
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There is a popular - or maybe in the context of today's Music and More topic, it should be once popular - a song introduction and general dancehall vibes-up slang that goes, "lick wood mean rewind and gunshot mean forward".

It is about the reaction to a boom tune or performer's lyric in a dancehall with a perimeter made of board, which, in the transient spaces carved out by the economically deprived who create something from nothing, provide a literal sounding board to register approval. In other words, man beat down board fence when tune buss inna dem head and di selector or performer needs to rewind and repeat it.

The gunshot is a forward - approval of the most emphatic sort, which demands a 'pull up', as in restarting the tune.

These days, though, one would be hard-pressed to create an introduction which speaks about lick wood, not only because fewer dancehalls are bordered with board, but it would die an early death to the language cops of Jamaican popular music. There is an insistence (bordering on mania) in some quarters on keeping language 'correct' to the detriment of creativity.

So anything that stands the slightest possibility of being interpreted as a reference to homosexuality or oral sex is a no-no. It is a poor substitute for poor writing skills, this feral fascination in some quarters with walking the straight and very narrow lyrical line, which, if applied some time ago, would have resulted in some genuine 'lick wood' and 'forward' moments being lost to us.

'Young and gay'

A classic example is Dennis Brown's take on Should I, done over by Richie Stephens. I am always amused when I see big tough man at parties singing lustily along to "am I to go on now, living this way / acting like a child so young and gay". Of course, 'gay' just meant happy for Jamaicans when the song was made; now it also means homosexual. I have absolutely no problem singing the couplet, but with the music language cops on patrol, it would not have been recorded in this era.

Then there is a Beres Hammond classic, one of many from his songwriting canon, in which he tries to think up what he should tell the lady at home when he turns up in the wee hours of the morning. As he racks his brain, searching for a reason to present for not being at home (apart from the truth of being with another woman) he muses that it better be good, so "should I tell her I had a confrontation with Robin Hood?"

Obviously, he can't. The line underscores his desperation. The futility of his attempt suggests that maybe he has done this so often that he has run out of options and has retreated to a childhood storybook character. But would a songwriter facing the Double Trouble (as the song is named) of that predicament now be able to turn that excellent line without the protestations of the language police?

Nope.

One singer who has an eye for the ladies passing by relates that he would call out his honeybunch and ask "Can I have you for my dinner have you for my lunch?" It is just an invitation to eat together, but in this era, it would be interpreted from the get-go as a proposal of oral sex and the tune and singer would be looked at askance.

Let us not forget the 1980's Colin Roach sound system battle song, Champion Sound in which he sings, "One night my sound was in a contest / we lick anadda sound boy them had to confess." He simply means that the opponent was soundly whipped and conceded defeat. That song would be hard-pressed to find a hardcore audience if it was being done now. Not only was there a licking, but also a confession - and not only to a member of the priesthood, we can conjecture.

Doing over a rhythm from an earlier period in Jamaican popular music is customarily called licking over a riddim. Can musicians say that now without someone bawling out NO? In one introduction, Bounty Killer announces, "Bounty Killer pon de borderline". This is before Shebada converted said borderline into something about sexuality, and not the combat zone where he stands with something "polish and shine", ready to take on adversaries.

These are just a few examples. There are cases where language has changed (such as gay), but in others it is an insistence of keeping things 'correct' as the lyrics cops would have it be in a time when they feel the borders of what is normal being shifted.

But how much creativity is being suppressed by concerns about being correct and inordinate?

melville.cooke@gleanerjm.com