JLP takes over ‘Action’
As the general election draws closer, although the date is yet to be announced as the prime minister awaits a divine whisper, music is a significant part of the campaigning. Although popular Jamaican performers have appeared on political platforms and both major political parties have had songs made specifically for them (who can forget, Who Yu Voting fa? Labour!), there have been times when songs have simply been commandeered for campaigning purposes.
Last week, The Sunday Gleaner took a look at Pluto Shervington's I Man Born Ya and Michael Manley. Today, it is Nadine Sutherland and Terror Fabulous' Action in 1993.
Sutherland told The Sunday Gleaner the story in 2009.
Action, written and produced by Dave Kelly, has been named by Vibe Magazine among its top 20 duets of all time after making the US Billboard charts in 1994. A staple of the retro party scene - and which gets played on radio outside of the 'throwback' - with an enduring video in which Sutherland displays her considerable dancing skills, Action, is a sure party starter.
However, Action was connected to party business in another way which Sutherland was very concerned about. Action was used by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in 1993 for the general election campaign, Sutherland finding out in less-than-ideal circumstances.
"I remember going to the Tamika Awards and coming back and a man greeting me and saying, 'Congratulations! I hear your song on a political campaign'. By the time I left the airport, I was in shock when I saw the graffiti 'action, not a bag a mout'," she said. "Then I heard the version on the radio."
With public political affiliation a much more serious matter than it is now, Sutherland was understandably shaken.
"That time was one of the hardest in my life. I was nervous. I was afraid. I was like, 'I am not living this'. It was a different time. It was not 1980, but there were still people who believed that they should harm you if you were different," Sutherland said.
It was yet another turn for a song that had a major impact on her life. For Nadine Sutherland, Action came at a transformative point in her musical life in 1993, almost fulfilled every dream of pop stardom, and then the bubble of big-label signings popped, and it was back to terra firma.
"I went to England because I had some contacts. I had a manager, Erskin Thompson. I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and I was going to be an international star," Sutherland told The Sunday Gleaner.
"First, we tried to do some R&B, then Shabba buss out with dancehall and we decided to do dancehall," Sutherland said, adding that it was during that time that she auditioned for Soul II Soul, but that deal got mangled between managers.
Her manager suggested that she go home and pursue the dancehall route. For Sutherland, that was no problem as "I liked dancehall".
Before Action, though, came Wicked and Wild, a song with Buju Banton, but not exactly done with the Gargamel in 1993.
"I did some demos, and one day, I walked into a record store and a lady said, 'Congratulations!' I said, 'For what?', and she said, 'The big tune, Wicked Dickie, with Buju Banton, which is at No. 2.'
"I learned that the song had been spliced (Sutherland's Wicked and Wild with Buju Banton's Dickie), and it was a hit. To this day. A cross-over, too, but not as big as Action," Sutherland said.
That was in about September. Then in Christmas 1993, Action hit the streets. It was one of the demos she had done, this one for Dave Kelly who wrote and produced it, Sutherland saying, "I take no credit for the funkiness of Action and the brilliance of it".
There is another brilliance to Action: the voice of the man who intones "not a bag a mout'" after Sutherland croons "action". Sutherland calls Terror Fabulous "that incredible deejay, that up to this day, I don't know what is in his voice".
The chemistry on the record is not the result of a long association as Sutherland says "the day I went to do Action was the day I met Terror".
"That time, Terror was young, about 17. First of all, dah likkle bway deh voice so strong. You just see this little youth and this voice a rumble. I became an instant fan," Sutherland said.
"He was always on key. He was just an incredible artiste - one of the better deejays we have had," she said.
When Action hit, Sutherland says, "The ethnic market in America embraced it. Terror was then signed to East West. His first tune was Gangster's Anthem. The second song was Action."
The song was credited to "Terror Fabulous, featuring Nadine Sutherland, which was understandable because he was signed". In fact, the credits on the video did not even include her at first. Then the labelling was changed.
The video, which still gets rotation on Jamaican stations and is a regular on Tempo, was a landmark in itself. Done in April of 1994, it was a two-day shoot. Nadine Sutherland hand-picked the dancers and also did some of the choreography. Included were some dancers from Ashe and the University Dancers. "I wanted people with a formal background who could do the latest dancehall moves," Sutherland said. "I went to some dancehall dancers and got the moves. Then I went back to (choreographer) Kofi."
Synchronising the moves took about a week, with Barbara Requa of the School of Dance and Spartan's Mickey Haughton-James providing rehearsal space.
"By the time the record company came down, our dance routine was flawless," Sutherland said. And she really means 'our', because she was very much part of the dancing. In fact, there is a memorable scene where she dances with a khaki-clad young man on a median in the road. "He just came out spontaneously," Sutherland said. "We a dance pon the island and him jus' come out." Afterwards, "mi just see the director present him with a paper".
"Why it got played so much, it was a groundbreaking video, in that they saw dancehall, but they saw it differently ... . Little body did show, but we were dressed. It did sexy, but we were dressed," she said.
She said that recently, she saw someone from VH1 who told her of the incredible effect the video for Action had when it came in. "It is when you get older, you can look back and say the vision we did have never normal," Sutherland said. "If East West did give me the chance, we woulda done the world."
That chance did not come because although Action led to her being signed by East West, times changed. "Reggae was a fad, stopped selling as they wanted," she said. Her album for the record label, Island Girl, was shelved, but Nadine Sutherland lost more than an investment in studio time.
There was the diet, the weight-training, the dancing. "I cut off everything and focused on the moment. I lived, slept, breathed music. It just did not work out," she said.
However, it was not a waste as she says, "Action still opens doors for me. It has not died and never will. When you go to parties in the US, they still play it."