Mon | Aug 20, 2018

Reggae and blues

Published:Sunday | January 10, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Buju Banton

The red, gold and green of Rastafari and the black, green and gold of the Jamaican flag permeate Jamaican popular culture, but underneath it all there is a strong strain of blue. Buju Banton prefaces his 1990s dancehall prayer, God of My Salvation, with "this is the blues", and Tanya Stephens' 2004 album, Gangsta Blues, is an enduring hit, with It's a Pity and Boom Wuk among the standout tracks. However, there is no title track on Stephens' set with the colour.

There are multiple ways to invoke the power of the colour - in addition to the God of My Salvation introduction, Buju looks to the sky for possible ways to get a particular lady's attention in Good Body:

"What does it take for me to get next to you

You want me to climb a ladder and paint the sky blue?

And if I fall who will catch me?

Baby, let it be you."

Far apart on the spectrum of meanings for blue are Bob Marley's Talkin' Blues and Mavado's Star Boy. Talkin' Blues is the title track of an album which includes interview excerpts interspersed with song. In the album's main track, Marley sings in the blues tradition, repeating lines of hardship:

"Cold ground was my bed last night

And rock was my pillow too

I'm saying talkin' blues

Talkin' blues

Your feet is just too big for your shoes

I've been on the rock so long

I seem to wear a permanent screw."

However, in Star Boy, Mavado goes to a media meaning of blues, declaring "de gyal dem want star bway, but me nah star no blue movie." For good measure, he takes the movie in the music image a little further, saying "she no waan no man whe dead inna de show/she no waan no man gi head inna de show."

There is a separation of genres, even as Beenie Man declares, "see de gyal dem man ya." He distinguishes his musical pursuit with "a dancehall we do and not the blues."

Then, of course, there is the morose feeling which Cocoa Tea sings about as he declares, "I am on the lonesome side of blues/Right next to the lonely man motel."