Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Songs of fortitude

Published:Sunday | January 24, 2016 | 1:00 AMMel Cooke
Beres Hammond
Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert
Peter Tosh
Sizzla
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Some of Jamaican popular music, rooted in the lower socio-economic class of the society, is noted for its songs of resistance. At times, it may be against an unspecified but still powerful foe called 'the system', which Beres Hammond sings about in Putting Up Resistance after the opening whispers of "pressure":

"Know I never can understand it

The way the system planned

There is no chance, no hope, no loophole

No escape for a sufferer man

'Cause every time I lift my head above water

And try to save myself from drown

There's an overnight scheme all worked out

Designed to keep me down

Still I'm putting up resistance

I'm gonna work it out"

Where there is pressure, there is resistance as the individual refuses to give in despite the odds. Both Culture and Toots and the Maytals, have songs with the phrase 'never get weary' in their titles, which speak about endurance in the face of consistent adversity. The latter is probably the lesser well known of the two, Toots and the Maytals criss-crossing between biblical imagery and personal testimony, the history of the Caribbean and subsequent social structures. The group repeatedly comes back to a statement of fortitude:

"I was down in the valley for a very long time

And I never get weary yet (rept)

I was born and raised in a little old shack with my poor family (rept)

I was born before Christopher Columbus

And I was born before the Arawak Indian

Trodding creation before this nation

I always remember

I can't forget

I was walking on the shore

And they took me in the ship

And they throw me overboard

And I swam right out of the belly of the whale

And I never get weary yet

They put me in jail and I never do no wrong

And I never get weary yet"

At the end of the song, as it fades out, there are the lines, "no one think of me when I was down in the ghetto."

Culture has two takes on Never Get Weary. One is a chant on a rhythm heavy with drumming. The other, more popular, Natty Never Get Weary, is about an encounter with the police, beginning with the statement, "brutality me a tell oonu bout y'nuh bredda", then the sung refrain "weary, natty never get weary."

After detailing the harsh, unjust treatment of the police, Culture sings:

"Is that a right way for a human as a policeman

To react unto a citizen as a peaceful one

Not doing any wrong but still for all

Because I'm 21,000 miles away from home

Still weary"

Peter Tosh turns to nature in reflecting on his situation and wondering how he will make a way. In Pick Myself Up, he sings:

"Sitting in the morning sun

And watching all the birds passing by

Oh how sweet they sing

And oh how I wish that I could fly

And I try (rept)

I really try, try, try

But I got to pick myself up

Dust myself off

And start all aver again

Sitting in the midday sun

And wondering where my meal's coming from

After working so hard not even piece a bread a mi yard"

There is another type of picking up in Prince Buster's Hard Man Fe Dead, a jolly song of triumph in which he sings:

"Yu pick me up

Yu lick me dung

I bounce right back

What a hard man fi dead"

Staying down after being floored is simply not an option as Sizzla deejays in Solid as a Rock: "They can't keep a good man down/Always keep a smile when they want me to frowns/Keep the vibes and I stood my grounds/They will never ever take my crown/Who Jah bless I say no man curse/Things getting better when they thought it would be worse/Here comes the officers asking for a search/They found no weapon only a draw of herbs/But I'm so solid as a rock, they just can't stop me now."

While Sizzla utilises the common saying solid as a rock, Burning Spear uses the common hardness of nature to speak about his personal characteristics in As It Is. He sings about being overlooked in the music business and his reaction:

"I am the stone that the builder refused

They put me aside

They passed me by

Thinking I would cry

Stone don't cry."