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Diseases, prevention and cure in song cycle

Published:Sunday | February 7, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Michael Abrahams
Ninja Man

The chikungunya outbreak seems to be hardly over and now Jamaica is bracing for its turn in the inexorable spread of ZikV across Latin America and the Caribbean, with North America not to be left out despite the chill of its climate.

Not so long ago, youngster Wayne J was a hit on many a local stage with his lyrics about chikungunya, which served as a very good advertisement for Panadol (not that it needed the plug at the time when the pain reliever was in high demand as the best way to counteract the illness' effects). The humorous song started with a combination of the pill and a children's ditty. Wayne J deejays:

"One panadol, one panadol (serve!)

Mosquito one, mosquito two

Mosquito jump inna hot callaloo

Mosquito bite me

Mosquito bite you

Make me tell yu what a mosquito bite can do

Oonu come ya

Oonu no hear whe de dung ya

We know de flu, de measle, pneumonia

A diarrhoea make pickney belly run ya

But a de firs' we a hear chikungunya."

He went on to speculate about the source of transmission:

"No know a who bring e come ya

Well if a plane or a bus or a Honda

Some people sey a mosquito

Nobody no sure."

Whatever the means, the effects were definite and Wayne J specified its effect on the age group that he is a part of, observing "it make a bag a young people a move ol'."

The humorous song then detailed individual cases, such as 'Bingie Blair', who yesterday was fit, but today was walking with a stick.

That assistance with mobility was temporary, but not so for a lot of people affected by poliomyelitis, which Michigan and Smiley included in the opening verse of their dancehall classic, Diseases. It was their early 1980s take of the biblical cycle of transgression, judgement and punishment, which overlapped with an outbreak of poliomyelitis in Jamaica. The duo alternated lines to deejay:

"Now give thanks and praise to the Most High

Cause you must obey the things that pertains unto a man

Cause these things are an abomination unto the Lord God

For every day the girls dress up inna trousers

Wha happen to yu skirts and blouses

Why can't I man see you in yu dresses

Cause these things unto Jah Jah not pleases

An every day dem a worship vanities

An yu greates' lust in jewelleries

Min' Jah lick yu wid diseases."

A number of illnesses were named in the chorus:

"Di mos' dangerous diseases

I talking like the elephantitis

De oodda one is de poliomyelitis

Arthritis an de one diabetes."

It was not all women being at the root of social decay, though, as in the second verse, Michigan and Smiley deejay about the men who are building explosives.

Inevitably, AIDS got its turn on record, King Kong including the Almighty in his take on the matter in the earlier days of the ailment's entry into Jamaica. His song A.I.D. starts with a plea to "Jehovah, Jehovah, our guide and protector", before announcing

"AIDS a go roun, AIDS a go roun/Tell Aunty Mary fi tell John Brown/Say a ting name AIDS a go roun'/Big inna de country, big inna de town."

The prognosis was dim in those days before anti-retrovirals, King Kong singing "when AIDS take you Lord a God only the morgue can take you."

AIDS served as a reference point for Ninja Man, who also contextualised his song, Hong Kong Flu, in relation to a natural phenomenon which had affected Jamaica less than five years previously in the introduction:

"Hear dis!

Oonu talking bout Gilbert

But 1992 min oonu ketch."

Then he deejays:

"Dis a de Hong Kong Flu

Hong Kong flu

Wicked piece a sickness when it a pass tru

Say dem a talk bout AIDS but wha AIDS can do?

Dem a talk bout VD what VD can do?

When VD come it a pass tru

Syphilis come an dat run way too

But wait til de year 1992

Man whe eat unda table I talking to you

Gal whe clean off rifle I'm talking to you

Yu ketch de Hong Kong flu."

He even proposes a cure for AIDS:

"Cause if yu ketch a dose a AIDS I can cure you

Jus' come to Ninja Man take yu ears an' lissen

Jus' get some green grass cut it up like callaloo

Cook it down fine like a ital stew

Nyam it wid yu bredren whedda one or two

A week afta dat AIDS run gone lef you

But in de year 1992

If yu live dibby dibby an de sickness take you

Whe name de Hong Kong flu..."

Looking ahead to the full-blown arrival of ZikV to Jamaica, Dr Michael Abrahams leads, We Nuh Want ZikV, a public service announcement in the form of dancehall communication about preventative measures.

"All a de people dem whe no want ZikV put up oonu han'

ZikV inna de Caribbean territory

But we no want da virus take set pon we

So make sure no stagnant water in sight

An mash up all mosquito breeding site

Bore hole inna de tin dem yu dash way

An change de water inna yu vase every day

No litter

Dispose a yu garbage proper

Yu know dem deh ting wit un drain blocker...

Dash whe ol tire tun ova drum pan

For prevention is de greates' weapon

An special shout out to pregnant ladies

Protec yusself an' protec yu babies..."

When ZikV moves from an isolated case to whatever stage of widespread impact it will have, chances are there will be a song or two in which it is included.