Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Story of the song | ‘Forward March’ a song of Independence hope

Published:Sunday | August 7, 2016 | 8:00 AMMel Cooke
Derrick Morgan
Bounty Killer
Agent Sasco aka Assassin
Super Cat performing at Sumfest Reggae night
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The ska king, Derrick Morgan, cuts an impressive figure on stage. In his standard opening, the visually impaired Morgan is led to the appropriate spot and positioned to face the audience. Invariably attired in a suit, he beams a million-watt grin of boyish delight at the audience, sweeps his hat off in greeting, then puts it back in place, and, cane swinging, announces "Forward ...".

And the crowd completes with "march!"

It is the spoken opening line and title of a ska song that has achieved the rare distinction of not only outliving the moment to which it is directly related, but also remaining popular even as the buoyant mood of the country towards Independence has cooled somewhat. In a Gleaner poll published on Tuesday, June 28, 2011, 60 per cent of respondents said Jamaica would have been better off remaining a British colony, while 23 per cent were undecided.

However, when Morgan gets into Forward March, which blends patriotism and Bible-based spirituality, there seem to be no doubters of the sentiment. After the rattle of military-style drums and a horn line which sounds like a horse racing track clarion call, Morgan urges:

"Gather together be brothers and sisters

We're independent"

He even consoles as he captures the joyous mood with:

"Don't be sad and blue

The Lord is still with you

Because the time is come

When you can have your fun ... "

Released in 1962, in time for Independence, Morgan was still careful to balance the two political powers in his lyrics. First, he says "brothers and sisters, give thanks and praise to Sir Alexander". Then, he follows with "brothers and sisters, give praise to Mr Manley".

Stark contrast

At the start of Jamaica's life as an independent nation, set to the chosen uptempo beat of the period, Forward March stands in stark contrast to subsequent songs from other genres which seemed to mark Jamaica's decline in social and economic conditions. By early in the following decade, The Wailers were singing about Burnin' and Looting, in the mid-1980s Supercat was deejaying Under Pressure and, in the 1990s, Bounty Killer said Poor People Fed Up, since the turn of the century Assassin has observed Same Thing Again.

Still, Forward March remains a popular dance and singalong song and gets a boost each year as Jamaica celebrates its 50th anniversary of Independence - which is, of course, the anniversary of Derrick Morgan's song.