Wed | Aug 15, 2018

Story of the song | A matter of red

Published:Sunday | August 21, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
The UB40 reggae band, back in the day.
Black Uhuru (From left: ‘Ducky’ Simpson, ‘Puma’ Jones and Mykal Roze).
Beenie Man performing at Reggae Sumfest 2016.
Oku Onuora

Red - the colour of rage and extreme ardour, blood and part of the Rastafarian tri-colour - is utilised in multiple ways in Jamaican popular music. From Super Cat commenting on the levels of violence in the inner city with Ghetto Red Hot, to Beenie Man rejoicing that a lady has to run it "red, red red", dancehall has different takes on the colour.

Before that, though, Black Uhuru had an album named Red in 1981. The line-up was Michael Rose, 'Ducky' Simpson and Sandra 'Puma' Jones, with Sly and Robbie as the production team. Among the tracks on the set which became Black Uhuru standards were Youth of Eglington and Sponji Reggae.

Dub poet Oku Onuora has given his poem, Reflections in Red, renewed lease on life. It is pioneering poetry release on Bob Marley's 56 Hope Road label, with members of the Wailers band among the musicians who played on the track. In a time of supposed political peace in the late 1970s, Onuora expressed his cynicism at the lull in the shooting - and justifiably so, as the 1980 undeclared civil war was to come.

Zebra introduces a degree of redness as he deejays about personal attributes which can lead to destruction:

"Redder than red, colder than cold

Too much innocent youth go dung inna hole

True dem no seek God inna dem soul..."

UB40's do-over of Neil Diamond's Red Red Wine, puts a red liquor into reggae - not that Jamaica does not have its own red alcohol in Red Label Wine (Konshens uses the Turn on the Thrills in Gal a Bubble). Of course, there is Red Stripe beer (though not a red drink, of course), which gets repeated references in Jamaican popular music. Among the humorous ones is in Buju Banton's Operation Ardent, when the police raid a dance and "man a try squeeze knife dung inna Red Stripe beer."

Apart from song lyrics, the documentary on Peter Tosh's life which has become a widely referenced audiovisual of his life is titled Stepping Razor: Red X. There is an artiste named Red Rat who deejayed about a girl named Shelly-Ann, who "gwaan like she nice an' have one bag a man". Red Fox has done excellent performances with Maxi Priest and for good measure, there was once a sound system named Redman International, which became Jamrock.