Tue | Aug 22, 2017

A sample is not a song

Published:Thursday | September 8, 2016 | 9:00 AMMel Cooke
Drake
Beenie Man
Jimmy Cliff
UB40 reggae band, back in the day.
1
2
3
4

So here I am, going to pour a cup or two of cold water on Jamaica's presence in a couple songs which currently have a Billboard chart presence.

For Drake's sampling of Beenie Man's Tear off mi garment in Controlla; the lines from Tanto Metro and Devonte's Everyone Falls in Love Sometimes which Tory Lanez uses in LUV; and Fifth Harmony's All In My Head (Flex) utilising Cobra's dancehall slow jam Flex, are great for Jamaican popular music. However, they are samples, not songs, and do not reflect an extensive acceptance of Jamaican songwriting talent.

Certainly, this sampling falls way short of someone doing over a Jamaican song in its entirety. That may happen - there could be a time when there are three total remakes of Jamaican dancehall songs on the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time. This sampling could be a precursor of things to come on that scale, but let us not celebrate this sampling as success without some reference to what happened previously. And yes, this is where I note a couple do-overs of Jamaican popular music songs in their entirety and say that this is of a greater magnitude than sampling, if not necessarily more lucrative for the performers, since the money matters are always difficult to access accurately.

But the objective is not to say what makes more money, but how we are shortchanging our measurement of our success. This occurred to me when I was going home and a strange (to me) version of Jimmy Cliff's Many Rivers to Cross came on the radio (Music 99 - really, not a shameless plug because it is related to The Gleaner). I do not know who did that one, but Cher and UB40 are among the many persons who have done over Cliff's song of emotional anguish without much resolution apart from simply pushing on.

Simply Red took on Night Nurse (sung by Gregory Isaacs) and Ghetto Girl (Dennis Brown), while Sinead O'Connor's album, Throw Down Your Arms, is an entire album of reggae covers, leaning heavily towards Winston 'Burning Spear' Rodney's catalogue. The Rolling Stones took on Half Pint's Winsome, and an entire radio show could be done with recordings by persons outside Jamaica who have done songs from Bob Andy's catalogue (not to mention those by Jamaicans, prime among them Barrington Levy and Sanchez).

 

CRUMB OF THE COVERS

 

These are a crumb of the covers - not samples - of Jamaican popular music, which have indicated deep interest in the songwriting ability of those steeped in the use of words and melody from this country. I do not point them out (which anyone with an Internet connection and an appropriate device can do) to belittle the sampling, but caution us against celebrating a little when we have had a lot. And could have a lot more, actually, but we need songs - songs that are so good that they demand being redone in totality, not only being sampled.

Melville.cooke@gleanerjm.com