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Story of the Song | Champion from sound system to body type

Published:Sunday | September 18, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Buju Banton
Dwayne Bravo

Cricketer Dwayne Bravo, recording as DJ Bravo, says the word 'champion' over and over again in his infectious song centred around sporting prowess (including in the game he plays to the highest level) and music success. So Chris Gayle is identified as a champion - but so are Beenie Man and Bounty Killer, who will both perform at a concert for Gayle's birthday celebrations at Triple Century in New Kingston tomorrow night.

Besting all others engaged in a particular pursuit and being recognised formally or informally as a champion is part and parcel of an individual or team being deemed successful. Hence the UEFA Champions League, which pits the best European clubs against each other annually, and the vaunted position of undisputed world boxing champion in a particular weight class.

In Jamaican popular music, though, another meaning is applied to champion, where a well-built woman on the heavier side is deemed to be a 'champian'. Not that the meaning of champion as the recognised best is left out. After all, one of the earliest sound systems was named Nick the Champ. And the Champions in Action concert was one of the casualties of the Tivoli Incursion in May 2010.

In the competitive world of the sound system, being the champion is still valued, where there are clashes (an all too infrequent occurrence). In his 1980s song Champion Sound, singer Colin Roach revels in his sound system's conquest of a rival. Adapting Louis Jordan's Aint Nobody Here But Us Chickens, he sings:

"One night my sound was in a contest

We lick another sound boy them have to confess

Hear a voice say 'who's there?'

And this is what I hear

Aint nobody here but the champion sound

Aint nobody here but us

So calm yourself and stop that fuss

You kicking up an awful dust

Hey Jah know my sound is the champion sound

And all other soun' dem a come around

Tomorrow is a busy day

We got things to do

We got dub to play

We got a sound to kill and a contest to win

That's why they got to crown us the king.

With the changing nature of sound systems, Beenie Man lamented in the 1990s that "you no see dis dancehall business gone to zero/Every champion sound' inna de business tun disco/Yu no have no more king champion soun ouuta road whe a play fi buss no more hero". He goes on to name a number of sound systems that had made their name as dancehall champions, among them Gemini, Volcano, King Tubby's, Heatwave, and King Jimmy's Superpower.

The number of champion sound systems is certainly fewer than the number of Jamaican women who, by virtue of their statuesque body type, are dubbed champions by the men who admire them. Buju Banton's Champion sums up what makes a woman qualify for the title:

"Walk like a champion

Talk like a champion

What a piece a body gal

Tell me whe yu get e from?"

Then he extends the invitation to take her hand and lead her to the Promised land - his 20-ft divan. For good measure, Buju describes the lady's skin as "smooth and precious like she never get a cut".

When the champion gets between the sheets, there must be a Champion Lover, as Debohare Glasgow sings in the chorus of her duet with Shabba Ranks:

"Champion lover, no ease up tonight

Champion lover, gonna make you feel all right..."

To that, Shabba introduces himself as Mr Loverman and promises to make her explode like a bomb.

In Mix This, Assassin (aka Agent Sasco) declares himself a "champion, Muhammed Ali mix with Rocky", combining the larger-than-life real former heavyweight boxing champion of the world with the legendary fictional character played by Sylvester Stallone.

Then over the 2016 Olympic season, we had a memorable champion song in Alaine's Born to Win, which allows those with the will to pull through despite the odds and pain to sing, "I have the heart of a champion".