Wed | Nov 21, 2018

Story of the Song | Heroes at Independence

Published:Sunday | October 30, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Derrick Morgan
Sir Alexander Bustamante
Norman Manley

As Heritage Month ends, the Story of the Song's revisiting of National Heroes in Jamaican popular music closes with a look at Derrick Morgan's Independence hit, Forward March, in which he names two politicians who went on to become officially heroic figures, Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante.

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, 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. However, when Morgan gets into Forward March, which blends patriotism and Bible-based spirituality, there seems 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".

'Sir Alexander' is the Jamaica Labour Party's Alexander Clarke Bustamante, who was born in 1884 and died in 1977. He was named a National Hero on October 18, 1969, so he lived as a national hero for eight years.

'Mr Manley' is the People's National Party's Norman Washington Manley (a cousin of Bustamante), who was born in 1893. Although he was named a national hero at the same time as Bustamante, Manley did not live with the honour, as he died on September 2, 1969.