Sun | Jul 22, 2018

Age-old musical divisions (Pt. 1)

Published:Thursday | November 10, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Alton Ellis

I got a rather humorous age check a couple of weeks ago through Alkaline's song, Champion Boy. However, as personally funny as it was, I was reminded about divisions in our popular music that do us a great disservice.

So, after getting five-gallon water bottle refills at a supermarket, I was walking across the parking lot beside the attendant pushing the trolley with the bottles, a couple of steps behind my daughters. Alkaline's Champion Boy, came to mind and I attempted to deejay a couple lines from the chorus. Above the rattle of the wheels on the asphalt, the young man pushing the trolley said, "Elders, mi neva know yu sing them song deh."

I held back my laughter and tried to play it off on the children, who were probably within five years of his age and said, "Is me daughter dem music, sah." Although I don't believe he was convinced, he let me off the hook and did not press the musical matter any further.

Beyond the 'elder' joke of the moment, the very brief exchange has niggled at my mind. Jamaica has the phenomenal track record of producing ska, rocksteady, reggae, dub, and dancehall as internationally successful popular music genres. However, we have a very poor record of maintaining, nurturing, and commercially exploiting not only the currently dominant dancehall, but also the other genres. Case in point: There is a noticeable deficiency of reggae albums by Jamaicans in the top 10 of the Billboard Reggae Chart. Marley brothers Stephen and Ziggy, with Revelation Part II: the Fruit of Life and Ziggy Marley, respectively, are the only ones to have kept a consistent Jamaican presence over the past three months.

I am loathe to rehash that the well-worn 'foreigners have taken over our music' argument, which hit a peak when Billboard named Joss Stone its top reggae artiste for 2015 or the veracity of the Reggae Revival's name (a name for a group of performers that has largely faded). However, there is no denying that we have not done as much as we couldm, and should have, to nurture and earn from reggae.

Then there is the large number of ska bands outside of Jamaica, with a striking dearth here (let is not forget, however, the recent amalgamation of Richie Stephens and the Ska Nation, which puts Jamaican vocals with non-Jamaican musicians).

It is confounding how we neglect not only entire genres of our popular music, but quickly abandon a popular song for one which is deemed 'hotter'. And that which is latched on to for an often limited time span is supposed to get the preserve of the now generation, which leads to the age divisions.

And that takes me back to 'elder' and Champion Boy. 'Champion' appears at many different stages of Jamaican popular music. For example, in Dance Crasher, rocksteady standout Alton Ellis advises the rude boys to reform and "be a champion/Like Mr Bunny Grant".

In the 1980s, there were a number of champion songs, among them Pinchers' Champion Bubbler and Colin Roach's take on Louis Jordan's Aint Nobody Here But us Chickens, to declare "ain't nobody here but the champion sound." In the 1990s, Shabba and Ms Glasgowe had Champion Lover, and Buju admired a woman who "walk like a champion."

If only we could connect our genres and eras and keep them relevant for the elders and youngsters like how we recycle words and themes.

Next week: What is vintage, throwback, and retro music anyway?