Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Story of the Song | Spanish Town at and beyond the Prison Oval

Published:Sunday | January 15, 2017 | 1:00 AMMel Cooke
Barrington Levy
Chronixx
Lutan Fyah
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Barrington Levy sings about a specific place in Prison Oval Rock, and, more recently, Chronixx reflects on his life growing up with Spanish Town Rocking. Both songs are about the old capital, the place Lutan Fyah refers to as St Jago De La Vega, in his song of that name, which details the often gritty side of the St Catherine capital.

The Jamaica National Heritage Trust's website, www.jnht.com, says that Spanish Town was Jamaica's capital up to 1872, when Kingston became the capital. Given capital status by the Spanish in 1534, which was continued by the British, it was first known as Villa de la Vega and then St Jago de La Vega before the final name change.

 

Oldest city

 

The Jamaica National Heritage Trust says, Spanish Town is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Jamaica.

Barrington Levy says, the early 1980s Prison Oval Rock was actually a dub plate for Volcano system, run by the late Henry 'Junjo' Lawes. The sound system was booked for a dance at the oval, very close to the then Spanish Town District Prison (now St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre), and ahead of the event, Levy imagined what the reaction of the imprisoned would be. Before that, though, he created the dance scenario:

"Some call it Spanish Town

A Prison Oval rock,

The people are skanking

While the daughter them wining

The rude boy them pripping"

Imagining the scene, he sang about what could be - and soon after, saw what he sang about become reality. Levy sings:

"The warders are watching

While the prisoners are dancing

When they hear the music playing"

And, he said, "that night at the prison, I never forget what go on. I see some breed a white merino come through the prison hole. I am telling you man, it was a sight." Reworking the beat on which Prison Oval Rock is laid, Chronixx's Spanish Town Rocking makes an early reference to the place where the dance was kept ("Spanish Town rocking/Over prison oval") but quickly moves on from there. He grounds himself in Spanish Town with a take-off of its original name, stating, "from you look inna me name you see a De La Vegan". And, deploying the ultimate evidence of 'born ya'; he sings, "me navel string cut over Spanish Town Hospital."

The progeny is well established as Chronixx's mother, father, and grandmother are all declared "Spanish Town original".

While Chronixx acknowledges Spanish Town, he locates his specific community more so than the entire space of the old capital, which he consistently refers to by its old name:

"I grew up in a place call De la Vega

Spanish Town rocking

Over Prison Oval

I grew up in a a place call Ensom City

Spanish Town grooving

Everybody nice"

With its persistent gang wars, Spanish Town has developed a fearsome reputation for violence, which Lutan Fyah acknowledges in St Jago de la Vega:

"In St Jago de la Vega

Man walk the streets with gun load

Hustling food to put a mouth."