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Story of the Song | Echo Minott asks 'What the Hell the Police Can Do?'

Published:Sunday | March 19, 2017 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Echo Minott
Echo Minott

Echo Minott has told the story of a woman being beaten and her interaction with the law before. With the issue of domestic violence high on the national agenda - tambourines and all - it is a good time to hear his story again.

"Me an my girl was fighting

It happens to be a misunderstanding

I accidentally tump har in she face

She run go di police station

To tell di police fi true"

With a consistently high murder rate and guns coming in from Haiti on fast boats, many a law-abiding Jamaican citizen may just be asking, "what the hell the police can do?"

Doubtless, many were asking the same thing in 1986. Then, though, it wasn't only matters of murder and gun-running on their minds, but a wry take on domestic abuse. They had a hot new song on their lips, which they made the number one song on the RJR charts for the year and number two on JBC, and they have continued to chant along with Echo Minott, asking, "what the hell the police can do?"

Echo Minott told The Sunday Gleaner that one day, "me see a man a beat him woman. She run, sey she gwine tell police. Him sey, 'wha police can do?"

Echo Minott built lyrics and melody around the incident and recorded What the Hell the Police Can Do? at King Jammy's Waterhouse studio, making it personal (although he was not involved in the beating that led to the song) and making it a tale of support, ownership, and betrayal.

"Gal afta me feed an clothes you

Give yu everyting yu have to

comfort you

Leave the house gone look money fi me an' you

When me come back yu gone wid Bway Blue

Tump yu in yu yeye an it black an' blue

Run go to di police go tell dem fi true

But what the hell the police can do?"

He tells The Sunday Gleaner that he actually told producers Steelie and Cleavie how to play, putting his sound system experience to good use for the uptempo beat, which has the rhythmic 'drop in, drop out' elements of a live dancehall mix. Echo Minott says that he confirmed this with Steelie at Exodus Studio before the producing whiz died.

Echo Minott also lays claim to revving up the dancehall tempo. "Before Dennis Brown dead, him see me a England an' sey, 'You speed up de ting'. When me do the tune, Sugar Minott ask me, 'Wha kin' a calypso tune you a sing?' Me tell him any inspiration come me sing," Echo Minott said.

"A nuff deejay couldn't ride the rhythm," he said.

What the Hell the Police Can Do made its impact despite being declared Not Fit For Airplay on JBC.

Chart success, police anger

Echo Minott was not in Jamaica when the song hit the top of the charts. He got a phone call that it had entered the top 30 at number nine. Then he got another, saying that it had hit the top of the charts. He did not quite believe it, even when he got a call from Reggae Sunsplash point man Ronnie Burke, advising him to collect a ticket to return to Jamaica for that year's staging of the festival.

He got confirmation at the airport.

"When me reach a airport, me ask a man which song a number one. Him sey Echo Minott come wid a bl......t tune!" he said. "When me go pon me corner, dem sey, 'Echo Minott' you have it lock!"

And he had Sunsplash locked as well, performing on the Beach Party and also Dancehall Night, where there was forward after forward.

Still, there were members of the police force who did not appreciate What the Hell the Police Can Do?, Echo Minott having an unpleasant encounter with the masked face of the law on Marcus Garvey Drive. The policemen, members of the feared Eradication Squad, stopped him while he was driving and asked him his name.

"The police dem mask. As me say 'Echo' - the 'Minott' not even come out - gun butt," he told The Sunday Gleaner.

It was aimed at his face, but he blocked it with his hands. He left Jamaica for a time shortly after. "Me nuh run whe. Me jus' go cool out," Echo Minott said.

In keeping with the dancehall tradition of following up a popular record with a different take on the same subject or using the same key words, Lloyd Lovindeer followed What the Hell the Police Can Do? with Babylon Boops.

Echo Minott also recalls an incident in which the song was the hub of a conflict between the police and dancehall lovers. He says that headline was ''What the Hell the Police Can Do?' was playing ... five got shot'. The police had come to 'lock off' the sound. The selector put on the song, and after that it was chaos.

And Echo Minott says after his hit, "Then the whole chart come bout police."