Thu | Aug 24, 2017

Story of the Song | Africa seen in different lyrical ways

Published:Sunday | March 26, 2017 | 3:00 AMMel Cooke
Peter Tosh
Dennis Brown
Morgan Heritage
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There is no shortage of songs about Africa in Jamaican popular music. There are different approaches, chief among them Africa as the motherland, with Peter Tosh singing in the title track of his 1983 album, "They took me away from you Mama/Long before I was born." Then there is the African woman, which comes up obviously in the late Panhead's African Princess, but is also is unexpected places like Terror Fabulous' part of the Anything For You all-star remix, which also features Nadine Sutherland, Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Louie Culture, and Kulcha Knox. Terror Fabulous waxes warm about the woman's charms and sums up her personality and physical characteristics:

"Mi check fi yu such so mi nah go do yu dat

Woman inna mi life a part a mi comfat

Natural African girl she cool an she black

Wid a lot a tenderness fi make de Terror kick back"

 

Longing for return

 

Then there is longing for Africa and hopes of return to the continent, which Fredlocks makes the centrepiece of his song Black Star Liner. Fredlocks references National Hero the Rt Excellent Marcus Garvey and his plan to have a shipping line to return persons from the diaspora to Africa, capturing the excitement of seeing the ships sailing into harbour:

"Seven miles of Black Star Liners coming in the harbour

I can see them coming

I can see idrens running

I can hear the elders saying

These are the days for which we've been praying"

The hero gets direct mention as Fredlocks sings:

"Marcus Garvey told us

Freedom is a must

He told us the Black Star Liners

Are coming one day for us"

There is no shortage of songs that refer to specific African countries, overwhelmingly about South Africa in the apartheid period and Ethiopia as the country of Haile Selassie. Jah Bouks' Angola, in which he sings "call Angola", is one of the songs made in the post-apartheid era that refers to a particular African country. In Sudan, Buju Banton expounds on the then crisis in that country:

"Woe be unto the United Nations

They're nothing but a front

Claim they've been observing so long

Many moons and months

Why you never see the suffering nation..."

He encourages resilience, in "going through our struggle/Like how you help those fight to that armed struggle/Help Sudan not for personal benefit/Help Sudan even though she's not rich."

Morgan Heritage gets even more specific, referring to a celebration in Meskel Square, which refers to part of the Ethiopian city Addis Ababa. It is a spiritual gathering as the family band sings:

"In Meskel Square there is a gathering

Celebrating the finding of the true cross

Year to year in honour of the saviour"

There is reverence for the continent in Promised Land (Dennis Brown) and a reimagining of specific African countries in Land of Promise (Nas/Damian Marley) the naming of royalty (Mutabaruka figures in both Great Kings of Africa and Great Queens of Africa) and the use of Amharic in Sattamassagana (The Abyssinians).