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The Music Diaries | An eventful 1969 in Ja

Published:Friday | September 15, 2017 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert
Lee 'Scratch' Perry
Bunny Wailer (left), Bob Marley (centre), and Peter Tosh as The Wailers.
Norman Manley (left) and Sir Alexander Bustamante.

The year 1969 was eventful in Jamaica's history. The year saw the sterling system being replaced by the decimal system of dollars and cents. in September. The Wailers responded to the change with the recording The Pound Get A Blow - a recording that brought out the best in the trio as they sang:

"This devaluation

It cause an eruption

The pound get a blow

Oh what a destruction

Prepare for starvation

Cost of living get high

I said the pound get low

Remember I told you

You gonna bend down low".

Their prediction seemed to be correct, because the Jamaica dollar eventually got a blow, having weakened to its present low of approximately J$129 to US$1. The exchange rate in 1969 was J$1.20 to US$1,

Also in 1969, Toots Hibbert was well equipped to give full expression to what a country wedding is like. He did so, with his second winning festival song that year - Sweet And Dandy. With its country flavour and mento and reggae leanings, the recording became one of the best known and most loved Jamaican festival songs. Toots tells the story of two nervous rural lovers waiting to 'tie the knot:

"Ettie in a room a cry

Mama say she mus wipe

her eye"


"Johnson in a room a fret

Uncle say him mus hol up im head"

The year 1969 also saw new producers on the scene like Lee Perry, Clancy Eccles and Winston Riley inventing some new styles, seemingly to challenge the dominance of Duke Reid and Clement Dodd. A prime example of this is the Wailers' Duppy Conqueror, backed by Perry's Upsetters band. Perry, a skillful music-mixer and a shrewd record producer, sent reggae in a different direction with other Wailers' cuts like Small Axe, Kaya, Sun Is Shining and African Herbsman.

In October of that year The Upsetters entered the top five of the Jamaican charts with Return of Django, while the Harry J All Stars sat at number nine with Liquidator.

In 1969 Desmond Dekker and the Aces' Israelites created history and placed Jamaica firmly in the international spotlight when it became the first Jamaican recording to reach number one on the British charts.

While the music was still in full blast in 1969, the nation was witnessing the installation of the first set of National Heroes in the persons of Paul Bogle, George William Gordon and Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Norman Manley, who passed away that September and his cousin, Alexander Bustamante joined the ranks and were honoured at the first ceremony.

The legendary Jamaican trombonist Don Drummond, joined Manley as two of the most iconic Jamaican figures to have passed away in 1969. Drummond's musical journey, as per school records shown to me by the late Sister Ignatius, began at the Alpha Boys School as a nine year-old on December 10, 1943. Two years after admission, he was placed in the school band and taught the most awkward of instruments - the trombone.

He mastered it in almost 'no time' and soon began to entertain his peers and teachers with sharp, crisp multiple short notes. After graduation he joined the then famous Eric Deans All Stars band as the trombonist, honing his musical talents to the extent that by the mid-1950s he was rated the best of his kind in the land. His musical arrangements like Eastern Standard Time, Music Is My Occupation, Confucius and others, have helped to shape Jamaica's popular music.