Welton Irie gets a laugh out of 'Army Life'
On Wednesday, The Gleaner reported that in 2017, approximately 56.4 per cent of Jamaicans supported the idea of a military coup under extraordinary circumstances. This was up from 39.7 per cent in 2006 and 49.2 per cent in 2014.
It is a good time to revisit Welton Irie's Army Life, a deejay tale about the day-to-day existence of a soldier who wants out.
The army ranks - literally - at the top of the pile of macho jobs. But in 1982, deejay Welton Irie put a comical spin on life in the army, which hit the top of the charts. In Army Life, Welton Irie lays down a list of let-downs - from the equipment to the food. The introduction sets a courtroom scene:
"Private Welton Irie, you are charged with detention
How do you plead?
Guilty wid explanation, sar."
And then the litany of woes begins:
"They say that in the army, the shoes are very fine
I asked for number seven They gave me number nine
They say that in the army the guns are very fine
Well I asked them for an M-16 they give me an M-9."
In the chorus, the deejay yearns for his own home - and hence the desertion:
"So I don't want no more army life
Skipper, I want to go
Back to my cheerio
Skipper, I want to go back home
That a home sweet home and ..."
The second verse begins with one of the song's most humorous couplets:
"They say that in the army The food is very fine
A dumpling fell off the table and killed a friend of mine"
Welton Irie, whose given name is Welton Dobson, was never in the army. He readily concedes that he got the idea for Army Life after hearing another deejay with the style and points out that this process of inspiration was common in those days. Also, he was not the first deejay to pick up on the lyric and write a song about hypothetical army life.
He recorded Army Life at Channel One studios on a rhythm created by Sly and Robbie. It was produced for Tanka, who lived in New York at the time but who had heard Welton Irie deejay the lyrics on Gemini sound system live at a dance or on a cassette. "In those days, producer used to take in the dances. If your name was not called in the dance, they would not record you. Whatever lyrics they see buss the place, they want you to record for them," he said.
Recorded in August 1982, Welton Irie said that Army Life hit number one in October, selling 30,000 copies. However, it did not result in numerous performances for him because of two things. For one, he went to New York for some time at the high point of Army Life and so missed out on any concert opportunities he would have had in Jamaica. Plus, there was the deejay's lowly status in an era where singers ruled the roost.
"No great emphasis never deh pon deejay. We were a dutty dancehall ting and a frowzy ting. The big hype and big sponsorship now never used to happen then. My name was out there already as a big deejay, but it never give you no big push like in the mainstream, even though all the major show you on it. Is since Yellowman, them focus on it," Welton Irie said.
On a trip to Europe in 2007, Welton Irie discovered that Army Life was not his "big tune". He went to Germany and Finland and "is some other
cultural tune them know. I did an album for Glen Brown, and when him did tell me which rhythm to use, me did wonder. But him see the bigger picture". At the two shows in Finland, which attracted about 500 people each, people turned up with albums for Welton Irie to sign.
"It and Army Life is the highlight of my career," he said.