Tue | Dec 18, 2018

Story of the Song | Hunger makes 'dutchie' out of 'kouchie'

Published:Sunday | June 24, 2018 | 12:00 AMMelville Cooke
British band Musical Youth in the 1980s.
Musical Youth
Tony Owens
The Mighty Diamonds
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The Mighty Diamonds and Musical Youth both sang about pot but neither used the word in the titles of their hit songs. In Jamaica, The Mighty Diamonds made Pass the Kouchie a marijuana (also called pot) anthem which starts their 1982 album Changes. In England, the boy group Musical Youth, which included the sons of Jamaicans, did the mega hit Pass the Dutchie, the word change transforming the song from an ode to communal herb smoking, to a group demanding for a turn at the pot.

Toney Owens, co-founder of Musical Youth in Birmingham, England, along with Freddie Waite, told The Sunday Gleaner that it was he who was responsible for the word change in the Musical Youth remake. With the quintet starting to make a name, a major label A&R representative Charlie Ar was slated to listen to them, but he was about 90 minutes late for the session at which they did their originals. "We ran through the songs. We took a break and Freddie was jamming Pass the Kouchie on guitar. The A&R guy stepped in and said 'I like that song'," Owens said.

Owens explained that not only was it not Musical Youth's song, but also that the kouchie is a pipe Rastafarians smoke not subject material for a clean-cut boy band including minors. Ar suggested changing kutchie to Mar's Bar (a popular sweet snack) or some other candy, but Owens refused, as he wanted Musical Youth to be taken seriously. "I have been grooming them for two years and I don't want them to be a gimmick," he told Ar.

The listening session done, the A&R man signing off on songs to be recoded for a demo. That evening, Owens walked into his house and called to his wife, "Dulcie, mi hungry, whe yu cook today?" She replied "go look inna di dutchie no?". It was the moment of musical change. "I said to myself dutchie, kouchie, how do you feel when you have no food?" Owens said. He called Waite and said "mi have the line!" The next day Musical Youth recorded the demo, including Pass the Dutchie. Ar was not expecting the song, and when Owens hopped on a train to London and played it for the label's executives "it blow them mind".

A pop music producer was brought in and Musical Youth recorded their debut album The Youth of Today at the Workhouse Studio. Released in 1982 on MCA Records according to www.discogs.com, it begins with Pass the Dutchie just as The Mighty Diamonds' album Changes began with Pass the Kouchie. Owens said Pass the Dutchie was recorded during a day session in September, with the release in October of 1982. The single debuted in the top 100 of the British charts, but after Musical Youth did a BBC television programme, Owens said, "it went to 26 and then number one and stayed for three weeks. The sales were phenomenal", as Owens, said "we were selling 130,000 a day."

Subsequently, there was litigation over Pass the Dutchie, which Owens said he refused to get involved in. "I did not claim any of the writing credit. I was so thankful to have a hit," he said. Plus, he had credits on the B side of the vinyl single. As for the A side, Pass the Dutchie, he said "some people start to fight over it. There were court battles and all that. I said leave me out of it, I was not greedy."