The Music Diaries | Bob Andy for the poor
The impact of the high exchange rate of the United States dollar in relation to the Jamaican dollar has been described by government and banking sources as having no real negative effect on the Jamaican economy. Be that as it may, the stark reality is that the prices of basic food items and other necessities are increased almost weekly, taking them out of the reach of persons in the lower strata of society. It is an incontrovertible fact that price increases, in many instances, have been linked to the high exchange rate.
Nobody seems to be seriously addressing this issue or to be offering a proper explanation in layman's terms for the anomaly. We need to retrace our steps to the 1970s when recording artistes like Bob Andy - to my mind Jamaica's most talented musical lyricist - presented some glaring eye-openers about some of the injustices dished out to the poorer classes. He ought to be commended for his efforts in lobbying, through his music, for the improvement in the condition of their lives. Andy didn't mince words in his self-penned, self-produced mid-1970s recording Check It Out as he beckons his listeners to:
"Come listen to me
I made a discovery
I want to share it with you
I'll have you know that it's true
Multinationals are really criminals, all forms of gambling
There's no way you can win
Open your eyes
It's time you realise
that the rise in the price is to make more money for who's got plenty
And the trick of the trade is to keep all the hungry bellies empty.
Check it out, Check it out.
It's the break-up of day
It's time now that you have
You've been sleeping all night
Now it's time for the light
Come see these legal crooks
who learn their tricks by the books
So-called disciples of God
Who rule with an iron rod."
Apart from getting his message across, Andy's poetry in rhythmic rhyming lines is awesome.
Born Keith Anderson in the mid-1940s, Andy came to prominence in late 1966 with the release of several chart-topping recordings for the Studio 1 label. They included I've Got To Go Back Home, My Time, Too Experience, Unchained, Desperate Love and Crime Don't Pay. Before that, he had a stint with the Paragons group, which he formed with Tyrone Evans. Later, he worked as audition-man for Studio 1 and was largely responsible for establishing the career of Marcia Griffiths by writing all her early songs. Additionally, Andy wrote I Don't Want To See You Cry for Ken Boothe and It's Impossible for Delroy Wilson, among others.
In another of his musical onslaughts - Fire Burning in 1974 - Andy highlights the innermost feeling of the underprivileged when he declared:
"I was drawn into myself, observing all this time
From every angle I can see, my people you're meeting hell
Brothers have turned to crime
So they die from time to time
I'd like to ask you leaders, what have you got in mind?
I can see the fire burning,
It's getting hotter and hot."
The biting lyrics and the fire seemed to have spread as far as Jamaica House because Andy was summoned there by Prime Minister Michael Manley to offer an explanation for his outbursts and help cool the flames. In a Sunday Gleaner story of September 2, 2001, by Balford Henry, Andy, in response to Manley's interrogation said: "Mr Manley, you know sey you must have opposition as a politician. Me no have to tell you that." Although being banned for a while, the recording defied the odds and topped the charts in 1974.
Andy expressed his own personal disillusionment with the system as he sings in Let Them Say:
"People see me
They might say it's a
But the people don't realise the pangs of hell that I feel
So let them say I'm mad
They don't know how it feels to be sad
I don't know who could be glad in a situation like this.
My last shirt's torn off my back
But that's not quite the fact
My shoe is down to my socks
No place to lay my head
I don't even own a bed
I can't remember when I've eaten bread."
Of all the revolutionary songs that Andy wrote, perhaps the best known is I've Got To Go Back Home, considered the first call for repatriation in a Jamaican recording. "I smoke some herb, got a vibe, and went around the piano. All I had was the brass section in my head. The horn arrangements used to come to me, not just the lyrics, and I would just go to Bobby Ellis and hum my thing to him, and he, with his orthodox musical knowledge, would just get it in the right mould for I", Andy told me in a 2005 interview. He continued: "I felt this national weight on me because we had just attained what we thought was Independence. And from that early time, as sensitive as I was, when that came down on me, it was a vision I saw of people trodding home".
My Time, Mama Africa, Peace In Your Mind, Life Could Be A Symphony, and Unchained are additional songs by the lyrical genius that sought to balance the justice between the privileged and the underprivileged. In the last cut, Andy pleads with the powers that be to:
"Just take these chains away and set me free
Remove me out of bondage and we'll agree
Too long I've been a slave,
I want to be no more
I'd rather dig my grave than be locked behind the door."