Tue | Jul 14, 2020

The Music Diaries | Local popular songs on the political campaign trail

Published:Sunday | March 31, 2019 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia Grange
January 1, 1977: Neville Martin rendering his hit “The Message” for which he had the audience jumping for joy, at the Carib Theatre at the Clancy Eccles “Roots Revue”.
Both former Prime Ministers Edward Seaga (left) and PJ Patterson have a long history in music.
1967: Clancy Eccles, an example to Jamaican youths.

The practice in Jamaica of political parties using popular recordings as campaign songs to bolster their campaigns has become widespread over the years. Perhaps the earliest instance was in 1960 when Clancy Eccles (one of the earliest Studio One pioneers) allowed his recording of Freedom, to be adopted by The Jamaica Labour Party in its fight against the Federation of the West Indies.

The recording, which was very popular at the time, greatly assisted the then chief minister and founder of The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Sir Alexander Bustamante to fulfill his dream of making Jamaica an Independent nation. By 1962, Eccles had moved into stage show promotions, and a decade later, became a militant socialist, aligning himself to the People’s National Party (PNP) during the lead-up to the general elections of ’72. Eccles became very close to Prime Minister-hopeful Michael Manley- and acted like a talent scout in the recruitment of artistes to do songs for Manley’s political campaign.

One of the biggest-selling and most impactful recordings of that period – as far as politics was concerned – was Neville Martin’s The Message, produced by Eccles in ’76. History has it that Martin wrote the song, praising the PNP for several projects the party started after their ’72 victory. Some of the lyrics tell the story:

“Said you juck them with the land lease

Then you juck them with Jamal

Juck them with free education

Then Juck them with the Cuban School

I and I born ya, my leader born ya.”

Martin seized the opportunity to showcase the song while the PNP was on a campaign trail in his home town of Amity Hall, St James. The tumultuous response prompted Eccles to record the song at Dynamic Sounds Recording Company a few weeks before the ’76 elections, which was due on December 15. It sold some 150,000 copies and was credited with changing the mood of the country and the mind of the people at a point when Manley’s PNP was behind in the polls. Other popular campaign songs of the ’70s included Rod of Correction by Clancy Eccles, Pharaoh Hiding by Junior Byles, Let The Power Fall On I, Joshua Row The Boat Ashore, Joshua Gwan, and No Joshua No, all done by Max Romeo.

Though some songs were deliberately done to either support or denounce political parties, there were others that had nothing to do with politics, yet they were used by political parties, some without their knowledge and against the wish of the singers, to support political campaigns. This practice sometimes created anxious moments for entertainers who thought that their lives could be at risk.

There were other instances where artistes wrote songs about their own personal condition, but they were used for political purposes. A glaring example is Delroy Wilson’s 1972 reggae hit Better Must Come. According to Wilson, he wrote the song to express his own personal despair at seeing so many other artistes gaining financial and other rewards, while he, who had contributed so much, was still struggling. Wilson’s despair is almost palpably felt as he sings:

“I’ve been trying a long, long time,

Still I can’t make it

Everything I try to do seems to go wrong

It seems I’ve done something wrong,

Why they trying to keep me down”.

I Man Born Ya (1975) by Pluto Shervington, Action Not a Bag a Mouth by Nadine Sutherland and Terror Fabulous, and Bunny Wailer’s Crucial, done at the end of the ’70s, were all used in political campaigns without the permission of the singers. Ken Lazarus’ Hail The Man in 1972 adds to the pool of recordings that made the ’70s a politically charged decade.

As we gear up for a major by-election in East Portland, we become increasingly aware of the connection politics has always had with music. Two former prime ministers, one deputy prime minister and a current government minister, were deeply involved with Jamaican music in its embryonic stage. Olivia Grange, the current minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sports, has managed several top Jamaican recording artistes, including Shabba Ranks and Cobra.

Among many other musical achievements, Edward Seaga has the distinction of producing and releasing the first Jamaican hit recording – Mannie Oh – to be issued on vinyl for commercial purposes. In 2012, Seaga curated and released a musical box set – Reggae Golden Jubilee 50th Anniversary – Origins of Jamaican music.

P.J. Patterson, who once managed the incomparable Skatalites, was the attorney for trombonist Don Drummond when he was accused of murdering his girlfriend, Anita ‘Margarita’ Mahfood, in 1965; while Seymour ‘Foggy’ Mullings, who served as deputy prime minister to Patterson in the ’90s and 2000s, did regular gigs at Jamaican jazz concerts and gave piano lessons to young piano enthusiasts.

Dr Omar Davis, a firm supporter of Studio1, has researched and published papers on Jamaican popular music. Among them is the unravelling of the story behind The Heptones’ Book of Rules published in the Jamaica Journal of August 2009 and a compilation of the top 100 Jamaican recordings since Independence.

THIS IS THE FINAL ARTICLE IN THE MUSIC DIARIES SERIES. Look out for something new and exciting in this space in the coming weeks.