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STORY OF THE SONG - Cocoa Tea sings for 'Barack Obama'

Published: Sunday | December 14, 2008

United States President-elect Barack Obama.

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

Jamaica has a storied history of political activism - or at least commentary - in song, from Peter Tosh's 'Fight, fight, fight 'gainst apartheid' through to Supercat's off-hand 'We no fraid a Ronald Reagan who a run America' in Under Pressure.

By and large, however, the amplified voices of the people were quiet about the events leading up to the Democratic landslide which changed Barack Obama's 'Yes We Can' message to a collective 'Yes We Have' worldwide in early November.

There was one voice, though, which stated its preference for Obama in typically melodious manner. And unlike many public endorsements of the Democratic candidate outside America when the result was almost a given, Cocoa Tea put his endorsement of Obama on record in January.

In Barack Obama he sings:

"Well this is not about class

No colour, race or creed

Make no mistake it's the change

Whe de people them need

Them say Barack Obama."

He injects some humour into his choice of Democratic candidate:

"It is not Hilary Clinton

It is not John Wayne

It is not Chuck Norris."

And Cocoa Tea puts his certainty of Obama's victory in racial context:

"Nuff cyaa believe a true

Black come fe run de red, white and blue."

Politics of America

"I wrote the song about late January," Cocoa Tea told The Sunday Gleaner. "Me is a man sit down and watch CNN all the time. Right now is MSNBC me a watch.

"Why me is so interested in the politics of America is that it affects I and I; I was in touch with the primaries from it start. The only message that speak to I was from Obama," he said. And that message was change.

"A message like this is a winning message," Cocoa Tea said. In addition, as a Rastafarian, "according to prophesy it was the right time for a black man come to power in the United States of America (USA)".

Barack Obama was conceived and recorded in short order, as it was done at Cocoa Tea's own Roaring Lion recording facility in Hayes, Clarendon. "I man is an artiste who no write with no paper. Me just go in the studio and sing," he said. He tried the lyrics and melody on a rhythm that had already been done, which proved a good choice although it had to be adjusted slightly. "I thought it was the right rhythm - right tempo, right melody and something people could dance to," he told The Sunday Gleaner.

Wrapped up

Barack Obama was recorded in the late afternoon, the session wrapped up at about 6:30. There was no delay in getting it on the road, as it was mixed at Bobby Digital's Kingston studio the following day. Culture Lion does the 'Obama' response to Cocoa Tea's call and members of Beres Hammond's band are among the musicians who played on the track. The Step by Step band from Mandeville did some overdubs.

And just as Cocoa Tea was sure that Obama would be the next president of the USA, "when I make the tune and call some brethren to hear it them say this gone. It hit".

And it has. Not only has Barack Obama been very popular on radio, but it has also hit the poll position on the charts in New York and Florida and stayed there for nine and eight weeks, respectively. More importantly for Cocoa Tea, "a lot of people, when this tune started playing, they did not really know who Barack Obama is. I open the ears of the people".

Television promotion

He first performed it at Louie Culture's 'Portland Splash', held in February, when it was already getting some airplay and he had done some television promotion. "They were singing it word for word," Cocoa Tea said. Then he went to Europe in August, performing at Summerjam in Germany, Rototom in Italy and Sundance in Holland. "When I did the song I was blown away by the reaction of the people. Everyone a sing the song, white people," he said.

However, with the USA being much closer to home and the Bush regime's 'with us or against us' mentality clear, Cocoa Tea naturally had some concerns about potential fallout from Barack Obama. "I man think about them ting deh. It have to cross your mind. Once you a start deal with politics you know the ramification," he said.

Negative reactions

Quite a few people put the song up on YouTube and among the numerous plaudits were some negative reactions. "I an I is Rasta. I don't endorse politics," Cocoa Tea said, quoting Marcus Garvey on confidence. "The conviction I man have in knowing Barack Obama going to win this election it mean nothing to me," Cocoa Tea said in dismissing the criticism. "The Bush thing never get to my head."

"When the Iowa primary run and I see the landslide victory the people give Obama I felt vindicated," he said.

He recently returned from a promotional trip to New York, after Obama's victory, and "that's where all hell break loose. Everything come into play".

  • Press pays special attention

    "I have made songs and songs and songs, but this one is special because it has made its way into history," Cocoa Tea said. "Apart from Bob Marley, who is the inspiration for us all, I feel this is one of the songs going down in history as one that cannot be removed from the minds of the people.

    "When I heard it played on CNN that was something. But when I look at YouTube and people say they heard it on NPR (National Public Radio)," Cocoa Tea said in wonder. "Them people no really play music. Is straight politics. And I don't even know anybody from there. When people from Wall Street Journal call me and the Associated Press, that is the ultimate," he said.


    Apart from Portland Splash, Barack Obama has been performed only one other time in Jamaica, at 'St Mary Me Come From'. Cocoa Tea was in New York last week and delivered the song live there for the second time. But next week, he will be going back.

    He told The Sunday Gleaner that he will be performing for "the biggest union. It will be held at the Sheraton ballroom in Manhattan. They are the biggest influence that help elect Obama".

    "They promised Obama will be there," he told The Sunday Gleaner.

    "Is this song why they call me in. They said they have to have the man who sing the Obama song," he said.

    Still, with all the prominence Barack Obama has brought him, when Cocoa Tea was recording it "me not even a think about the level of success. I was just trying to add a voice to elect Obama. I was just trying to get some Caribbean people on-board".

    And he said it worked, as he turned quite a few Hilary Clinton supporters around.

    - MC


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