Story of the Song - Marley guides pre-teen Nadine
Published: Sunday | February 15, 2009
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
When Nadine Sutherland recorded Starvation on the Land, she was "11, about to turn 12". And she did it under the guidance of a man more than 20 years older who would be dead within two years of the recording but who, for all musical purposes, is immortal. Bob Marley.
Meeting the Tuff Gong was not a big thing for the then St Andrew High School student, who recorded her first hit (Starvation on the Land went to number two on the charts) at 56 Hope Road after school one evening in her uniform.
No big deal at the time
"I didn't care a hoot. It was after, when I got older, that it became a great deal," Sutherland told The Sunday Gleaner. "My father now, he understood the importance. For me, it was like (her tone gets flippant) 'Bob Marley'. As the years went by, Bob Marley became (now her voice is loaded with significance) 'Bob Marley'. Even to shake his hand ... ."
Recording a song was part of Sutherland's prize for winning the 1979 Tastee Talent Contest, at which Yellowman came fourth. "Tastee gave me a lot of fame. It was the 'Rising Stars' of the moment," she said.
So she was duly introduced to Marley a few days before Christmas 1979. When they met at 56 Hope Road, there was no handshake, though. "He just smiled at me," Sutherland said. "I smiled back. I was like 'hi, how are you?' I heard he thought I was just cute."
When she recorded Starvation on the Land in January 1980, it was her first studio experience. "I should have been nervous, but childhood innocence ... ." There was also innocence to the implications of the Sangie Davis-penned song in the run-up to the 1980 general election. So she was coached and sang:
"See them at the bus stop, 10 cents
Not going to school, that makes no sense
Still they're fighting for the right, no pretence
Even cleaning car windows at the stop light
Everyone a hustling, bustling, trying to pay someone
So beware of how you buy and sell
Without your shop your soul might end in hell
Don't abuse your culture, don't be fooled
Right now when I check it I know things steep
Neither the buyer or the seller can reap."
Now, though, she understands the significance of, especially, those last two lines. "We're living it right now," Sutherland told The Sunday Gleaner.
At the recording session for Starvation on the Land, where the music was laid down by Twelve Tribes members, "Bob came in. I did not know he was in the studio. He came in and hummed the bass line for the musicians. It was a whole different vibe when Bob stepped in. And he went back into the engineering booth."
After the recording session "I went back to school, back to everything, back to life". But she would literally wake up to the significance of Starvation on the Land. Sutherland said: "Then I woke up in the morning to Allan Magnus playing Starvation on the Land. I was coming home on the bus and I heard Starvation on the Land."
"I learned I was famous," she said, laughing. That fame naturally increased with the climb up the music charts to the number two spot.
As to the political significance of the song, Sutherland said, "I was a child. If they had given me Mary Had a Little Lamb and said sing, I would sing".
"It gave me a lot," Sutherland said about Starvation on the Land. "I performed it over and over again, mash up stage show. Jamaica was still in the roots vibes." And it had an impact when she performed it at the recent Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes and Affiliates tribute to Bob Marley and Dennis Brown, held in the gardens of The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, New Kingston.
They might not have spoken much at the time, but Sutherland knows what Marley was thinking about her. "I have seen interviews where he spoke about me, the plans he had for me. He was about to sign all of the Tuff Gong roster to Polygram and I was at the head of the roster," she told The Sunday Gleaner.
"He was just ardent about taking me to places I had never been before."