'I Man Born Ya' written in pre-1976 election optimism ... then Pluto Shervington migrates, but still a committed Jamaican
Published: Sunday | October 18, 2009
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
"But I man born ya
I am man on ya
I nah leave yah
Fe go America
No way sah
Pot a boil ya
Belly full ya
Chorus, 'I Man Born Ya'.
In 1975, things were humming along for Pluto Shervington as surely as a new turntable needle set solidly in a clean LP groove, with no dust mites or vibration determined to disturb the melodic flow of the audio.
"Things were good here. Things were happening. Business was good. I was in the jingles business as well," Shervington told The Sunday Gleaner. "I had my own studio. That year, 1975, I think I wrote 50 of the major jingles I heard on radio and produced them. I had a studio that was doing very well, records were doing well. I was touring all over the world; life was good."
In that period of optimism, three years after the election which had swept Michael Manley into power, Shervington wrote the nationalistic, celebratory I Man Born Ya in a series of jolly jams which rocked the nation. There was Ram Goat Liver about a running belly encounter with a 'lick dung' goat; Your Honour explored the predicament of a man caught nude in a woman's closet by an irate husband; and Dat Ting Dere rummaged through the parcel of a Rastafarian who had to resort to eating pork.
I Man Born Ya was actually written ahead of Dat Ting Dere, but was the last of the quality quartet released. Shervington tells The Sunday Gleaner when he wrote it, "I truly didn't think I was leaving anywhere.
"A lot can happen in that year and a half," he said.
That 'lot' was a violent 1976 general election, which Michael Manley-led People's National Party (PNP) also won, the period including a state of emergency.
"It was a hell of a year. A lot hinged on who was going to win that election," Shervington told The Sunday Gleaner.
Although some persons had already started the exodus from Jamaica, mostly to the United States, Shervington said "it was not until right ahead of the election at the end of 1976 that everyone started to get jumpy. The crime went sky high".
I Man Born Ya got caught up in the vortex of nationalism, as he says "the PNP used that song as their theme song. Nobody asked me. I was not unhappy, but I would not have wanted that because it tended to align me to one side. I wanted to be neutral". Still, nobody branded Shervington a PNP supporter openly, this while his good friend Ernie Smith was getting flack for Power and the Glory, which bemoaned the fighting while the kingdom goes to waste.
I Man Born Ya was recorded at Federal Records (now Tuff Gong) with musicians Val Douglas (bass), Willie Lindo (guitar), Wya Lindo (organ), Robbie Lyn (piano) and Mikey Boo (drums). Shervington said while they were recording the song "it had not hit us yet, the value of what it was going to be".
"I don't think the impact of that song hit us until after I left the country in 1977, moved to Forida. And that song ... all the people who moved away, although it contradicted what they did, they held on to it. None of them let go of Jamaica."
The night that made I Man Born Ya
He remembers the night that literally made I Man Born Ya, a concert held on the Jamaica House lawns with Fabulous Five Incorporated playing the music for the performers. "I was way down at the end," he said. He would later find out that the line-up had been organised that way specifically because of I Man Born Ya. In front of a crowd Shervington estimates was more than 70,000 people, Prime Minister Michael Manley walked onstage and demanded the 'pull up'.
"After that you could not turn it back," Shervington said, the song going on to top the charts for weeks.
And the lasting impact of I Man Born Ya in Jamaica did not hit Shervington until 20 years after he left Jamaica for Florida. Although he had come back and done small shows, his first major concert appearance was on Ernie Smith's celebratory 30 years and Life is Just for Living event at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, with Johnny Nash, Ken Lazarus and the original band which had played the hits.
"It wasn't 'til then I saw Jamaicans were not angry at me because I had written that song and left," he told The Sunday Gleaner. He chuckles as he said "I had no shame at all. I would walk up onstage and sing it like I had never left."
Over time, Shervingtion has adjusted lines when he performs I Man Born Ya, the change including "nuff ganja grow ya" and "nah leave ya till me get me visa" in the chorus, as well as "meanwhile Portia lock the gate" in one of the verses.
The Sunday Gleaner asked Shervington if there was any line he would change in the original recording and he paused, looked up and right into the distance of 32 years ago, the rise and fall of his chest the only movement of his body. Then he said "belly full ya". I would not have written that in the song. There were people here who were starving. That was a selfish line."
"Mine was full and others were OK, but you had a lot of poor people who were not eating. That is why they took to Michael as they did. He promised them all of you will eat now. Which was a promise he could not keep, unfortunately," Shervington said.