'Wild Gilbert' - a song for all seasons
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
There has been many a 'breeze blow' across Jamaica since Hurricane Gilbert on September 12, 1988, leaving in their wake many a tune spinning on the turntables. But 22 years after it was recorded, there has been no hurricane song like Lloyd Lovindeer's Wild Gilbert, a bouncy song which puts a side-splitting twist on the tempest and its aftermath.
Lovindeer pointed out, though, that Wild Gilbert was not the first song released about the storm.
"Some people have it that it came out the day after, but it didn't," he told The Sunday Gleaner. It was released on his own TSOJ (The Sounds of Jamaica) label about three weeks after Gilbert had passed. Lovindeer explained that Dynamic Sounds, where Wild Gilbert had been recorded, had been flooded and was closed for about two weeks. Lovindeer had his song ready when they were back in business and, along with the Riddim Kings Band, did an early afternoon session that produced a song which took Jamaica like storm. Lovindeer sang:
Well, Gilbert yuh gone ha ha,
Now wi can chat behind yuh back …
Water come inna mi room
Mi sweep out some with mi broom
Di likkle dog laugh to see such fun
And di dish run away with the spoon
Unno si mi dish unno si mi dish
Anybody unno si mi satellite d-d- dish …
Dish tek off like flying saucer
Mi roof migrate without a visa …
He said that unlike others who rushed to have a Gilbert song out first, he took his time.
"I had confidence in my lyrics," he said. Lovindeer wrote about what he witnessed, what he was told and what he imagined from reading reports about the hurricane and the aftermath. He visited friends in Shortwood, Maxfield Avenue and Constant Spring, hearing their tales. He told The Sunday Gleaner that he had a slab roof, so it was not his which migrated, although his dish fell. He laughs as he said it did not have a visa so it only went as far as his backyard. In his community, though, there were several people with satellite dishes and in his post-hurricane community canvassing "you see some dish lean up in some tree".
"You did not have to see them flying through the air," he said. "When you write songs like that you have a vivid imagination."
One renowned verse from the song surrounds the saga of a Rastafarian. Lovindeer sings:
Natty dreadlocks sidung inside
A look how Gilbert a gwaan outside
When breeze lick dung Mr Chin restaurant
Natty dread jump up and chant
Lick dem Jah! gwaan go dweet
A dem did gi di dread pork fi eat
Jook dem Jah with storm and thunder
Tear off dem roof and bruk dem window
Two sheet a zinc blow off a Joe house
Dread flash him locks and start to shout
Selassie Jah! King of Kings, show dem seh a we run tings
Blow weh dem house but mek dem survive
So when dem si I dem will realise
Is true I merciful why dem alive
Likkle after that Gilbert turn back
Lift off di roof offa natty dread shack
Him seh blouse and skirt Jah must a never know
Seh I and I live right ya so.
The dialogue came out of Lovindeer's imagination, but there really was a Rastaman he knew whose roof was blown off. He remarked to Lovindeer that life is unfair, because the houses of some wicked people were still intact while his roof was gone. Of course, there were those Rastafarians who took offence and Lovindeer recalls being outside Skateland in Half-Way Tree one day when one angry Rastaman said that he was making fun of them.
Gregory Isaacs was there and said the man should leave Lovindeer alone as "all Rasta roof fly off too, so a nuh nutten".
"I make fun of everybody in the song, myself too," Lovindeer pointed out.
Taking a walk in the eye of the storm, he did see the young men with their loot on Constant Spring Road. Plus, "after the storm you heard about places being broken into and stuff taken out. You did not have to witness everything, but based on reports you know what happened", so he wrote:
"Di youth dem a loot in the raging storm
We thank di Lord we never get hurt
Dem seh thank yuh Lord for Mr Gilbert
Cause! yuh si mi fridge! A Gilbert gimme
Yuh si mi colour TV! A Gilbert gimme
Yuh si mi new stereo! a Gilbert gimme
Yuh si mi new video! a Gilbert gimme
When performing Wild Gilbert, Lovindeer said he always laughed at the line about a cold beer costing $10, the price - which seems ridiculously low now - jacked up because cold drinks were scarce on the ground in the widespread post-Gilbert power outages.
Reason for longevity
Lovindeer credits the song's longevity to the perspective it took.
"It was a feel-good song in the midst of disaster. After you go through that and survive, you want to celebrate. It's not 'woe, woe'," Lovindeer explained. "It was danceable and everybody could relate. It was fun for everybody. You find the man from uptown couldn't get ice either. The man from ghetto couldn't get no ice. Everybody was one at the time until the light come back and everybody go them separate ways."
Lovindeer is surprised that Wild Gilbert is still wildly popular and said that sometimes when he is going to perform and makes up his song list he leaves it out. Then when he gets to the event there are requests for the song. This happens especially overseas, where for those who did not experience it, Wild Gilbert was their report on the hurricane.
And after 22 years, Lovindeer said, "I never get tired of performing that song."
- Corruption stalls number-one position
When Lloyd Lovindeer did Wild Gilbert on his The Sounds of Jamaica label, he was doing his own distribution. He told The Sunday Gleaner that at one point the demand was so high that the record was being pressed at Dynamic and Sonic Sounds simultaneously.
However, it took a while for the wild popularity to be translated into number-one chart status.
"As you know, in Jamaica the charts are corrupt. It did not hit the top of the charts until about 10 weeks after (it was released)," Lovindeer said. He said that in his 'Music Man' column in The Weekend STAR, Sonny Bradshaw wrote that it seemed there were 10 or 20 songs out there selling more than Wild Gilbert and he cannot see how the song is not number one.
"The whole Jamaica knew the song was selling," Lovindeer said.
Lovindeer laughs as he said the names of stores from which record sales data was collected were written at the bottom of the charts. Among them was a particular record store which had been looted during the hurricane and did not open until a month after. Still, the person composing the charts was stating that he was getting reports from them. "He was the laughing stock of the place," Lovindeer said.
When the song's popularity could no longer be restrained and it was officially made number one, the ranking for the year was still sorely affected. Lovindeer said Wild Gilbert ended up somewhere between 10 and 15, as "it was not on the charts when it was selling fast fast, more than anything else". The next year, Lovindeer said, Wild Gilbert was also in the top 100, making it "the only song in Jamaican history that was in the top 100 two years".
As the distributor, Lovindeer said he can personally account for about 80,000 copies of Wild Gilbert sold, while there was piracy of the record outside Jamaica.