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Story of the song - Little Roy waits on 'Prophesy'

Published:Sunday | November 28, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Burning Spear
Earl 'Little Roy' Lowe
Peter Tosh
Bob Marley

"Looks like the sun it doesn't shine for me

All I'm living trying to be free

But freedom is a must I know

No matter how they fuss and go on

For I read these things in prophesy

For when the rain comes falling down and they got no water

They gonna bow down to the ground wishing that they were under

And when the stars come ... and fire's burning

There will be weeping and a gnashing of teeth everyone will be mourning

Sinners you will be mourning"

Mel Cooke, Sunday Gleaner Writer

Singer Earl 'Little Roy' Lowe waited for a while before Prophesy came to him in 1972. It was not a matter of trusting that the promise from a higher power would become reality, though, but keeping faith in his muse as he waited for the right song to come to fit the rhythm he already had.

Little Roy said that a producer called Blacka Manuell, who ran the Manuell Esquire label, did a recording session and sold the resulting rhythm to his Tafari label.

"The rhythm was there and I had to find a song for the rhythm," Little Roy said.

However, finding the right song proved elusive. "Many songs came (to my mind), but me reject them," Little Roy said. Then, one night, he went up to Shortwood Road and "I was in a room, a back room". There, in the company of his girlfriend, Prophesy came to him all at once, words and melody. Little Roy had to share the Prophesy immediately and says "I called one of my friend, Stero, and say I find the song."

"It was memorable. I did not even have to write it down," Little Roy said.

Great song

Prophesy was recorded at North Parade, Kingston, above Randy's Record Store that has grown into mega reggae distributor VP Records, a few days after. Little Roy says Marcia Griffiths was there and encouraged him, saying it was a great song, while Lee 'Scratch' Perry "took the voice" as engineer.

Prophesy sold gradually, Little Roy saying that "we did not press that much. Say, we press 1,000, it sell. We press more, so we keep selling". However, he says "Prophesy is a song that travelled and never stopped travelling".

It has travelled throughout the years, as Freddie McGregor covered the song in 1989 and it became a huge hit for him, just as Little Roy's Tribal War hit for John Holt.

  • Foretelling, foreboding and self-styled seers

While Little Roy's Prophesy was recorded in 1972 and has become an enduring roots-reggae track, unsurprisingly, belief in prophets and their visions had long been a staple of popular music in a country where spirituality underpins cultural expression.

There have been musical performers who have shown belief in prophets and prophecy and even claimed that they were prophets themselves.

In Give Thanks and Praises, Bob Marley claims the divinity of Rastafari through its Biblical connection. He sings:

"Noah had three sons, Ham, Shem and Japhet

And in Ham is rose to be the prophet

Glory to Jah the prophet has come

Throughout these ages

Glory to Jah the prophet has come

Throughout these stages

Rastafari is his name"

Peter Tosh claimed himself to be the Mystic Man and, in the song Crystal Ball, speaks about looking into the future and seeing especially harsh economic times.

However, in the seven-minute-long Creation, Tosh takes the story of the birth of the universe directly from Genesis and then morphs it into his own belief that "Jah is my keeper".

In Marcus Garvey, Burning Spear states "Marcus Garvey word come to pass/Can't get no food to eat/No money to spend". And in Two Sevens Clash the late Joseph 'Culture' Hill turns the folklore of Apocalyptic events in 1977 into song, also referring to a Garvey prediction that no one else would go into a particular jail cell that he had just come out of.

There is one entertainer who has taken on the persona of a prophet, deejay Capleton dubbing himself so in the mid-1990s, as a central figure in the Rastafari resurgence in that era of deejay music. In Prophet, Capleton deejayed:

"Some sey dem a dupe, some sey dat dem a don

Me a prophet, de son of Abraham

Me inspired by God and not by man ... ."

And the first of Capleton's two albums for American label Def Jam was titled Prophecy, Capleton musing in the title track:

"Them hard to believe that prophecy, mus' haffi reveal."

- M.C.