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STORY OF THE SONG: 'I Can See Clearly' a rare singer/poet standout

Published:Sunday | January 9, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Garnet Silk
Yasus Afari

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

While holding its own in live performance, and certainly popular with schools entering the annual Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) speech contests, save for a precious few recordings, dub poetry has had far less impact on record.

For one, far less recordings have been actually done than the prodigious live output at Festival would seem to indicate there is potential for. And from that, only a miniscule amount have gone on to resonate with the population outside of dedicated poetry fans.

Yasus Afari, beginning with his Dancehall Baptism album for RAS Records in 1993, has made a significant number of the popular poetry recordings. Among them is I Can See Clearly, Garnet Silk singing the Johnny Nash Billboard chart-topper from 1972 (later covered by Jimmy Cliff) and Yasus Afari infusing his original lyrics. The title of their cover drops the 'now' from the title. So, after Silk sings the opening lines, Afari comes in with:

"Wash you troubles, wash them all away

Come make we work fe fin' a new day

An' if you work you mus' get you pay ... ."

Silk sings again and Yasus Afari intones:

"Progress, is the name of the game

No bother worship you riches an' fame

Feed the hungry, help the lame

Shelter the shelterless an' feed the children

No bother bow dung to the heathen

You words and works you know God will bless ..."

Afari tells The Sunday Gleaner that he and Garnet Silk recorded I Can See Clearly in 1991 for producer Courtney Cole on the Roof International imprint.

"That song was recorded on my birthday," he said. And, as he relates, it proved to be the birth of significant artistic movement.

Before the recording, though, came a visit from Silk to Yasus in Mandeville, Manchester. "Is the first time me see him hair wash an' nuh comb," Afari said. "Me was doing some leatherwork at the time." He saw Silk again at Three Miles, St Andrew, with Cole, and they eventually started to reason in Pembroke Hall. One day, they got a call there from Cole, who asked them to record in Ocho Rios the following day. "Me say is my birthday. Him say is the best time," Afari recalled.

Prayer answered

When they got to Grove Studio in Ocho Rios, they had separate songs, but Afari says Silk said, "Yasus, you know how long me a pray for a combination". He replied: "Alright, me never plan to do it, but start it."

Silk sang the first lines of I Can See Clearly Now and Afari asked that he do it again. Connecting with the rain reference, he immediately came up with "wash your troubles, wash them all away". When he asked those in the studio, including engineer Barry O'Hare, Cole, and deejay Jigsy King, how it sounded, they gave their full endorsement.

The recording was done within half an hour. Silk and Afari did their separate recordings (Nothing Can Divide Us and Tek Teaching, respectively) and the poet was on his way to Mandeville via bus. On the way, he said, people told him that they heard a recording with him and a white woman, which he knew nothing about. "By the time I get to Mandeville, my woman say she hear a tune with me and Silk on the radio. Me say is only one tune me do with him," Afari recalls. So he called Cole and found out that after he left the studio I Can See Clearly had been put on dub plate and given to disc jocks at IRIE FM, getting immediate airplay.

And from then, Yasus said, it has been in rotation, although it was when he started travelling that he really understood the impact and reach of I Can See Clearly.