Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Today is Easter Sunday 2011 and the airwaves will naturally be filled with songs about the man seen as the ultimate Christian hero, Jesus. However, Jamaican popular music is noticeably bereft of songs lauding Jamaica's National Heroes Paul Bogle, George William Gordon, Nanny, Samuel Sharpe, Sir Alexander Bustamante, Norman Manley and Marcus Garvey.
Queen Ifrica's Times Like These is a notable exception as a recent song that has struck a chord with the music-loving public, speaking directly to the Jamaican heroes - at least, one or two of them.
After a number of quotes from the one national hero with a consistent popular music presence, Marcus Garvey, Ifrica sings:
"They took away the voices that gave the people pride
Now we plunging into darkness
We all have to play our part
Make a bold start
Every disc jock tell every artiste"
And in the chorus she sings:
"It's times like these I'm missing our heroes
Times like these I really wish they were around
It shouldn't have to be like this
Me know say you try you best
But we haffi go do the rest"
Although she invokes the accustomed name of Garvey first, then Marley's name and Miss Lou, Ifrica does mention other heroes who are much less celebrated in song, going on to plead "we need you Sam Sharpe, we need you Nanny" close to the end of the song.
Coincidentally, or maybe reflecting an ongoing trend in music, Chalice's mid-1990's song Heroes also asks for the presence of the heroes, beginning:
"Kingston's streets are so dear to me
And yet a cancer grows in our society
And they're poisoning the young ones' minds
With chemicals and guns
Is this the way to raise your daughters or to raise your sons?"
And it goes on to question:
"Where are the heroes of yesterday
Oh where is Martin Luther King
To make those bells of freedom ring?"
Heroes invokes the name of a Garvey as well.
Ironically, one of the staple songs about Marcus Garvey, Burning Spear's Ol' Marcus Garvey, puts him in the context of being forgotten, at the expense of other heroes. Winston Rodney sings:
"No one remembers ol' Marcus Garvey
No one remembers him, no one
They been talking about Paul Bogle
They been talking about William Gordon
They been talking about Norman Washington Manley
The ongoing musical lauding of Garvey, notably by Rastafarian entertainers, is in keeping with Dr Leachin Semaj's observations, reported in The Sunday Gleaner on March 13.
"The people chose Garvey as a hero before the Government declared him so," Semaj said, pointing to Garvey's impact on the Rastafarian movement. "Rasta chose Garvey and have continued to honour Marcus," Semaj said. "The Government named Marcus a national hero, but the paradox is after that, what?"
Conversely, those that the government chose have been notably absent from Jamaican popular music, indicating if not a lack of consensus, then certainly a marked lack of enthusiasm.