Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Lord Creator, Alborosie record songs 29 years apart
Although the anniversary has been acknowledged, in the euphoria over Jamaica's 50th year of Independence Kingston's 140th anniversary has not reached anywhere near a similar level of celebration.
Strictly speaking, Kingston is a small grid focused around the waterfront. Ironically, although much of it is dilapidated - something which could be changing over the next few years as Digicel's headquarters relocation injects new life into the long-standing effort to restore Kingston. The organisation of the roads is especially apparent on a Sunday when the clear view to the harbour from South Parade along King Street emphasises the layout.
However, although it was Kingston that became Jamaica's capital on April 11, 1872, the wider urbanised area of St Andrew, of which Half-Way Tree is the capital, has long been considered to also be 'town'. And, chances are, when Lord Creator from Trinidad and Alborosie from Italy did songs titled Kingston Town 29 years apart. They were not referring only to the official area of downtown Kingston.
Lord Creator, originally from Trinidad, and Alborosie from Italy have both made Jamaica their homes.
Lord Creator did Kingston Town in 1970, although on June 24 this year The Sunday Gleaner reported that "Kingston Town was, in fact, a reggae remake by Creator of a 1963 ska recording with identical words titled Babylon, written and also performed by Creator for producer Randy Chin."
With Jamaica within its first decade of Independence and only a year after establishing its own currency - and the politically centred strife of the turbulent 1970s not yet started - Creator's song reflected the optimism of the time.
For Creator, the city is even magical, as he sings:
The night seems to fade
But the moonlight lingers on
There are wonders for everyone
The stars shine so bright
But they're fading after dawn
There is magic in Kingston town
From there, Creator's Kingston Town focuses on the magic of an attractive woman in his city of choice to live, work and make music. In the chorus he dubs Kingston "the place I long to be" and declares "if I had the whole world/I would give it away/just to see the girls at play".
The romance becomes a regal affair:
And when I am king
Surely I would need a queen
And a palace and
And now I am king
And my queen will come at
She'll be waiting in Kingston
Lord Creator was born in 1935 and Alborosie in 1977, during the decade when Jamaica was in the middle of the ideological conflict between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that was reflected by the polarisation of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and People's National Party (PNP). Kingston was the hottest of the hot spots - and not so much for dancing, but gunshots.
So in 2009, when he did Kingston Town, Alborosie's song reflected the social and economic rot that robbed Kingston of much of its magic. It was a year when Jamaica had 1,683 murders, with Kingston being a large part of the bloody equation.
Where Lord Creator saw magic, Alborosie saw toughness, deejaying from the beginning "it's a rude boy town, it's Kingston town".
And Alborosie describes the personalities within that town:
Some man no have no manners still a try fi beg a ting
If yu no drop no greens a straight up dissing ting
Guns, naturally, make an appearance, on both sides of the law as "JCF a move rough dem buss de M-16/Some man a drive up an dung dem have de lates' ting/Machine fit inna dem jeans ...". There is a whiff of marijuana and, a common sight around Kingston, "one madman get him food straight out of the garbage bin".
The toughness gets graphic in the second verse, as Alborosie defines "this is the gunland" and observes "them dig more graves than rooms up a Hilton".
Still the ladies are not left out ("the gal them pants tight like rubber suit"), although they are not quite the regal persons who Creator wanted to be with ("them ago play yu an' trick yu if yu a Mama's bway").
Alborosie has long called Jamaica home, so he warns the visitors who may wander around and end up in a sticky situation:
If yu a stranger an yu a drive make sure yu know the route
Yu nuh wanna get salute by a gun dispute"
Lord Creator's Kingston Town found favour with another set of persons not from Jamaica but who came to know, love, make and be hugely successful in reggae.
Kingston Town was covered by British reggae group UB40 on its album Labour of Love II. The video for Alborosie's Kingston Town has nearly 4,300,000 hits on YouTube, since being posted in late December 2010.
Although it is not the title, the words 'Kingston town' feature in a song that predates Lord Creator's creation, as Jamaica Farewell (the most popular version done by Harry Belafonte) also makes the connection between women and Kingston with:
My heart is down my head is
I had to leave a little girl in