Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
The 2012-2013 academic year begins in earnest tomorrow after the round of orientation sessions at various levels of the education system over the past week. However, school is never out in dancehall, where the 'sidewalk university' rules supreme and many an entertainer proclaims his or her intelligence in a schoolroom setting.
After all, there is a reason why Adidja 'Vybz Kartel' Palmer dubbed himself 'The Teacher'.
Jamaican popular music is replete with classroom images from varying angles. In male/female relationships, Gregory Isaacs uses a combination of music rankings and classroom imagery to announce the place a particular woman has in his life, singing in Top Ten:
"Although she isn't in the top ten, still she is on my charts
Sitting in the back seat still she's a student of my class"
However, in the mid-1980s Nitty Gritty used the same classroom image on a vastly different subject, the business of sound clashes. Taunting the opposing sound system, Nitty Gritty sang "good morning sound boy long time me reach ya/student come a dance come fi learn from the teacher". Naturally, it was popular as a dub plate, Stone Love Movements having one of the more celebrated versions.
In the video for Shabba Ranks' (whose return to Jamaica for Reggae Sumfest 2012 as the Dancehall Emperor was celebrated) Ting a Ling, the director builds on the use of the school bell in the song to make a schoolroom scene. It is complete with children happy for the end of the school day and a teacher who lets her hair down and her inhibitions go when the music - and Shabba - get to her. Shabba uses a school image at the beginning of another celebrated song, the early 1990s Trailer Load, which he starts with a cry of "girls graduation!"
'School pickney sinting'
Ting a Ling had at least one detractor, as Shabba's rival Ninja Man mocked "ting a ling a school pickney sinting".
From yet another classroom perspective, in the 1995 Untold Stories, Buju Banton cautions "when Mama spen' har las' an sen yu go class/never you ever play," issuing a warning to those who would fail to capitalise on the hard work of the generation before them.
Some schools have been named outright, Bounty Killer including Meadowbrook among the institutions he 'bigs up' in the mid-1990s Book Book Book. A decade later it was Calabar's turn in Khaki Suit, the Jr Gong combination track on his 2005 Welcome to Jamrock album.
And khaki, forever associated with school in Jamaica, is used not only in Jr Gong's Khaki Suit, but a number of other songs, including Sizzla's Karate ("in a mi full suit a khaki") and Junior Kelly's Deeper ("Rasta should be deeper/than to wear khaki and turban every day").