Jamaica's musical creativity (Part Deux)
While celebrating Jamaica's musical creativity, we must also acknowledge we've 'created' by copying and infusing our own experiences.
For example, the celebrated My Boy Lollipop was a cover of Barbie Gaye's blues original. In addition to the better-known Millie Small songs (Oh Henry and Sweet William), she also recorded a cover of Wynonie Harris' blues standard Bloodshot Eyes. That's fine as far as it goes, but a problem arises when we take it to extremes; cast away any pretence at creativity; and cannibalise our own creations.
We sample the same rhythm over and over until every possible piece of flesh is picked from its bones. Take Murder She Wrote (Chakademus and Pliers). It's a rehash of the famous Bam Bam rhythm [also 'sampled' by Yellow Man (with Fathead)]. Ask Leroy Sibbles, a sublime composer and creator of the 'Fattie Fattie' rhythm, how he feels that his bassline is used in so many 'original' recordings, including Sweat by Inner Circle; Garnet Silk's All The Woman I Need; and Mallory Williams' She Boom. Is he compensated or credited?
All this brings me to an era in our music not as universally celebrated but which reversed the trend by influencing the "creation" of a foreign genre which itself spawned an entire subculture. The DJ era, when dancehall 'toasters' took their techniques into the recording studio and rode rhythms (often) of former originals with their uniquely Jamaican witticisms and phrasing, ushered in a whole new genre which eventually led to what is now incorrectly labelled 'dancehall music'.
Although Clement Dodd was the first to speak on a record as a 'DJ' (King Pharaoh by Delroy George Wilson, one of Jamaica's best vocalists) and King Stitt had his run, the real father of DJ music as pop culture must be U-Roy (born Ewart Beckford), who'd been an apprentice to Stitt (himself a Count Matchukie apprentice) on Coxsone's Number 2 set. After a tepid start with Keith Hudson, Lee 'Scratch' Perry and Bunny 'Striker' Lee, U-Roy joined forces with John Holt and Duke Reid and burst on the scene in 1970:
"Wake the town and tell the people
about this musical disc coming your way ... ."
FLOOD GATES OPENED
U-Roy followed Wake The Town with Rule The Nation and Wear You To The Ball. For six consecutive weeks, these were numbers one to three on the local charts surely a record unlikely to be equalled. After that, the flood gates opened. Big Youth (Manley Buchanan) capitalised on early 1970s' teen fascination with motorcycles in his monster hit S-90 Skank.
"First Youth (Y1): Hail Lion Yout'
Second Youth (Y2): Zion.
Y1: Wha' de man a deal wid?
Y2: I man a hook yah, yu know.
Y1: Well, I man a go bus', yu know.
Y2: Right now riddim hold I.
Y1: Riddim wild. Riddim wild.
Y2: 'Ites 'Ites. Ride on!
Big Youth: But though you ride like lightning, man, if yu ride like lightning, you'll crash like t'under!"
The song became an anthem and inspired a new dance simulating motorbike riding. After that, Scotty's Riddle I Dis became a go-to record for sound systems. Lone Ranger, Admiral Bailey, Michigan and Smiley, Tappa Zukie and others capitalised. Yellowman took it a step further.
Then, in 1984, I saw an American trio, out of New York City, calling themselves the Fat Boys, imitating our DJs
and calling it 'rap'. Before the Fat Boys took the style into the recording studio, a Jamaica-born toaster/DJ named Clive Campbell (stage name 'DJ Kool Herc') started Jamaican-style toasting over his records at New York nightclubs, tweaking it by using two turntables with two copies of the same record to isolate the instrumental 'break' which enabled him to superimpose his US-style toasting. Kool Herc was to The Fat Boys as Count Matchukie was to U-Roy. After The Fat Boys, Run DMC 'ran wid it', and there was no stopping the hip hop culture.
The Fat Boys [Mark Morales ('Prince Markie Dee'); Damon Wimbley ('Kool Rock-Ski'); and Darren Robinson ('Buff Love')] became so influential that the legendary Beach Boys sang back-up on their 1987 album Crushin'. Buff Love (with contemporary Doug E Fresh) is generally credited with creating the 'beat box', where the artiste uses his mouth to create hip hop sounds.
This is my rationale for christening Jamaica's popular music the jewel of our Independence. Jamaican artistes influenced worldwide music culture more than any other. Not the Beatles; not Elvis; not Michael Jackson have received such worldwide flattery by imitation. We are truly amazing.
Peace and love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.