A walk down memory lane

Published: Sunday | December 29, 2013 Comments 0
Marcia Griffiths
Marcia Griffiths
Singer Clancy Eccles.
Singer Clancy Eccles.
Millie Small
Millie Small

Music Diaries takes a look at some of the stories that made 2013 special

The Music Diaries, on its second anniversary, is once again proud to be able to share its inaugural date with Christmas Day, the most internationally popular day on the calendar.

While Christians and revellers were celebrating Christmas, the Music Diaries debuted on December 25, 2011, with an interesting 'eye opener', that, perhaps for the first time, brought to the fore how deeply interwoven politics was with Jamaican popular music. And, I daresay, the debut had more to do with design than fortuity, at a time when the nation was, and still is, deeply adversely affected by politics.

The article showed how political parties have, over the years, used popular Jamaican recordings, sometimes without the permission of the owners, to help bolster their election campaigns. As early as 1960, the Jamaica Labour Party, through its inspirational leader, Sir Alexander Bustamante, chief minister at the time, adopted Clancy Eccles' Freedom, to assist with his fight against the Federation of the West Indies, which he won.

Better Must Come

But perhaps, the best known of such occurrences was Delroy Wilson's Better Must Come, which the People's National Party used as part of their successful 1972 general election campaign.

Wilson declared that the recording had nothing to do with elections or politics. Rather, the recording expressed his personal despair at the non-existence of rewards and recognition to him, after years of invaluable contribution to the music.

The People's National Party also benefited, during or after general election campaigns, from Max Romeo's Let The Power Fall On I, and Joshua Row The Boat Ashore; Neville Martin's The Message; Eccles' Rod of Correction and Pluto Shervington's I Man Born Ya, while The Jamaica Labour Party used When Will Better Come, by Junior Byles, Crucial by Bunny Wailer, Ring My Bell by Anita Ward, Have Mercy Mr Percy by The Termites, and Take The Rod off Our Backs by Bill Gentles to assist their campaigns.

In reviewing the year 2013, the February 24 article 'Cluttered Roots' listed the lack of proper and precise documentation of dates and times of occurrences in Jamaican popular music during its embryonic stage as a serious impediment and challenge to musicologists and journalists, who were attempting to disseminate relevant historical data.

The fact is that very few individuals at the time thought that was important.

Producers were mainly concerned with releasing the final product as quickly as possible, while the singers' anxiety to hear their recordings played on the radio blinded them to the importance of making proper and precise documentation. The result was total confusion and debates about who did what first. To this day, the dates and performers of the first rocksteady and reggae recordings remain a matter for debate.

The contribution made to Jamaican music, by artistes whose origins lay outside our shores, was highlighted in January 20 and 27 articles. Guitar maestro, Lyn Taitt, perhaps the most important of that set, also became embroiled in the web of controversy, occasioned by lack of documentation. His claim to have started the rocksteady beat, by arranging for Hopeton Lewis the recording Take It Easy, was strongly challenged by Delroy Wilson's Dancing Mood; Alton Ellis' Girl I've Got A Date; Derrick Morgan's Rudies Don't Fear; and Roy Shirley's Hold Them.

Other foreigners mentioned to have contributed to Jamaica's popular music included vocalists Lord Creator and Lord Laro from Trinidad, Jackie Opel from Barbados, Laurel Aitken from Cuba; musicians Roland Alphonso from Cuba, Carlos Malcolm from Panama, and Dennis Syndrey from Australia.

Gospel music

To add some spirituality to the collection, the March 24 article highlighted Jamaica's gospel in an article titled, 'Jamaican gospel makes the world watch'. It's a topic that could easily be accepted as accurate when one considers that it refers to a country that has the most churches per square mile, but absolutely amazing and perhaps misleading when one recalls that Jamaica has one of the highest crime rates in the world.

Early artistes, like Laurel Aitken, Otis Wright, Wilfred 'Jackie' Edwards, Claudelle Clarke, and Toots and the Maytals, sent hands clapping and feet stomping in a soul-searching manner, with recordings carved in the R&B, boogie and ska moulds.

Others like Carlene Davis, Sandra Brooks, The Grace Thrillers, Papa San, Lieutenant Stitchie and Marva Providence, helped to perpetuate the genre with quality gospel recordings that not only took on more international and commercial value, but helped to paint Jamaica as a high-profile religious nation.

It is said that a woman's touch is crucial to the success of most endeavours, and so we were reminded of the contributions made to early Jamaican popular music by females, in the March 10 article, 'Woman power fuels Jamaican music'.

Reggae Queen Marcia Griffiths was the first to come to mind. She began her career on an Easter morning concert at the Carib theatre in 1964. Still looking good and going strong after 49 years in the business, she amassed a plethora of hits that may never be challenged in the history of Jamaican female vocalising.

Hortense Ellis, sister of Reggae Godfather Alton Ellis, perhaps was the earliest of such stars. With a few hits under her belt, she was a two-time awardee for best Jamaican female vocalist in the early 1960s.

Small Topped UK charts

Fifteen-year-old Millie Small was, however, showcased as being the most important to Jamaica's popular music when her recording of My Boy Lolipop topped the United Kingdom (UK) charts and exposed this tiny nation to the widest international audience.

Phyllis Dillon, Millicent 'Patsy' Todd, Cynthia Schloss, and Judy Mowatt were portrayed as songbirds extraordinaire.

The late, great civil rights advocate Nelson Mandela and wife, Winnie, were the inspiration behind the establishment of International Reggae Day, according to music administrator Andrea Davis.

Davis came up with the idea following a speech by Winnie, while on a visit to Jamaica with her husband, shortly after his release from prison in 1993.

Started locally, it is now celebrated right across the diaspora on July 1 each year, with various functions and activities. The story was presented in the Music Diaries article 'Rich history for International Reggae Day to represent', on June 30.


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