Entrepreneurship in a small way
Mel Cooke, Sunday Gleaner Writer
In Damian 'Jr Gong' Marley's Set Up Shop, he encourages entrepreneurship in a number of Jamaican communities, with a distinct propensity for inner-city areas like Rema (Wilton Gardens), Maxfield Avenue, Seaview, and Jungle (Arnett Gardens). The song urges the creation of trading businesses on the small scale of individual survival as at points, Marley notes the quantities involved:
"Man a juggle peanut
Man a juggle ganzie
Couple mesh merino
Couple baby onsie"
Entrepreneurial skill - representative of a social strata that often lacks the educational requirement for formal employment or is excluded because of place of residence (Etana sings about this in Wrong Address) or appearance (remember that song about "long hair picky picky need not apply") - for sheer survival is celebrated from several angles in Jamaican popular music.
Sugar Minot addresses the first situation in No Vacancy, where, after trying unsuccessfully to get a job, and not even getting to see the boss ("apply to the factory, my clothes look so shabby"), his solution is:
"Haffi try a likkle hustling
A raise two shilling from mi idren
A gwine try a likkle selling
A sell peanuts where the sound string
So if you see I wid a bag
A ital an salted mi have."
Specialist's 'street hustle'
It is not only in the defined dancehall space that Jamaica's popular music acknowledges the determination to make something of one's self financially by making sales. In the chorus of Street Hustle, Specialist deejays about two popular items that are peddled heavily, in addition to a trade which seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere. Taking on the persona of a street dealer, he chants:
"Phone card, phone card, phone
Banana, banana chips
Cash fi gold, cash fi gold
Any piece a gold, any piece a gold"
Including the customary seller's call in song is homage to the popularity of a product, so when Jr Gong, as Specialist does with chips and cards, puts two publications from 7 North Street to rhythm in More Justice, it is an indication that they are deeply entrenched in the country's regular life. Marley spares a thought for:
"That lonely ghetto youth
Who chanting Starry, Starry X News
Foot might be dirty but his heart is
Than those politicians fighting down
Of the three newspapers mentioned, the X News no longer exists, with The STAR having a monopoly on the tabloid (not only in shape) market, while The Gleaner has just marked its 180th year.
It is not the first time that the newspaper vendor's cry has been included in song. Lord Creator uses a young vendor's melodic Evening News as the title and core of the chorus of his song. And, it seems, there is a common focus on the feet as Lord Creator sings about the little vendor's feet that have never worn shoes.
Where there is hustling, there is the male. When he describes Jamaica's capital in Kingston, Hot Josey Wales begins with a pair of male figures, which were a striking part of the city's life at the time:
"De yutes dem make a hustling by
selling Kisko pop
Dreadlocks a jog inna dem sweatsuit
As a popular tabloid, The STAR also figures in Spragga Benz's Harder To Maintain as an economic alternative to materialism, as a slow, steady route instead of the quick and dangerous path. Spragga deejays:
"Well every man would like to own a
house an drive a car
Some man make up dem min' fi
juggle dem peanut an' dem star
But nuff man love de quick an easy
Dem woulda sell dem owna soul fi
some champagne an caviar."
different levels of selling
There are different levels of selling, though, and when Buju Banton did a song for the ICIs, he was not talking about the low-level hustling. Even the term ICI (informal commercial importer), as designated by the government of the day, was a step-up on haggler. Buju did a song for the people, mainly women, who were the linchpins of this vibrant, yet often overlooked, sector of the economy. He deejayed:
"This one dedicated to all ICI
All who make it already an all who a
Invariably, where there is trying, there is opposition, a 'fighter', the famed 'bad min'. Mavado has the solution in nature for the snares set for those who sell in the communal setting as he calls down a blessing with "fall rain, fall rain fall/wash way de oil and de powda whe dem sprinkle a di stall."
And Jamaican popular music's fascination with small-scale entrepreneurship continues from several angles. Poet-singer Dingo asks the shopkeeper to serve a number of items and "if the money dead, then keep a small funeral". Yellowman requests, "Missa Chin, yu fi sell mi right ting", and in one of his famed Jimmy Bascombe lyrics, Professor Nuts has the drunken character in the business of "tied an sell" with a cooking gas cylinder rather than buy and sell.
It is not only in song that the shop makes it into music. In his famed speech at the One Love Peace Concert in 1976, Peter Tosh said he had been through the lowest levels of deprivation, and "I never make up my min' fi lick off a man shop door."
In terms of ordering at the shop, Assassin has a lyric which is an extensive list of what he needs to prepare for a visit to a lady, peanuts making the required items, naturally. The order ends with one vital item that goes to the heart of what the trip is about and the purpose of buying all the other things in the first place - boots. As in condoms, not chunky footwear.
Still, with all the economic activity of buying and selling that the inclusion of the shop in song reflects, Half Pint makes a pertinent observation in Cost of Living. After all, when so many people set up shop, what is the result? Half Pint sings:
"Cost of living getting higher
More seller than buyer."