Promised Land recounts African visit
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
For the rest of February, The Sunday Gleaner will honour three Jamaican music performers who are connected with the month by birth (Dennis Brown and William 'Bunny Rugs' Clarke) and death (Wayne 'Sleng Teng' Smith) by revisiting stories behind a standout song featuring each. We start with Dennis Brown, who was born on February 1, 1957, and died on July 1, 1999.
The Promised Land, Dennis Brown's early 1980s song of joy ("the promised land, going to the promised land"), concern ("there is a lot of work to be done in the promised land"), hope ("there's plenty of land for you and I") and entreaty ("brother man, what are you doing for the promised land?") is, in large part, a musical detailing of an actual journey.
It was recorded while the impact of a trip to Ethiopia, where the Shasamane community for repatriated persons is located, was fresh in Brown's mind. Saxophonist Tony Greene said that it was recorded in England when Brown was on his way back from Ethiopia. The rhythm had been done by crack British outfit Aswad, who recorded the rhythm as Dub Fire and also did Love Fire on the track.
Riding a rhythm
"Dennis Brown hear the rhythm and like it and they put him on it," Greene tells The Sunday Gleaner.
Brown also sings in The Promised Land: "Then I said to myself give thanks for the Prophet Gad/For he gave I the teachings so I could see/the reality of my true being."
Sangie Davis says it came at about the same time he wrote Make Ends Meet for Brown and before he did the Inseparable album with Willie Lindo. It shows the influence of the Twelve Tribes of Israel group clearly, and Davis pointed out that Brown often gave the standard Twelve Tribes of Israel greeting during his concerts.
He said Brown's Ethiopia trip was solely a visit, not for a performance, and while he is not sure if it was the Crown Prince of Reggae's first time in the country, it was his introduction to Shasamane.
Naturally, then, the song had special meaning for him. Davis. said: "Anybody who know Dennis, knows it's a passion, The Promised Land."
The Promised Land features a moving horn section, and Greene said it was played originally by Michael 'Bami' Rose (saxophone), Vin Gordon (trombone) and Edward 'Tan Tan' Thornton.
"The arrangement, especially the horns arrangement, is very unique. You have to sit down and work it out," Greene said.
And he said that The Promised Land was generally played in the 'sacred' part of Brown's live shows, along with Ababajani.
In 2010, Dennis Brown's Promised Land was revisited by Nas and Damian 'Jr Gong' Marley as Land of Promise on their Distant Relatives album.