Hit songs flowed for Independent Jamaica
The Jamaican music of 1962 mirrored the mood of a people who had transitioned from colonial rule to independence. Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Derrick Morgan, Toots Hibbert, Delroy Wilson and Stranger Cole are just a few of the artistes whose songs complemented that momentous occasion. The national exhilaration at the time seemed to have given musicians and singers that extra impetus to create a sound that was distinctly Jamaican. That sound was ska. It became the foundation on which all the subsequent Jamaican musical genres were built.
Although at first concentrated only in the ghettos of Kingston, and scoffed at by uptown folks, ska eventually became a national phenomenon which had Jamaicans of all classes jumping and gyrating to its infectious beat whenever and wherever it was played. The Skatalites was the band of choice for most people and perhaps the greatest exponent of the beat, but the spread of the music could rightly be attributed to Mr Edward Seaga (minister of development and welfare at the time), and Byron Lee and The Dragonaires' band. Mr Seaga, using the power of his office, commissioned Lee to go to West Kingston and familiarise himself with ska and thereafter introduce it to uptown folks.
In an interview I had with Mr Seaga, he said, "It was of paramount importance that Jamaica had a music of its own that was identifiable with independence." In a never-to-be-forgotten show dubbed Ska goes Uptown in August 1962, ska was inexorably accepted, as The Glass Bucket Club in Half-Way Tree rocked to the sounds of Byron Lee and The Dragonaires, Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, Eric 'Monty' Morris, The Blues Busters, and Stranger and Patsy.
Kevin O'Brien Chang, writing in his book, Reggae Routes, quoted Byron Lee as saying: "Some high toned people criticised us for bringing such low-class music uptown, but it was a big success. Radio picked up on the sound and middle-class Jamaicans started buying ska records. I would never try to take credit for being one of ska's creators. But we helped to shape it as a music and were the band primarily responsible for spreading it around Kingston and around Jamaica on live shows," Lee said.
Stranger Cole may have been the earliest of the 1962 Jamaican vocalists to have made an impact on the Independence Celebrations of that year, with a stunning ska piece called Ruff and Tuff. Only 17 years old at the time, Cole warned in the song:
"Don't bite the hand that feeds you
'Cause the good you do lives after you.
It will be ruff and tuff on your side."
Interestingly, it was the only hit record that Cole did as a solo artiste. It climbed to No.1 on the charts and became an ever-present selection at any festive event.
Derrick Morgan, after his sojourn with producer Prince Buster in late 1961, recorded two songs, (Be Still and She's Gone) the following year for would-be producer Leslie Kong. Later in the year, Morgan released Forward March, a song that perhaps delved into the most important ingredient of Independence - unity as he urged the nation to:
'Gather together, be brothers and sisters, we're independent.
Join hands to hands children, start to dance, we're independent.
Don't be sad and blue,
'Cause the Lord is still with you,
The time has come."
The Trinidadian-born Kenrick 'Lord Creator' Patrick, may have made the most worthwhile contribution in song to the attainment of Jamaica's Independence. In a very informative and descriptive narrative, based primarily on an article by the Gleaner's Raymond Sharpe, Creator composed the calypso-flavoured, Independent Jamaica, the lines of which ran in part:
'Manley went up to England to seek for Independence
and although Busta was late, he still attended the conference.
Although from two different parties, it was very good to see
how these two politicians were shaking hands when they gained victory.
Independence is good for the young and the old, also for me and you."
Independence is good for the whole population, including our children too'.
The whole exercise was a spontaneous one, as Creator was merely passing through the island in January 1962 with a group of musicians on a Caribbean tour, when he was intercepted by Vincent 'Randy' Chin and asked to compose a song about Jamaica's Independence. The recording became the No.1 song in Jamaica in 1962.
Jimmy Cliff's Hurricane Hatti and later, Miss Jamaica, were also among the many ska songs that were blaring at dances and festive activities during the Independence euphoria of 1962. Hurricane Hatti, numbered among the top 10 songs for the year, and was Cliff's debut recording, but only acquired that position after his first choice - Dearest Beverley, was turned down by auditioner, Derrick Morgan.
Bob Marley's debut, Judge Not, also recorded in 1962, depicted the true Marley image when he sang:
"Who are you to judge me and the life that I live?
I know that I'm not perfect and that I don't claim to be
So before you point your fingers, be sure your hands are clean.
Eric Morris had chart success with Money Can't Buy Life, while Prince Buster was at his best on tracks like, Blackhead Chineyman. Female singing sensation, Millie Small, teamed up with Roy Panton to produce the top 10 1962 hit, We'll Meet, and Al T. Joe showed the Independence spirit with, Rise Jamaica (Independence time is here). The Maytals made an electrifying entry at Studio1 in 1962 with several gospel-tinged ska hits like He Will Provide, He's Real and Sixth and Seventh Books. About the same time, 13-year-old Delroy Wilson, still in short pants and attending Boys' Town Primary School, was laying the foundation there with, The Lion of Judah, Joe Liges' I Shall Not Remove, Somebody Has Stolen My Girl and Prince Pharaoh Go Down. Songs like, I'll Be Here When He Comes and Sugar Dandy were from the 'top draw' of the Jivin Juniors' collections, while the Blues Blusters' Behold was a big hit right across the Caribbean. Perhaps never in the history of Jamaican music has there been so many hit recordings in a single year.