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It’s back-to-school time again

Published:Friday | August 21, 2015 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Buju Banton
General Degree
Shabba Ranks

The saying 'free paper bun', is especially popular at this time of year as the long summer holiday period draws to a close and preparations for the new academic year peak. The figurative burning of the 'free paper' (certification of manumission in previous times) indicates that it is back to the grind as the happy times of not having much to do are over.

With its consistent tendency towards 'reasoning' - communication on current or consistently relevant topics - in the dancehall space, which remains the initial site of deployment for Jamaican popular music, it is natural that the school figures significantly in that music.

It got to the point where Vybz Kartel could take on an additional moniker of 'Di Teacha', which became as popular as his initial performance name - so popular that the short-lived reality show in which a number of hot chicks competed for his attention was named Teacha's Pet.

Although these are days when electric systems have replaced the age-old device with a tongue in many institutions, the school bell still symbolises regulation of the educational institution. Deejay Shabba Ranks uses the school bell in Ting A Ling, which also has a video in which there is a classroom scene and a schoolteacher who lets her hair down to transform into a dancehall enthusiast. Shabba deejays:

"Ting a ling a ling

Dancehall in swing

Deejay aise cock up when dem hear boom riddim"

Dennis Alcapone puts the bell in the hands of the classroom authority in Teach The Children:

"Teacher teacher, I beg you ring the bell

Teach the children

Teach them how to spell

R-a-t rat

M-a-t mat

C-a-t cat

Look at that, look at that

You got to learn that

You got to graduate

Before you go through the gate

Ting a ling ting a ling

I hear the children sing"

Buju Banton's famed Untold Stories encourages industry in the classroom, demanding that persons take full advantage of the opportunities education affords, so "when Mama spen har las' sen' yu go class/Never you ever play".

However, there will always be those who are sent to school but end up somewhere else. Boys do it, but it is the girl who tends to be the focus of attention for 'skulling' school as she ends up in a sexual encounter. General B sets the scene in the introduction:

"Nicky, look how yu mother sen yu go a school

An yu a gwaan like a fool"

Then he deejays:

"Mummy sen she Nicky go a school Missa Solomon

Nicky gone a man yard, mi Lord

Anything de man say do Nicky do

Nicky she a gwaan like she rude

Wine Nicky wine

De man a say turn Nicky turn

De man a say twis' Nicky twis'

De man a say sit Nicky sit, mix

True Nicky nah listen

Nah learn har lesson

Mummy sen Nicky go school

An she nah learn nutten

Look in har book har book clean like whistle

Gone ova man yard gone full up har vessel ..."

The gender inequity in matters of sexuality also applies to the schoolchildren - in Gallis Anthem, Specialist names a number of secondary-level


A pare gallis go a Eltham High,

A pare gallis go a Jonathan Grant

A pare gallis go a Compre

So de gal dem love we

A pare gallis go a KC

A pare gallis go a JC

A pare gallis go a Calabar..."

Calabar is a popular lyrical place (and not because of Di Teacha), as Jr Gong names the Red Hills Road school in Khaki Suit (a combination with Bounty Killer and Eek a Mouse, deejaying "... Clarkie boot an khaki suit yu tink me go a Calabar".

The classroom factors in a popular Nitty Gritty special for Stone Love Movements, in which the late singer welcomes an opponent with:

"Good morning soundboy long time Stone Love reach ya

Student come a dance now fi learn from di teacha

Stone Love yes a him a de teacha"

And Spragga Benz finds another use for 'free paper bun':

"Matey free paper bun

So get wil' when yu see har a come

A she yu man trick

Gi har a biscuit

An use har fi one night a fun"

So does Ninja Man with, "free paper bun, pop off mi gun".

Still, the bell remains an enduring symbol of regimentation, as Bunny Wailer sings in Back to School:

"Ting a ling a ling

School bell ring

And it's back to school again

And it's ABC, 1-2-3 ...".