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Pressure buss pipe - and tune

Published:Friday | August 28, 2015 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Super Cat
Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert
Beres Hammond

There have been many chuckles and imitations of Justin Gatlin's break from form at the track and field World Championships in Beijing, China, at the end of the 100m and 200m sprints. With a hand coming up and over his shoulder as Gatlin follows Usain Bolt to the finish line, he has been compared to a swimmer rather than a runner.

And, although Gatlin has claimed that he did not crack under the pressure of trying to keep up with the Jamaican, having done an out-of-form double, it is hard to believe that he has not succumbed to the intensity of the situation.

There may yet be a song about pressure breaking the American sprinter, but the theme of pressure has come in for some attention in Jamaican popular music which has engaged with the adverse socio-economic conditions under which many people find themselves living.

This is in addition to the reggae singer Pressure Busspipe (or simply Pressure) from the US Virgin Islands, who made an impression in Jamaica with Love and Affection in about 2007.

On the deejay side, Super Cat's Under Pressure is an enduring hit which revolves around political structures on a global level. In the chorus, Super Cat deejays "under pressure the world under pressure tell you fren dem", then goes on to sum up the various conflicts of the day in the 1980s when the song was made. Included in the list of global pressure points is Libya, Nicaragua and Ethiopia, all in a Cold War context where, "True de leader of the world a dem fight fi power/An a one a dem a say him control America/De nex one a say him rule inna Russia/Anada one a dem a say him control China/De nex' one a ay him control Cuba".

However, most times the pressure is on a personal level, not in the cauldron of global politics. So when Toots and the Maytals sing Pressure Drop, it is about the effect of an individual's actions on their circumstances. They sing, "It is you (oh yeah)/I say pressure drop, pressure drop it drop on you.. And when it drop you got to feel it, how much you were doing wrong."


Putting Up Resistance


However, there is the seemingly unrelenting pressure which is beyond the control of the person feeling it and who, despite their best efforts, cannot seem to see their way out. Beres Hammond's Putting Up Resistance looks at not only the pressure, but the individual's efforts to overcome it. It starts with a whispered refrain of 'pressure', the word coming again close to the end of the second verse:

"No, I never can understand it,

The way the system plan

There's no hope, no chance, no loophole,

No escape for a sufferer man

Cause every time I lift my head above water

And try to save myself from drown

There's an overnight scheme all worked out

Designed to keep me down

Still I'm

Putting up a resistance

I'm ah gonna work it out

You know I'm

Putting up a resistance

I've got to work it out

Blow wind blow, blow wind blow

I want to stay home tonight

I long to spend some time with the family

But staying home won't make it right

Sometimes the pressure make me feel like holler

When every sign says no way out

Breaking my back to make an overtime dollar

That just goes from hand to mouth."

Pressure can be applied to the powerful, as Jimmy Cliff encourages, "keep up the pressure on oppressor", while Hopeton Lewis' Sounds and Pressure advises, "Gonna put on the pressure, sounds and pressure/Who can't take it now leave it/Who can take it stay under it."