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Adele says Hello, Ja answers

Published:Wednesday | November 25, 2015 | 12:50 PMMel Cooke

It has not taken long for Jamaican popular music to take on Adele's tearjerker hit, Hello, as singer Alaine has done a reggae cover and deejay I-Octane has inflicted upon us an absolutely horrible remake into a tune about (what else?) bad mind, named Can't Hold Me Down.

Inevitably, the quick Jamaican remakes lead to questions of creativity - are we so desperate for well-written material that as a 'big chune' drops in foreign lands, a Jamaican performer just has to shark it down? It is not the first time that it has happened in recent times, because Jah Cure did take on Ed Sheeran's Thinking Out Loud to less than spectacular results.

But before we jump to these conclusions about a lack of originality, let us not forget that each of the Jamaican performers mentioned so far have decent material of their very own. Jah Cure's Unconditional Love is a rahtid love tune by any standard, I-Octane's Lose a Friend is an excellent thuggie tearjerker and Alaine's No Ordinary Love is a very strong track.

Also, we should remember that Jamaican popular music is rife with covers, including many of the songs that we now consider gems of our creativity. Mutabaruka once compared the rocksteady era to dancehall, in terms of lyrical originality, with rocksteady coming up on the short end of the stick to the displeasure of some music practitioners. Cover versions did not start with Sanchez' fantastic remakes of American R&B hits like Jermaine Jackson's Lonely Won't Leave Me Alone in the 1990s, neither could we expect them to end when Tarrus Riley delivered John Legend's Stay With You in such sterling fashion midway the previous decade.

On a personal note, Dennis Brown's take on Little Green Apples (done in quick succession by original singer Roger Miller, then Patti Page and OC Smith) shares a place of pride as my favourite Jamaican cover version ever with the Tamlins' take on Randy Newman's Baltimore. An American location in Jamaican popular music is not strange - Indianapolis is in Little Green Apples, as well as the obvious Baltimore reference - so when Adele's mournful mention of California is laid on a reggae rhythm, it is quite fine.

That is to say that there are not bad covers. Singer Ghost once did over Paul Simon's Call Me Al at a point when I was playing the Graceland album over and over (it was a cassette, too) and I was a very unhappy man. Elephant Man was great when he remade R. Kelly's Fiesta into a patriotic tune for Jamaica, but he should have left the Love Boat theme song alone.

Making songs our own

Still, Yard man have a way of taking on foreign songs and practically taking them away. I can remember a time in the mid-1980s when Tyrone Taylor's version of Members Only was ahead of the Bobby Bland original on one local radio chart (it was JBC and RJR time, pick one) - and with good reason, too, not just local bias.

There is a lot more that could - and should - be said about Jamaican popular music's penchant for remakes (c'mon, one of my favourite sound system dub plates, Johnny Osbourne's special version of Rock It Tonight ("dub plates playing in the ghetto tonight") has a tinge of The Beatles' Blackbird. But, for now, take this thought with you - Alaine's version of Hello is a part of a long-established Jamaican tradition of music referring to popular American songs. If it was a time when Hello was available only on one or two national radio stations, instead of the plethora of broadcast media and Internet sources now at our disposal, we would have a different framework within which to assess it.

Consider this - we are very proud of One Love (the version on Exodus album) and Bob Marley's songwriting prowess in general, but there is a reason why there is a second part to the title, People Get Ready, and Curtis Mayfield shares the songwriting credits.