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Story of the Song | 'Shaka Zulu Pickney': a part of warrior heritage

Published:Friday | November 2, 2018 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Tarrus Riley

"The blood of African kings run in my vein,

Here inna Jamaica, rebellious offspring.

We got a warrior spirit inside,

From that time we cyaa change.

An dis ya warrior spirit inside,

It come fi break every shackle and chain.

Man a Shaka Zulu pickney,

Nkrumah pickney.

Kunta Kinte pickney,

Just like Malcolm and Martin and Marcus I'm fiery."

- Shaka Zulu Pickney, Tarrus Riley

Tarrus Riley's 2010 song, Shaka Zulu Pickney, takes its title from one of the many black persons identified in the lyrical tracing of connections among generations and across distances. Among the others are musician Fela Kuti (Nigeria), Marcus Garvey (Jamaica), Martin Luther King and Malcolm X (USA), and Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana). However, it is the southern Africa warrior king who takes the title spot, Riley connecting him to a Jamaican attitude.

"When you see the world's fastest man is Shaka Zulu pickney. When you see Bob Marley is Shaka Zulu pickney," he told The Sunday Gleaner, singing the chorus and adding "Jimmy Riley pickney."

"Dem always say the wickedest slave dem end up in Jamaica," Riley said, imagining the awful conditions of the lower regions of the slave ship's hold. "Just like how a diamond come from pressure, the people at the bottom of the ship come from that pressure."


100 per cent rasta


The lyrics were written in the Vineyard Town, St Andrew, Grafton Studios yard, to the 'Nyabinghi' riddim created by Roshaun 'Bay-C' Clarke. Clarke also contributed lyrics, Riley revealed, outling a collaborative writing process that he sometimes uses while for other songs, he writes solo. "You need the support," he said. The riddim suggested the topic, Riley adding, "me a Rasta, 100 per cent".

It was literally a short step from the grounds of the studio to the recording equipment, and Riley describes the recording process as fast not least of all because the preparation had been done. Musician Dean Fraser had another role, as he recorded the vocals. "Him is a no-nonsense person. Sometimes me and him war, but me love when him record me," Riley said.

There was also another factor: Riley's commitment to the song's content. "Me no sing nutten whe mi no believe inna," he said.

Shaka Zulu Pickney made an impact when it was released within two weeks of being recorded, but the video, directed by Storm Saulter, gave it an extra push. Riley credits Saulter for the visuals to the song, which show persons dressed as warriors set in the everyday life of urbanised Jamaica. "It is one of my favourite videos," Riley said.

Riley remembers performing Shaka Zulu Pickney the first time he went to Africa, performing in Kenya. The song was already well known, and Riley was moved when he saw the response from "warrior people".