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Story of the song: 'Smile Jamaica' a song, a concert

Published:Sunday | February 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

Bob Marley

Bob Marley would have been 65 years old yesterday and, normally, his birthday would have been celebrated by his family at the Smile Jamaica concert. It has been, however, cancelled this year. Ironically, the first Smile Jamaica concert is renowned not for Marley's birth but a brush with death. That free concert was held at the National Heroes Circle, Kingston, on December 5, 1976, before a crowd estimated at over 80,000 people. Marley, Rita Marley and Don Taylor had been shot two days before in an attack at 56 Hope Road, St Andrew.

first-hand account

Before the first concert was held, though, Smile Jamaica was a song and it is listed as the third track on Bob Marley and the Wailers set list for the night.

In her book Exodus: The Making and Meaning of Bob Marley and The Wailers' Album of the Century, Vivien Goldman gives a first-hand account of the recording session for Smile Jamaica. Goldman, who launched the book in 2008 at the annual Bob Marley lecture, held at the University of the West Indies, Mona, writes that she was taken to Harry J's studio on Roosevelt Avenue (now Herb McKenley Drive) in St Andrew after going to 56 Hope Road.

Goldman details the session in her book, but she also writes what Marley said about the song a few days earlier:

"It name Smile Jamaica and it deal with what's happening now - what should be happening now. Trench Town have to change. Long time, plenty people grown up there and it have fi change ... the political thing. But me never see myself, I never really call myself, political. Me only want to talk about the truth."

everybody vex

At the studio session, Goldman writes, Marley said to her "Jamaica need to smile, because in Jamaica everybody vex too much."

So Smile Jamaica begins with despondency, moves to inspiration and develops into a call to action (harmony lyrics in brackets):

Feeling out, feeling down:

This feeling wouldn't leave me alone.

Then up came a one that said (hey, Dread):

"Hey, Dread, fly, Natty Dread, and smile!"

You're in Jamaica: C'mon and smile!

(In Jamaica y'all) Get it together, y'all!

(In Jamaica) Get it together, now!

In Jamaica, y'all.

Soulful town, soulful people:

Said, I see you're having fun,

Dancin' to the reggae rhythm,

Oh, island in the sun

Oh, smile!

We're gonna help our people, help them right;

Oh, Lord, help us tonight!

Cast away that evil spell;

Throw some water in the well,

And smile!

Riddim wise (wise),

Dub-a wise (wise),

And other wise (wise)

Can't criticise (-cise) our smile.

(In Jamaica) You're gonna smile!

(In Jamaica, y'all) Get it together, right now!

(In Jamaica) Get things together, right yow!

(In Jamaica, y'all)

Help my people, help them right!

O Lord, help us tonight!

Cast away evil spell;

Throw some water in the well,

And smile!

Soulful town, soulful people,

Said, I know, I know that you're having fun!

The original 45 artwork had a smiling, sunny face. Smile Jamaica is included on the Songs of Freedom box set, the penultimate song on the third disc. It has also been given a techno remix.