Sun | Jun 13, 2021

Story of the Song:Rising in reggae

Published:Sunday | April 15, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

Last week, Easter Monday, the Christian community celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ, his literal rising from the dead. Reggae and dancehall also deal with the notion of rising, though not necessarily in the same way as it is treated on Easter Monday. The similarity, though, lies with the inherently upward-oriented definition of rise.

Bob Marley used rise in at least two different contexts, waking up and resistance. On Three Little Birds he wakes up to see the trio of flying creatures at his doorstep. It is the beginning of a particularly positive day, after Marley sings "rise up this morning/smiled with the rising sun/three little birds/pitch by my doorstep/singing sweet songs ...".

On the other hand, in Heathen Marley encourages the resistance fighter - literally or figuratively - to recover from a crippling blow and get back into the fray. He sings "rise up all you fallen fighters/rise and take your stance again/it's he who fights and runs away/lives to fight another day ...".

On Rise to the Occasion, Sizzla uses the idea of going upwards on the level of personal encouragement in the face of adversity, a level of fortitude required for the action. As he exhorts "rise to the occasion/go ahead and say you strong/no one can stop you", it is not a passive situation but one which requires assertive action on the part of the individual.

a revived career

With entertainers who have gained some popularity then fallen off the public radar often deemed to be musically dead, it is not surprising that 'rise' has been applied to a revived career. In Rise Again, mercurial star of the 1980s and perennial clothing fashion leader Pinchers declares that a fall-off was part of a larger strategy and revival is quite easy. He sings:

"Sometimes I pretend like I am weak

Just 'cause I know that I am strong

Through I wanna know my true companion ... ."

On I Rise from the Rasta Got Soul album Buju Banton uses rising in the personal context of overcoming struggles, but also the physical act of rising from a difficult position. He deejays:

"I rise from the concrete

For the earth was my bed and the sky was my roof

Man rise up from the concrete

Man was searching to find his bread

And even though it seems hard I'm still gonna hold up my head"

On the mid-1990s Bogus Badge deejay Louie Culture does not use the word rise, but there is a Lazarus moment in that he reappears when it was thought that he was history. Louie Culture deejays "when dem tink we dead back inna de juggling we rally/we hol' dem an pop it off, bogus badge".

Tanya Stephens does not use 'rise' in Still Alive, a track from her Infallible album which was released for free.

However, leading into the refrain of the song, which is from the perspective of a faithful husband whose wife infects him with HIV, Stephens creates the image of premature interment, singing "after everything I gave/I can't believe you're all digging my grave ... ."

And the character, Johnny, figuratively rises from the situation of being buried while still breathing:

"While I'm still alive every day I live

I'm still alive with every breath I give

I'm still alive, take it from me

I'm still writing pages of testimony

I'm still alive no matter what they say

I'm still alive and this is how I'll stay

I'm still alive and I'm not ready to go

I want everybody to know

That I'm still alive ... ."