Fathers, a not-so-common musical topic
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Jamaican popular music is replete with songs for mothers by male performers, a strong indication of the dominant maternal role in their lives. Shabba Ranks' Mama Christie and Bounty Killer's Miss Ivy are as much a part of dancehall lore as a reasonably popular entertainer, while Richie Stephens went as far as to record the song Shine with his 'Mama Carmen'.
However, while the numerous songs for mothers are somewhat predictable in their expressions of unswerving love and praise, the much less frequent songs for Daddy take different perspectives on their father's role in the performer's life.
Or lack thereof, though in two cases not because of abandonment. In Dear Dad, Ky-Mani Marley sends musical mail to Bob Marley, making it clear from the opening that there is sorrow in the communication as "I have a letter here from me to Dad/And I want to let you know might be a little sad". Still, although Ky-Mani says he did not really get to know his father (who died when Ky-Mani was five years old), there is a connection to hold on to:
"But there's one memory that stays on the back of my mind
And this memory got me thinking about you all the time."
Plus, there is the connection through his mother, Alnita Belnavis, as Ky-Mani sings "in case you're wondering, Mama she's doing fine/and she tells me stories 'bout you Papa all the time".
But while there is that comfort, it goes both ways, as Ky-Mani sings, "I'm just writing to let you know someone cares/I love you, really really love you/Daddy I miss you and I know my brothers and sisters do too."
Dear Dad also became part of the title of Ky-Mani Marley's autobiography, which was not without its controversy. On February 6, 2010, the day the book was slated to be released by Farrah Gray Publishing in the United States, The Gleaner published a story in which Marley spoke about a disagreement with the publishers.
The working title of the book was Dear Dad: The Marley Son Who Persevered From The Streets To Prominence, but the eventual title was Dear Dad: Where's The Family In Our Family, Today? The Story the Marley Family Apparently Doesn't Want You to Know. Ky-Mani told The Gleaner "I'm not happy about it, I'm very hurt. All I wanted to do was tell my story, not cause any conflict."
The falling out between publisher and author was eventually settled, with an agreement to adjust the title in new copies, Marley issuing a statement in March 2010 stating his support of the book.
In a previous Story of the Song, Khago spoke about the making of his song Daddy From You Gone, in which he speaks to his father who died when he was seven years old. Recorded in 2009, Khago credits his father with support, even as he laments how his life changed after 'Zaro' died:
"Hey Dad, this one is reaching out to you
You never no sperm donor
Daddy from you gone
Me know me did a go struggle
Me know sey me did a go struggle
My life pon Earth a no bed a rose
For from you gone I no wear no proper clothes"
Good gosh, Dad is like you get a double kill
You drop out too soon, you never get fe lef' a will ..."
And Zaro's will for his son to have a good life was not carried through:
"Daddy, big Sunday morning I no eat no breakfas'
White squall take ova me mouth like lip gloss ...
If me say certain things Dad, yu would a turn an twis' inna yu grave
Family woulda shame whe treat I like slave ... "
Nadine Sutherland credits her father, Glenford Patrick Sutherland, for his continued love and support in her song to him, Love and Honour to My Father.
He also understood the importance of watching over his daughter as she grew, and Sutherland credits him for this as she sings:
"Like the lilies of the valley you grew me
My delicate innocence was spared you protected me
A little girl in a big world so many things I didn't know."
So she pledges her support, in different ways, in turn:
"Your basket will never go empty
As long as I work I will give you plenty
I wish your wise eyes will never cry any tears
And if you do, my shoulders will be there
Cause when you cry, I cry plenty."
At the same time, she acknowledges the disjoint between father and daughter on matters of dress, though their bond goes deeper than clothing:
"I know you don't agree with some of the things I wear
My sexy clothes and false hair
But you know I am a serious woman"
Sutherland told The Gleaner in a previous interview about her song Starvation on the Land, produced by Bob Marley, that while meeting the Gong was no big thing to the then pre-teen, "My father now, he understood the importance."
In Thank You Mama, Sizzla puts in a reference to father, not as an absentee but someone who is affected by circumstances. He sings, "even when the system keeps pressuring my Dad/you got high hopes thanks be to the Most High God."
With an informal system of apprenticeship long established in dancehall, the deejay father-son relationship is a part and parcel of dancehall. There are clash moments, however, where the bond is broken. At Sting in 1991, as Supercat and Ninja Man squared off, in making his entry, after declaring the "warning warning, the Apache is coming", Supercat said "forgive them father cause they don't know what they have done. They have rise the father against the son. If now is the killing, the killing have to be done".
And before the clash started in earnest, Ninja said to Supercat "you a mi bredda, you a mi father", relationships which Supercat rejected.
As he waited on Merciless to totter on stage for a whalloping at Sting 2012, Kiprich outlined musically that he was taking no prisoners, no Mavado, no Aidonia, nobody. And, he deejayed:
"Mi tell Bounty him a my general
But tonight mi no have no Daddy!"