Archive for July, 2012


Beautiful song sung by beautiful children.  The Jamaican National song was written by the Honorable V.S. Reid.

I never sung it much during my school days but fortunately it seems that  in later years it became much more  utilized. Powerful and poignant words that are an actual road map to the success as a nation which we seek.

This youtube link is incorrectly labeled Jamaican National Pledge. It is our National Song, our pledge is quite different.

 

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Why do Jamaican men love fat women? And when I say fat women I simply mean women whose BMI(Body Mass Index) is outside of the upper proportions dictated by conventional western medicine. The variation and determination of  what is “fat” varies so much and is skewed by class, race and even in some cases even age group. But like many of our African brothers who still reside on the continent, a big strapting woman is also a  desired entity for many Jamaican men. Perhaps deep in our subconscious, big body women signify abundance, fertility and wealth.

Many men who have a preference for slimmer women have said that they have gone out of their way to “tackle a big ting properly” because,like Everest, it is just one of those challenges that you have to take on. The degree to which Jamaican men especially of our fathers’and grandfathers’ generation obsess over fat woman is very prominently displayed in all our music forms. Ska, Rocksteady, Reggae and Dancehall have all had big tunes glorifying and speaking about our fatty fixation. So, in this our 50th year I must tribute all the big body woman dem!

Here are my top 10 tunes in praise of fatty in no specific order.

There was a strain of reggae/Jamaican music that first came out in the early 70’s that myself and some of my  friends affectionately call Big Belly Brownman Rumbar Reggae.

When we were kids it was the type of reggae that would get good play on the radio as well as being very palatable for uptown social gatherings. It however really found its natural home in jukeboxes in the bars where copious quantities of rum were being consumed. It is the type of music that made some big seriousfaced gentlemen allow themselves  to do some little skanking. Something that they would never do to the more grassroots sounding reggae of the day.

It was a particular type of production that was bass heavy but with more chord changes than the hardcore dub reggae  sound that was running the 70’s. The horn arrangements were  more sophisticated and more dominant in the mix than the non-brownman reggae. As a child it seemed to me that the horns and bass facilitated for a kind of  dance move that was easy for non-dancers to do after a few Q’s of  White Rum. It was great music then, but age has actually given me a whole new appreciation of the humour, themes and overall production that went into these tracks.

So without futher ado, for Jamaica 50, here are my 10 favourite Big Belly Brownman Rumbar Reggae tracks in no special order. Please feel free to comment and let me know your favourites of the genre.

In 1972 Chris Blackwell had taken a gamble on an renegade rasta band out of Jamaica called The Wailers. Thus far it had paid off.  He had given band member Bob Marley  10,000 pounds and after a couple of months had gotten back master tapes of great material . When he heard it and did the math, he realized that unlike many of the typical Jamaican acts he had done business with prior, these men spent every penny on the material that they submitted to him.

He also realized  that they could potentially break out of the rut which typically befell reggae music in the UK.  Reggae was a singles market.  Successful acts and albums were a rarity. Popular singles could work well in the  Jamaican immigrant community and possibly crossover into some of the UK youth subcultures ie. Mods and Skinheads. The hit singles would move a decent number of 7inches and when grouped together they could move some compilation albums. The artists would do the UK chitlin circuit of sorts and make some decent money. However Blackwell saw that The Wailers, especially Bob, were possibly the fledgling genre’s best chance of becoming a real contender in the global music marketplace.

Blackwell put together a team to overdub and polish the album into a rock and roll grade classic. He recruited Muscle Shoals session guitarist Wayne Perkins, Robbie Shakespeare to replay bass on some tracks, Rabbit Bundrick on keyboards and organs and a slew of other musicians from Jamaica, the UK and USA. He A&Red the hell out of the project.

The original cover art for the first 20,000 albums was a Zippo lighter and done with the same attention to design as the big budget rock albums of the day. The album was called Catch A Fire.

He organized a UK tour that comprised mostly universities and smaller clubs. Everything was lining up the right way but the real kickoff for The Wailers, Blackwell and reggae music came perhaps because of  one appearance.  While in London in 1973, The Wailers were booked on The Old Grey Whistle Test. This BBC2  television music program was different from Top Of The Pops or any of the more chart based shows. It was a relatively new program but had the reputation of showcasing the real deal.  Grey Whistle was about artists doing  their work in a no-frills, intimate space. Devoid of pomp and theatrics this was where  you saw premier album oriented rock artists. Bob, Peter, Bunny and the rest of the Wailers performed two songs in their first ever UK television appearance. The rest is pretty much history.

In our 50th year, it would be good to look back at some of the methods, ethics, personalities and strategies that worked to turn us into musical powerhouse at one point. Perhaps there are a few lessons to be learnt.

Enjoy.

 

 

On the afternoon of October 14 1983, the course of reggae music was changed in the most unfortunate way. While  in a car on Grants Pen Road with an 18yr old aspiring reggae artist called Delroy Jr. Reid seated beside him, one of the brightest talents and true prodigies in Jamaican music was gunned down and killed.

His name was Hugh Mundell.

Mundell was 21 years old when he died but left behind a legacy of at least 5 albums and numerous singles. He recorded as a singer under his given name and recorded many of his DJ style songs under the alias Jah Levi. He was born in 1962 into a firmly middle-class East Kingston family. His father was a  lawyer. At age 13, with the help of singer/musician Boris Gardner(who appears to have been a neighbour at some point) Mundell recorded his first song for producer Joe Gibbs. He was attending Ardenne High but was already firmly rooted in Rastafari, Pan Africanism,  Black Consciousness and non-violence. I can only assume that this unlikely progressive thought for a middle-class child was rooted in the availability of conscious literature and consistent exposure to news and issues in his household. I have never been able to speak to anyone close to Mundell to give me the full picture. Augustus Pablo was saddened when I brought up the topic and said we would speak another time. Pablo passed before we had the conversation. Jr Reid who was Mundell’s protege and in the car with him when he was slain is a friend of mine, but the subject still seems hard to broach. Whatever his inspiration, Ardenne student Hugh Mundell aka Jah Levi in 1978 at the age of 16 recorded what is arguably one of the greatest roots reggae albums ever made.

Africa Must Be Free By 1983 received a maximum 5 star rating from Rolling Stone Magazine. Mundell’s smooth wailing vocal innocence paired with Pablo’s supreme production plus a cast of  legendary musicians and engineers had created a classic.  The album is included in Tom Moon’s 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die.  And yes. The album is that good. With its dub mixes of all the songs, Africa Must Be Free kept my meds firm through many dark and difficult situations. I humbly suggest that if you are a lover of good  music you give the album a listen. In this our 50th year,  Mundell would have been 50 years old and could have potentially evolved into our next Marley.

Gone but not forgotten. Hugh Mundell.

 

                                                                                

I am not a beer drinker. If and when I do drink beer, Heineken is my preferred choice. But I,  like many Jamaicans grew up with a sense of pride knowing that we had our own real proper beer. Red Stripe was one hundred percent Jamaican. As a brand it spoke to everything that was cool about Jamaica. Fun, family, music, the beauty of our land and the personality of our people.  The ads that were run on JBC TV in the 70s and early 80’s made indelible marks on the psyches of myself and probably the entire post independence generation of the time.

Years later when I lived abroad I would stock my apartment with Red Stripe because if I had visitors I knew I would lose my yardman stripes if I didn’t have one to offer. Red Stripe was the realest calling card for a cool dude from a cool culture. When you are  in Babylon,  holding on to the aspects of your culture that embody your Jamaicaness become much more important than when you are home. I wore more Clarks in farrin, spoke more patois and even started to drink Red Stripe now and again.

Not anymore though. Red Stripe is currently seen as a has been beverage in the local market that has moved to stronger alcoholic pleasures. That happens. Tastes change. Products age out and  hopefully are nurtured and tweaked back into relevance.  What really sucks though is how badly Red Stripe has been marketed locally over the last decade or so.   An iconic Jamaican brand has pretty much been made into a laughingstock locally with a series of shabby ad campaigns which peaked with the highly touted and quickly cancelled “Bear” campaign.

 

My bredren Sandor spoke about it pretty much in detail in fairly polite terms in his blog.

 

They really did it with those. Really really rass up di ting .  Hopefully at some point some level of intelligence will take over the  local marketing and redeem a great great Jamaican brand.  Ironically, the overseas marketing of Red Stripe continues to be cool, quirky and well received.  Non-Jamaicans proving yet again that they understand our products and assets better than we ourselves do.

 

But what I have  located, as a tribute to our 50th year of independence is a reel of Red Stripe ads. It’s very long and spans over 4 decades.  I am sure you will see some classic ads that tell the tale of our special Jamaican lifestyle and reflect on how really and truly, Life is just for Living. 

 

 

 

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