A line of English to pick up on

Jamaica Gleaner - - ENTERTAINMENT - Mel Cooke Gleaner Writer melville.cooke@glean­erjm.com

THE TWO songs cur­rently on the Bill­board Hot 100 sin­gles chart in which United States per­form­ers do a snip­pet of a Ja­maican record­ing are Torey Lanez’ LUV and Fifth Har­mony’s (fea­tur­ing Fetty Wap) All in My Head (Flex). LUV has lines from Tanto Metro and Devonte’s Ev­ery­one Falls in Love Some­times, while Fifth Har­mony ad­justs Co­bra’s line “flex, time to have sex” to “flex, time to im­press”.

The Tanto Metro and Devonte com­bi­na­tion and Co­bra’s R&B orig­i­nal have more in com­mon than be­ing made in the 1990s by male Ja­maican per­form­ers. Although they use Ja­maican na­tion lan­guage ex­ten­sively, they have lines in Stan­dard English, and it is those which the Amer­i­can per­form­ers pick up on (although Devonte does sing “ev­ery­one fall in love some­times” and the re­make puts in the miss­ing ‘s’).

So the ac­tual lines which are done in the re­makes are in Stan­dard English – which makes the orig­i­nals have some­thing in com­mon with a num­ber of dance­hall songs which have made it on the Bill­board charts.

Take Shabba Ranks’ Mr Lover­man, which hit the Bill­board Hot 100 in 1992 and held the num­ber 40 po­si­tion at one point. The re­frain (not done by Shabba only dur­ing the song) clearly states, “Mis­ter Lover­man” and his name, “Shabba”. In Jan­uary 1993, the orig­i­nal Flex by Mad Co­bra had its Bill­board Hot 100 run, peak­ing at num­ber 13. Part of the cho­rus is clearly English – “flex, time to have sex” – although the cou­plet is com­pleted in Ja­maican na­tion lan­guage (“look how long yu have di rude bway a sweat”).


One of Shaggy’s many Bill­board chart en­tries, It Wasn’t Me, hit the top of the Bill­board Hot 100. The duet with Rikrok has a clearly iden­ti­fi­able and very fa­mil­iar de­nial as its re­frain. Sean Paul placed higher with Tem­per­a­ture and Get Busy (both of which topped the Bill­board Hot 100), but he got the break­through with Gimme The Light in 2002. The ti­tle and re­frain are im­me­di­ately clear to per­sons who speak English.

Does this com­mon el­e­ment to the songs prove that hav­ing a line or two in English is nec­es­sary for a Ja­maican song to have Bill­board chart suc­cess? No – although Rihanna’s Work does re­peat the word sev­eral times, the rest of the track is a hard lis­ten for even some of those who speak Ja­maican na­tion lan­guage. And it cer­tainly does not sug­gest that it is a guar­an­tee.

How­ever, it can­not hurt to have a small part of a catchy song in the de facto world lan­guage, English.

While we con­sider this, let us not for­get that Ja­maican pop­u­lar mu­sic was ini­tially made for Ja­maicans and its in­ter­na­tional suc­cess was a happy ac­ci­dent, driven in no small part by the move­ment of the is­land’s peo­ple to Eng­land, the US, Canada and other coun­tries. Nat­u­rally then, many of the songs would have been made strictly for the Ja­maican au­di­ence, which in­cludes the lan­guage.

And it would not have been even for all Ja­maicans, but pri­mar­ily the lower so­cioe­co­nomic class. As Wayne Chen and Kevin Chang pointed out in

Reg­gae Routes, reg­gae as “... inar­guably Ja­maican, a rhythm in tune with its peo­ple, not only lis­tened to all over the globe but still lis­ten­ing to it­self”. It is an

in­tense lis­ten­ing, as they say, “mu­sic here is pro­foundly wo­ven into the fab­ric of the so­ci­ety, still giv­ing voice to the col­lec­tive feel­ings of the com­mu­nity, a func­tion it has lost in a num­ber of places”. This lo­cal fo­cus would dic­tate themes and lan­guage, but those mak­ers of mu­sic who are try­ing to get be­yond the trans­ported Ja­maicans and Caribbean au­di­ence in the largest English-speak­ing mu­sic mar­ket would be well-ad­vised to think glob­ally – if only for a line or two.



Tanto Metro (left) and Devonte

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