Age-old mu­si­cal di­vi­sions (Pt. 1)

Jamaica Gleaner - - ENTERTAINMENT - Mel Cooke Gleaner Writer melville.cooke@glean­

IGOT a rather hu­mor­ous age check a cou­ple of weeks ago through Al­ka­line’s song, Cham­pion Boy. How­ever, as per­son­ally funny as it was, I was re­minded about di­vi­sions in our pop­u­lar mu­sic that do us a great dis­ser­vice. So, af­ter get­ting five-gal­lon wa­ter bot­tle re­fills at a su­per­mar­ket, I was walk­ing across the park­ing lot be­side the at­ten­dant push­ing the trolley with the bot­tles, a cou­ple of steps be­hind my daugh­ters. Al­ka­line’s Cham­pion Boy, came to mind and I at­tempted to dee­jay a cou­ple lines from the cho­rus. Above the rat­tle of the wheels on the as­phalt, the young man push­ing the


trolley said, “El­ders, mi neva know yu sing them song deh.” I held back my laugh­ter and tried to play it off on the chil­dren, who were prob­a­bly within five years of his age and said, “Is me daugh­ter dem mu­sic, sah.” Al­though I don’t be­lieve he was con­vinced, he let me off the hook and did not press the mu­si­cal mat­ter any fur­ther. Be­yond the ‘elder’ joke of the mo­ment, the very brief ex­change has nig­gled at my mind. Ja­maica has the phe­nom­e­nal track record of pro­duc­ing ska, rock­steady, reg­gae, dub, and dance­hall as in­ter­na­tion­ally suc­cess­ful pop­u­lar mu­sic gen­res. How­ever, we have a very poor record of main­tain­ing, nur­tur­ing, and com­mer­cially ex­ploit­ing not only the cur­rently dom­i­nant dance­hall, but also the other gen­res. Case in point: There is a no­tice­able de­fi­ciency of reg­gae al­bums by Ja­maicans in the top 10 of the Bill­board Reg­gae Chart. Mar­ley broth­ers Stephen and Ziggy, with Rev­e­la­tion Part II: the Fruit of Life and Ziggy Mar­ley, re­spec­tively, are the only ones to have kept a con­sis­tent Ja­maican pres­ence over the past three months.

I am loathe to re­hash that the well-worn ‘for­eign­ers have taken over our mu­sic’ ar­gu­ment, which hit a peak when Bill­board named Joss Stone its top reg­gae artiste for 2015 or the ve­rac­ity of the Reg­gae Re­vival’s name (a name for a group of per­form­ers that has largely faded). How­ever, there is no deny­ing that we have not done as much as we couldm, and should have, to nur­ture and earn from reg­gae.

Then there is the large num­ber of ska bands out­side of Ja­maica, with a strik­ing dearth here (let is not for­get, how­ever, the re­cent amal­ga­ma­tion of Richie Stephens and the Ska Na­tion, which puts Ja­maican vo­cals with non-Ja­maican mu­si­cians).

It is con­found­ing how we ne­glect not only en­tire gen­res of our pop­u­lar mu­sic, but quickly aban­don a pop­u­lar song for one which is deemed ‘hot­ter’. And that which is latched on to for an often lim­ited time span is sup­posed to get the pre­serve of the now gen­er­a­tion, which leads to the age di­vi­sions.

And that takes me back to ‘elder’ and Cham­pion Boy. ‘Cham­pion’ ap­pears at many dif­fer­ent stages of Ja­maican pop­u­lar mu­sic. For ex­am­ple, in Dance Crasher, rock­steady stand­out Al­ton El­lis ad­vises the rude boys to re­form and “be a cham­pion/Like Mr Bunny Grant”.

In the 1980s, there were a num­ber of cham­pion songs, among them Pinch­ers’ Cham­pion Bub­bler and Colin Roach’s take on Louis Jordan’s Aint No­body Here But us Chickens, to de­clare “ain’t no­body here but the cham­pion sound.” In the 1990s, Shabba and Ms Glas­gowe had Cham­pion Lover, and Buju ad­mired a woman who “walk like a cham­pion.”

If only we could con­nect our gen­res and eras and keep them rel­e­vant for the el­ders and young­sters like how we re­cy­cle words and themes.

Next week: What is vin­tage, throw­back, and retro mu­sic any­way?


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