War Ina Baby­lon

Max Romeo & The Upset­ters (1976)

Q (UK) - - 50 Greatest Revolutionary Songs -

In 1975, Ja­maica’s cap­i­tal Kingston was at war with it­self. Ris­ing ten­sions in the run-up to the fol­low­ing year’s gen­eral elec­tion meant whole swathes of the city were un­der mob rule as armed vig­i­lantes fought each other in the shanty-town streets. It was against this tur­bu­lent back­drop that singer Max Romeo, best known for his smutty 1969 UK hit Wet Dream, joined forces with mer­cu­rial pro­ducer Lee Perry to record sear­ing roots an­them Sip­ple Out Deh (“sip­ple” mean­ing slip­pery/dan­ger­ous) at the fa­bled Black Ark stu­dio. On hear­ing the track’s po­tent mes­sage – a scathing di­a­tribe against ghetto vi­o­lence and po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion – paired with Perry’s lux­u­ri­ant, gospel-tinged pro­duc­tion, Is­land boss Chris Black­well in­sisted the duo re­tool the tune and ex­tend its theme of Rasta in­sur­gency into a whole LP. Re­named War Ina Baby­lon, this in­cen­di­ary state-of-then­ation ad­dress was not just a land­mark mo­ment for both singer and pro­ducer, but for protest mu­sic in gen­eral.

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