War Ina Babylon
Max Romeo & The Upsetters (1976)
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.