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Sunday, June 11, 2006


From Eddi Rodney


POPULAR dance music originated in Jamaican ‘underground’ communities in East Kingston during the early 1960s. The island’s R&B sounds were at that period dominated by black and white soul and early rock stars.

And it was not only an American artform that permeated the radio stations, but just as important, the politicians of the day ostracised JA Trench Town and `Dungie’ communities regardless of how talented the performers were. The bootleg versions of Little Richard’s `Tutti Fruti’ or James Brown’s `Night Train’ and almost everything recorded by Johnny Nash could be found in the music shelves of most `hip’ Jamaicans.

What distinguished JA’s indigenous music more than anything else from the American melodies of that period was above everything else the island’s grass roots dialect and attitude. This factor subtly empowered popular dance music originating from inside Jamaica as a generation of urban poor and ghetto radicals sought to find some common identity - especially, as Rex Nettleford argues in his (Mirror, Mirror: Identity, Race and Protest in Jamaica) “yard” and street sidewalk dance.

Desmond Dekker, born Des Dacres, who died aged 64 in London on May 26, was amongst the earliest; he was actually a pioneer of the skiffle-influenced, riveting bass section, proletarian bluebeat that emerged as a “national by-product” of American (Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and notably, Sonny Boy Williamson and Paul Anka amongst others)pop culture.

Dekker at one time worked as a welder at a South Camp Road mechanic shop. It was here that he teamed up with Bob Marley. In 1962, Dekker, who had been writing songs in his spare time, introduced the young and still unknown Bob Marley to Leslie Kong, a local merchant who was the first to finance recordings of the new, emerging JA sound.

Unemployment and the Search for Economic Betterment - `The Israelites’

Of all the West Indian territories formerly colonised by ‘Inglan’ (Britain), Jamaica experienced the greatest hardship during the period of the 1920s-1930s depression. One result particularly amongst the Black urban peer and working class was an acute distrust of capitalism. With the dawn of Independence in 1962, a generation of “slick” or streetwise types emerged in Kingston’s popular recreation centres - dance joints and pubs. The music that many preferred was the kind that developed out of the idiom and creativity of the Kingston zone of squatters’ cabins and the catchy lyrical virtuosity of the `rude Bwoys’ (modelled once again on Black American post BeBop mores or `Cool’).

It was under this impetus and social casting that Dekker and his group, the Aces, together with Jimmy Cliff, Price Buster, Lurel Aitkin (the Boogie artist) and the veteran Byron Lee & The Dragonaires, carved out that historical niche for what was to evolve into the reggae sound and (world) market.

His first and most successful recording was the `Isrealites’ a haunting anti-depressant number, strident in its satirical hints of the impact that late and in most cases non industrialisation had wrought on the lives of his countrymen, forced to become wage labour in factories.

“Get up in the morning, slaving for bread….oh lard - the Isrealites…”

Rhetorically, `Isrealites’ highlighted an experience which despite its Old Testament semblance, a slumyard subject who is part of a Black collective and a subject who must also unite with another ‘host’ country working class to Survive the System. The song became a hit in the aftermath of 1968 and the Student Revolution in France, Britain and the United States…after the Black Riots in Watts and the historical Anti Vietnam War mass demonstrations. As Dekker’s main forte `Isrealites’ also propelled to the fore Black solidarity and Consciousness. A concern he was to express with great musical aesthetic in `Shanty Town’, written as a reaction to the 1968 Rodney Affair in Kingston.

`Dem rudebwoy mash up de town…shanty town…ah

Dem rudebwoy wan wan…..shanty town…ah

Dem a weep…dem a wail… shanty town….ah’

Black poetics, Dud and post Modern Reggae Classics

Perhaps what distinguished Dekker and his music was his protracted appeal measured in terms of his homeland and in Britain (where he established residence). Lyrically, he integrated the artform fusing and linking with other Jamaican-born artistes such as Toots & the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Count Ozzie, Bob Andy, Count Sokkel, Bunny Wailer, Yellowman and Brother Bob Marley, amongst others.

In the soundtrack for the film `The Harder They Come’ (1972) Dekker was at his charismatic best, demonstrating that he was a great professional who remained committed to the most advanced and radicalised cultural forces.

Rasta he certainly was. But his Rastafarian outlook or roots lay in West Kingston amongst the downtrodden and the `Dungie’ not monarchical Selassie.

His repertoire depended on a broad range of classics - International Reggae - the poetry of Dub Rock and the best in commercial terms of island Records (and Tuff Gong) reproductions. He appeared on programmes throughout Britain and elsewhere in Europe.

To experience his `Cool’ alongside rock stars and R&B exponents such as Eric Burden (the Animals), Owen Grey, Pete Townsend, Steve Winwood, Chris Farlowe and Georgie Fame was in fact to come closer to Dekker’s earlier years when he encouraged and “promoted” Bob Marley and others in East and West Kingston JA.

The end of the Vietnam War and the decline of mass protests in the mid-1970s were significant for Desmond Dekker. His art resonated now more in scores of West Indian clubs both within and outside the London area…As a stage performer and concert artiste, Dekker interpreted scores of hits in his own inimitable style. Songs like Marley’s `Simma Down’, `Get Up Stand Up for Your Rights’ and the `Catch a Fire’ subset. He rendered Peter Tosh’s `Legalise It’ a powerful “arrangement”, and in the process earned the ire of Britain’s Conservatives.

Similar to Joe Harriot, Desmond Dekker was capable of breaking into entirely new formulations and music communities. He popularised classic reggae by utilising material scripted for Nina Simone’s concerts and matinees.

Several of the pop tunes of The Who, The Kinks and the sound systems managed by Jamaican Operators in England were clearly influenced by his skills. His last major recordings was last year’s retro `You Can Get It If You Really Want’, a tune sung with great sincerity in the mid 1060s when the Solidarity With the People’s of South Africa Movement was gathering its early momentum.

To all those who were touched by his songs and music he bequeathed `Cool’ indeed grooving or gigging with Dekker invariably meant that you stood a great chance of winning.

Desmond Dekker’s contribution to popular music and art will always be remembered.

Jah Rastafari Jah.

Guyana Chronicle

Link Posted by jebratt :: Sunday, June 11, 2006 :: 0 comments

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