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.