Saturday, April 25, 2009

Top 100 Jamaican songs. Get it right!

I’ve got to thank Rethabile Masilo for pointing me to Reuters’ report
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20090422/music_nm/us_jamaica_1)
announcing a list of Jamaica’s top 100 songs over the 50 years between 1957 and 2007.

A panel of seven made the selections, assisted by members of the public attending a symposium at the University of the West Indies, Mona, on April 16th. The audience helped to shape the criteria for the selection, as well as vote on the compositions to be included in the top 100. Former Finance and Planning Minister Omar Davies headed the panel, which included businessman Wayne Chen, musicologist Vaughn "Bunny" Goodison, founder of the Soul Shack Disco and creator and host of the popular radio show, "Rhythms," Frankie Campbell of the Fab Five band, broadcaster Francois St. Juste, journalist Basil Walters, and musician Sly Dunbar of Sly and Robbie fame.

Bob Marley's "One Love" topped the list with "Simmer Down" coming in at No. 9. "No Woman No Cry" was picked No. 12 and "Redemption Song" No. 14. "One Love" garnered 726 points. The second placed song, "O Carolina," originally recorded by the Folkes Brothers, scored 540 points.

Reuters reported the list as follows:

The Top 10 songs and the singers were:

1. "One Love" - Bob Marley & the Wailers

2. "Oh Carolina" - The Folkes Brothers

3. "54-45" - The Maytals

4. "Got to Go Back Home" - Bob Andy

5. "My Boy Lollipop" - Millie Small

6. "Many Rivers To Cross" - Jimmy Cliff

7. "Israelites" - Desmond Dekker and the Aces

8. "Cherry Oh Baby" - Eric Donaldson

9. "Simmer Down" - Bob Marley & the Wailers

10. "Carry Go Bring Come" - Justin Hinds & the Dominos

I’m not a fan of top 10s, top 100s, Grammys, Oscars, etc., for reasons that I think are good ones, and that I won’t go into in this post. However, it’s nothing but good when people come together to weigh, discuss and celebrate their culture – in this case, their music. Give thanks and praises for that.

Three things struck me.

First, Horace Helps, the Reuters reporter, and Bob Tourtellotte, the editor, have managed to distort the title of the song in the No. 3 spot. "54-46 – That's My Number" is a song by Fred "Toots" Hibbert about the 18 months he spent in jail on a ganja charge. (Toots claimed he was arrested while helping to bail someone.) It’s not “54-45,” though there are sites on the Internet misnaming it that way.

Folks know I get upset by inaccuracies, sloppy dealing with facts, figures, events, history, the truth. This is a simple story, and the reporter and editor have easy access to media where the correct information is available. Further, it’s as if some people are perversely dedicated to getting it wrong. For example, anyone listening to the recording at
http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8950_54-45-was-my-number_music
a site where the song is incorrectly advertised as “54-45 WAS MY NUMBER," will hear the musicians singing the right thing.

There was no place for comment or feedback on the Reuters site, so no chance to set the record straight.

Secondly, the fifth place song is of interest for a couple of reasons. It's the only one where the recording artiste is a woman. Also, whatever the criteria used for “Jamaican” were, “My Boy Lollipop”, unlike the other nine songs, was not written by Jamaicans. Singer Robert Spencer of The Cadillacs, a doo wop group from Harlem, and the group's manager, Johnny Roberts, are usually ascribed the writing credits. The song's first recording was by teenager Barbie Gaye in 1956. Millie Small's 1964 cover, rearranged by Ernie Ranglin and distinctive for its ska/bluebeat-style, became a huge hit in Britain, reaching the No. 2 spot. It went to No. 1 in Ireland and No. 2 in the USA, topped the charts in Australia and was the first record to help Chris Blackwell's Jamaican label, Island Records, make millions. With over seven million copies sold, it still is one of the best-selling reggae/ska hits. So it’s an important song in the history of the development and export of Jamaican music, but it’s not as completely Jamaican as the others in the top ten are.

Finally, the fact that the Department of Government at UWI are the ones who organized the symposium is either a very good or a very bad thing... One hopes it's a good thing. One worries though, when, in a release from the aforesaid department, one reads sentences like: "Its [the music's] impact on the aesthetic and ontological development and expression of global popular music is phenomenal". I have argued in a long document elsewhere that the social sciences aren't really sciences at all. Forgive the bellicose metaphors, but is this fodder for my cannon, or ammunition for my gun?

As ever, all comments, corrections, and new information are welcome.

28 comments:

Jdid said...

what no jimmy cliff the harder they come? i'm disappointed :-(

nice top 10 though although I cant say i'm familiar with the horace andy song

Jdid said...

oh just saw the top 20 and the harder they come is #11 so i'm not that disappointed.

Seems like there is a bias towards older music though. i mean maybe i wouldnt argue that strongly for anything from the past decade but there had to have been a few good tunes from that era that could have made it. i mean there are some horrid stuff ut there now but you still get a gem every now and then

YardEdge said...

Yes, I'm wondering about the criteria and the point really of a top 100?

Also, the Dept. of Govertment?? Go figure..

FSJL said...

The bias towards older music isn't too surprising given the age of the committee doing the selection (all in their 40s and 50s).

The social science aren't sciences, Pam? Frankly, I'd like to see you do a regression analysis of the work of Walcott, or a Pearson correlation on the novels of Edwige Danticat. As opposed, say, to a textual exegesis of the relationship between ethnicity and voting in Belize.

I used to own a Dutch-language introductory literature textbook. It was titled Inleiding aan de literatuurwetenschaap, Introduction to Literature Science.

clarabella said...

Jdid: Long time we no hear from you! How you doing? As for the choices, I guess one advantage that the older tunes have is that they've proved their staying power, which newer ones have yet to do. I'm trying to find the list of the top 100, but can't seem to pick it up anywhere. Walk good. P&L and thanks for stopping by.

clarabella said...

YardEdge! How you stay? Thanks for stopping by. I get the feeling that people generally, educators included, are trying to package things to make them appeal, so maybe that's why the symposium decided on a top 100 approach. It's not the best idea, though. You can be absolutely sure Usain is the top runner. There is an objective measure, as long as the time clocks are right. There's no measuring music that way, and it's worth helping people to appreciate that. As for the department of government as sponsor, well, maybe I'll wait and comment on that at slightly greater length. Peace and Love. Tia

clarabella said...

FSJL: Lawd, oh! Take time. If they are not sciences then they are – arts! (You are helping make my point with that Dutch Literature text!) And what's wrong with that? It's a matter of approach, of being careful about the kind of claims you make. Sociology isn't mathematics, or chemistry, and even math at a certain point, some scientists say, is more art than science. Must rush. More later. P&L

Rethabile said...

"My Boy Lollipop" was an enormous hit in Lesotho from about '65 to '68. Everybody was playing it, and every family with a turntable owned the 45, and South African stations were playing it. It was so popular that kids in the street rewrote the lyrics into Sesotho...

FSJL said...

Pam: If only I could merely have intuited the relationship between voting and ethnicity in Belize, or between class alliances and democracy in the recently-decolonised Caribbean, or used some other artistic technique instead of having to use, ahem, social-scientific methods to analyse the dratted things (in the former case, truly horrid things like regressions and Pearson correlations). That would have made my life a lot easier, believe me. All this dreaded objectivity and falsifiability stuff is a chore.

FSJL said...

What is the Sesotho for "giddyap" I wonder?

Rethabile said...

The "translation" wasn't literal: similar Sesotho sounds were substituted for the English ones. This was in fact common with highly popular songs, mostly because because we'd heard the song sung so much that it started to sound like something in Sesotho, but also because some of the English words didn't make much sense to us.

Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" suffered the same fate.

FSJL said...

Rethabile, such "translations" aren't unknown elsewhere. If memory serves, and mine is faultier than most, the Jamaican folksong "Yellowbird" is a "translation" of a Haitian original.

clarabella said...

FSJL: The argument is in the one long non-fiction document I've written myself, the one piled high and deep. I hold to it still. And I daresay if I chose my variables with care, then I could do a regression analysis on aspects of Walcott's work, or a Pearson something-or-other on Edwidge Danticat. A propos of nothing, I was once privileged to see Gajindra Persaud show a student, utterly befuddled, just how Pearson arrived at his r. An amazing bit of teaching! He broke the thing apart and put it back together, just so! But that was long ago and in another country, and the maid is very dead. You know those poll results that say "accurate to within three point six degrees, nineteen out of twenty times"? That caveat is my case. Or that's one way of putting it. For instance, ask anyone who has in-depth knowledge of mental health care in North America how they feel about that complex of 'sciences' as sciences. And it's scientists who make the case for me... I wouldn't dare try making it myself, now, would I? Don't ethnographic approaches have more in common with the arts than the sciences? And there's nothing wrong with that. What bothers me is what science claims by way of validity, reliability, replicability. And I know a bit about how much fiddling has gone on with supposedly controlled experiments and supposedly empirically demonstrated results. But I'm a crazy lady. I believe planes stay in the air because God keeps the rats from eating through the wires that connect all that electronic equipment...

clarabella said...

Rethabile: I'd love to hear "My Boy Lollipop" in Sesotho. And your explanation of the 'translation' for FSJL's benefit is – well, exciting. I take it that the Sesotho versions made sense, 'new' sense, not necessarily related to the original songs? Can one hear these versions anywhere? Of any songs, not necessarily these two?

clarabella said...

FSJL: Yellow bird was "Choucoune." (The 'Yellow Bird' site says, "'Yellow Bird' is a Jamaican song that tells a story of twarted love." It's a typo, I'm sure, but it's fabulous, so I couldn't resist copying it here, though it's only relevant slantwise.) There's a link on wiki to this site, where the talk thread is fascinating: http://webster.edu/~corbetre/haiti-archive/msg01015.html This process is different from the one Rethabile is describing, though – at least it seems so. Setting out to recreate a new set of lyrics, never mind some aspects may carry over, is different from a set of sound substitutions, which then alchemize into meanings in the language of substitution. There's something going on here which reminds me of a particular word-making process in creole languages. I'll try to remember how it goes. What is amazing is the drive to make meaning from sound – to seek a signified and so make the sound into a signifier – that's hard-wired into us... I love that!

FSJL said...

Pam: No, no, it's not science that keeps planes up in the sky it's science, as in DeLawrence. For further elucidation, find a copy of Harry Turtledove's The Case of the Toxic Spelldump.

FSJL said...

Pam: All I knew was that "Yellowbird" had started life as a merengue, not its complicated history. That's truly fascinating, both as a story and as an account of the ways in which Third World people's culture is appropriated as a commercial product.

Twarted love, eh?

Rethabile said...

My memory is screwy, and I can just remember a few "translated" lines of some songs.

"Ke bao
ka li-potsotso,
chelete e felile"

That's what we sang for Michael Don't Stop Till you get enough. I don't remember the rest of it, nor the rest of My Boy Lollipop. These MJ lines correspond to the chorus:

"Keep on
with the force don't stop
Don't stop 'til you get enough"

The Sesotho version is: "There they go, in their stovepipes, they've run out of money."

Stovepipes were very tight jeans girls wore.

clarabella said...

FSJL: Beg you keep dat kin a science off ob disya website, bredren. Me no able! (Well, Jesus able, but im av plenti fi cyarry on wid...) Perhaps I shall write the story of the rats and the wires and the lights and the Air Jamaica jet one of these days. I may even have done so already. Can't keep track these days! Meantime, careful ow yu mock de tings not ob dis worl! P&L

clarabella said...

FSJL: 'Twarted love' indeed! Yes, I found the "Choucoune" story riveting. Also found it interesting that I couldn't locate a translation into English anywhere. I'm no denizen of the Internet, so it may well be up here, but so far I haven't found it.

clarabella said...

Rethabile: Thanks so much for this. The 'translation' becomes its own social comment, located in Sesotho, and in the moment and place of Lesotho. Has anyone written about this phenomenon? It should be recorded somewhere. Eminem raps and Bob is played in the soukhs of the Eastern World and people write in Chinglish and Spanglish. This is a great chapter in that story of the world becoming a village... Tx again!

FSJL said...

Rethabile, that's very, very different!

FSJL said...

Pam: Dat kin' a science part a fi wi kulcha. It what mek Champong Nanny bounce bullet offa fi har batty, yu nu se'et? (Now, if you go to Belize you discover that Batty have bus, but that is another story entirely, and we're talking about planes.)

Besides, if it's not obeah keeping the planes up, you're going to be telling me all that stuff about Bernouilli force, and thrust, and we know that's just pornography.

FSJL said...

Pam: I don't know about Haitian Creole, but Google has a translation tool. It includes French.

clarabella said...

FSJL: I guess one could try to use the Google translation tool and see what comes off it. Alternatively, one could simply ask someone who speaks kwéyol... I'm just terribly surprised that though the kwéyol version is available on more than one site, as is "Yellow Bird" very available, there's no translation of "Choucoun" into English.

Michelle said...

I'm very partial to 'Many Rivers To Cross' - and 'My Girl Lollipop'.

Michelle said...

PS. Isn't Rethabile a fount of information!

clarabella said...

Michelle: I like "My Boy Lollipop!" but I think "Many rivers to cross" is an amazing, amazing song. And as for Rethabile, he is indeed a fount of information. Geoffrey too. I give thanks and praises for both of them! Continually...