Saturday, April 25, 2009

Top 100 Jamaican songs. Get it right!

I’ve got to thank Rethabile Masilo for pointing me to Reuters’ report
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
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.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Jewish Canadians for Decency and Righteousness

I get behind here because there’s so much to write about and many issues that deserve comment require a moral and spiritual stamina, and also a forbearance of the trivial, that I can’t always summon. So, for example, Prime Minister Harper, through his Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, erodes pay equity for women (in this case, women in the federal public service in Canada) by saying it’s a matter to be referred to the unions. Who would have thought in this day and age any government could get away with that? As for the trivial – for I cannot forbear – the media twist themselves into pretzels about Michelle Obama touching the Queen and concoct a fashion ‘war’ between herself and Carla Bruni. Good grief! Give the terrified jobless a break!

Something happened in March that, never mind it’s late, needs to be noticed. Over 160 Jewish Canadians, including persons such as Ursula Franklin O.C., Anton Kuerti O.C., and Naomi Klein, made public a signed statement voicing their concern about the campaign to suppress criticism of Israel currently being carried on in Canada. They are, they say, “concerned about all expressions of racism, anti-Semitism, and social injustice.” But they see the “Never again” for the Holocaust, as applying to all peoples. Thus, “It is a tragic turn of history that the State of Israel, with its ideals of democracy and its dream of being a safe haven for Jewish people, causes immeasurable suffering and injustice to the Palestinian people.”

It’s an extraordinary document, the full text of which is available at several internet sites, including:

The statement concludes:

'It is crucial that forums for discussion of Israel's accountability to the international community for what many have called war crimes be allowed to proceed unrestricted by specious claims of anti-Semitism.'

'We recognize that anti-Semitism is a reality in Canada as elsewhere, and we are fully committed to resisting any act of hatred against Jews. At the same time, we condemn false charges of anti-Semitism against student organizations, unions, and other groups and people exercising their democratic right to freedom of speech and association regarding legitimate criticism of the State of Israel.'

The courage of these persons must be applauded. There are, no doubt, many other Jewish Canadians, and Israelis, who feel this way, and who will be reassured to know that these persons saw fit to make public their distress over behaviour on the part of the state of Israel towards its Palestinian neighbours.

Seems the mainstream media in Canada weren’t helpful in making the statement public.

As Massa God would have it, for as we keep saying here, him don’t sleep, at much the same time, news media were reporting that Israeli troops admitted that they had killed innocent Palestinian civilians in the Gaza war. The reports are hair-raising. Here is one soldier’s account: ‘When we entered a house, we were supposed to bust down the door and start shooting inside and just go up storey by storey – I call that murder. If we identify a person, we shoot them. How is this reasonable?’

He also told of an old woman who was crossing a road when she was shot by soldiers.

‘I don’t know whether she was suspicious or not. I do know that my officer sent people to the roof to take her out. It was cold-blooded murder.’

The accounts come from Israeli soldiers at a recruits’ training course at the Rabin Academy. Danny Mazir, head of the Academy, said: ‘We expected to hold a discussion about the war. We did not expect the testimonies we heard. We were in total shock.’

Palestinians say over half of the more than 1,300 Gazans who were killed were civilians. Israel disputes the figure.

Among other things, it is evil to require men and women to slaughter their fellow human beings in a way that they themselves can recognize as evil. No civilized state abuses its citizens in this way. As for the slaughtered Palestinians, the crying out of the blood of innocents is a continuing theme in the Holy Books. Those who murder unarmed women and children flaunt not only the conventions of men, but, far more seriously, the laws of God.

The converse applies equally to the Palestinians, but it would seem, in the immediate circumstances, that they are more sinned against than sinning.

Idolatry is a convoluted sin, and all manner of worldly things may become idols, including putting the worship of the state before the worship of God. Whatever else there may be dispute about, the first commandment on the tablets Moses brought down from Sinai, as recorded in Exodus and Deuteronomy (in Hebrew, the Devarim), is indisputable: “You shall have no other gods before me.” It would be imprudent of those who lead the state of Israel to set themselves against the God who called the Jewish people His. Indeed, that is to put it very mildly.