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JAMAICA'S SKA AND THE DESIGNING OF OUR CULTURAL INDEPENDENCE" - Part 1.


It is just a little over one month away from the 60th Anniversary of Jamaica's Independence and as July got under way, there was the celebration of International Reggae Day where a special celebration of Jamaica’s Ska music under the theme “60 Years of Ska music,” formed part of the presentations to a global audience. It is important to remember that Jamaica has gifted some eight genres of music to the world in the last 70 years and that Ska and Reggae while being two of the eight, provides significant milestones in the development of the music back home as both genres represented Jamaicans taking ownership and creating music that was identifiable among the masses. I will focus only on the Ska in this piece, and address Reggae in a separate presentation.

If there is an undeniable characteristic that can be appended to Jamaicans it would have to be our “never- say- die” approach to life in general …that relentlessness that is applied to “finding a way” regardless of the odds. In the late 1950s such a spirit was at a uniquely high level. Jamaica had been doing well economically, granted that the spoils of success were not reaching some Jamaicans, particularly those in the sprawling ghettos of Kingston. Nevertheless, the spirit of ‘making do,’ that spirit of adaptability was alive and well and as the drums began to beat louder in the march towards political Independence from Britain so too was the search for a social and cultural identity that we could call ours. In the circumstances, it was bound to happen; the birthing of a new sound that is.


By 1959 the session musicians who were now playing regularly at the various clubs and studio recording sessions had already been infusing their own personal flair into their musical output. American Rhythm and Blues from the 1940s had largely provided the foundations on which local offerings were now being recorded. Driven by the sound systems need to always have an edge, more and more of these sound operators begun to turn to local recordings as these tunes had a racier edge with feisty Bass and horns that provided a complete reinterpretation of the American sound. In time any effort to compare a Jamaican R&B tune with the original that spawned it was becoming more and more futile. The development gave the soundmen like Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd, and Duke Reid broader ammunition and with the entry of Prince Busters’ Voice of the People sound system in 1959/60 there was even greater impetus to do so. Prince Buster ramped up the recording of local singers as their tunes provided him with credible ammunition with which to challenge the top sounds Trojan and Coxsone’s Downbeat. Locals at these dances raved at the idea of hearing the voices of their own roaring through the speaker cabinets and since these tunes were “one off” recordings made especially for the set, Buster generally floored his competitors whose preferences were for the foreign records. It was only a matter of time before both Coxsone, and Duke Reid responded. The result was a thrust towards recording more locally produced material and both musicians and singers embraced this with relish. By the time Seaga released Higgs and Wilson’s "Manny O" it literally tore up the dance halls. This spurred Coxsone to release pianist Theophilus Beckford’s “Easy Snapping”; a tune recorded three years earlier as a counter to Joe Higgs and Roy Wilson’s “Manny O.”

In 1961 Prince Buster released the Folkes Brothers “O Carolina”, a song which was destined to change Jamaican music forever. The song featured the hand drumming of the Count Ossie Group and for the first-time paid recognition to an element of Jamaican culture that was previously given scant regard, the Rastafarian community. The song underlined a definite breaking of the girth of American influence on Jamaica’s music and from which Jamaicans could now fully claim their Cultural Independence. Jamaican music was born and with a feistiness that would be the hallmark of a new Nation. All the time Jamaican crooners were now coming out of the woodwork courtesy of the local talent shows of the period. Artistes such as Stranger Cole, Derrick Harriott, Roy Panton, Eric Monty Morris, and Derrick Morgan (just to name a few) were forcing the doors of recording studios during this time. Morgan proved that he was quite adept at producing hit songs, albeit most of his songs were retained by the studios for their sound systems. Morgan cut two popular shuffle-boogie tunes "Lover Boy", a.k.a. "S-Corner Rock", and "Oh My", "Fat Man", which also became a hit for Duke Reid. When one considers that Jamaican music was hardly being played on local radio at the time, it was a testament to his impact in 1960 that Derrick Morgan became the only artist ever to fill the places from one to seven simultaneously on the Jamaican pop chart. Among those hits were "Don't Call Me Daddy", "In My Heart", "Be Still", and "Meekly Wait and Murmur Not". Morgan would enjoy his biggest hit a year later with the Leslie Kong production of "Don't You Know", later retitled "Housewives' Choice" by a RJR’s DJ Marie Garth. The song, a duet with Morgan and Patsy Todd, featured a bouncing presentation of the emerging ska rhythm, and marked a period of intense rivalry between Derrick Morgan and Prince Buster, who accused Morgan of stealing his ideas. Buster quickly released "Blackhead Chiney Man" a swipe at Kong. Morgan responded with the classic "Blazing Fire", in which he warns Buster to "Live and let others live, and your days will be much longer. You said it. Now it's the Blazing Fire". Buster shot back with, "Watch It Blackhead", which Morgan countered with "No Raise No Praise" and "Still Insist". According to the scribes, followers of the two artists often clashed, and eventually the government had to step in with a staged photo shoot depicting the rivals as friends.


In 1962 as Jamaica marched into Independence, Derrick Morgan penned the famous “Forward March”, a song celebrating Jamaican independence from Great Britain. The was a fitting call-to-arms being made to Jamaicans to rejoice in our accomplishments and to take charge of not only our cultural independence but also of our destiny which now reside in our hands. FORWARD MARCH -Lyrics Gather together, be brothers and sisters We're independent, we're independent Join hands to hands, children started to dance We're independent, we're independent

Don't be sad and blue, the Lord is still with you Because the time has come when you can have your fun So make a run, we're independent

Brothers and sisters give joy and praises While it's under, yeah, yeah Brothers and sisters give joy and praise To His commandments, yeah, yeah

Don't be sad and blue, the Lord is still with you Because the time has come when you can have your fun So make a run, yeah, yeah

Woah, ooh, woah, oh, we're independent Yeah, yeah, yeah, we're independent Sing a song, sing a song Sing it well, sing a song, sing a song, we're independent

Brothers and sisters give joy and praises While it's under, yeah, yeah Brothers and sisters give joy and praise To His commandments, yeah, yeah

Don't be sad and blue, the Lord is still with you Because the time has come when you can have your fun So make a run, we're independent Because the time has come when you can have your fun So make a run, we're independent


Songwriters: Morgan

Forward March lyrics © Westbury Music Limited

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