'Politics songs' and Michael Manley's message


Sunday, June 01, 2014

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MUSIC and dance have been part of the natural make-up of human beings since time immemorial. Politics and politicians the world over have always taken cognisance of this reality, and Jamaica is no exception.

'Politics songs', or songs with overtly political content in support of a particular cause, party or person, have been used as an integral part of local campaigning stretching back to Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in the 1920s, and some argue, even before.

These songs tap into the 'magico-religious political culture' of the local landscape. Some of the songs in the '70s and '80s reflected the ideological underpinnings of dominant thought at different times, while others hit against said domination. It is commonly agreed that the decade of the 1970s was the most prolific period of 'politics songs'.

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) got the cub share of support from popular culture in the '70s by far, if we measure the number of songs that overtly supported the People's National Party (PNP) compared to the JLP. 'Politics songs' are a powerful message machine.

Clancy Eccles was a noted singer and songwriter of the mid-1960s and '70s. He became a devout admirer of Michael Manley and what was dubbed Democratic Socialism. Eccles was also an established promoter of stage shows and talent contests by the mid-1970s.

He was adopted by the PNP as their chief songwriter, talent scout and leader of the party's 'music bandwagon'. Eccles was tasked with finding artistes who could create songs to 'give wings' to the PNP's agenda. He wrote some of the most popular songs in praise of the PNP and Manley. These included Rod of Correction. Here are a few lines:

"I say hail that man." [Intro to the song] This was a salute to Manley.

"Lot wife turn a pillar of salt down in Sodom and Gomorrah." This was a clear indication and/or prediction of what would happen to 'infidels' who would not 'log-on' to Socialist ideals.

"Beat them with the rod of correction."

Part of Manley's political paraphernalia was a rod. This was a mimicking of biblical figures such as Moses, Aaron and Abraham. "The cane, or rod, was given to him by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I during a visit to that country. When the PNP leader waved the ivory-tipped, ebony-bodied 'Rod of Correction' at meetings, it stirred the masses and added to his image [of] [some say likened to; my insert] Joshua, the Old Testament figure who led the Jews at Jericho." -- Gleaner article, July 18, 2007.

The brandishing of the rod by Manley triggered semi-orgasmic euphoria in some instances, according to other news reports at the time.

Eccles' most popular 'politics song' by far was Power for the People. Here is a bite of the lyrics:

"Power for the people, yes they need it, let dem, have it. But mus sah. Power for the people, a suh sah."

It was generously used by the PNP to assist with exciting people's minds leading up to the landslide victory over the JLP in the 1972 general elections.

Another song abundantly used by the PNP was the memorable 1968 hit Everything Crash by the Ethiopians. The lyrics were a powerful summation of the hardships of the working class, especially in the latter part of the '60s. The cogency of these lines is a testimony by themselves.

Look deh now, everyting crash!

Firemen strike, watermen strike

Telephone company too

Down to the policemen too!

Perhaps the most remembered and/or most popular 'political song' in the '70s was Neville Martin's The Message produced by Eccles.

This song celebrated the achievements of the Manley Government and was the main musical vehicle of the 1976 campaign. The lyrics are unapologetically pro-PNP.

My father born yah, my grandmother born yah, I and I born yah. My leader born yah. That's why I nah left yah. He gave I a message. To all those people, who nuh love progress.

The song capitalised on the fact that Edward Seaga, then leader of the JLP, was not born in Jamaica. This, of course, was not a choice that Seaga made. Nonetheless, the lyrics were a great sensory connector and riveted the intended 'message' home brilliantly.

Politics in Jamaica, especially in the '70s and 1980 was oftentimes war. After nine months of violence [February to October, 1980 effectively the longest general election campaign in Jamaica] 844 [police official statistics] Jamaicans were killed on account of politics.

Shockingly, "Almost 35 per cent of those killed were slaughtered in the constituency of West Central St Andrew, which had the JLP's Ferdinand Yap and the PNP's Carl 'Russian' Thompson as candidates." -- Jamaica Observer article, October 30, 2012.

Since popular culture was not very kind to the JLP in the '70s, few songs overtly supported its platform. Songs [some not intended for use by the JLP] were moreso adopted based on coincidence of message/content and how synonymous these were with the party's agenda.

The JLP used Anita Ward's Ring My Bell in the run-up to the 1980 general elections for obvious reasons -- the party's main symbol is the bell. Seaga still has the record for the biggest electoral victory since Universal Adult Suffrage was declared in 1944 in Jamaica. In 1980, the JLP won 51 seats in the then 60-seat Parliament. -- Jamaica Observer, October 30, 2012.

Some might remember the tune Have Mercy Mr Percy by the Termites. This was used in campaigning while PJ Patterson, who holds the record for four straight general election victories, was prime minister. Here is taste of the lyrics.

Oh, Oh. Have Mercy Mr Percy. Can't find a cent to pay my rent. So you better give me another day so I can try to find way. Can't find a job. Can't find nothing to eat. Have mercy, Mr Percy.

Other notable songs used by the JLP included Bill Gentles' Take the Rod Off our Back [a reply to Eccles' Rod of Correction]. These are lines from the song.

"Oh! Take that from off our back. Take that rod that did not come from Zion for I and set God's children free again. Don't you know we are suffering -- suffering in this land? Can't get no rice, no sugar, no milk, no coconut oil."

Action, by Nadine Sutherland and Terror Fabulous, was also used by the JLP. Bunny Wailer's Crucial, which spoke to the wrenching financial hardships of the masses, especially in the latter part of the 1970s, was extensively used by the JLP in the 1980 general elections. Lines from the song are poignant.

Inna dis yah system, a crucial ehhh crucial. I am out on the rock with no clothes on my back. No shoes on feet, I have nothing to eat. Nothing even little flour, a crucial ehhh crucial, to mix little dumpling, a crucial ehhh crucial.

A song that was not written for any political party per se but was 'commandeered' for political purposes was Delroy Wilson's smash hit Better Must Come. So popular was the song that the PNP adopted the name of the tune as the official party slogan in the run-up to the 1972 polls. Lines from the song speak volumes.

I've been trying a long, long time still I can't make it

Everything I try to do seems to go wrong

It seems I have done something wrong

But they're trying to keep me down

Who God bless, no one curse

Thank God I'm not the worst

Better must come one day

Better must come, they can't conquer me

The great irony, of course, was that the Jamaican economy, prior to Manley's victory in 1972, was growing at a magnificent average of six per cent per annum. When Manley was trounced by Seaga in October 1980, GDP had been floored to -5.7. [Source Planning Institute of Jamaica].

Some artistes were made very uncomfortable and their personal safety was oftentimes put in jeopardy when the political parties used their creations [with and/or without their permission] in campaigns. Pluto Shervington relocated to Florida after his life was threatened following the use of his song, I Man Born Yah, by the PNP in 1976.

Let The Power Fall On I by Max Romeo was another major sensory connector for 'Manleyism'. The words directly matched the message of the 1972 PNP campaign and reflected the social upheaval that the PNP agenda endangered at the grassroots.

Oh let the power fall on I, Far I

Let the power fall on I

Oh let the power, from Zion, fall on I

Let the power fall on I

Oh let the wicked burn in flames, Far I

Let the wicked burn in flames

Romeo, who was born, Maxwell Livingston Smith, recorded similarly themed songs following the 1972 victory. These included Joshua Row The Boat Ashore, and Joshua Gwan.

Ken Lazarus' Hail The Man, which was written by Ernie Smith, reiterated Manley's definition of Democratic Socialism as 'LOVE' and captured the general direction of the political mood in the 1970s in the lines:

What would you say

To the coming of a band new day

When the shadows are falling away...

Express it if you might

At the passing of the night

And the coming of the light through a brand new door.

Hail the man, that's your brother on the street

We say, hail the man, every time we meet

Hail your sista, shake her hand

It's a brand new day

What we really want to say, is love, love, love.

At least one song -- Ernie Smith's The Power And The Glory -- was thought to be so politically potent that it was banned in the '70s by the PNP.

Songs were used to spur political momentum dating back to when Marcus Garvey was leader of the UNIA. Garvey gave many local artistes their first taste of fame through talent shows at Edelweiss Park. In the early 1960s, Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley introduced songs in their campaigns to drum up support either way on the question of Jamaica in the West Indian Federation.

The decade of the '70s was undisputedly the zenith for the production of 'politics songs'.

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist

Comments to higgins160@yahoo.com




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