When Tosh sang Jah is my keepa

Barbara Gloudon

Thursday, March 02, 2017

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THE MID-WEEK observation of the Christian ritual of Lent provided another day off from school and work, with none of the confusion of Christmas. The time-off spirit was not as overwhelming as others. We have returned quickly to "earning the daily bread" and making plans for Easter already.


A week or so ago, round this time, the spotlight was turned on the icons of the local music industry… who they were and what contribution they claim to have made. Not too many have been held high for contribution to religious music, especially coming from what used to be popularly known in some denominations of European origin as "Hymns Ancient and Modern".


Worship has loosened up in many places. Since then, the day’s question: What has this got to do with reference to the Season of Lent, at a time when the spirit of solemnity tells the story for worship? In some places where that is the norm, or is soon to be, change is near. Is it time to ask how come a work of the grand master of creations, an apostle of the spirit of Rastafari — work of the Mighty Tosh, can be found in an Anglican hymnal. Hymn number 229, Jah is my keepa, was officially titled Creation and is taken from Tosh’s Bush Doctor album. Written by a Rastaman? Really?


Tosh was not the only maestro of music who has given of his time and talent in a place where not many would have expected to find him. When he made the call to "Jah is my keepa", he didn’t flinch. There are people who do not expect bretheren of Rastafari to have created music deemed suitable for formal setting, but times change. Even Orthodox Christians are putting some liveliness into worship today. "Why shouldn’t people sing and praise where and how they want?"


Tosh has been regarded as one of our best-loved giants of contemporary Jamaican music, and it is easy to "start argument" over him and his capacity to make things far more interesting than regular.


"Jah is my keepa" is one of the most powerful of his works shaped for worship (I think), one which can be kept alive for the longest time, while arguments rage about Rasta, their doctrine and the following.



WORSHIP FOR ASH WEDNESDAY: This week, as other times, followed with songs which were created and given life by what we like to call "local artistes". What prompted Tosh’s creation of this work, few seem to know, but he drew the words from Psalm 27 which says: "Jah is my guide when the Philistines come down on me!" How much of our nation now still believes that we remain bending beneath the weight of the Philistines, even to this very hour? The lyrics are just what some expect in the spirit of Rastafari.


How many proceed without fear, on the other hand?


Today, much is made of the hymnal, created in 2010, to serve the CPWI — the Church in the Province of the West Indies. Tosh knew the Holy Book, not just the liturgy, but from whence it came. He was no stranger to Psalm 27 and his kind of message: "The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom then shall I be afraid?" By that he was strengthened.


How did the CPWI Hymnal come about? Speaking with Anglican Bishop Rt Revd Dr Alfred Reid (now retired), it was recalled that he, at that time, Bishop of Jamaica, chaired a committee of the Church around the West Indies, to bring into being a hymn book to fulfil the creative spirit of the West Indian worshipper. Several creative spirits in the region contributed.


How did Tosh’s work get selected? "Jah is my keepa" sounded "so Rasta" I once heard someone say, to which Bishop Reid pointed out: "Rastafari has always been close to the Psalms". "Jah is my keepa" drew its strength from the words: "The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom then shall I fear?" Many strong lines continue.


In our corner, there are the names of creative spirits like Noel Dexter, Dennis Scott, Fr Richard Ho Lung, Fr Easton Lee, Barrington (Barry) Chevannes, Peter Tosh and Ernie Smith, among many others who shared their talent. Respect due to others of the wider Caribbean too. One day, we’ll put them all together.



FOOTNOTE: It is tempting to make reference to some of the kass-kass which has been going on recently over some of our so-called musical geniuses. Time to go look up Bush Doctor and don’t forget Creation. Get real! Jah is still the guide.




Psalm 27 made into hymn


by the late PETER TOSH




Jah is my keepa


Jah is my health and my strength;


So whom shall I fear?


He is the shield upon my right hand and my left hand;


Of whom shall I be afraid?




Jah is my keepa


Jah is my light and my salvation;


So whom shall I fear?


He is my guide throughout this creation;


Of whom shall I be afraid?




Jah is my keepa


Jah is my guide in my resting and my rising;


So whom shall I fear?


He is my shield when I step out and forward in;


Of whom shall I be afraid?




Jah is my keepa


Jah is my guide when the Philistines come down on me!


So whom shall I fear?


He is my shield when mine enemies come to devour me;


Of whom shall I be afraid?




Jah is my keepa


Jah is my guide in the pestilence of darkness;


So whom shall I fear?


He is my shield from the vampire;


Of whom shall I be afraid?




Jah, Jah, Jah, Jah is my keepa.





Barbara Gloudon is a journalist, playwright and commentator gloudonb@ yahoo.com

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