How music helped Michael Manley to become PM in 1972

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

Sunday, February 26, 2012

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THE proverbial wind of change was blowing across Jamaica in early 1972. General elections were in the air and the country's youth were determined to be heard.

On February 29, it will be 40 years since a restless generation helped elect Michael Manley Jamaica's fourth prime minister. His People's National Party (PNP) soundly defeated the incumbent Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), winning 37 of the 53 seats in Parliament.

The growing entertainment industry played a pivotal role in the PNP victory. Several of the country's top performers were part of a musical bandwagon that accompanied the 47-year-old Manley on his islandwide campaign, promising a new day for the country's marginalised.

One of the first musicians the PNP approached was singer Max Romeo, who was riding high at the time with his song Let The Power Fall On I.

"They thought it was appropriate, so they contacted me and asked permission to use the song," Romeo, now 67, told the Sunday Observer. Given his politics at the time, he readily agreed.

"Manley was saying the right things. I liked the idea of the people having more of a say," Romeo said.

Then prime minister Hugh Shearer, Manley's distant cousin, had announced the election date on January 31. His administration had not endeared themselves to the intelligentsia and black power advocates.

It had banned books promoting Afro-consciousness and further alienated 'progressives' in 1969 by barring the firebrand Guyanese Walter Rodney, a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, from re-entering the country.

Let The Power Fall On I was just one of the songs that summed up the mood of discontent in Jamaica in the early 1970s. Other hard-hitting songs of the day included Delroy Wilson's Better Must Come, and Beat Down Babylon by Junior Byles.

They would be part of the soundtrack for the bandwagon which was organised by singer/producer Clancy Eccles. Romeo remembers the series kicking off in Central Kingston, at Paradise Street in Rae Town, with Manley in attendance.

In addition to Romeo, the bandwagon featured Wilson, Toots and the Maytals, the Wailers, and Inner Circle. Their performances in areas like Savanna-la-Mar, Montego Bay and Mandeville were enhanced by a documentary produced by Perry Henzell that projected Manley as a change agent.

In a 2003 interview with the Observer, Henzell spoke about the impact his film and music had on the people.

"It was very effective, the most striking thing about it was the effect Michael had on the crowds. It was amazing," said Henzell.

Manley added to the theatrics by carrying a cane given him by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, onstage. He was likened to the Biblical figure, Joshua, and the cane was christened his Rod of Correction.

Max Romeo recalls voting early on February 29 for the PNP's Roy McGann in the East Rural St Andrew constituency and watching the election results that evening at home in Bull Bay.

"It was a big celebration that night, everybody loved Michael. It was a great feeling," he said.

Within two years, even some of Manley's staunchest supporters were uneasy about the slow pace of his promised reforms. Romeo released the critical No Joshua No, while Byles recorded the equally scathing When Will Better Come.

Romeo, who would score other big hits like War Ina Babylon, remained loyal to Manley though he said he never voted again. He tours Europe regularly and is preparing to release a new album titled The Last Hurrah.

Clancy Eccles would be involved in the PNP's re-election campaign in December, 1976. He produced the unofficial campaign song, My Leader Born Ya, by Neville 'Struggle' Martin. He died in 2005.

While he was helping the Manley campaign in 1972, Perry Henzell was putting the finishing touches to a low-budget film named The Harder They Come. Starring reggae singer Jimmy Cliff, it was released in 1972 and became an international sensation.

After years of battling cancer, Henzell died in 2006.

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