Belated honour for a great Israelite

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

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The Jamaica Observer continues its 'Reggae 50' feature on people, organisations, and events that have made an impact on reggae over the past 50 years.

IT is fitting that almost 50 years since his song Israelites entered the American and British national charts, Desmond Dekker was finally recognised by his country. Last Wednesday, the singer was among 50 persons honoured by the Jamaican government with a Reggae Gold award at the National Indoor Sports Centre in St Andrew.

Dekker died in England in 2004 at age 64. He was a trailblazer, scoring big hits in Jamaica and the United Kingdom as a ska, rocksteady and reggae artiste; his songs helped make Jamaican culture cool in the UK during the Swinging Sixties.

Produced by Leslie Kong, Israelites was actually released in 1968 by Beverley's Records. It went number one in the UK in April 1969 entered the Top 10 of Billboard Magazine's pop chart in the United States two months later.

In the UK, Israelites made Dekker a star among Skinheads, a rowdy bloc of white British youth who had embraced ska. It was the second time the Kingston-born artiste (real name Desmond Dacres) made the UK chart; two years earlier, (007) Shantytown, another Kong/Beverley's production, went Top 15.

Though Millie Small was the first Jamaican to impact the UK pop chart in 1964 with My Boy Lollipop, Dekker had sustained success in that country where he became a permanent resident in 1969. Songs like Pickney Gal, It Mek, You Can Get it if You Really Want and Sing A Little Song were national hits that kept him busy as a live act throughout Europe until his death.

In its obituary on Dekker, Britain's The Telegraph newspaper recalled the origin of Israelites.

According to Dekker, “It all happened so quickly. I didn't write that song sitting around a piano or playing a guitar. I was walking in the park, eating corn. I heard a couple arguing about money. She was saying she needed money and he was saying the work he was doing was not giving him enough. I relate to those things and began to sing a little song, 'You get up in the morning and you slaving for bread'. By the time I got home it was complete'.”

At last week's awards, Kong, who died in 1971, was recipient of a Hall of Fame award. Like Dekker, it was the first time he received a national award in Jamaica.

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