Jamaican Artistes Remember 9/11: Jamaica Observer

NORMAN MUNROE, Entertainment Editor
Wednesday, September 11, 2002

      IN the aftermath of the attack on and subsequent destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre last year, artistes the world over were moved to add their artistic voices to the general reactions to the disaster, and to seek to find some meaning in what had happened.

      At least three creations by Jamaican singers were a part of this effort.

      Veteran singer/songwriter Ernie Smith, was sufficiently moved by the tragedy to pen the song Lady Liberty 9/11. In an interview with the Observer yesterday, Smith recalled that he had been inspired to write the song while, like much of the rest of the world, he watched the events unfold on television. He was further moved when he eventually learnt of the number of Jamaicans who were killed.

      For Smith personally, the tragedy also struck close to home, as his stepson had, just two days before the tragedy, turned down a job offered to him by a firm of investment bankers whose offices were in the World Trade Centre. That firm lost every member of its staff when the towers collapsed. Smith's stepson, who worked with investment bankers, Morgan Stanley, which also had an office in the World Trade Centre, also knew 20 people who died in the disaster.

      "So it was something that hit close to home, yuh know, for a lot of people ... and I really felt like, with all that - you know, they say that America is no saint but nobody should do that to nobody, yuh know - with the loss of so many innocent people," Smith recalled.

      According to Smith, the song was "very hard" to write and he recalled that it took him a few days to complete but he persevered, for, as he puts it "something needed to be said." The first verse of the song, he mused, was based on a vivid image that he saw the day after the event. The lines, in part, are:

      "...I couldn't see Lady Liberty but I know that day she cried
      'Cause we couldn't see her torch and the smoke was in her eyes..."

      Of the image that prompted the inspiration for the lines, he recalled:

      "The day after there was a cartoon...where all you could see from around the Statue (of Liberty) was the torch, showing over the smoke," Smith said, adding with a chuckle that "anything I see triggers some kind of inspiration. So that's where the inspiration (for the song) really came from."

      Produced by the experienced trio of Grub Cooper, Mikey Chung and Mikey Bennett, in the year since the song, which also features Toots Hibbert, was written, however, not a lot has happened with it. Smith said that he has performed it a few times at various gigs, including one at a club close to Ground Zero, but beyond that not much has happened.

      "...We got good response everywhere we went but the whole thing of getting into the marketplace, never really [happened]," he said.

      "We actually presented it to Bill Clinton's organisation, offering the proceeds (of sales) to the education fund that they were working on. But we never got any help with that either."

      On this the first anniversary of the event, Smith said he was not expecting to perform the song anywhere but noted that radio stations, including local ones, have copies of the track.

      Another artiste, Valton "VC" Craigie, also made a contribution, with a "special" adapted from his song Gwaan. Craigie told the Observer that he was asked by a sound system operator in New York, within a week of the event, to create a song to mark the occasion. This request resulted in a reworking of the first verse of the song, with the following lines being substituted:

      "New York City nuh feel nuh way
      I just don't know what to say
      So many people lose them life
      to this anti-Christ
      Jah know that nuh right
      So many friends in NYC
      see the dying, watch them bleed
      feeling hurt but no, not weak
      This is NYC, we don't know defeat.."
      This verse dovetailed well into the chorus of the song which goes:
      "So gwaan and hold yuh strength now, natty
      Yuh bound fi face some times when the road well rocky.
      Gwaan and hold a meditation
      Seek yuh power an yuh guidance from the Almighty One"

      The singer said that he performed the reworked song, "quite a few times", in New York as well as in a number of other places, including at a relief show held in Miami, in the aftermath of the tragedy. Craigie said that the song usually "went over well" and noted too, that, while it received little attention in Jamaica, it received much rotation on ethnic radio stations in New York, including WLIB and HOT 97 FM.

      In perhaps the most publicised effort, on December 4, last year, a CD entitled Pray For Love, the proceeds from which are supposed to go to the families of the victims of the World Trade Centre tragedy, was launched at the Hilton Kingston Hotel. Cowriter of the track Alva Fearon, along with a number of the artistes who contributed their talents to the single were on hand for the event. That function was also supposed to be a precursor for a telethon which was to have been held at the hotel on December 13, the proceeds from which was to have been for the relatives of the Caribbean nationals who perished in the attack on the Twin Towers.

      The song was recorded in Miami in late September and featured the likes of singers Freddie McGregor, Tinga Stewart, Mikey Spice, Glen Washington and Lenn Hammond, as well as deejay Screwdriver. While the lyrics are original the music is borrowed from US singer Christopher Cross' 1982 hit Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do), the theme song from the movie and its sequel starring the late Dudley Moore.

      The song, for which a music video was shot and other promotional measures were carried out, received some amount of airplay locally; however it is unclear just how much momentum the initial effort was able to maintain.

      Fearon told the press at the December launch that a full album was to have been released by January this year while a live show with acts who contributed to the set, was to have been held in February this year. However, as far as the Observer has been able to ascertain, these efforts did not materialize.

      And outside of the world of music, acclaimed Jamaican-born choreographer Garth Fagan, last year dedicated one of his dances to the victims of the tragedy.

      Performances of In Memorian The Innocent, The Brave, The Hands, The Minds ... All Mankind were made possible with sponsorship from the Eastman Kodak Company.

      The dance is the rework of a section of one of Fagan's most loved recent dances, Two Pieces of One: Green, and is set to the music of the Officium Defunctorum (A Consecration for the Dead) by 16th century Spanish composer, Cristobal de Morales.

Posted: Fri - December 12, 2003 at 01:52 PM