Songs Against Violence: Jamaican Gleaner

Date: Sun, 15 Jul 2001 10:09:18 -0500
Subject: "Songs Against Violence"- today's Gleaner

Today's Jamaican Gleaner (Entertainment section) has the following story featuring Ernie Smith and others about music and violence. (I hope it is ok to cut and paste it here since we are a private forum...) If this doesn't wrap properly, check todays Gleaner. The story is well worth the read. It gives a clear picture of the way reggae music responds to the political and social strife.

Ernie Smith

GUN violence, political warfare, blocked roads and garrison communities were the order of the day. It was 1976, a time remembered by most with absolute terror. There were threats of bombings, fires, and drive-by shootings. Not unlike today, when insecurity and fear are commonplace for many Jamaicans. During times of destruction and despair, musicians and singers respond by writing and singing songs of lamentation and revolt, or hope and optimism. Or sometimes, they just express their hurt at the personal losses they suffer. So it was for Ernie Smith. During the violence of those times, a good friend lost his life and Ernie, in response, put pen to paper and wrote a song that would drastically change the course of his own life. "It was not a political song, and I pointed the finger at no one. My friend died in the violence, and I responded by writing a social commentary on what was happening," he said.

Unfortunately, the Government of the day banned the song during the State Of Emergency. "They said that it tended to incite violence," Ernie told The Sunday Gleaner. The song, We De People/Power And The Glory, spoke out against the violence and destruction faced by the people, and expressed the views shared by many at the time:

Violence and crime is commonplace

Within these said times

No man walk Free

Prophecy comes closer to fulfillment

In these dread times

Why should this be?

And as we fight one another

Fi de power and the glory

Jah Kingdom goes to waste

And every blood we taste

A fi we own disgrace

Can't build no foundation

Pon a if an a but

Are we building a nation

Or are we building a hut

And if you talk too loud

And if you walk too proud

Watch where you lay your head

For out deh dread, well dread

Can't build no dreams pon a
fuss an fight

Mi nuh care who a do it,
Jah say dat no right!

"This wasn't the only song banned at the time. They also banned Maxie Romeo's No Joshua, No and Bob Andy's Fire Burning. I even read in the papers, while I was in Miami, that my life was in danger!" he remembered. Ernie said that, in fear for their lives, himself and others emigrated to the United States, to start over their lives, far away from the violence and threats. Having returned home, Ernie is not too surprised to see Jamaica heading in the same direction, he said, because the true problems in the society have not been addressed.

"It is the same politics, but the real problem is the people don't have any opportunities. Too many young people are leaving school without opportunities. They have nothing to do, and the devil finds work for idle hands!" he said. Ernie believes that, in order for Jamaica to move forward, the issue of constitutional change must be addressed, so that the people will have more power. "It is a funny but sad situation, because it seems that we are going around in a big circle ? we are heading forward "back" to that state of affairs! The whole set of laws has to be rearranged ? there is too much that didn't change after colonialism. The laws of the plantation system are still in place, and many of them were used to discriminate against our own people. Can't really say if we are going backwards or forwards, because we don't know where we are going!" Ernie believes that if people don't have an opportunity to earn a living and stand up on their own feet, they are lost to violent lifestyles even before they start going to school.

"It's just the laws of science: what goes up must come down! To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction! The way forward is an abolition of the system, constitutional change! There must be a grass-roots change and education for the people, and there is no way around it!" Many other entertainers have responded in like fashion. Two years after Ernie Smith started to ruffle feathers, George Nooks released Tribal War, which was an instant hit, and one of his biggest songs. The first two lines of the song contain the whole message:

Tribal War, we nuh want no
more ah dat

Tribal War, ah no dat we ah defend!"

"The song was actually written by Little Roy. There were disturbances here and there, and I think it had a lot of impact on the people. The song was very big and it was very relevant," Nooks says. He says that he is distressed to see, after so many years, that Jamaicans still have not learnt the lessons. "I am not interested in the politics of it, but it really hurt me to see what is happening. I just wish it could have been avoided and so many lives didn't
have to be lost, whether police or civilian," he lamented. Nooks said that he is praying that everything goes back to normal and no one else has to die. He hopes that the messages in his new album, God Is Standing By, will reach the people the way Tribal War did back in the 70s. "I have a number of songs on my new album that deal with these issues," he said. Songs like Signs of the Times was like prophecy, like I knew what was going to happen!"

Signs of the times, Is just
war on the youths dem mind
Signs of the times
Brings tears to my eyes

It's gonna be a revolution

Tribal war and mass destruction

Then we will see who were chosen

For the Armageddon.

He says another song, Mr.
'Pop-It-Off, also speaks about the gun violence, and he hopes will reach to the inner city

Brother man, take it easy

Ah beg you ? take it slow

Mamma told her son don't
take his gun to town

But he turned around and found

He says that he is tough
and he's gonna make it clear

That he's the one who rules
the town

But by the time she squint,
by her spit could dry

They found him dead on the ground.

"Having life is the greatest thing ? we are all Jamaicans," Nooks said. He hopes that Jamaicans will remember, "We are all black people, and no matter what is going wrong God is standing by"! Not only singers, but also dancehall artistes
have seen the need, over the years, to get involved in commentary about violence in the wider society. One such artiste
is Cobra, whose song Fist and the V made a statement about political divisions during a time of strife. "At the time I wrote that song, Matthews Lane and Tivoli Gardens were in war. One day I went downtown and saw two men talking about how they were from different political parties, and not fighting like the others. So that was the inspiration for the song," Cobra said. He said that he wanted people to remember that politics was not about killing
each other.

I'm not saying this man is right,

And that man is wrong,

So let's live together And
see if life nuh much better

Mi see the fist and the 'V'

Labourite should friend PNP,

Mi see the fist and the 'V'

PNP fi friend JLP

Matthews Man and Tivoli nuh
fi war

Jungle and Rema fi par.

He too is distressed that things have not changed, and said he believes that the political leaders are the problem. "Right now it looks like the leaders on all sides are not doing what they need to do. Like them nuh care! Right now, people nah block roads because them involved inna politics, dem just want the leaders fi know that them not pleased with what a gwaan."

He said that the leaders of the country were only focused on personal and political gain. "Seems like them only care about who leading in the polls, and what they can get out of politics," he observed. He said that the song was still relevant, but the message now was for the leaders of the country.

"Every day they talk against the deejays, and talk 'bout what we say in our lyrics. Well, now we crying out against them ? but is not what them say, but what them do! When a deejay might "talk" a gangster tune, the same political leaders who talking against us going out there and "doing" it!" He said that political leaders should focus on what is important, our young people and our children. Sometimes, musicians and producers are inspired to respond, and when they do, something magical happens. That was the case with veteran musician and producer Clevie of the famous duo, Steelie and Clevie. His song, Remember The Days was an instant local hit, especially because it was sung by a collaboration of artistes. Clevie told us that the inspiration for his song came to him, as it were, in a vision while he slept.

"For years I have been dreaming songs, and usually forget them in the morning, but this one was so relevant that I had to get up and write it down," he said. The song was written, he said, in 1997, during an upsurge in crime. "It was a time that everyone was looking for a change. I did it the way I dreamed about it, lyrics, rhythm and all. I specifically wanted it to be done in a softer pattern, more R&B than hardcore, because it was a meditative song, one
that you would carry home and listen to." The artistes who performed the song were Bushman, Don Yute, Daddy Screw, Size Two, Sharon Forester, 10 per cent, Delly Ranks, Sasha and Benjy Myaz. Because of its relevance, it was often played on radio, and the music video was also popular on local stations.

Remember the days

When people from the eastside

Could go out on the westside

And live in peace.

Remember the times

When you could party till sunrise

Without fear of being victimised

And we thought love would
never cease

Clevie said that he
remembered sitting with his father and talking about the "good ole' days". He always wondered
what it would be like if
the society went back to the standards when things were peaceful, and children had to be
respectful to adults and to
each other. This inspired the words of the first verse.

It's all about the good
'ole days

Mother told me about the
old-fashion ways

When peace and love was the
order of the day,

And courtesy extended to
everyone who comes our way

"It sad that we have not
yet learnt the lessons," he said. "It is all too clear that we have not yet attained it!"

Clevie says that he looks
at life from a Biblical perspective, where he believes Jamaicans can find the solutions. "God
created us and He gave us
the Bible as a manual. The solutions are easy, we need to learn how to abide by the
ways that the manual has
laid out for us to follow.

"The 'good ole' days', are
all laid out there for us to follow. Perhaps if we remember them, things can be better in our

Sun -
January 26, 2003 at 12:00 AM