It’s a Sunday evening. My 9-band, AM/FM radio with MP3 player is spitting out hit after hit after hit.
The mini sound machine is a modern-day, souped-up version of grandma’s transistor radio, yes. But it’s just as assertive as its more endowed counterparts. It’s easy to float around the house with while grazing on bun bun from the rice-and-peas pot bottom, hanging off the sofa wid nigaritis or catching up on the day’s Observer before Profile with Ian Boyne starts.
This evening, Kool 97 FM sounds extra sweet. Michael Barnett is churning out “Sugar Dandy” and “Born to Love You” by Derrick Harriot; “On the Beach” and “I’m Going to Wear You (to the Ball Tonight)” by The Paragons; The Gaylads’ “My Jamaican Girl”; Desmond Dekker’s “Shanty Town”; and whole heap more.
Oldies are a big deal in JA. There’s a glint in the pupils of ardent Jamaican-music lovers when song titles from the 50s, 60s and 70s roll off their tongues. There’s a certain boasiness in their speech while recalling this impressive era in our history.
You see, during those decades, ska, rocksteady and reggae were birthed from Jamaica’s musical loins. And, somehow, to possess more than a passing knowledge of these genres is to be a shining star in the eyeballs of the clueless.
Who cares if you can name every dancehall tune known to man over the last three and a half decades in alphabetical order while chowing down Scotch bonnet peppers? If you don’t know the names of ska and rocksteady singers, instrumentalists and songs, you’re but a babe in the school of Jamaican musicology.
Said to have been influenced by mento (a fusion of European and African folk music) and American-style jazz and rhythm & blues, the upbeat tempos of ska emerged in the late 1950s. After our independence from England on August 6, 1962, it became the rhythm of our festivities.
Ska gave way to the slower-paced rocksteady around the mid-60s and reggae snatched the reigns towards the close of the decade. And though I wasn’t even a thought in my parents’ heads then, I’ve lived to see these classic sounds resurrect in the compositions of our newer artistes and pick up steam again.
My mind races back to the highpoint of 2014 for me: my family reunion. Siblings, uncles, aunties and cousins spent days breaking bread, sharing family stories, scaling Dunn’s River Falls (again), adding Mystic Mountain to our list of conquests, revisiting childhood landmarks and, of course, dancing.
Before the reunion ended, we attended Let’s Go Dancing, a regular oldies event. Music aficionados, les capitaines of the turntables and maestros de la música, Michael Barnett and Collin Hines, took turns throwing down yesteryear’s ska, rocksteady, reggae and other hits.
We jiggled in our seats while nyamming generous portions of jerk pork, jerk chicken, festival and mannish water (remember what I said about parties and mannish water? Click here if you’ve forgotten or are still in the dark).
Then the grown folks shimmied over to the dance floor. Now, this was a bigger treat than the food (and the food was really good.)
There were no eye-popping, dropping-it-like-it’s-hot moves. Oh, no! These folks exuded refinement and flare (as far as I could tell before calling it a night at midnight). They wheeled their partners, shuffled backwards and forwards and slid from side to side. They were as smooth as honey being drizzled over a slice of hot, buttered toast.
My brother and I tried a ting, but mi convinced seh grey hairs and wide hips mek yuh dance betta. I felt like a toddler among this population of mature steppers. But, bwoy, wi did have fun!
Which tunes were your favourites to drop foot to (i.e. dance) with a broom in the living room, transistor radio blaring? Do share. I’d love to hear from you.
Love and peace.
Here are a few things that may interest you:
1. For a consistent oldies diet, try Kool 97 FM. I have no shares in this station nor do I control what they play; so, don’t come whining to me if you get hooked.
2. Bun bun is the rice and peas that “catch”, i.e. gets slightly burnt, at the bottom of the pot during cooking.
3. Nigaritis is the sleepiness that overtakes one after having a large meal.
4. Nyamming is patois for eating.
5. Boasiness is patois for boastfulness.
6. Bwoy is patois for boy.
7. Profile is a popular program aired on Television Jamaica (TVJ) on Sunday evenings. The host, Ian Boyne, interviews persons, particularly Jamaicans, who have triumphed over adversity or who are excelling at their craft.
8. The Observer, that is, the Jamaica Observer, is one of Jamaica’s daily newspapers.