When A Dancehall Tune Was About The Cold War
I think it was when I recently tuned in to DJ Autograph’s set on Miss Lily’s: Super Cat’s “Under Pressure” came on and, of course, I pounded my desk with delight. Big big tune! I was bouncing along in my chair, singing along as I plugged away with some work when it clicked in my head that Super Cat was DJing about the Cold War. Late pass.
Yes mi going to sting dem like a bees and bite dem like a scorpion
Anyweh mi pass tru mi a di mic magician
Weh mi a call it
Under pressure, the world under pressure tell yuh fren dem
Under pressure, the world under pressure tell yuh modda
Under pressure, the world under pressure
Tru the leaders of di world dem a fight fi power
An’ one ah dem ah seh him control America
Di next one ah seh him rule innah Russia
An ah one ah dem ah seh him control China
Di next one ah seh him control Cuba
One ah rule a Libya, one rule Uganda
But mi seh gunshot a buss up innah Nica-rag-la
Ladies and gentlemen, the mid- to late- 1980s geopolitical situation!
And it didn’t end there: the next verses were aspirational and inspirational + critical and wondering over the leadership in Ethiopia, massive spending on weapons instead of on feeding hungry people or eradicating poverty, public health failings in South Africa, and general race relations between black and white people.
Not a Reggae tune, as one might have expected, but a Dancehall tune.
Pardon me while I shamelessly indulge in my love of Dancehall…. I find it hard not to descend into a diatribe or another lament or critique of the genre’s current state. It is hard not to turn over in my mind and look askance at an obvious lack of effort and creativity that many Jamaican producers and DJs demonstrate with regard to, for example, lyrics and song arrangement…or that many don’t feed or challenge their ears and minds much.
For now I will just indulge and be grateful.
Another tune I love that was produced during this Golden Age was recently shared on my Twitter timeline by the one and only @Justsherman (who I encourage to continue to write about Jamaica’s music history, much of his stuff is on LargeUp). “Can You?” is more of a Reggae tune but I recall that when I clicked the YouTube link after seeing Sherman’s tweet that I was gripped with a similar joy, pride, and nostalgia for a time when slackness, spiritual, dancing, gyal tune, and gun tune all occupied a musical space. For when Dancehall and Reggae looked outward as much as inward, when both entertained and educated without being overbearing. “Can You” sung by Brian and Tony Gold (produced by Mikey Bennett) almost didn’t happen for the duo because the song wasn’t meant for them, which would have been a shame considering how everything about this song is just right but especially their vocals. I think it’s one of our more powerful but underrated tunes.
And I won’t lament how during this period of time when “Under Pressure” and “Can You” came out that Jamaica and Jamaicans were vocal and bold world leaders against injustice, especially about apartheid in South Africa. Maybe art does indeed imitate life at times.