Saturday, February 23, 2013

Damian Marley - "Welcome To Jamrock" (spotlight)

In this post, in my best James Burke impression, we'll go from Bob Marley to "My Fair Lady". 

Riding around in the car earlier this week, 96.1 played a song that I had never heard before.  It was crossover of dub/reggae/rap, but with a hard enough sound to warrant play on an alt rock station. After parking, I pulled out my iphone and discovered that it was Damian Marley's  "Welcome To Jamrock" ("Jamrock" being used as an umbrella term for reggae, dancehall, and other Jamaican musical genres).  Although I had never heard it before, I discovered that it came out in 2005 and its YouTube video had 25M+ views, so clearly it had been important somewhere, but just not on the local alt rock radio.  So why did 96.1 play it:  experimenting with their playlist?  recognition from Damian performing at the 2013 Grammys (even though this song was not featured)?

I'm not sure why they played it, but I liked it.  Sampling the 1984 Ini Kamoze song "World a Music (Out In The Streets They Call It Merther)", the lyrics (slang and Patois delivered in a thick accent) were all but undecipherable, but upon reading the meaning is clear: Jamaica is gripped with poverty, violence, and despair.  Damian is the son of Bob Marley, and whereas his father had a hopeful, spiritual message for Jamaica, the son's message is one of bleak, gritty realism, e.g.:
C'mon let's face it, a ghetto education's basic
And most ah de youths them waste it
And when dem waste it, that's when dem take the guns replace it
Then dem don't stand a chance at all
What made my belated discovery of "Welcome To Jamrock" more interesting is that it was only a few days after really discovering "Safe European Home" by The Clash.  I've written a lot about The Clash, but I (and most others I believe) have overlooked their 1978 sophomore LP "Give 'Em Enough Rope".  It's not a bad LP, but it doesn't really have any memorable singles and is overshadowed by their first LP (by virtue of being first) and their third, 1979's iconic "London Calling".  The first song on the LP is "Safe European Home", and it is arguably the best song on the LP.  But the lyrics are nearly as indecipherable as "Welcome To Jamrock", so only last week did I really sit down and study them.  I've mentioned before where The Clash spearheaded punk's interest in reggae, but "Safe European Home" is the story of their bad experiences on an early trip to Jamaica, the reality of which did not match the tourism image:
Wasn't I lucky n' wouldn't it be loverly?  
Send us all cards, an' have a laying in on a Sunday  
I was there for two weeks, so how come I never tell  
That natty dread drinks at the Sheraton hotel?  

Now they got the sun, an' they got the palm trees  
They got the weed, an' they got the taxis  
Whoa, the harder they come, n' the home of ol' bluebeat
Yes I'd stay an' be a tourist but I can't take the gun play     
So despite both "Welcome to Jamrock" and "Safe European Home" existing for quite some time, I somehow managed to "discover" them both in the space of a few days.  Apparently little has changed in Jamaica in the nearly 30 years between The Clash's initial visit and Damian's dirge. 

The connection to "My Fair Lady"?  Danette pointed out the sly "wouldn't it be loverly" reference in "Safe European Home", "loverly" reflecting Joe Strummer's adopted Cockney, blue-collar focus.   How many punk songs do you know that sneak in a Broadway reference?

In addition to the "My Fair Lady" reference, the last minute of "Safe European Home" also gives us a preview of a song to come: note the the "Rudie, Rudie, Rudie, ... Rudie Can't Fail" lyrics, which would become a song of its own on "London Calling" ("Rudie" = "Rude Boy").  

Damian Marley: "Welcome To Jamrock"

The Clash: "Safe European Home" (studio), "Safe European Home" (live from the 1980 "Rude Boy" film; note that Joe Strummer often improvised lyrics during live performances)

Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros: "Safe European Home"

Ini Kamoze: "World a Music (Out In The Streets They Call It Merther)"

Audrey Hepburn: "Wouldn't It Be Loverly"

Julie Andrews: "Wouldn't It Be Loverly"

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