BY: Jodee Brown
Over our long history as an independent nation, Jamaica has ascended in musical relevancy worldwide, through the smoothness of Reggae to the edginess of Dancehall, enhancing the country’s appeal and culture in the process and influencing the world to add elements of our founding genres into their own music.
These genres have also allowed for our musicians to promote the ever-growing ‘Brand Jamaica’ worldwide, encouraging tourists about the many wonders of our beautiful island. However, some also point to the harsh economic and societal realities Jamaica continues to deal with on a daily basis, painting a balance picture of what the country is all about. With the black, green and gold about to celebrate its 52nd birthday this weekend, here’s a list of 10 hit songs about Jamaica that contain one or both of these elements.
10. Roy Rayon – Give Thanks and Praises: Regarded as the king of festival music, Roy Rayon has always been brimming with passion and care about his homeland and it was this passion that was on display for his classic single, Give Thanks and Praises.
The song was originally done in 1987 to celebrate Jamaica’s 25th anniversary, simply imploring on its people to give appreciation for the progress Jamaica has made as a nation, singing, “Give thanks and praises, We are 25, Though the road was rocky and the hills were steep, Still we survive, We put we faith and trust in the Father, Who’s keeping us alive, So give thanks and praises. We are 25.”
When Jamaica’s 50th anniversary came around, Rayon decided to slightly tweak Give Thanks and Praises for the celebrations, changing ‘We are 25,’ to ‘We are Still Alive,’ which we very much are. Music lovers still get up for this song which combines elements of Reggae and Gospel and has always been one of the signature songs repeatedly played at this time of year.
9. Tony Rebel – Sweet Jamaica: While at the peak of his powers, Reggae legend, Tony Rebel penned this ringing endorsement of Jamaica, Land We Love which described many of our natural essences to the world.
While this song really allowed listeners to embrace what makes our island special, it also perfectly plays to both aforementioned elements. These lyrics from the song pretty much sum it up.
“What a nice place fi live, sweet Jamdown, the only problem is, dollars nah run…Now with the money inna you pocket and God inna you heart…Crowd of people, what more you want…Reggae music a play…Reggae artists a chant, a yah so me born and me nah transplant.”
Though Jamaica is known for its great Reggae sound, beautiful beaches and warmth of its people, the reality then (and now) was that the economy was struggling due to the decline of our dollar. However, despite our increasing levels of poverty, we Jamaicans always find a way to m
ake the most of our situation. Thus, for any tourists hoping to visit us, regardless of our situation, you’ll never be bored when roaming in sweet Jamdown.
8. Alborosie – Kingston Town: Though born in Italy, Alborosie long had an affinity for Reggae music and ventured into the genre while in his homeland before relocating to Kingston in 2001.
While in Jamaica, he got a real taste of what the island was all about, leading him to pen the hit single, Kingston Town. This song, released in 2008, spoke more explicitly about the harsh realities of living in Jamaica’s capital city, speaking of crime and the drug game that unfortunately continues to permeate its inner cities.
The second verse of this track, for example, gives a very blunt, yet accurate assessment. “Dis a di gun land, Blood run cold pon di white sand, Concrete a bun put some pads up your chin, Ba-Babylon boy dem kill a youth an one old woman a chant some, An’ while a neck sit a monster di rat-ta-ta-tan-ta, Dem dig more grave than rooms up-a Hilton, Small community get wash up by a blood stain, Every weekend same routine with new function, Pusher dem count more dead than 9/11 destruction, ey!”
Now of course, Kingston isn’t all bad in the least (I was born there, so I know), but Kingston Town showcased that while the city has many great landmarks and things to offer, it also is a hub to some of the problems that still haunt the country.
7. Busy Signal – Born and Grow: A Dancehall version of a popular Reggae song by Eric Donaldson you’ll see later on this list, Born and Grow was one of the first songs to put Busy Signal on the map.
This song was another great example of illustrating the contrasts that persist throughout Jamaica as Busy sings, “Mek mi tell yuh bout weh mi born & grow, Jamaica loose beach weh mi born & grow, Pretty girls pretty beach weh mi born & grow, Tourist waan fi reach weh mi born & grow, Some police dem a ginnal weh mi born & grow, Some a real criminal weh mi born & grow, Di system a kill mi weh mi born & grow, Still mi nah leave, fi go live inna nuh snow cause.”
This was one of the few great Dancehall songs that really talked about Jamaica with such fluency and balance, talking about the hardships of the inner city plus the food, women and musical influences that Jamaica possesses; a must listen to this day.
6. Jah Cure – Jamaica: Scintillating instrumentals, smooth lyrics and a vibe painting the picture of paradise; all elements for a perfect song about Jamaica. These things made Jah Cure’s single, Jamaica one of the highlights of his classic album, True Reflections and can only exude positive feelings about the island when listening to it.
“Looking for a place to have a perfect vacation, or even a honeymoon, I know the place to make the perfect reservation, come let me take you there soon, yeah, to a place called Jamaica, where the island is in the sun.” Don’t these lyrics sound like something straight out of a Jamaica Tourist Board commercial? The song would certainly reel in foreigners will the calm, free-flowing vibe it presents, proving how great of a getaway destination Jamaica is.
The food, climate and sunshine are all highlighted, making for an ideal formula for a song about JA.
5. Mr. Vegas + Friends – Sweet Jamaica (Remix): Dancehall superstar, Mr. Vegas hit the jackpot in 2012 with his single, Sweet Jamaica, in which he highlighted the best of the island, topping charts for his efforts.
With Jamaica celebrating its 50th anniversary, Vegas decided to do one better and called on a slew on Reggae and Dancehall stars to collaborate with him for a remix of the song simply titled, The Voices of Sweet Jamaica. Some of those greats included Shaggy, Barrington Levy, Ce’Cile, Beenie Man, Cocoa Tea, Josey Wales, Marcia Griffiths and many more.
These all-stars take turns describing the many things to admire about this cherished island, from the beaches, to the Reggae music, to the comraderie of the people as it allows tourists to really appreciate the benefits our country offers while giving us a chance to embrace some of the things our people often take for granted. This a song that will surely get its share of spins this Independence Day and beyond.
4. Bob Marley and The Wailers – Smile Jamaica: One of the original endorsements of our island came from the man who truly put our country on the map worldwide, Robert Nesta Marley. His 1976 single, Smile Jamaica embodied happiness and peace, helping fans all around the world further appreciate him and the country he helped rise to universal prominence while still in its early years.
The song, however, holds added historical significance considering the fact Marley was shot several times following an ambush at his Hope Road home, just two days before being scheduled to perform his Smile Jamaica concert at National Heroes Park. Despite his injuries, he performed a near two-hour long set, his last performance before fleeing to London in exile due to fears for his safety.
Since then, the song continues to dominate pop culture, to the point that Television Jamaica (TVJ) named its morning talk show in honour of the song and an artist who features later on this list took the concept and improved on it ever further. Now that’s the mark of a true legend.
3. Damian Marley – Welcome To Jamrock: Some still regard this as the best song ever produced by Jr. Gong as one of the many music-toting sons of Bob Marley created this gem in 2005 that not only elevated his own stock, but the island’s as well.
This song was one of the most realistic portrayals of Jamaica to the world stage. Just look on part of second verse as evidence.
“Welcome to Jamdown, poor people a dead at random, political violence, can’t done! Pure ghost and phantom, the youth dem get blind by stardom, Now the Kings Of Kings a call, Old man to Pickney, so wave unno hand if you with me, To see the sufferation sicken me, Them suit no fit me, to win election them trick we, Den them don’t do nuttin at all.”
One of the reasons this song still has the relevance it does to this day is because all of what he spoke reigns true today; the political corruption, lack of educational and job opportunities for ghetto youths and turning to crime should those opportunities not present themselves. Welcome To Jamrock helped propel his album of the same name to Grammy-winning status for the second time in 2006 and is regarded as one of the best songs of the new millennium to come out of Jamaica; deservedly so at that.
2. Eric Donaldson – Land of my Birth: There’s a reason many were calling on this song to be the official Jamaica 50 song two years ago.
Land of My Birth (My Jamaica) is regarded by many as the greatest festival song of all time due to its messages of dedication and admiration of the island appreciated by so many around the world, that we sometimes take for granted and not leave at the first sign of trouble.
Its first verse emphasized those points. “I will never leave her shores, I will never run away, I will always believe in the black, the green, the gold I say, All nations greater of all the trials, we must face the test of time, that our people they are strong and we going to get along, For some people say we poor, but the progress you make my friend is not always how rich you are.”
There are songs that just describe, but when you listen to Land of My Birth, it’s like you can feel that what he is saying is true to his heart and music lovers can’t help eliciting those same emotions and feelings. This song is timeless and will forever be associated with Jamaica’s ‘Emancependence’ celebrations for as long as we exist. However, there is one song that takes the cake when it comes to perfectly describing our island’s worth.
1. Chronixx – Smile Jamaica: This song is barely over a year old, but if there were any doubts about the legitimacy of Chronixx’s potential as an international superstar, Smile Jamaica quelled said doubts as this song covers every basic associated with our beautiful island.
Though it somewhat builds on Bob Marley’s original tune, as previously mentioned, Chronixx scored big time with his concept of comparing Jamaica to a beautiful woman that possesses so much to appreciate, but been through her rigors and sometimes undervalued by many of the people that she comes across.
Just let this verse from the song sink in. “She have a rich history, A beautiful woman with the sweetest gifts, Beautiful sunrise and an evening kiss, Of a nice sunset in the evening seas, But she tell me say she tired, Tired of the exploit and the liars, She give them reggae, give them beaches, Give them flowers and the ferns, And all she got is abuse in return.”
You couldn’t describe Jamaica any better than that. For a country that’s produced the Marleys, Usain Bolt and so many picturesque sights to behold, our people have often looked at Jamaica with the glass half empty and have either ignored or flat out underrated the many gifts our country presents. Sure, the economy is in turmoil and poverty is rife, but Jamaica has lots to offer, as Chronixx describe succinctly in a very unique and intelligent way. Heck, for the next major anniversary, I would suggest we make Smile Jamaica our Independence song. It’s too good not to consider it.