WARMER MIXTAPES #1112 | by Debon Laidlaw Panton [Akua Kamau]
1. Bob Marley & The Wailers | No Woman, No Cry
To say that The Wailers is one of my all-time favourite groups would be an understatement. I grew up in neighbourhoods similar to that of Bob, Peter and Bunny. However they were on the West side of the City of Kingston while I grew up still in Kingston, but much further inland in various communities such as Maxfield Avenue, Waltham Park Road, Washington Boulevard and Marverly. Like them, I grew up in a matriarchal, matrilineal home as my dad played no role in my upbringing. It was ALL my beloved Mama Mzazi (i.e. my mother Ivy Linton, R.I.P., my Momzee). I was in Infant School when these guys were coming onto the scene, however that did not stop me from liking their Music and knowing their songs word for word. This song to me is a song of Hope, Pain and Love. Life was (and still to a large extent is) very difficult in Jamaica especially during the early to mid 1970s. The Civil Rights Movement was taking place in full force in the US and we had our own version in Jamaica. We speak about the Black Power Movement in Jamaica. It was a time when the upper and middle class Jamaicans came under pressure as the so-called lower class demanded equal rights, justice. It was also a time when Rastafarians were looked upon in very unfavorable terms and the Riot Squad Police were sent out to deal with civil unrest on a regular basis. There were instances of riots, strikes, public transportation vehicles were stoned and burned, business places were set ablaze and there was general mayhem. Socio-political change was also taking place. For me being a small boy at the time meant staying home from School. I lived at 77 Waltham Park Road more popularly known as 77 Lane, at the time, in a tenement yard. Political gunmen were not so well established at the time. In fact the criminal incubators were just being formed by both sides of the political divide. I had just left Preparatory School and was trying to find my way in High School. This was a completely new environment. This was also my introduction to ragging as the elder boys took great pleasure in doing this to us first formers, at the time. This song brings back all these memories for me.
2. Bob Marley & The Wailers | Concrete Jungle
The song Concrete Jungle speaks of the very extreme hardships that were face by Jamaicans categorized as lower class. Marley laments …Where is this love to be found?… Sweet life has got to be, out there somewhere for me… I recall relocating to Maxfield Avenue with my Momzee in February of 1974 and while it was a different community I saw the same abject squalor, the same depravity, the same aggressiveness from both the Police as well as the citizenry. I remember many young men my age who died over the years, either killed by the Police or by their cronies. I am speaking about young men such as:
b. The Dumb
e. Rema Dog
f. Jim Printer
k. Deego Dog
m. Purple Shirt
n. Jug Head
p. Crow Bait
The list does go on ad infinitum and all of these young men died before they reached twenty-five (25) years of age. It is not simply the lyrics of the songs, it is also the memories that are invoked by these songs. These are some of the memories that come to my mind whenever I hear this particular song.
3. Peter Tosh | Buk-In-Hamm Palace
While The Wailers is my one of all time favourite groups, Peter Tosh was/is and forever will be, my favourite Wailer. Bob is the most famous, the most recognized and deservedly so, however it is still Peter for me. He was a maverick. He was a man who did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, in whatever manner he wanted, for whatever reason he wanted. I also think he has one of the best singing voices ever. His music to me is a bit more complex than that of Bob. More instrumentation, fatter and, like Bob, his songs were in most instances about either Love or social commentary. I remember seeing him riding that famous unicycle of his downtown Kingston as a youngster in the mid 1970s and calling out to him and in response he said yes, youth-man. This made me feel really good at the time too. The lyrics of Buk-In-Hamm Palace tell you of his personality a la …Light yuh spliff, light yuh chalice, we a go bun it inna Buk-In-Hamm Palace… in standard English that says Light your spliff, light your chalice, we are going to burn it (smoke it) inside of Buckingham Palace. For those who may not know, a spliff is what the Americans call a joint. Some say skliff, but in Jamaica we say spliff. I think that it may be a very good time to immediately add that I do not consume alcohol in any form whether in drinks or in any form of cake, etc. I also do not smoke anything at any time, I breathe only pure air. I also do not inject anything in my veins or sniff anything whatsoever. The bass line in this song is very powerful and it essentially resonates with the feelings of Rastafarians of the day toward Buckingham Palace and the Royal family. Like I said, Peter was a maverick. That was simply the personality that he had. It is said that he was more difficult to work with than Bob even though Bob was never ever a push over. These are the memories that I have whenever I hear this song.
4. Peter Tosh | Mama Africa
I connect totally and absolutely with this song. I am a very Afro-centric individual and hence, it is as if the lyrics are speaking both to me and for me. I recently did a video for one of my songs called Cries Of The Ancestors which speaks about the horrors of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade in a slightly different way from Mama Africa. Lyrics that says… They took me away from you, mama, long before I was born… speaks of our Ancestors being taken from Africa into slavery, during the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. This particular song could be termed as one of my personal anthems. I am currently on a Spiritual Journey, trying to find myself, trying to find my spiritual home. My Ancestors were taken from West Africa and I am seeking to reconnect with them in order to adopt their Spiritual practices. Attempts have been constantly made for us to feel that African spiritual practices are inferior and evil, however this to me is absolute rubbish. I am very proud of my Ancestry and I am the offspring of the Maroons of Jamaica and also of slaves. I make no apologies for this. It is who I am. This particular song is almost a religious experience for me. It speaks to how I got here in Jamaica and it resonates in my soul.
5. The Heptones | Fatty Fatty
This is a song by The Heptones led by Mr. Leroy Sibblies. Sibblies has a very distinct singing voice, very raspy and very easily recognizable. In the 1960’s the term fat girl was the nomenclature used to identify a very attractive woman. It does not necessarily mean that she was fat in the strictest sense of the word. In today’s environment there are many ladies who am sure would take very serious offense to being referred to in this particular way, however at the time when this song was released, it was considered to be a compliment. The bass line and chord progression in this song are also very sweet. As young boys we were always a very mischievous bunch and while we were not allowed to sing these songs in the presence of adults we would always sing them to ourselves whenever we were together. When this song was released I was living at 81A Waltham Park Road in Mrs Francis’ tenement yard and there were a group of about five (5) or six (6) boys inclusive of yours truly, in the seven (7) to nine (9) years age group. Back then it was very common to have dance-offs to see who could dance the best, as we were always trying to outdo each other. It wasn’t an official or formal dance contest, just a group of little boys who lived in the same tenement yard who were competing against each other. I remember winning my fair share of contests, as well as losing some very hard-fought battles. There were always adults who would judge the dance-off and declare the winner. This particular song is amongst our favourites and as a consequence, it takes me right back to Mrs Francis tenement yard and those dance-offs whenever I hear it. Nowadays, I really love to play this song.
6. The O’Jays | Brandy
This song by The O’Jays is a very sad song for me and I remember hearing it for the first time and it made me tear up a bit however back then (in High School) guys were not supposed to cry so I had to keep it in check. It was a big No No for us guys to show any kind of sensitivity or any signs of being touched by the feelings for the girls. We were supposed to be macho. I got to admit that while I tried, this was never ever really me. I had to be able to tell my girlfriend that I loved her, even though it was a No No. The funny thing is, it was said that this song was about a dog; however we were never really very sure because they could just as easily be singing about a broken relationship in which the young lady walks away. The O’Jays rank as one of my top groups of all times. Songs like this were used as a way to communicate whatever I wanted to say to the girl of my interest, at that time. As I said, back then it was a No No to tell a girl that you loved her, however while not exactly doing that, I sang the lyrics to her and in so doing I was able to let her know how I felt about her, etc. Those were the days of puppy love and heartaches and I must admit to having had quite a few myself and quite unfortunately, I may have even caused a few too. Early to mid-teens was a period of change for all of us, the jocks became jocks and the rest of us mere mortals became ourselves. I was more or less in the middle in that, I had friends who were jocks as well as friends who were not jocks. I was never a jock myself, instead I was more a youngster who was trying to find himself and his rightful place in the High School environment of the early to mid-1970s. My zone of comfort was in the cadets as I loved to shoot and I played the side-drum very well. On the cadet parade I was able to stand out as I was one of the drill cadet Sergeants and I was one of the trainers of the girl cadets and I trained the side-drummers in our drum corp. I left High School as the Drum Major. In fact as a way of giving back, each Friday I now have a session with the young cadets and am training them to play the side drum. Playing the side drum has always been a passion of mine and is my way of giving back to the cadet unit of my beloved Alma Mater, Meadowbrook High School. By then I could already play the guitar and was playing on and off with the High School band. However the real passion for the guitar hadn’t developed as yet, so while I loved to play, I was not obsessed with the guitar at that point. The songs I played back then were more Reggae and Folk songs, however nowadays I play everything. I am consumed by the guitar and it is my life. This song (Brandy) brings back all these memories to my mind, hence my sharing it with you.
7. Earth, Wind & Fire | Reasons
There weren’t many parties in Jamaica in the 1970s at which this classic by Earth, Wind & Fire wasn’t played. For us it was the premier rent-a-tile song. Rent-a-tile essentially meant to slow dance (Waltz) while remaining in the same place on the dance floor. All of us teenaged young men at the time, used the opportunity to lock down with the girl with whom we were dancing. Lock down means to hug and get really cozy and comfy with the young lady. It was almost as if you both melted together and became one body. This was and still is indeed a classic. At the time there were rumours about the religious inclination of this and many other popular musical groups and so while we as youngsters really loved this song, we were nonetheless very apprehensive when it came to this group. It was said that they levitated on-stage, that they could also do vertical (head over heels) somersaults while playing their instruments and were seen in some quarters as unholy. Those were all rumours of course and I can laugh about it now, but back then it was a very different thing. As is usually the case, anything taboo seems to have a greater attraction and it was not different with this group and their music. At the time there were two versions of this very beautiful song, the studio and the live version with the saxophone solo by Mr. Don Myrick, R.I.P. The icing on the cake so to speak was the section of the song with Mr. Phillip Bailey singing while being followed very closely note for note, by the Myrick’s saxophone. I remember a lot of us youngsters trying very hard to reach the upper registers in which Phillip seemed so comfortable. Some of my friends were even screaming while trying to reach some of those notes (maybe I was doing a bit of screaming too), however such were the times and such was the love of the Music. The apprehension aside, this was one of my favourite groups back then as I greatly enjoyed their music. This song in particular takes me back to so many tightly packed dance floors with so many lovely young ladies in their party outfits which at the time consisted primarily of blouses that were little more than mere brassieres, pants that were so tight they look as though they have been sprayed on, or extremely short skirts and of course the mandatory very high heeled shoes. For us young men, those were the days of colognes such as English Leather, Old Spice or Brut. There were even a few guys who wore Big Wheel or Braggi. For me, Reasons is all this and much more, lots of very pleasant memories and there were also period of intense heartache and hurt. However it is fair to say that the positives outweighed the negatives.
8. T-Connection | Paradise
I remember hearing this song for the first time at a party and I was immediately and completely mesmerized by the voices and the instrumentation. It certainly is a very lovely song, however by this time I had long graduated from jeans, t-shirts English Leather and Old Spice, etc., and was now wearing three pieced suits and colognes such as Grey Flannel by Geoffery Beene, Macho by Faberge, Paco by Paco Rabanne, Oscar De La Renta, Lagerfeld by Karl Lagerfeld etc and the ladies had become much more sophisticated by then. We had all grown up (so we thought at the time) and had developed our own adult personas and were all pursuing our individual dreams and aspirations. After leaving High School I chose to go the route of Academia and career. Notwithstanding the fact that I still sang with some of my friends, Music had not figured anywhere in my mind as a career, at the time. This song is by a Bahamian group called T-Connection and I believe they are singing about their homeland being Paradise. It is a very nice song indeed and has a completely unique sound and texture. The blend of the voices is absolutely enchanting and each time I hear it, I am immediately taken back to the party at which I first heard it. This song is really very well done.
9. Teddy Pendergrass | Turn Off The Lights
Teddy Pendergrass (R.I.P.) is one of my all time favourite male singers. This brother had Soul and everything else that the ladies seemed to want. Fact is there was a time in my High School days when I even tried to cut my hair like his and back then I was so impatient for my beard to grow so that I could trim it like his. This brother can sing and I really love his style of Music. I used to try to sing his songs and mimic his movements, needless to say it sounded nothing like him. For a while I was even called The Teddy Bear or Teddy P and that made me feel very good indeed. However that was back in the late 1970s to very early 1980s and needless to say that while I still love his music, the kind of music that I compose is in a completely different genre from his. Most of his songs were Love songs, some happy, some sad, while in others he was seducing his ladies. Pendergrass was and will always be the quintessential balladeer and rightly so. I have long ceased trying to pattern myself off of him, however I still love all his original music, i.e. those songs that he sang before that very tragic accident which left him in a wheelchair. I started admiring his sound from during his days with Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes and was very happy when he went solo. Like I said earlier, he was and still is one of my all time favourite male singers. There are three songs (i.e. Come Go With Me, Close The Door & Turn Off The Lights) which are considered to be a trilogy and also a gateway to Lovemaking. I used to play these songs daily and they all formed a part of my most prized Music collection. They said everything that needed to be said, then some more. These songs are about taking her to your home and making love with her. This represents a phase through which I believe all young man must pass and I can honestly say that I have been there and I’ve done that. On the other hand, there is another song called Nine Times Out Of Ten which while still being a Love song is slanted in a very different manner. It is an expression of Love and Happiness for being in love with a specific lady. It is a more mature way of looking at Love. This is where I am in my life today.
10. Rose Royce | Golden Touch
Rose Royce in my humble opinion has to be as one of the most underrated groups of all times. Golden Touch has a fantasy feel to it. There is a kind of sparkling effect that I really like. The lead vocalist is also very enchanting in her delivery. I heard this song for the first time in the very early 1980s and the sparkle effect blew me away. There was a very religious friend of mine who had a problem with the line that said… I worship and adore you… But for me that never made any sense because, as I said to her at the time, we both knew what was meant by it. So this song for me represents a period in my life when I was just branching out on my own and was very busily exploring and experiencing Love. A more mature type of Love. Adult Love. With working young ladies. A period in my early to mid-twenties. I was learning how to engage these ladies and to entertain them. I was learning how to wine and dine them so to speak. During this period I was moving with brothers who were older and more mature than I was at the time and I began adopting some of their mannerisms and of course they were coaching me on how to go about interacting with professional women. This was another period of learning, change and transition for me. There is another song by Rose Royce called And You Wished For Yesterday, however, while this is in fact a sad song, it is not be the lyrics that makes me sad, it is more the events and challenges that were taking place in my life at the time when I first heard it. These two songs I seem to recall are from the same album that was released in 1980 and were very special to me back then and still are very special to me today. I remember the lady who was in my life at that time and how it all ended. Sometimes I wonder whether I would change anything if I had the opportunity to go back and live my life all over again. I guess I would do it the same way because I am very happy where I am right now. I wouldn’t change it for anything at all. I love my life exactly as it is right now. It is not perfect, but it is close enough besides, Perfection exists only in Utopia, not in the real world. These two songs have brought back and always seem to bring back memories from the specific period about which I wrote (i.e. early to mid twenties). It is a very funny thing because while both these songs are from the same album, they appealed to different aspects of my life at the time. Golden Touch appealed to Love while And You Wish For Yesterday appealed to heartache. Seems after all that the lyrics does have a little something to do with it. With me, it isn’t always the lyrics that do it, in most instances hearing the song takes me back to the period in my life when I first heard it. Hence, in this way, a sad song can in fact bring back very happy memories and vice versa. I have been told many times, that I am very enigmatic and also that I am a very complex person, well I don’t know about that, I am really just a brother with weaknesses, strengths, dreams and aspirations like everyone else.