All this bollocks yesterday from the minister for international development about how “Reggae stars ‘fuel spread of HIV'” is more than adequately dealt with by my old mucker here:
and also by Human Rights Watch’s recent report Hated To Death: Homophobia, Violence and Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic. Which states that, y’know, the fact that homosexuality has been illegal since before Sizzla was born, that police brutality against those suspected of living with the virus is normal, that there is inadequate healthcare, etc. may have a larger bearing on the issue than some song lyrics.
But, you know that already, innit?
So in typical tabloid fashion, we’ll just look at some records instead. I find the way that reggae deals with sexual health and deviance to be interesting and more complicated than it’s normally portrayed. I mean obviously there are a host of worthy records from people like Lady Saw and Buju Banton to point at which argue strongly for sexual empowerment and sexual health and this alone suggests that once again ministers who talk about popular culture are likely to talk out of their arses…
But what about the mad shit, eh?
King Kong – AIDS (Gussie P, 1992)
I have to say, I don’t play this one very much, but I’m still glad I picked it up for 50p from an old geezer selling it on the pavement in Brick Lane.
King Kong is I think best known for his late 80s work with Jammys (Trouble Again, Legal We Legal) and King Tubby (Babylon, and Two Big Bull with Anthony Red Rose). AIDS is a reversion of another Tubby’s hit. I’ve not heard the original, but this time around it’s over a blistering reworking of the Tempo riddim done by Tottenham’s Mafia & Fluxy.
Lyrically, it’s ominous, apocalyptic, imminent. Harsh from the opening line:
“Call Mr Martin – A billion coffin”
The chorus hammers it all home:
“When AIDS take you, lord a god
Nobody can help you”
And frankly, if you’re like me, you know what’s coming next and prepare to wince:
“Can’t say Jah never did a warn you
It’s written in the Holy Bible”
But the expected homophobic onslaught doesn’t really appear. Instead the biblical passages under review are the ones from Revelations (and not the usual Leviticus):
“When the time is coming to an end
One third of mankind a gonna go
by suffering and by plague”
So, it’s judgement, but on the whole of the population. Which ain’t great, but there is no mention on this record of bunning the battyman because of scripture…
Instead there is some garbled stuff in the middle about how it “lick down Freddy Mercury” and how gay people are going to end up like Rock Hudson if they don’t change their ways – which is open to interpretation, especially in the light of one of the final verses:
“Please please don’t get vex
I’m telling you my brothers – safe sex
Please please don’t get vex
I’m telling you my sisters – safe sex
Please remember when you kiss and caress
I don’t want to see a little life upset”
Of course, lyrics about a vengeful god smiting people with plagues etc is probably as old as the Bible (or in fact, the books which make up the Old Testament), but I’m sure Mr Kong drew inspiration heavily from:
Papa Michigan & General Smiley – Diseases (Greensleeves, 1981)
Some hugely bouncy early dancehall, combination style. The somewhat extreme lyrics are completely negated by the delivery which seems jaunty and amiable to the point of tongue in cheek to me. But maybe I just let people off too often for the sake of a good tune…
“Every day the girls dress up in the trousers
What happened to the skirts and blouses?
Why can’t I-man see you in your dresses?
Cos these things unto Jah is not pleases”
“Mind Jah Jah lick you with diseases
The most dangerous diseases
I talking like the elephantisis
The other one is the polomylitis
Arthritis and the one diabetes”
I mean… really?
Pad Anthony – Middle Foot(Jammys)
I am a massive fan of Mr Anthony’s “Champion Bubbler/See Them A Come” 12″ on Greensleeves. This isn’t nearly as good, frankly. But it does feature him going to a dance, meeting a girl with an improbable, yet cunningly rhyme-friendly, name. Making love til the early morn, you know the koo.
And yet, behind this common tale of hedonism and simple pleasures lies a painful reality. A couple of days later, Pad, finds that”strange things” are happening to him:
“Check me out nurse –
Nurse me a beg you
Fi check out mi middle foot”
Seems he’s come down with the clap, but is terrified of the injection the doctor recommended, so is begging for some pills instead.
It’s not all macho bragging you know!
This does however highlight one theme in this whole dancehall pathology thang – the final recommendation is not to go off with women who are strangers, which isn’t really bad advice, but seems to highlight the common idea that women cannot be trusted and are quite possibly vessels for disease. This is palpable nonsense, but perhaps the sort of way in which these issues get aired by conspicuously hetero males in conspicuously patriarchal cultures.
I dunno when this came out, but would guess late 80s, so obviously he should be telling people he’ll always use a condom again. Although use of condoms is something which there is huge resistance to in many countries which are plagued with AIDS, not just those which happen to be the home of certain reggae artists, so I dunno. Round and round we go….
Bunny General – Donkey Man (Waterhouse, 1988)
And so we finish not on the sublime, but the ridiculous. This isn’t about sexual health, per se, but I’m chucking it in here because it’s nearly related and you’ve come to expect tangents, yes?
Another seven from the Danny stash, which has fuelled many a blog entry and many a late night discussion round mine.
I’ll be quite open about this, I’ve heard this record loads of times now and I’m still not entirely clear what the fuck it’s about. This is partly because of the patois, and partly because the rapid fire vocals, but it’s also partly because it’s just completely mental.
Ok, here we go:
“No Donkey Man, Me Don’t Like Donkey Man!”
Geezer wakes up the morning and sees a woman named Shirley go by with a shapely behind. In true porn film style they then begin to get down to it, but are rudely interrupted by a braying donkey. Geezer looks up:
“Me see a youthman – behind a donkey”
For reasons which it will take a better man than me (or anyone I know who has heard this tune) to fathom, the song then goes into a bezerker version of the chorus of “My Girl Lollipop”.
It continues in similar style, with Millie Small’s finest leaping in when you least expect it. The closing lines give the game away:
“No rape the donkey, don’t rape the donkey”
To be honest, if I was Pressure Sounds, this would have been track 1 side 1 of their King Tubby’s digital compilation Firehouse Revolution but for some reason they didn’t even include it on there. Pah! I suppose there is a whole academic decontruction paper here, but my guess is that the “girl lollipop” bits are him trying to take his mind off the guy with the donkey and continue his business with Shirley.
Having said that it’s also entirely possible I’ve misheard the whole thing and it will turn out to be some well known anecdote about JA donkey keepers being disreputable in some other way.
“There’s a Dr Freud on the phone for you, John..”