Thursday, November 02, 2006

Music of Liberation

PW Botha, once president of South Africa, is dead. “Do not speak ill of the dead,” advised The Seven Sages, according to Diogenes Laertius in Lives of Eminent Philosophers. That suggestion might even carry added weight today, All Souls Day in some traditions, but the South African press cares not for such niceties, with the Cape Argus first recalling that same homily, then pointing out that “it is impossible to ignore the misery he visited upon his countrymen and women.” The Sowetan declares flatly that the “Groot Krodil will bite no more.” On the other hand, Nelson Mandela has paid tribute with his customary generous magnamity, surely one of the world’s great resources of humanity. However, forgiveness is not the same as forgetting.

I remember going to South Africa in 1958 or 59, when I was six, and being astounded at the rickshaws all being pulled by black men, while it was only the whites who rode in them. Later, in San Francisco in the 1980s, there seemed to be an anti-apartheid benefit or rally almost every weekend. Music was one of the weapons of the time, to bend Fela Kuti’s phrase, and I often DJed at such events. I also presented radio shows of South African music, mixed with other genres of liberation music, addressing the oppression of the regime.

One of the most powerful songs was a late-comer, “Pressure On Botha” by Jimmy Cliff and Josey Wales, from 1989. I first heard it on Doug Wendt’s Midnight Dread Sound System and I had to have it. But none of the local shops had it in stock and no one was able to get it. Doug kept mashing up the town with the only copy. Even when I went to Jamaica on my one and only music press junket, paid for by Mango to promote Donovan and Foundation, I couldn’t find it. Eventually, someone, I think it was Amy Wachtel, the “Night Nurse,” PR person for Mango, sent me a seven-inch she’d obtained from Jimmy Cliff’s own Oneness store in Montego Bay. Here, in the spirit of remembrance, is that single.

DOWNLOAD “Pressure On Botha” by Jimmy Cliff and Josey Wales

I really like Josey’s line, “Wind him up like him a robot.”

Later, Greensleeves in the UK put out a twelve-inch, but it was split into separate vocal and deejay versions and a different mix, which didn’t jell in quite the same powerful way. The drums don’t have the same crack of the original, and it never seemed to me to have quite the same charge as the JA single. Download, listen and you can make up your own mind. (Warning, there is some noise in the track that may be from a poor original pressing or mastering – or may be a poorly conceived sound effect, I can’t tell. It seems to be more prominent on the mp3 than on the original vinyl. But it’s still quite listenable, not half as bad as some of the vinyl that’s passed through my hands.)

DOWNLOAD “Pressure” by Jimmy Cliff and the DJ version by Josey Wales

As I was flipping through my records, thinking about those times, I came across two other twelve-inches that I remember often playing. One is “Free South Africa” by Benjamin Zephaniah on Upright. This is a 1986 recut from a track on his 1983 LP Rasta. It was recorded and mixed at Tuff Gong Studios with Aston “Family Man” Barrett on bass and co-producing with Carlton Barrett on drums and Earl “Wire” Lindo on keyboards. I suspect that Benjamin Zephaniah is either loved or not cared for much depending on one’s taste, but I’ve always found a place for him in my heart. As an anarchist of sorts, I am amused however by his strident declarations of all the things it is illegal to do with South Africa, especially when I think of the all-too-frequent unfavorable legal status of the herbal sacrament of the Rastas.

The other twelve-inch is “Liberation For The African” by Sister Carol. It’s actually the B side of “Show Business Is Me Business” on Serious Gold, but I always liked it better than the A side, partially because of its subject matter and partially because of its dubbing. To be honest, the subject is only about the liberation of Africans for a short while; it soon slides into a discussion of the best sensi and how Sister Carol smokes so much of it.

DOWNLOAD “Free South Africa” and “Liberation For The African”

All tracks are from the original vinyl. Dubs are included. Aural crunchiness assures an authentic listening experience.

Once I had a great twelve-inch from Ras Michael of "End Apartheid," full of nyahbinghi drumming of course and an awesome chant. That unfortunately seems to have disappeared from the vinyl vaults.