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Roots versus Dancehall Reggae

By Anthony Chuka Konwea, PhD, PE

Have you ever wondered what role a Producer plays in reggae music? Have you ever tried to establish the difference between roots reggae and its ultimate nemesis, dancehall reggae? These are some of the issues we shall be exploring albeit rather superficially this day. As our test object we shall devote this exposition to a specific track titled 'Funeral' by the great roots reggae artist Prince Alla (born Keith Blake).

Prince Alla belongs to the second wave of roots artists who emerged into prominence in the mid to late seventies. Note that I have not used the term second generation because it may be misconstrued as referring to biological age.

Prince Alla was a prominent member of the ‘Freedom Sounds Collective’ assembled by the hard hitting, very highly respected roots producer, the late great Bertram Brown RIP. Some of the most ferocious and hardest hitting roots tracks ever put out in history was done under Bertram Brown's artistic guidance under the Freedom Sounds Label, by this renowned Collective.

I fear that never again shall we see such ferocious intensity of roots music being produced. Other prominent members of the Freedom Sounds Collective apart from Prince Alla, include in no order, Earl Zero, Rod Taylor, Philip Fraser and Sylvan White. The phenomenal body of work put out by this Collective, remains almost unparalleled in its ‘roots’ intensity to this very day.

In 1978 Prince Alla released the subject of our consideration, his highly acclaimed 'Funeral' through two different producers, namely Tappa Zukie, equally a roots artist himself, and Joe Gibbs a renowned record producer. Because of the temporal proximity of both releases and given the overarching commercial influence of Joe Gibbs over the fledgling producer Tappa Zukie, it is my suspicion that Prince Alla first voiced this track at Joe Gibbs Studio.

One of two things may then have occurred. If Joe Gibbs dancehall version "Naw Go A Funeral' was put out first, it suggests that Prince Alla was not artistically satisfied with Joe Gibbs' production and wanted a ‘rootsier’ version. If on the other hand as I personally suspect, Tappa Zukie's version came out first, then it is even more obvious that the late Joe Gibbs initially discounted and erroneously shelved Prince Alla's track as a no-flyer.

Belatedly realizing that he had made a commercial mistake when Tappa Zukie released the same material as a hit track, it is my suspicion that Joe Gibbs immediately proceeded to cash in on the success of the record by rearranging and releasing a dancehall version of the same riddim. It must be realized that about this time in the late seventies, with the advent of electronic music, dancehall reggae was beginning to take off and about to rival and later supplant roots reggae in the market.

Whatever the case may be, we fortuitously have on our hands essentially the same rasta conscious lyrics, done by the same artist, but put out by two different producers one in a roots format (Tappa Zukie production) and the other in a dancehall format (Joe Gibbs production).

Here are the formidable lyrics of Prince Alla's great 'Funeral' as transcribed by Jah Lyrics, to whom I remain indebted for an excellent transcription. Note that the copyrights for these lyrics remain with their rightful owners, while the transcription was published by Jah Lyrics (www.jah-lyrics.com).

Prince Alla – ‘Funeral’
Nah go a no funeral, cyaan go a dem burial
Nah go a no funeral, cyaan go a dem burial
Dem want I, to come a this funeral
Oh, dem want I, to come a this burial
The dreader the battle deh (sweeter the victory)
And man a go bawl (sweeter the love could be)
Nah go a dem funeral, cyaan go a no burial
Nah go a no funeral, cyaan go a dem burial
So let the dead, bury the dead
But let the living man, give thanks and praise instead

I nah go a dem funeral and nah go a dem burial
(..)
Dem a go laugh if dem see
Lightning come strike Dreadlocks in the cemetery
Go 'weh from deh
Nah go a dem funeral, cyaan go a dem burial
Nah go a dem funeral, cyaan go a dem burial
(Nah go a dem funeral) Fi go mek that lightning
(Nah go a dem burial) Come a ketch I in a cemetery
(Nah go a dem funeral) You mus' a mad! And mek that earthquake

(Nah go a dem burial) Come a ketch I in a cemetery
(Nah go a dem funeral) And mek that lightning
(Nah go a dem burial) A come come
Catch I in a cemetery, you mus' a mad! (nah go a dem funeral)

Mek that lightning (nah go a dem burial)
Come a ketch I in a cemetery (nah go a dem funeral)

Said me nah go a funeral (nah go a dem burial)
Fi go mek Jah Jah lightning (nah go a dem funeral)
Come a ketch I in a cemetery (nah go a dem burial)
And mek Jah lightning (nah go a dem funeral)
Come a ketch I in a cemetery (nah go a dem burial)
Say me nah go...
Rastaman you...

Listen to both Prince Alla’s ‘Funeral’ (Tappa Zukie production) and his even more danceable ‘Naw Go A Funeral’ (Joe Gibbs production) which has slightly different lyrics, and you will begin to appreciate why the advent of electronic music, which birthed dancehall music, sounded the death knell of roots reggae.

Sadly, dancehall music itself which was built on artistically shaky, electronically contrived foundations soon degenerated into the grim artistic morass we have today. And humanity is much the worse for it.

Anthony Chuka Konwea, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, MNSE, FNIStructE, MNICE.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Anthony Chuka Konwea, PhD, PE and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."