Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Israelites




by Alex Abramovich

“I saw the film of Exodus in Kingston,” Ernest Ranglin said, when he was interviewed for a book called The Book of Exodus: The Meaning and the Making of Bob Marley and the Wailers. "A lot of people went to see it. I know it was a moving movie, with its moral about oppressed people fighting for their existence. I guess that’s why I did the tune, too.”

Ranglin wasn’t the only musician to look at independence-era Jamaica and see the Hebrew exodus. “Get up in the morning slaving for bread, Sir/So that every mouth can be fed,” Desmond Dekker sang, in an achingly beautiful song called “The Israelites” (which many of us first heard in a 1989 film, Drugstore Cowboy, which had to do with more American forms of enslavement). And a few years later, in yet another song called “Exodus,” Bob Marley sang: “Send us another brother Moses/From across the Red Sea!”

Then again, Marley himself was something of a latter-day Moses: “Bob Marley/Poet and a prophet,” Anthony Kiedis once sang. “Bob Marley/Taught me how to off it/Bob Marley, walkin’ like he talkin’/Goodness me, can’t see you see I’m going to cough it?” I don’t know what Kiedis meant by that. But then, I kind of know what he meant by it: He was describing the life arc and career trajectory of a moral and oppressed man who fought for his existence and did tunes, too.

Prince Buster was another Jamaican musician who saw Jamaica as a sort of Babylon and did his best to chant it down; his song “Islam” is a case in point: “My people, my people,“ he sings, “Do you not want to go home?/Africa is calling, and you not want to go home?”

A few years ago, I attended a service at an African synagogue; which is to say, a synagogue in Africa. I don’t usually attend services; bored, I looked around and saw: Indian Jews, Ethiopian Jews…. “Those people and my people?” I wondered. And then I thought, “who knows: maybe there just here for the contacts.” And then I remembered an old Jewish joke I’d heard, many years ago, in Brooklyn:

An old Jewish couple goes out to a Kosher Chinese joint in Crown Heights. The Chinese waiter speaks perfect Yiddish. The Jewish couple is stunned; asks him to sit with them and tell something of his life. And so, the Chinese waiter does, again in perfect Yiddish. On their way out, the Jewish couple compliments the restaurant’s manager. “The food was delicious,” they say. “And this waiter! Where did you find a Chinese waiter who speaks Yiddish so perfectly?” And the manager says “Shhh! He thinks it’s English.”

This song is dedicated to the waiter.

"Dining In Chinatown" mp3
by Jennifer Wells
available on Northern Soul's Classiest Rarities, Vol. 2

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Download:

"Exodus" mp3
by Ernest Ranglin, 1963.
available on War Ina Babylon/An Island Reggae Anthology

"Israelites" mp3
by Desmond Dekker and the Aces, 1968.
available on Israelites: The Best of Desmond Dekker

"Exodus" mp3
by Bob Marley and the Wailers, 1977.
available on Exodus

"Islam" mp3
by Prince Buster, 1965.
available on Rock A Shacka Vol. 5 Dance Cleopatra

"Give it Away" mp3
by The Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1991.
available on Blood Sugar Sex Magik