While the novel coronavirus is no laughing matter, sometimes, you haffi tek serious ting mek joke. From Lovindeer’s “Wild Gilbert” in 1988 to Wayne J’s “Chikunguya Song (One Panadol)” in 2015, Jamaican singers have long used grave current affairs as a muse for their music. COVID-19 is no different. So, while you hunker down to avoid the virus, enjoy these three new songs inspired by the illness:
1) New Hail by Zagga
“A bagga tings a go roun’ since lately” sings Zagga in this dancehall number. The song refers to one of the many new ways of greeting each other in the time of COVID-19. In the music video, we see Zagga approaching a group of friends, recoiling when one raises a hand to in an attempt to give him a standard “hail”. Zagga rattles off a list of greeting acts that are now strictly off-limits: no lion paw, no big finger nor rub. “No fist nah tump, no hug nah run.” He’s not concerned about who is offended by this show of precaution, letting us know “you betta ‘tretch out yu foot, ‘cause so mi a go hail you.”
The song is as catchy as it is relevant and could easily play alongside any Ding Dong or Ravers Clavers song in a dance (just make sure that dance is online).
2) Corona (A Look Me) by Silver Cat
Silver Cat starts by letting us know he loves “every ooman in the world.” That is, except for one. Personifying the virus, the deejay tells us of a toxic woman, Corona, who is pursuing him relentlessly. He’s asked everyone to tell her to stay away from him but notes that she is also “looking” everybody in town, so he knows she’s impartial.
In a flash of ingenuity, he notes consumers panic buying across the island, saying he’s told his friends to watch themselves, as “Corona” will make them spend in excess for a laugh. He then calls out a few countries that recently recorded coronavirus cases – Trinidad, Mexico, Cuba – and questions how “she can tek plane so?” He suggests “dem fi tek weh her visa” (Jamaicans actually don’t need a visa for any of the mentioned countries, though Cuba require tourists to get a travel card).
While the song’s take on the illness is unique, the rhythm itself may be a little too generic for some. Also, the deejay sounds a bit too close to Buju Banton, perhaps suggesting an attempt to capitalize on Jamaica’s undying love for the Gargamel. Still, while Silver Cat has faced backlash in some quarters for the comedic nature of the song, he made a compelling point when interviewed by the Star. “We have never seen anything like this in my lifetime...I could sing that this is Armageddon and the world is coming to an end, but that would only make things worse.” And we think that is fair.
3) Quarantine Pon the Land (Artist Unknown)
Moving away from the dancehall and deejays, this singer strums his guitar as he tells the story of Jamaica’s first novel coronavirus patient, “Patient One.” She arrived on the island from the UK for a funeral in Bull Bay. He croons, “she hug up Tom; she hug Sue, hug up Mary and John,” then notes the speed of the government’s response on her diagnosis, as “before you know it, quarantine pon the land.”
It’s the best song of the three we reviewed, at least in appeal. The ditty is very reminiscent of classic Jamaican folk songs like “Carry Mi Ackee” and “Dis Long Time Gyal” (with some referring to the latter when speaking of patient one’s seeming popularity).
Of course, it, too, takes some creative liberties. For one, only Seven and Eight MiBull Bay, St. Andrew and Corn Piece, Clarendon are really under quarantine. For the rest of the island, our government has issued travel bans, business and school shutdowns, work-from-home and stay-in orders but allowed for some exceptions. He also mentions how excited children are, as the government-mandated school shutdown leaves them with “nothing to do but play.” If that is true, the poor children are in for a rude awakening. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information is creating short instructional videos to help parents and guardians maintain structure for their now homeschooled children. Many teachers and schools are also turning to e-learning tools as they try to keep their students’ education on track.
While critics may see singing about the illness to be akin to not taking it seriously, all three songs show the message is being heard, at least by some. Besides, while it’s a troubling time for us all, a little laugh now again can’t hurt. Nat King Cole sang it best: “if you smile through your fear and sorrow...maybe tomorrow, you’ll see the sun come shining through for you.”