Jamaican in New York: Why One Song Means So Much

The Jamaican Diaspora has truly become a key part of defining us as “Jamaicans” in a sense that transcends our place of birth.

Ever since the global invasion of Reggae music championed by the likes of Bob Marley & the Wailers, Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals etc there as been a very impressive global presence originating from the small island state of Jamaica.

In recent years Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt has played a crucial role in promoting “Brand Jamaica” as well as being a symbol of pride for Jamaicans home and abroad.

When someone thinks about the Jamaican cultural presence globally one may be inclined to believe it is limited to Reggae/Ska

/Dancehall or Usain bolting across the finish line. But it is far more than that, for just as how the faces of Jamaica have graced television sets all over the world, so too as her people walked the lands of our planet.

The massive portions of Jamaicans scattered abroad have come to be known as the “Jamaican Diaspora”. These are the people

from Yaad who leave home in search for a better life and economic mobility abroad. For the most part Jamaicans have gone to mostly the United Kingdom(over 800,000 Jamaican Britons) where they were pivotal in helping rebuild the former empire which had been battered by the outbreak of World War II.  Other countries include Canada (nearly 200, 000 Jamaicans) and many other nations including the United States (over 700, 000 people of Jamaican origin); especially in New York (over 400,000 J’Cans)

I wanted to mention New York in particular as the city was the inspiration behind Shinehead’s classic “Jamaican in New York” which was inspired by Sting’s hit “Englishman in New York”

Shinehead, Sidewalk University, Jamaican in New York

The songs comes off Shinehead’s Sidewalk University album and perfectly denotes the expectation and work Jamaicans put in when the move abroad to work hard and “take care of family” . Honestly I think the song is just beautiful and must have resonated magnificently with Jamaicans at the time of its release in  1992.

In the song I matter I had wrote about in Patois and the Jamaican Identity Pt.1 re-emerged in that Shinehead used the Jamaican creole extensively in my opinion he did it to add an authentic zest to the song.

And you don’t stop, you proceed
And this is the message and rhyme you need
Shinehead’s gonna take the lead
All yard man, put up your hand
And let the world know that you have ambition
Well a we, well a we a yardy
A weh we de?
We de a New York City
A weh se come yah fa?
No to make some money
We have to do that to feed we family

This song isn’t just important for Jamaicans living and raising families in New York but all over the globe, throughout the entire diaspora.

In the song when Shinehead spoke about working hard and having ambition, something came to my mind, which in fact may be a contradiction in the idea of making a better life for ones self and children.

The problem is when most Jamaicans go abroad they leave behind what has come to be known as barrel children; children left behind with friends and relatives so their parents can go abroad to work or study. The term barrel refers to the gift and clothes sent in barrels to the children. However barrels of toys can’t substitute for love and these children are often abused and neglected resulting in a whole different array of social problems.

For more on these kids read my very first blog: Barrel children and the Caribbean diaspora.

I look at the Jamaican migration figures and sometimes wonder what is really happening when so much parents, families and 80% of university graduates who the government invests heavily in just leave. I am also perplexed by a dilemma in that had they stayed would thing be better? I really don’t know.

Well in the midst of it all a Jamaican crafted a song which elaborates amazingly on the situation appealed enormously to all Jamaicans home and abroad and its a song I truly love, in fact the song had lead me to write this blog.

Born Jamaicans, their children(2nd generation Jamaicans) and members of the Jamaican Diaspora celebrate the victory of Usain Bolt and the Jamaican team in the 2008 Olympics held in China.
In Trafalgar Square in England.

Here’s my all time favourite Shinehead tune, “Strive”

Sometimes it’s hard, but try and you’ll make it, believe you me.
In order to achieve, go forth and take it, set yourself free
With, obstacles in the way you may fall before you rise
But if yuh really want good yuh nose affi run, so get up and keep your eyes on the prize

So strive, step up in life and go for what you know
You’ve got to strive
Remove the doubt from out your mind and let good flow.

Be not move by slight remarks from people who think they’re witty
Keep moving on mind got to be strong and don’t indulge in self pity

but strive, step up in life and go for what you know
You’ve got to strive
Remove the doubt from out your mind and let good flow.