Work Songs

With the dawn of the 19th Century came the cries of the Napoleonic war to the flames and carnage of the Haitian revolution and in Jamaica to tarrying rumours that slaves brought by fugitive French planters were planning an uprising. More than one thousand were transported. This followed conspiracies in Kingston in 803 and in 1808 a mutiny of 50 African Chambas and Coromantis in the West India Regiment at Fort Augusta. For more than 100 yrs African-Jamaicans battled for survival and freedom At the ending of that harsh and difficulty century they had felt the impact of a new age, heard talk in England about a law to abolish the slave trade, seen Haiti become an independent black and free republic, talked secretly under cover at night about the rights of man, discussed messages from Jacobin agents. Then in 1807, word came that Wilberforce and his followers had at last won their long battle for the abolition of the slave trade. Many concluded that this mean the abolition of slavery. Now freedoms for all African-Jamaicans seemed a possibility. The Jamaica born blacks were the majority. All spoke a Jamaican dialect, shared the same Creole culture, the same desire for freedom and through their folk language communicated fully with each other.

Work songs recorded in this period reflect a change of mood a more open mockery of backra, a growing distrust of him, more frequent references of freedom, an increasing restiveness. There is the steady rhythm of the provision-ground in some work songs; other mocked at backra’s frailty and told of the early coming of freedom.

The revolutionary songs were the Christian hymns, some of which were introduced by the black Baptist missionaries, others by the white missionaries. They met the deep need of African-West-Indians for musical forms of religious expression, set a wholly new valuation on the human being and portrayed the close continuing spiritual bond with the father of all mankind. The hymns touched the imagination of the folks who as Olive Lewin has shown us, composed songs that are rich in feeling in the mood of such intuitive painters of the mid-twentieth century as Kapo (Mallica Reynolds) and Everald Brown.

Some examples of work songs are Linstead Market, Woman a Heavy Load, Day O’ which later became popular by Harry Belafonte.

About the author

Marcia "Ackeegiel" Davidson