Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Day-o, day-ay-ay-o
Daylight come and me wan' go home
Work all night on a drink of rum
Stack banana till de morning come
Come, Mister tally man, tally me banana
Lift six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch
A beautiful bunch of ripe banana
Hide the deadly black tarantula
Day, me say day-ay-ay-o
Daylight come and me wan' go home

Excerpt from the Banana Boat Song

The Banana Boat Song also popularly known as Day O tells the story of workers in the Caribbean who harvested bananas for a living. These obviously exploited workers are lamenting the fact they have worked throughout the night with nothing to eat and only a drink of rum. It is back-breaking work stacking large bunches of bananas and to make matters worse they will not be paid until the “tallyman” has “tallied” how many bunches of bananas they have stacked. There is also the danger of being stung and possibly killed by deadly tarantulas. The Banana Boat Song is in the tradition of the well known work songs and field hollers used by enslaved Africans and later on by African Americans forced into chain gangs as they struggled to find ways to alleviate the backbreaking, tedious work they were forced to perform. The Banana Boat Song sometimes described as a Jamaican folk song was first recorded as "Day De Light" in 1952 by Trinidadian Edric Connor and his group The Carribbeans (http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xfgmc1_edric-connor-day-dah-light-1954_music ). Over the years other versions by various performers have been recorded including the 1954 version Day Dah Light by Jamaica’s cultural icon the Honourable Louise (Miss Lou) Bennett Coverly (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Km6QbVAnezE) However the most well known version of the Banana Boat Song was recorded in 1956 by Harry Belafonte on a Long Playing (LP) album Calypso and was so popular that it became the first LP album to sell a million copies. Belafonte born March 1 in New York City (Harlem) is the child of Caribbean immigrants. He spent 8 years from age 5 to 13 (1932-1940) living in Aboukir Village, St Ann, Jamaica before returning to New York City where he eventually became an actor and singer. Belafonte returned to Aboukir in 1980 to film the television special “Harry Belafonte: Back to Roots.” Belafonte is also a well known social justice activist who advocated for the Civil Rights of African Americans while working with Dr Martin Luther King Jr and other activists. He grew up in the days of segregation when African American entertainers traveling in the US South were forced to sleep in their vehicles if they could not find an African American owned hotel or motel.

The experiences of today’s generation of entertainers are different and this was brought home to me when I heard what I initially thought was a new version of Day O. This is not the Banana Boat Song. The chorus of the song contains the refrain Day-o, me say day-o, Daylight come but that is where any similarity with the Banana Boat Song ends. While the lyrics of the Banana Boat Song speaks to the history of exploited workers in the Caribbean, the lyrics of this new song that makes use of the refrain Day O, contains nothing about history. This is a song about partying, getting out of control drunk and even hinting at arson. An excerpt from the song is:
Check that out, what they playin', That's my song, that's my song.
Where my drinks? I've been waiting much too long,
And this girl in my lap, passing out, she's a blonde
The last thing on my mind is goin' home...
From the window, To the wall
This club is jumpin' Til tomorrow
Is it daylight? Or is it night time?
1 o'clock, 2 o'clock, 3 o'clock, 4
We gon' tear the club until til, til-til-til-til...
Day-o, me say day-o,
Daylight come and we don't wanna go home.
Yeah so, we losin' control,
Turn the lights low 'cause we about to get blown.
Let the club shut down, We won't go, oh, oh, oh!
Burn it down, To the flo, oh, oh, oh!
Day-o, me say day-o,
Daylight come and we don't wanna go home.

The song is becoming increasingly popular and the 21 year old African American singer is probably very talented since he attended Dillard Center for the Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. He is an actor, dancer and singer-songwriter who studied ballet, opera and theatre. Born in Miami, Florida he is a child of Caribbean immigrants like Belafonte who popularised the Banana Boat Song more than 50 years and a few generations ago. Unlike Belafonte and many African American entertainers of his time who felt the need to positively represent their people it seems the younger generation do not think they have the same responsibility. This seemingly talented young African American man may not feel that he has a responsibility to preserve the history of the Banana Boat Song and that it is appropriate to use the refrain Day O in a song that if not encouraging and promoting, then at least glorifying drunken and anti-social behaviour.

Do African American artists have a responsibility to represent their culture in a positive manner? Or is it that in this often touted “post racial” society they think that “we have overcome” and that is no longer necessary? Is this the freedom for which freedom fighters including Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Dr Martin Luther King Jr and the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey sacrificed their lives? There are quite a few examples of this kind of behaviour and mind set including a very popular entertainer encouraging the bleaching of our beautiful ebony skin. Garvey (August 17, 1887 – June 10, 1940) who said “Up you mighty race you can accomplish what you will” would most likely be shocked and disappointed to see that some people seem to include the addendum “and when you have accomplished disrespect and disregard your culture, people and history.”

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