Words by Sherman Escoffery—
There’s a lot of history to talk about as we head into Jamaica’s 50th anniversary. With that in mind, we’re hitting you with a double dose of Throwback Thursdays. First up, LargeUp contributing editor Sherman Escoffery’s recalls Tony Rebel’s early ’90s hit “Sweet Jamaica,” a track which speaks to both the beauty of Jamaica, and the serious issues that it faces. We can hardly think of a more appropriate tune…
Tony Rebel’s music has always been inclusive of love, righteousness and Rasta livity without sounding preachy, so when his “Sweet Jamaica” was released in 1991, on the Digital B label, it grew on everyone that heard it, with its combination of a great melody, descriptive lyrics and a classic rhythm track. “Sweet Jamaica” is one of those song that gives credence to the term “Jamaica no problem, man” as Rebel listed all the problems with Jamaica— the major one being “nuh dollars nah run”—but when he sings about the upside and the beauty of Jamaica, the description is enough to make anyone fall in love with Jamaica over and over again.
Add the video with shots the waterfalls and ocean; fruits and vegetables in the market; and Tony Rebel performing on stage; and the song became a hit. I always smiled at the self conscious look on Tony Rebel’s face in the scenes where he is wearing a gaudy gold chain and medallion, that you can tell was not his style, while the camera man struggles with his zoom to capture Rebel’s six-foot-plus frame in various shots.
The track is a cut of the classic “Cherry-O-Baby,” the 1971 winning festival song by Eric Donaldson, who incidentally had a 1977 winning festival song by the same title of “Sweet Jamaica.” Tony Rebel’s “Sweet Jamaica” is now a timeless classic twice over and it is even more poignant today, during Jamaica’s 50th year of independence. The problems have been magnified many times over, but the lure and joy and beauty of Jamaica still holds strong as Rebel sings, “You have to admit this is a glorious land.”
Other songs titled “Sweet Jamaica”: