Toppa Top 15: Edward Seaga Selects 15 Jamaican Music Classics

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2. Desmond Dekker & The Aces, “Israelites” (a.k.a. Poor Me Israelites) (1968)

In 1968, after an immensely successful string of rocksteady hits galore, Desmond Dekker & The Aces transitioned into the reggae sound. Originally titled “Poor Me Israelites,” Dekker was deeply inspired by the suffering of Jamaican peasants and likened them symbolically to the Israelites, who according to the Bible, suffered in enslavement under the harsh rule of the Egyptian Pharaoh. To this day, most people never knew or realized the direction Dekker meant to take this tune with its context, nevertheless, it became a smash hit in Jamaica and England. The song was the very first reggae song to hit No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart and also the very first reggae hit in America, an achievement which never really happened again. “Israelites” barely made the Top 10 on the Billboard charts in America, peaking at number 9. Seaga attributes much of the success of Israelites in America to those of Judaism faith who incidentally also compared the song to the biblical history of the suffering of the Israelite people.

Whether or not one understands the meaning behind the creation of the song, the impact of the tune and its legacy is still felt throughout the world, even long after Dekker’s untimely death from a heart attack on May, 25, 2006 at the age of 64. It was Reggae’s first transatlantic hit!

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