Version City Records/Stubborn Records
(Review by Steve Shafer)
After almost a decade at doing promotions/production at Moon Records and a few years giving my all to my short-lived digital ska/reggae label 7 Wonders of the World Music
(which did manage to sell some digital downloads in 1999 and 2000--all pre-iTunes--but not nearly enough to keep the label afloat), I entered my ska wilderness years, losing almost all touch with the ska scene. So, it should come as no surprise that I had no idea that the Version City Rockers
(members of Stubborn All-Stars, The Slackers, The Scofflaws, Skavoovie and the Epitones, Inspecter 7, and The Skatalites' saxophonist Cedric Brooks) had released Darker Roots
, a melancholy, 9/11-influenced roots reggae album with Jamaican singers like Sugar Minott, Sister Nancy, Ranking Joe, Little John, Glen Brown, Yabby You, and Congo Ashanti Roy. I only discovered this by doing a bit of research on Sister Nancy on the internet in order to do a proper write up of this single (she, of course, is best known for her 1982 dancehall smash, "Bam Bam,"
which utilized the incredible "Stalag" riddim
King Django revisits the razor sharp Sister Nancy Darker Roots
track "Jah Have the Handle" (built on the fierce Version City Rockers' "Gangsta Drop" riddim) with a brand new mix/master for this 7" single. The title of this song is obviously a nod to the amazing Heptones track "I've Got the Handle"
that I'm a bit ashamed of liking so much--because of its terrible misogyny--originally from 1968's On Top
and redone beautifully on 1976's Night Food.
It's lyrics are all about the man's power in his relationship with his woman and of his ongoing threat of violence to keep her in line: "I've got the handle, baby/You've got the blade/So, you don't try to fight me, girl/'Cause you'll need first aid/You're under my observation/And don't forget it/You're under my jurisdiction/And don't you bet it, girl, 'cause..."
But in "Jah Have the Handle," Sister Nancy transforms this menacing and abusive power dynamic from that of one between a man and a woman to the relationship between Jah/God and humanity (we've all got our hands on the blade end of the knife). Here, Jah/Yahweh is more of the active, vengeful, Old Testament God who regularly smites the wicked and lays waste to their lands (as opposed to the all forgiving God of love, represented by the teachings and example of his son Jesus). So, the message of this single reaffirms that God is in control of the universe (which should be of some comfort to those who believe in these seemingly apocalyptic, post-9/11 times) and he/she will punish those evildoers who harm the righteous. Yet, what's really interesting is that Sister Nancy incorporates the great anti-war gospel song "Down By the Riverside" (with all of its Civil Rights Movement/Stop the War in Vietnam resonance) into this track (original lyrics: "I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield/Down by the riverside...I ain't gonna study war no more...I'm gonna walk with that Prince of Peace/Down by the riverside"), imbuing it with an anti-violence plea in an era where ideological and religious wars are carried out not by soldiers on battlefields, but by inflicting great suffering on civilians in villages and cities, all of whom are simply trying to go about the daily business of their lives. Sadly, this remains a perennial powerful and relevant track.
Offering a completely different take on the Version City Rockers' "Gansta Drop" riddim, Kapaichie's wonderfully ultra-smooth "De Girls Dem" (love me sound) is both tribute to his lady, as well as a sometimes outrageously boastful (and slightly slack) testament to his musical prowess and ability to attract other ladies, as a result. (According to Stubborn, Kapaichie is a Greenwich Farm "clash deejay" who became friends with King Django through their mutual association with Bertram Brown's Freedom Sounds label.) It's a fun, danceable flipside to yet another top-notch release from King Django and Co.