Perfect Sound Forever

Eek-A-Mouse


Photo courtesy of Eek A Mouse site

Totally u-neek reggae toaster indeed
by Eric Doumerc
(June 2009)

The deejay known as Eek-A-Mouse (aka Ripton Joseph Hylton) was born in 1957 in Kingston, Jamaica and worked with various sound systems in the late 1970's/early 1980's before making his mark in 1980 with a huge dancehall hit entitled "Wa Do Dem"for the producer Henry "Junjo" Lawes. Backed by the legendary studio band Roots Radics, the catchy tune with the infectious "riddim" caught the Jamaican public's imagination and turned Eek-A-Mouse into a national star. The album Wa Do Dem was released by Greensleeves in 1981 and in August of that year Eek-A-Mouse performed at the Reggae Sunsplash festival which was held that year as a tribute to Bob Marley. The deejay's performance is available on the Reggae Sunsplash '81 LP and on the video/DVD of the same name.

1982 saw the release of the album Skidip which contained the hard-hitting "Do You Remember" and The Mouse and the Man (whose title track featured a famous cartoon mouse) came out in 1983. The songs "Anarexol" and "Terrorists in the City" were very popular. In 1984, the American RAS label released the Assassinator LP, a major career move for a Jamaican deejay at the time. The song "Assassinator" was another hit. The deejay continued to appear regularly at Reggae Sunsplash where his performances were always well-received, due to his exuberant personality and costumes.

Eek-A-Mouse was also featured on several "live dancehall" LPs like A Dee-Jay Explosion Inna Dancehall Style (Heartbeat, 1982) and A Dee-Jay Explosion Part Two Special Request and a Popular Demand (Heartbeat,1983) which tried to recreate the excitement of a dancehall session in a recording studio.

The deejay was also given one side of the 1983 LP Live at Reggae Sunsplash, the other side featuring the dancehall duo Michigan and Smiley. In 1987, the American Shanachie label released a compilation entitled The Very Best of Eek-A-Mouse, and in 1988 Eek-A-Mouse had a hit with "The Freak", a song from the Eek-A-Nomics album. In the 1990's, the tall deejay continued touring extensively in the USA. The U-Neek LP came out in 1991, and Black Cowboy was a comeback album in 1996, after a quiet period.

The Mouse continued performing and releasing albums in the late 1990s and is still active today, but for many reggae enthusiasts, his style is mainly associated with the 1980s and the early "dancehall" style, when producers like Henry "Junjo" Laws and Linval Thompson were ruling the roost.


Eek-A-Mouse is an important figure in the history of dancehall music because, more than anyone else, he proved that, with dancehall, what you have to say is as important as the way you say it. In other words, flow, delivery and "style" are as important as, and sometimes more important than, what you have to say. Nevertheless, with Eek-A-Mouse, dancehall fans were offered both style and substance as his lyrics often were interesting and exciting.

The Mouse's style consisted in emitting all kinds of noises, sound effects or onomatopoeias like "Bidibidibeng" which immediately identified him as a one-off. The hit "Wa Do Dem" (1981) is a case in point as the "lyrics" are mainly made up of scat-like improvisations which are reminiscent of Cab Calloway's style and of Slim Gaillard's language (called "Vout"). The song was an instant hit, probably on account of its subject matter too, gossiping:

The two a we a-walk and the two a we a-talk,
Whole heapa people start to laugh:
She too short and a me too tall.
A wa do dem, a wa do dem, dem, dem.
Indeed a case could be made for Eek-A-Mouse as a "jive" artist whose style is important in establishing a rapport with the audience. Another characteristic of the Mouse's style is the elongation or the stretching of vowel sounds so that words become unrecognizable. The song "Star, Daily News and Gleaner" (1984) is a good example of that approach as the sound "-er" in "gleaner" is stretched and an"h" is inserted so that the word is pronounced "glean-HAR". This song is also notable for the use of high-pitched sounds or wails contrasting with the otherwise deep voice of the giant deejay. Indeed these high-pitched sounds create a comical effect when you think that the man uttering them is about six feet tall.

Eek-A-Mouse's lyrics could be social observations or satirical comments on Jamaicans' foibles, like gossiping with "Wa Do Dem," or people's tendency to rely on drugs to enhance their bodies, as in "Anarexol" (a single from 1983), named after a food supplement which resulted in some girls becoming overweight:

Left me slim ting and me gone a foreign,
Beng di beng di beng di no-roiin;
When me come back seh di girl big and fat yah,
Beng di beng di beng di no-roiin.
Me want to know if Anarexol do that;
All of a sudden her fiend-dem a-chat;
I sight dem at Reggae Sunsplash.
The Mouse could often come up with highly original and creative lyrics as in the tune entitled "Peeni Walli" (Jamaican for "fireflies," from 1983). The song recounts a traffic accident during which the Mouse's bicycle "was hit by a motorcycle" and the deejay was knocked unconscious. Then he is taken to hospital where a crowd gathers round "as if there was a funeral", but others are staring at a "fat gal." This slice of life is related in the inimitable Eek-A-Mouse style with plenty of "bidibengs" and gusto. The deejay claims that when he was hit by the motorcycle he saw "stars and peeni walli". Totally original stuff rooted in the deejay's everyday life.

But other lyrics by the Mouse are more serious and could be seen as social or political commentary. Songs like "Terrorists in the City" (about political violence, from 1983), "Star, Daily News and Gleaner" and "Christmas A-Come" (a 1981 single about poverty) would fit into that category. The song entitled "Star, Daily News and Gleaner" is about the dire economic situation in Jamaica and takes as its central character a woman who sells newspapers from door to door:

The woman every day seh a hustler,
a-sell Star, Daily News and Gleaner (x2).
She walk to Concrete Jungle and to Rema,
all a in house with your paper,
Star, Daily News and Gleaner.
The woman every day seh a hustler,
Even on to rainy weather;
The woman every day seh a hustler,
Even on to sunny weather.
She say " Hey boy, go tell your mother,
If a no she, go and tell your father
Star, Daily News or Gleaner.
In "Terrorists in the City," Eek-A-Mouse takes to task those who use politics as an excuse for violence and denounces the political thuggery that marred Jamaican elections in the 1980's:
Terrorists in the city (x2),
Some a dem a-work inequity.
Don't kill the old lady,
Or the baby who sucks on the titty.
You know it no really pretty,
Jah Jah him no go have no pity.
Me say di woman just a band her belly.
The backing track is particularly effective with its echo sound effects and sombre bass line, and again, the deejay's high-pitched vocal improvisations complement the music perfectly. The general effect is rather eerie.

The tune entitled "Do You Remember" (from 1982's Skipdip) is about the colonial past and the experience of slavery in Jamaica, but also mentions other people who suffered a similar plight by being sent to the Caribbean as indentured servants (the Chinese and the Indians). "Christmas A-Come" is another song dealing with a harsh social reality as the woman in the song keeps lamenting that "Christmas a-come and no money naw flow". The backing track for that tune was used for one of the best songs by the Viceroys, "Rise in the Strength of Jah"(available on Babylon a Fall Down, Trojan, 1991) .

So Eek-A-Mouse was by no means just a comedian or an entertainer with a funny voice and gimmicky sound effects. He also showed that he had a social conscience and that he could produce "reality tunes" too.

Lastly, it must be said that his popularity was also due to the quality of the music behind the lyrics. Indeed on most of his 1980's albums he was backed by the Roots Radics, the preeminent backing band of the day, and this certainly enhanced the appeal of his music. The drum-and-bass team of Lincoln Valentine "Style" Scott and Errol "Flabba" Holt created numerous highly danceable backing tracks on which the deejay could toast.

The English Greensleeves label recently released a compilation of twelve-inch mixes of Eek-A-Mouse's hits between 1980 and 1984 (Eek-A-Mouse: Most Wanted, 2008). This is certainly an opportunity to sample again the many wonders of Eek-A-Mouse's music.


References:

Larkin, Colin, ed. The Guinness Who's Who of Reggae. London: Guinness Publishing Ltd, 1994.

Roots Archive website


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