Uncovering the mysterious reggae artistLopez Walker is a reggae singer who recorded four tracks for the producer Roy Francisí Phase One label in the late 1970s and then "vanished from the scene" (Barrow, liner notes). In an interview with journalist David Katz, Roy Francis explained the cicumstances in which some of these songs were recorded: "I was at Channel One doing sessions and saw [Walker] standing outside Ė he say he want to do something for me, start sing a song by the name of "Jah Jah New Garden." I take him right in the studio and recorded the rhythm, voice him a week after and put it out" (Katz, 258).
by Eric Doumerc
The tracks gathered by reggae archivist Steve Barrow in 1999 for Children of Jah, The Chantells and Friends 1977-79 (Blood and Fire, 1999) included works by harmony trio The Chantells - who had hits with "Waiting in the Park" and "Children of Jah," Errol Davis, the Terrors and Steve Boswell, but the collectionís star prizes were the four tracks by Lopez Walker - "Jah Jah New Garden," "Send Another Moses," "Trial Days" and "Fly Away."
Bearing the influence of Rastafarianism, which ruled the studios and dancehalls in the mid- to late-1970's, and which produced many great records by Burning Spear, Culture, the Gladiators and Israel Vibrations, Walkerís tracks were recorded at Channel One and Joe Gibbs studios with the cream of the era (Sly Dunbar on drums, Lloyd Parks on bass guitar, Bertram Mc Lean and Winston "Bo Pee" Bowen on guitar, Ansell Collins and Wisnton Wright on organ, etc).
With a line-up of this calibre, the sessions were guaranteed to sound good but, apart from the music, what makes these tracks truly memorable is the combination of Lopez Walkerís unique voice and his poetic lyrics. "Jah Jah New Garden" uses traditional biblical imagery (the Garden of Eden) and concepts to drive its point home."Jah goní to prepare a new gardenAs all oral literature or poetry, the song uses repetition with a variation:
Jah goní to prepare a new garden
Jah goní to prepare a new garden
For his children, yeah""Only the meek and the humble shallThe use of the symbol of the garden makes this song reminiscent of Eddy Grandsonís "Jah Garden" recorded for producer Roy Sinclair in the 1970's ("I and I donít want no heathen, into this beautiful garden. No heathen cannot enter this garden, for Jah lion will be the guard for this garden" (Rite Sound Reggae Story, Jah Live/SFPP, 1980).
Only the meek and the humble shall
"Send Another Moses," uses the same rhythm track as "Jah Jah New Garden," is more apocalyptic in tone and outlook as it warns us that "seventy two thousand heathens coming down to mash down this little town" and the singer asks Jah to send another Moses to help him "whip them with the rod of correction" and "throw them in a pit of destruction." The reference to the "seventy two thousand nations" and to the "pit of destruction" casts this tune in a biblical mould and suggests Yabby U as a source of inspiration. Indeed Vivian Jackson recorded many songs in that style in the mid-1970s ("Conquering Lion," with its hauting refrain "seventy- two different nationsÖ"). The "rod of correction" recurs in many mid-1970's songs and may have been inspired by the Rod of Correction given by Haile Selassie himself to the Prime Minister Michael Manley when he had visited Selassie in Ethiopia. Manley later used to woo his working-class and Rastafarian voters in the run-up to the 1972 elections that saw the PNP victorious at the polls.
Lopezís singing style can best be described as a "bleat" ("For his children, yeah," the yeah being extended into a bleating sound) Ė a style popular with heavy roots performers in the mid-1970s which was also used by Sylford Walker, and by Fred Locks for his "Black Star Liners" (released in 1975 as a single and in 1977 on the eponymous LP).
"Trial Days" tells the tale of a Rastaman thrown into jail although he had "troubled no wicked men." The person is "behind iron bars," but is comforted by the power of proverbs like "see and blind, hear and death" and "the horse gallops on the track, no hear what backer say." In fact, the rhythm track for this tune features a galloping beat that fits the lyrics perfectly.
The last track "Fly Away" is a song of exile using the bird to symbolise the Rastamanís desire to go back home and:"Mister pilot, mister pilotThe singer then goes on to say that he may not be as lucky as the biblical Jonah and may not be "spit out on the shore," but that he has got to try anyway.
can you take one more.
Iíve got to leave the ocean
Iíve got to leave the ocean."
Lopez pays tribute to Winston Gregoryís vocal style in "Fly Away." A moving song of Rastafarian exile it has antecedents in Junior Bylesí "Place called Africa," the Wailersí "Rastaman Chant" ("When my work is over, Iíll fly away home") and Burning Spearís "Children" (on Man in the Hills, Island Records, 1976) which contains the lines "leave the ocean and come."
The lyrics tell of Rastafarian exile but the song has a more universal application; the message that lifeís journey is a hard one and even though we can never be certain we wonít be swallowed by the whale, we have to carry on and keep the faith.
The four songs recorded by Lopez Walker testify to the quality of the artistry achieved by Jamaican singers and musicians in the 1970's and retain their power to this day. We can only speculate on the heights Lopez Walker might have reached if he had continued to work as a recording artist or if luck had come his way.
- Barrow, Steve. Liner notes to The Chantells and Friends Ė Children of Jah, 1977-79 (Blood and Fire, 1999).
- Katz, David. Solid Foundation Ė An Oral History of Reggae. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Inc, 2003.
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