Perfect Sound Forever

Derrick Morgan "Forward March"


Breaking down a ska classic
by Eric Doumerc
(October 2022)


Gather together, be brothers and sisters,
We're independent!
Join hands to hands, children started to dance,
We're independent!
Don't be sad and blue, the Lord is still with you,
Because your time has come,
When you can have your fun, so people run!

Brothers and sisters give joy and praise to Sir Alexander,
Brothers and sisters, give joy and praise to Mr Manley.
Don't be sad and blue, the Lord is still with you,
Because your time has come,
When you can have your fun, so people run!


Derrick Morgan's "Forward March" was released in 1962, the year when Jamaica became independent. It came out on the Beverley's label, and was an instant hit. Indeed, the song struck a chord with many Jamaicans' feelings about independence, and is full of hope and optimism at the prospect of breaking free from the British colonial yoke.

Morgan insists on the necessity for Jamaicans to unite in order to build a better future ("Brothers and sisters") and to celebrate. The lines which mention "Sir Alexander" and "Mr Manley" refer to the two founding fathers of the Jamaican nation, Alexander Bustamante, a moneylender who founded the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union in 1939, and the Jamaica Labour Party in 1943, and Norman Washington Manley, a barrister who set up the People's National Party in 1938.

The fact that Morgan mentions both leaders in his song is important as the singer stressed the theme of national unity. Indeed, in the early 1960s, the Jamaican Labour Party and the People's National Party were battling for the hearts of Jamaicans as the prospect of independence was becoming a distinct possibility after the 1961 referendum on Jamaica's continued membership of the West Indies Federation (1958-61).

Bustamante's JLP had campaigned for a withdrawal from the Federation and Manley's PNP had made a strong case for membership. In 1961, a majority of Jamaicans voted against continued membership, which strengthened the JLP's popularity, and in 1962, the JLP won the general election. What is remarkable in Morgan's song is the desire to insist on the idea of national unity, as if the singer wanted to heal past wounds.

In an interview published in The Beat magazine (Vol.17, #2, 1998), Morgan alluded to the popularity of the song on its first release: "And that night, the 6th of August, when the celebration started, I was on the back of a truck singing the same song "Forward March" and it become the first independence song of Jamaica. It was big. Everybody love it. Well ,the song that I wrote was only a celebration song for the independence: 'Forward march, come on, out of many we are one.' And it worked."

Morgan's song, with its insistence on the theme of the "birth of a nation," is reminiscent of other patriotic songs like Jimmy Cliff's "Miss Jamaica", released in 1962 on the Beverley's label, and Lord Creator's "Independent Jamaica", which came out in 1962 too on the Studio One label. "Miss Jamaica," though as optimistic as Morgan's song, takes a more realistic view and suggests that colonial rule left ugly scars in Jamaica. Indeed, the singer suggests that Jamaica is not "in such a fabulous good shape" but that this should not stop him "crowning her himself":

Although you may not be
In such a fabulous shape,
To suit the rest of the world,
You do suit me.

In this song, Cliff likens the young Jamaican nation to a young girl who is to be courted, thus using the form of the love song to make a subtle point about his patriotic fervour. Cliff thus appropriates a popular art form for political purposes, which looks forward to the appropriation of reggae by the Rastafarians in the 1970's.

Nationhood remained an important theme in patriotic songs throughout the 1960's and featured prominently in a calypso/mento composition by Lord Creator . Creator (Kendrick Patrick) was a Trinidadian who had first visited Jamaica in the 1950's and who had become very popular by singing ballads and calypso tunes. In August 1962, he released "Independent Jamaica," which remained in the charts for about two months. Very optimistic in tone, the song insists on the themes of national unity and progress. In other words, petty political squabbles must be put aside and the example was set by the main political leaders of the day, Norman Washington Manley and Alexander Bustamante :

Manley went up to England,
To seek for independence,
And although Busta was late,
Still he attended the conference.
Although from two different parties,
It was very good to see,
How these two politicians
Was shaking hands,
When they gained victory.

The lines are strongly reminiscent of Derrick Morgan's songs and show that Jamaican singers at the time saw themsleves as the spokesmen of the Jamaican people, or, as Prince Buster would have said, as the "Voice of the People." They simply voiced the nation's feelings and aspirations, and, in 1962, the prevailing mood was one of optimism and hope.

The song is also notable for the absence of any reference to "Jah" as the singer tells his audience that the "Lord" is still with them. Indeed, in 1962, the rastafarian doctrine had not yet made much of an impact on popular music, and it was still common to refer to "Jesus" or to the "Lord," as is shown by the lyrics of some early Wailers songs like "Thank You Lord."

Musically, "Forward March" is closer to Rhythm and Blues or shufffle than to actual ska and contains a beautiful and wistful sax solo by Headley Bennett which conveys a certain sadness or pensive mood, as if the underlying message was that optimism was bound to be followed by disappointment. The fact that the musical backing for the song is a kind of "shuffle/R'n'B" is important as it shows that Jamaican music's development mirrored the birth and development of the Jamaican nation.


References:
- Timothy White, Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley. New York: Henry Holt, 1983.
- Turner, Michael, "Derrick Morgan: The Conquering Ruler." The Beat, Vol. 17, #2, 1998.


Eric Doumerc is the author of the book I-Roy, about the reggae legend


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