Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Dawning World: Harry Belafonte: "Day-O (Banana Boat Song)"

It may seem ironic - at first - that it took a Manhattan-born, partially-raised-in-Jamaica-when-young aspiring actor to bring music from the Caribbean to the UK charts, but that is how things stood in the winter of '57. (This isn't to say that the recent immigrants from Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, etc. weren't already playing live, recording and so on - they were, of course, but they hadn't crossed over yet to the UK charts.)

This song well precedes itself. Few songs are as memorable on first hearing as this one; from the proclamation "Day-O!" to the more than understandable refrain "Daylight come and me wan' go home" to the pleading/swaggerific "Come Mr. Tallyman, tally me bananas" - this is the song of a man who is proud of his work, as arduous and dangerous as it is (what other song mentions the "highly deadly black tarantula"? - none, I'm guessing). But he is at the end of his shift, he wants to get his pay and get some sleep after a long night on the docks, broken only by the odd swig of rum and dodging those darn spiders. "Day-O! Daaaaay-O! Day-is-a-day-is-day-is-a-daaaaay-ooooo" he sings, grateful for those rosy fingers of dawn; there is no sign here of the weary fatalism & murderousness of "Sixteen Tons." It could well be that the dockworker in question has relatives now living in England (I can see him now, reading his post in the early afternoon when he wakes up) and feels alternately happy and wistful, depending on their letters. Is hauling a six-foot or seven-foot bunch of bananas in the middle of the night better than living somewhere cold, rainy and, well, different? Perhaps it is, for him; but he might just go see for himself, and visit them too, one day. He knows he can't be a dockworker all his life, after all...

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