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The burdens of being a landlord… Everybody thinks you’re getting filthy rich by doing …well… nothing, really. You just collect the rent and then go about spending your excessive amount of money. That’s all there is to it. In reality, as these two superb tunes point out, being a rentman or landlord means you’re actually very, very busy. Recovering in the hospital, for instance.
It’s a favourite topic in reggae, fighting off the landlord, and I can understand why. Jamaica went through rough times ten years after it became independent; and the Michael Manley government made choices that weren’t particularly benefiting the gross national income of the island. Although well intented, the fight over bauxite levies with US based aluminium companies and the strong links with Fidel Castro’s communist isle of Cuba, drastically affected Jamaica’s economy. So much so, that after years of declining tourist- and industry income rates (after a short stint upwards in the beginning), the IMF had to be called in for economic support. And with that, heavy interests had to paid and the path went further downhill, economically.
As with everything in politics and economics, it’s the civilian who feels it. Thus, money was low, rent was due, jobs were scarce and fun was needed. The dancehall provided the latter and the deejays talked to people. About getting rid of the landlord, for instance. Ranging from ‘pretty please‘ appeals like the great Termites’ Mr Percy from the rocksteady era and Half Pint’s superb plea from the early 80’s, to ‘I’m staying, don’t mess with me‘ messages from the likes of Basil Gabbidon – recorded in the ska days- to ‘bring a big dog if you want to get rid of me‘ threats like both Madoo and George Nooks put on display here.
Gibbs recorded his fair share of anti-rentman tunes – Luie Lepke and Black Uhuru the most prominent – but I don’t think any were as harsh as the message Madoo conveys on this 7″. The roof is leaking, there’s no water in the pipes, the lights won’t light and rats are walking on the bed. Not a pretty situation, I agree. But Madoo’s landlord’s days are numbered, he states. Madoo’s staying and the landlord will end up in the hospital, well critical, taking saline while they fix up his spine. He might lose his sight.. Ah, sweet revenge!(?)
Madoo always was a great storyteller. Whether he’s talking about being the other man or hunting ladies, Madoo always finds an original angle to make his story come across. Backway Mr. Landlord is another example, in which he puts the landlord’s view – six months rent due, seeing his tenant buying new stuff but not paying his contract – right against the bitter struggle of the tenant – living in a house that is not functional, with money problems and mouths to feed. The result is a harsh story, realistic and confronting. Yet it also makes for a great, great reggae song, owing much to the pleasant style, tone and character of Madoo’s voice, which is kindred to Horace Andy’s, but also quite unique in its own right.
Prince Mohammed, in the meantime, keeps the horror level down a notch or three, but in the process he delivers one my favourite tunes by him under this monicker. Stating the landlord better bring a big dog to scare him, not a maga dog, Nooks sticks to the ‘i’m staying’ framework. He delivers his message in such a relaxed manner, opposite to the frantic style he’s known for, that it’s a shame this tune isn’t that well known. Venturing in between roles as singer and deejay, Nooks may have found his perfect pitch on this 7″, for it’s a true delight. In fact, I like this side even better than Madoo’s. And that’s saying something..
The 12″ of this doublesider features Errol Thompson mixing both versions in a ‘call and reply’ mode. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to track it down, nor can I find it on the net. When I do, I will upload that particular mix to Pressure Beat as well.
Label: Town & Country (Ja)
Release date: 1981
Riddim: Mojo Rocksteady – Sound Dimension
Matrix: JGM 4101 /4102
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