A: Soulmates – Dem a laugh an-a-ki-ki


Apart from being a real top notch stomper, ‘Dem a laugh” is also another chapter in the Soulmates/Hippy Boys/Pioneers series. Credited to the Soulmates on the UK release (Amalgamated/Trojan) and to the Pioneers on its Jamaican counterpart (Amalgamated and later reissued on Jogibs), this one is yet again clouded in fog. Add to that a certain Clive Chin of Randy’s fame adding some additional mist and you have a picture perfect.

To be honest, before getting into ‘Dem a laugh’ a little deeper, I always had this song down as a Pioneers track. It certainly sounds like them and the fast paced riddim plus the somewhat humorous ‘ki ki’ part fits their profile as well. Even when the Pioneers left Gibbs to go and record for Leslie Kong’s Beverly label their ‘ki ki” stayed firmly in place. The Soulmates, in the meantime, could include anyone who was in the studio at the time of recording, but was mainly outfitted by future Pioneer George Dekker, Alva Lewis and Glen Adams.

Although already operating his own small studio at Duhany Park, Joe Gibbs went to the newly opened Randy’s studio on North Parade to record ‘Dem A Laugh.’ Perhaps this was due to the fact that Lee Perry had just left his job at Joe Gibbs to start his own imprint, or maybe Joe just wanted to try out the studio. As far as I know he never came back to record there, but he did take away the studio’s best equipment: Errol Thompson. It took him two years, give or take, to achieve that, but it is interesting nonetheless because it’s quite possible that ‘Dem a laugh’ is the first recording the future Mighty Two partner ever engineered for Gibbs.

Pioneers - Them a laughBut who’s vocals did he mix into the Hippy Boys’ backing track? Jackie Robinson & Sidney Crooks (a.k.a Pioneers), The Soulmates or… one of the Hippy Boys plus Stranger Cole? Because that’s what Clive Chin is saying in this very nice interview by Peter I for the Reggae-Vibes website. According to him ‘Dem a laugh’ is voiced by Stranger and Alva ‘Reggie’ Lewis (guitarist of the Hippy Boys/Upsetters and a fine, fine singer). This could be the case, but I’m not enough of an expert to judge this thesis. Listening back to Alva’s superb “Suicide” rocksteady hit, I definitely hear similarities. But I have no idea what he would sound like on a fast riddim in duet with Stranger Cole, as the only songs Reggie sung solo that I’m familiar with, are rocksteady tunes. In John Masouri’s excellent Family Man biography Wailing Blues, however, mister Barrett claims it’s not Stranger Cole, but Max Romeo on backing vocals. And when Joe Gibbs reissued ‘Dem a laugh’ on his Jogibs imprint, he chose to credit it to the Pioneers. Perhaps to cash in on the success they were having over at Beverley’s.

So, confusion all along, but what is a fact, and the most important aspect at that, is that ‘Dem a laugh’ is a song of such beauty and quality, it still manages to mesmerize, move and groove people 42 years after its birth. And that I can account for…


Label: Amalgamated (Ja & Uk) / Jogibs (Ja)
Release date: 1968
Matrix: FJG – 7674
Riddim: Them a laugh / Money Train (Pioneers)

(originally posted on 15-12-11)


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