The African Oral Tradition of Storytelling in Dancehall: Early B, The Doctor
by Kaya Omodele
(first published in Method Mecca Magazine for @ZigZee)
"When an old man (griot) dies, it is as if a library has burnt down."
- African proverb
When it comes to storytelling, Early B - The Doctor had lyrics by the bag, plus style in his delivery. I've said it before, I rate a dancehall artist first and foremost by his/her lyrical content - I rate highly the artistry in spoken word. I love it when a lyricist communicates message, experience, and cultural relevance in song. And so, Earlando Arrington Neil was a modern-day griot the way he brought past events to life for his audience.
I first heard him chat back in The Eighties on one of my bredren's dancehall cassettes and I still remember how he related the story of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I's visit to Jamaica in 1966. Since I hadn't even been born back then, my only knowledge of the emperor's visiting Jamdown came from Early B because up to that time I hadn't read any account of the event.
I will never forget the year because the griot sang
"It was the year nineteen sixty-six/ when Selassie I made a visit..."
The artist's words sketched and painted the scene for me. I saw, vividly, the rain dripping that day, then easing up once the Emperor's plane landed. I could hear the roar of tens of thousands of people. Early B's words painted the flock of wild birds flying down, then pitching on the plane's wing before Selassie stepped out
"...with him lion an' him stick
inna him military clothes with the sword 'pon him hip..."
Later on in life when I read the details of His Imperial Majesty's visit, the written account only affirmed my mental image which was first created by the storyteller's artistry. Early B, The Doctor, had many songs I will never forget because his descriptions and timing were colorful and exciting.
Other Early B songs that tell stories:
One Wheel Wheely - Early B heralds David Weller and Xavier Miranda (Jamaican National Team Cyclists) and give drama about a crew of youth cyclists riding through town
Sunday Dish - help Early B cook his Sunday dinner; he lists every delicious thing on his menu.