What is up with these reggae lyrics?
July 31, 2007 12:44 PM   Subscribe

Question for Reggae fans, Rastafarians, or Jamaicans. What do the lyrics to Dr. Alimantado's "Johnny Was A Baker" mean?

Here are the lyrics as I understand them. There is one place I just can't figure out what he says say, and then there are some things that just confuse me.

(Song starts with some incomprehensible speech)

I hear say Johnny was a baker
I hear say Johnny used to live in Jamaica
I heard he had three daughters,
one named Brown Paper
But that is all they know about Johnny Baker

I go to London town, I go to New York City
I go to Africa, trying to find Johnny
When I was in Africa someone say "This is Johnny"
I said, "Good day Johnny.
My name is Doctor Alimantado.
I hear say you are a baker.
I hear that you used to live in Jamaica
I hear you have three daughters,
one named Brown Paper.
But that is all they know about you Johnny Baker.
I hear you said something about Jah."

What would he say?

He say Jah are the maker.
He said, Jah, Jah, Jah are the maker.
And when they take him from the place called Africa
And carry(?) him to the place that (?) they ex-maker(?)
He say, Ja, Ja, Ja ja Jamaica
But they never know, know that he was no baker
Just ??? said Jah Jah Jah are the maker

Okay, the questions:
1. What's with the daughter named Brown Paper?
2. What is he actually saying in the third line from the end?
3. What the heck does that line mean?
4. Searching for the lyrics I found this incoherent analysis:
A song about Johnny baker apparently with Alimantado of course singing weirdly and telling his story of trying to find this guy Johnny the baker and he finds him in New York and Johnny tells him he was no baker because he was taken from Africa and they mistook him for a baker in Jamaica or something whatever, this is accompanied by organs, drums, and cooled out guitar skank.
I don't have much faith in this guy's analysis, but it made me wonder what the song was actually about, if it's anything more than just some reggae weirdness.
posted by agropyron to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The song's about race. "Brown Paper" denotes skin color, a reference to the Children of Ham. That Johnny wasn't a baker would infer he wasn't resigned to supporting oppressive labor. Though he lived in modern civilization (Babylon), he hadn't allowed his soul to be corrupted.

"Jah" is God in Rastafarian culture (derived from "YAWEH"). Selassie ("Duke"), the former ruler of Ethipoia, is considered to have ben the Earthly embodiment of God. Babylon is viewed as the domain of white oppression (and exploiter of Jah's creation).
posted by Smart Dalek at 1:15 PM on July 31, 2007

Xamayca is another way to refer to Jamaica. I don't know exactly what the origin of that particular spelling is, but it bears a passing resemblance to some Ethiopian constructions. FWIW.
posted by Aquaman at 1:59 PM on July 31, 2007

The line is "An' carry 'im to the place that named X-mayca", on review.
posted by Aquaman at 2:02 PM on July 31, 2007

posted by agropyron at 2:20 PM on July 31, 2007

Xamayca and Jamaica are phonetically identical in Spanish. Mexico can also be properly spelled Mejico, for another example of the same thing happening.
posted by agentofselection at 10:13 PM on July 31, 2007

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