One of the main reasons I wanted to start this One Random Single a Day challenge was to broaden my horizons on music cultures from a variety of countries that I would have otherwise never thought of seeking out. With this inclusion in the mix, I believe I have now embarked upon music from fifteen different countries across five continents (I still need to find an Australian musician for the challenge). Today’s musical tradition comes from Jamaica, and specifically from the country’s tradition of dancehall from the 90s. I’ve only very recently become acquainted with dancehall through the appropriation of its style in a handful of hit singles from this past year. The genre first came to immense popularity in Jamaica in the early 80s and has survived numerous technological developments in the music world, as well as cultural shifts and changing tastes. It’s a genre that is so rich in history and cultural relevance that I could honestly write an entire blog post just on a timeline of dancehall itself.
But for now, we’ve got to focus on the song and artist in hand. Junior Reid is known for being one of the first superstars of the dancehall movement in its early days. He was born and raised in Kingston, and the violence and political turbulence that surrounded him everyday would inform many of his single releases throughout his career. He was the lead vocalist for reggae group Black Uhuru in the mid-80s, which had him reach a larger, international audience; the first Black Uhuru album with which he collaborated, 1986’s Brutal, garnered them a Grammy nomination. Shortly after, he left to seek out a solo career, with which he found great success in dance single collaborations such as Coldcut’s “Stop This Crazy Thing” and Soup Dragons’ “I’m Free”. On his own, he is probably most well-known for his 1990 hit “One Blood” which has since become established as an anthem for social unity and progress across race, class, and cultural difference.
The song in question today, “Bubblers”, was released at the height of Junior Reid’s fame, a few years after he found solo success with the aforementioned three singles. When it comes to reggae and dancehall music, I usually need to look up the lyrics due to the heavy usage of Jamaican Patois dialect, of which I am admittedly ignorant. Unfortunately, lyrics for this particular song were nowhere to be found online, so I had to take the risky move of judging the song by ear. From what I can catch, Reid’s lyrics surround the joy of watching women (or perhaps a specific woman) dance in a club, with lines like, “bubbler make your waistline roll” which bring up specific imagery of bellydancing. This, of course, ties into the dancehall production, which is restrained enough to create a mysterious, seductive atmosphere, yet also with a pronounced reggae backbeat that make this particularly enjoyable to dance to.
I’m not exactly sure what the “bubbler” reference in the title and lyrics could refer to, but the closest guess I could make is that the way the woman in question moves and dances is similar to the manner with which water created bubbles when heated up – sexual metaphors notwithstanding. It’s also possibly a reference to a bubbler pipe, which agitates in a similar way when it’s used for smoking; knowing the close ties that weed culture holds with reggae music, this wouldn’t be too outside the realm of possibility. What does confuse me, though, are lines like, “she is my veggie” and “ain’t no woman move me like my vegetable do”. The only hint would be the connecting line, “she build me up now, when I’m feeling down”, which is somewhat close to the results you get from eating plenty of vegetables. It’s just a strange stretch of a metaphor, though, that I’m pretty sure there’s some cultural context that I’m just not understanding.
Overall, even though there is so much of this song that is confusing and honestly incoherent (to my western ears, anyway), I do like it. It’s got a sunny, tropical feel to its rhythm, with a production style that isn’t overblown by many superfluous details that drown out the lyrics. Even Junior Reid himself is honestly charismatic and it’s certainly evident that he’s been in the game for practically his entire adult life. I’m not too sure if I’ll ever be a legitimate fan of the dancehall genre (there’s still so much I need to discover), but for those looking for a solid introduction to the culture as a whole, this is a pleasant way to start.