I have gotten into reggae music lately. It began a couple of years ago when I bought a reggae CD from a table at a fundraiser in Midway being put on by the Girl Guides.
I liked the beat a lot. The fact that the vocals had a heavy Jamaican accent that I couldn’t easily understand didn’t bother me, I simply did what I always did—ignored the words and just listened to the sound.
Lyrics never were very interesting to me, even before I became hard of hearing. I don’t think I actually know the second verse of very many songs. The first verse I’m okay on but after that I just hum along and, sometimes, tap my foot.
It’s not that I don’t like the music or the sound of the human voice. But with my hearing loss I often catch only parts of a sentence, and that’s not helpful when trying to listen to a rock star being drowned out by the rest of the band.
So I just learned to let the vocal become one with the melody and, if I liked it, then I was in my happy place.
I never was much of one to buy the latest hit song either. In fact I went through a decade or two being totally oblivious to what the latest hits were. Ignorance does have an upside sometimes. I was able to almost totally avoid disco.
In this age of computers and iTunes, you can pick from dozens of radio stations to listen to, each catering to your individual musical taste.
When I discovered Internet radio I found one particular reggae station that played a lot of stuff that I liked—including one song that would come up at least once an hour that I really, really liked.
I figured things hadn’t changed much, that radio programming was still done around the top 10. But one day I decided to look up the lyrics of this song on the Internet. I’d written the title down as Give Me Hope Anna. But when I did, the Google search it came up as Gimme Hope Jo’anna.
It turns out the song isn’t new at all—rather, it was a popular anti-apartheid anthem in the 1980s. Jo’anna being Johannesburg, the song calls for change to a system that allowed the white rulers to keep the majority black population of South Africa in virtual slavery.
So maybe my weird listening habits allowed me to skip over disco but it also meant I was 30 years late in finding this beautiful song.
YouTube helped make up for it though. Gimme Hope Jo’anna can be viewed online in the many venues where it was performed; ranging in time from the 1980s up to it being performed in tribute to Nelson Mandela following his death in 2013.
If ever you want to see the passion of musical performers come bursting to the fore then check out this song online. Fortunately for me, one version has the lyrics scroll along during the song.
Eventually the international pressure the song called for helped bring an end to apartheid.
I guess my take-away here is that even if you don’t understand what somebody is telling you, it’s probably best not to tune him or her out completely. You could miss some something beautiful, profound and possibly important.