“A Wah Dat” by Junior Dread

Back Against the Wall at Christmastime

I don't know much about Junior Dread outside of the two toasting records he made for producer Lee Perry. One is a solid outing over a dub mix of the Heptones' “Sufferer's Time.” The other is “A Wah Dat,” cut on an otherwise unused rhythm (or, if it was used elsewhere, I'm unaware). Both are sufferer's tunes, so-called because they express the plight of suffering people. But “A Wah Dat” is, for me, the better of the two.

The lyrics are a first-hand account of desperation and mounting financial trouble during the Christmas season:

Christmas a come And me soon get a next son And that's no fun yuh! No no no no no no

Christmas coming up And me can't get no work One shot me got [?] cut it out Me pickney a bawl The rent man a call I man stall I man back against the wall A wah da-a-a-a-a-a-at!?

The protagonist learns that his landlord is threatening to evict him on Christmas Eve, and though it's supposedly the season of giving, he is refused even minimal help:

So I check a little idren Fe borrow him coat But him say, “No Rasta, two man can't wear one coat” A wah da-a-a-a-a-a-at!

Those lines are a clever and brilliantly written indictment of being poor in a dog-eat-dog world.

The song concludes with the narrator announcing another surprise!

Them cut off I phone Them cut off I light Turn off I water A wah da-a-a-a-a-a-at!?

“A Wah Dat” was recorded at the Black Ark Studio with backing by The Upsetters. The music is instantly recognizable mid-70s Lee Perry (e.g., lots of echo and phase on the mix). But it's Junior Dread's vocal delivery that really stands out. On each refrain, he stutters and stretches out the “a” in “dat,” turning it into a raspy expression of astonishment and dismay. That alone rates it a listen.

Release Notes

“A Wah Dat” was released as a single on the Upsetters cloud label in 1976. That single (with its b-side dub mix) was included on a Trojan Records compilation:

I hadn't seen a copy of Build the Ark in a record store in decades — until recently, when a vinyl copy appeared in a shop in Seattle. So if it was out of print, it appears to be available again.