BTrem

“Place Call[ed] Africa” by Junior Byles

If I had to pick one reggae artist who most deserves more attention then (s)he has received, it would probably be Junior Byles. He was gifted with a beautiful voice and an ability to convey a lot of emotion with it. Which he did, on some deadly serious songs like “Beat Down Babylon,” “Demonstration,” and “Fade Away.” Even a love song like “Curly Locks” has as a subtext a plea against discrimination.

Most of Byles's early work — indeed, much of his finest output — was produced by Perry, and it deserves a wider audience.

The two met in the late 1960s when they were employed by music executive Joe Gibbs, Byles as lead singer of the Versatiles, Perry as Gibbs' house producer. When Byles decided to start a solo career, in 1970, he turned to a now independent Perry to help him. Their first collaboration was “Place Call [sic] Africa,” a song about slavery, freedom, and repatriation:

There's a place called Africa far far away There's a place called Africa many miles away Momma says that's where I'm from And I know she can't be wrong Take me back to Africa Momma how did I get here? How did I stray?

She said, “Once upon a time, my son They stowed us on a ship We had to work and slave each day The boss, he took our pay But a brighter Sun has come today And they can't stop us, come what may A time shall come for you and I She bowed her head and cried

Momma please don't cry

The backing track is a tough rhythm from Perry's house band, with a melodica playing the melody. Contrasting the raw backing track is Byles' graceful vocal, at once plaintive and hopeful. It's outstanding even by his high standards.

Version Galore

Perry, like pretty much every other reggae producer in the 1970s, didn't let a good rhythm sit on the shelf after just one use. He made the most of any backing track, including the one for “Place Called Africa.” Here are some notable versions:

“Place Called Africa (Version 3)”

“Place Called Africa (Version 3)” is a superb deejay cut by one Winston Prince. This is one of the first releases by the deejay who shortly afterwards changed his nom de disque to Dr. Alimantado.

On this record, he sounds very young yet supremely confident: You ask your question? This is your answer!

Alimantado expertly interacts with the snippets of Byles' vocal in the mix. When Byles sings,

There is a place called Africa far far away

Alimantado comes right in with

Blessed is that land that is so grand For I and I can stretch forth to hand to one another For you're sons and daughters of one father From the great place called Africa

He picks up the theme of freedom from earlier vocal cut:

So man and man will be free wherever he be No more chains! I tell you

And just as he finishes these lines, Byles' voice returns:

We had to work and slave each day The boss, he took our pay

While Byles sings of his mother crying, Alimantado quotes from the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth Blessed are the righteous, for they shall obtain righteousness

“Version 3” is a real gem from the first phase of deejay music.

“Africa Stand”

Veteran deejay Dennis Alcapone made the next cut to “Place Called Africa.” He introduces “Africa Stand” with a clever twist on the idiom “all roads lead to Rome”:

The road to Rome is not I road So, I'll take you along to a place called Africa

It's both a call for repatriation and a subtle attack on the Roman Catholic Church. For the rest of the record, Alcapone recites standard deejay rhymes like

Get in the groove and don't be rude

and

I promise I will never make you blue Girl! I'll never turn my back on you

Not the deepest of sentiments, true, but it was with just such lyrics that Alcapone dominated the deejay scene in the early 1970s.

“African Skank”

“African Skank” is one of the selections on the legendary dub album Upsetters 14 Dub Black Board Jungle a.k.a. Blackboard Jungle Dub. The mix is largely a drum'n'bass affair, with plenty of reverb on the drums. The rhythm guitar comes in and out of the mix, often through an echo effect to make it sound doubled. Byles' vocals can be heard, but just barely, like a faint plea.

Blackboard Jungle Dub was a collaboration between Perry and dub inventor and legend King Tubby, but credited on the album to Perry's studio musicians, The Upsetters.

Release Notes

“Place Call Africa” was released as a single on the Upsetter label. It was reissued on different labels with occasional title alterations (e.g, “Place Called Africa,” “A Place Called Africa”). It was also included on Byles' debut album Beat Down Babylon.

It has been included on numerous reissues:

Versions

“Place Called Africa (Version 3)”

When this cut was released as a single, it was titled “Chapter 3 Of Africa.” Why chapter 3? Well, chapter 1 is Byles' original cut, “Place Call Africa.” The b-side of that single, a version/dub mix titled “African Version,” is chapter 2. That makes the next cut, by Winston Prince, chapter 3.

The b-side of the Winston Prince single is another deejay outing, but on a different rhythm. Thus, there is no chapter 4 of “Place Called Africa.”

When the cut was released on lp, the title was changed to “Place Called Africa (Version 3).” I have it, under that title, on these reissue/compilations:

“Africa Stand”

As described in the previous section, there is no chapter 4 of the “Place Called Africa” rhythm, but perhaps Perry was at some point planning one. That would explain why the a-side of Dennis Alcapone's 45 is “Verse 5 Africa Stand” (Perry having decided to change “chapter” to “verse”), while the flip is “Verse 6.”

Confused yet? Consider this: on the record, Alcapone says, here comes version two. Only it's version (or verse, or chapter) five. But don't be too harsh on the deejay. He was probably just looking for something to rhyme with the next lines: now I promise I will never make you blue and girl I will never turn my back on you.

If it makes things easier, forget all that. The title was shortened to the simpler “Africa Stand” on subsequent 45 releases. It is available on these compilations:

“African Skank”

As mentioned above, “African Skank” is one of the tracks on Upsetters 14 Dub Black Board Jungle, first issued in 1973 in a limited pressing of just 300 copies. It has since been reissued many times, on many different labels, usually with an altered album title such as Black Board Jungle or Blackboard Jungle Dub. Sometimes the song titles are also altered, so you might find “Dub From Africa” instead of “African Skank” on a specific copy.

The sound quality also varies. Some pressings are so noisy that they are barely listenable; some have changed the stereo mix to a pan mix, which is just a travesty. Caveat emptor!

“African Skank” — with a stereo mix — is available on a triple album reissue:

If you want the pan mix titled “Dub From Africa,” try either