I was sorry to read of the passing of Jamaican singer Desmond Dekker, whose hit song “The Israelites” appeared on my musical horizons in 1969 as a strange and alluring message from another world.
As a ten-year-old only just tuning into the world of top 40, I’d never heard anything quite like Dekker’s song, with its off-kilter rhythms, its patois lyrics, and those groaning backup harmonies. Dekker’s voice, a sweet tenor gliding effortlessly to an even sweeter falsetto, spoke of shantytown hardships in scriptural language. But it was the key changes rung by the rhythm guitar between the end of each chorus and the start of each new verse that really hooked me.
Over the years the ska, rock-steady and reggae rhythms would become more familiar, and I’d hear more of Dekker’s music and the sounds of his contemporaries in “The Harder They Come” and later compilations of Jamaican treasures. But the spell of “The Israelites” remains strong to this day.
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