29. Exodus
Written by Ernest Gold
Performed by The Skatalites
7’’ single (Coxsone, Jamaica 1964]



Tommy McCook, the tenor saxophonist on the Musician‘s Workshop recording of Exodus, was also the leader of the Skatalites, and he is the lead soloist on the recording of Exodus made by the group in 1963 at Clement Dodd’s newly opened Jamaica Recording and Publishing Studio on 13 Brentford Road. Not the first recording studio on the island, but more significantly the first recording, publishing, and record manufacturing studio owned by a person of predominantly African descent in a new racially mixed former British colony. In a way Jamaican pop, through Dodd and his contemporaries, was moving at an incredible pace: even the island’s political culture hadn’t moved that far ahead, that quickly.

The Skatalites formed in 1964. Exodus was one of their early hit singles, and one of many that singles by the group that would define the ska genre. They recorded the tune a second time – the third time for McCook – for their 1987 CD Stretching Out, which found them drawing on their jazz, ska, and reggae inventions, and summing up, possibly, the following:

a] the story, so far, of their adventures in a fast moving popular culture, a tradition, something they created, and the fun of playing with and against that tradition, in their own time, as slowly or as quickly and for as long as they like, for a change.

b] an affection for Ernest Gold’s composition. It must be as much a pleasure to play and play with as it is to listen to.

c] three moments in Jamaica’s history of migration, marked by:

c1] migration patterns during the mid to late 1950’s, the last years of the colonial period.

c2] migration trends at their most critical during the island’s first decade of independence, when ska represented the island’s first sound of itself as a modern popular expression of an autonomous and indigenous and soon to be global presence.

c3] Jamaican migration patterns in the mid eighties, after the country had gone through a period of economic and social turbulence, and had become witness to the rise of a political culture whose urban presence took the forms of armed gang warfare on behalf of the island’s two rival parties, and the introduction of an equally violent cocaine economy.

d] the lines of migration that brought the musicians to Jamaica, as children from Cuba in the case of Roland Alphonso and Tommy McCook, the lines of migration back and forth across the Caribbean and North America, where some of the group would live and die, the flight pattern of the music’s migration from Jamaica outward.

e] a minor key dialogue with Jewish music.

f] a way of communicating with and bringing to life, through the performance of his compositions, the group’s missing member, trombonist Don Drummond, whose incarceration in Jamaica’s Bellevue mental asylum after the fatal stabbing of his partner Marguerita Mahfoud marked the end of the first Skatalites line-up in 1965 (though the Skatalites re-formed in 1983 and still continue to perform worldwide to this day), as surely as Drummond’s sense of invention had persuaded McCook of ska’s formal possibilities and led to McCook assuming leadership of the Skatalites.

g] an identification, as agents of their newly independent country’s first national music, with the will to independence, embodied as it in the good- willed heroic presence of the Mosaic figure of the captain of Exodus 47, as played by Paul Newman, and the sentimental lushness, the wistful, nostalgic, pastoral melody and forward looking drive of Ernest Gold’s tune.

h] the dominance, at lest in western popular culture, of the sonic presence of Zionist aesthetics – through literature, music and cinema, threaded together in this instance by the theme of the Exodus and its promised land destination – when compared to the presence in western popular culture of a voice of similar force, presence, multiplicity, legitimacy, from the peoples displaced by the historical correlatives of the events described in Preminger’s film.

i] an identification with, if not at least an acknowledgement of, the persecution dealt to the Jews during the war and a sense of justice being done following the execution of Adolf Eichmann – what with the event of his being hanged so close to the event of Jamaica’s independence, the release of the movie, the book, and the group’s first recordings of the composition.

j] an identification with the narrative the film and the book draw on, the Biblical narrative of the journey of Moses and the Israelites, based on an empathy and familiarity with the themes of persecution, Zionism, and repatriation, as they are expressed in the Rastafarian faith, practice, and musical expression – to which members of the Skatalites gave a voice.

k] a refutation of fascism, by way of embracing the culturally dominant, popular, musical evocation of triumph over fascism, made by fascism’s survivors.

l] a history of not knowing much if anything of the popular, classical, and folk music forms of Palestine’s indigenous Arab population, if only because the Arab presence was, with some success, being drowned out, submerged, as it were, beneath the music of Exodus and the weight of the millions of words of the blockbusting novel and the film’s seductive force.



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