'Night Food' and the Corrupter of a Nation

Friday's Pick

  • Song: "Night Food"
  • Artist: Calypso Quintet
  • CD: Chin's Calypso, Vol. 6: 1955-2007
  • Genre: Mento
Alerth Bedasse (left) and Ivan Chin

Alerth Bedasse (left) and Ivan Chin reconnected in January 2007, shortly before Bedasse's death. Courtesy of MentoMusic.com hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of MentoMusic.com

"Night Food" was the '50s equivalent of heavy metal or gangsta rap in Jamaica. It shares no musical similarity with either genre, of course, but it did inspire the sort of governmental hand-wringing that's popped up here in recent years.

Released in 1955, "Night Song" was a huge hit, in no small part due to its sexually charged double entendres, and the song's success birthed the popular group that became Chin's Calypso Sextet. Strangely, though, it took four years for the government to speak out about "Night Food," when the minister of trade and industry, Willis O. Isaacs, attacked the song in parliament on "moral grounds."

Written by Everald Williams and sung by Alerth Bedasse, today the song sounds like a playful nursery rhyme, not the corrupter of a nation: "The room is dark / She said, 'Come and eat / This night food is very warm and sweet' / I said, 'Lady, there's no knife and fork / And how can I eat food in the dark?' / She said, 'This food needs no knife and fork / How can a human be so dark? / The food is right here in the bed / Come here, man, make me scratch your head.'"

"'Night Food' was a Christian song when compared to what going on now," Bedasse told the Jamaica Observer in 2005. He died on March 5 of this year, only a few months before the track was reissued as part of Chin's Calypso, Vol. 6: 1955-2007.

While the song lacks a banjo, a common instrument in mento music, it's still a fine example of Jamaica's homegrown cousin to Trinidad's calypso. (Though the more popular word "calypso" was often used to describe mento, even in Jamaica.) It's easy to hear elements of mento in ska and reggae, though it's a genre that's been long neglected and nearly forgotten in the country where it was born, as well as abroad. In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, the six volumes in the Chin's Calypso series remain important and entertaining documents in Jamaica's musical history.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

Purchase Featured Music

Chin's Calypso, Vol. 3

Purchase Music

Purchase Featured Music

Album
Chin's Calypso, Vol. 3
Artist
Chin's Calypso Sextet
Label
Chin's
Released
2004

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