Friday, 2 February 2018
Oliver!: Cobra - Live Together (6 April 1992)
In one of those 1983 episodes of Top of the Pops which Peel hosted with David Jensen, and which I so recklessly missed when BBC Four repeated it, there is a moment in which our hero lightly disparages Paul McCartney’s iconic paean to racial harmony. At 6 years old, the substance of Ebony and Ivory flew over my head, I was just goggle eyed at the giant piano keyboard that Macca and Stevie got to sit on. The song marked the end of a 10 year hiatus for McCartney from writing about anything with a political subtext to it. His last effort may still have been on the banned list. Having struck out in 1972 and 1982, McCartney decided to leave politicking to others in 1992, which is where dancehall artist Cobra comes in.
It took me a couple of listens before I had to conclude that despite the “Now I’m not saying this man right and that man wrong/But let’s live together...” opening, this was not a plea for universal tolerance and peace among all men, but more likely a treatise on the murky state of Jamaican politics* Eventually, the patois got away from me - I’m more than open to any suggestions on what Cobra is singing about in connection to the 1976/1979/1980/1984/1988 sequence - allusions to colours like red and green suggest political factionalisation or could allude to land and blood but it’s the mention of grey that intrigues me. Is it one of the first reggae songs to acknowledge that bringing warring sides together demands a recognition of the ambiguities that exist between the adversaries? Well, is it?
* Edit - Just listened to it again. While I think many of the points about recognising ambiguities hold water, if it’s politics are directed anywhere then it’s towards street politics. Given that Cobra’s early records tried to marry reggae and gangsta rap, it’s credible that this may be a plea to stop killing and try to give each other room.
As so often in this genre, if you can’t make sense of it, just wallow in the sharpness of the performance.
Video courtesy of Djeasy Mixmaster.