Guest Post No. 26: Roddy Doyle on ‘Israelites’ by Desmond Dekker and the Aces (1968)

Roddy Doyle is the Dublin-born author of some of the greatest books about music ever written (“The Commitments,” “The Guts”) as well as some of the greatest books ever (“Paddy Clark Ha Ha,” “Bullfighting”) He is very a nice man and look, here he is writing for one45everyday. We are as thrilled as we are indebted.

There was something blasphemous about it. It was the combination of the words, ‘the Israelites’, and the urge to dance. My sister had told me that there was a nun in her school who they called Desmond Dekker because of the shape of her mouth. So, nun + Israelites= religion. Religion was for learning off by heart; it was supposed to terrify and bore you. You weren’t supposed to dance to religion. It was definitely a sin and probably a mortal one. Millions of years in the fires of Purgatory, with no water or sandwiches, but I couldn’t help it. Desmond Dekker and The Aces played what I found out years later was ska and I couldn’t play it on the record player without jumping around the place and shouting along. There was no context. (I was ten.) I didn’t know Desmond was Jamaican, I didn’t know it was a song about poverty and slavery and injustice and crime and struggle and exhilaration. It wasn’t the start of a passion or an education. The song didn’t move me at first, but it made me move. Frantically. A bit like the character that Desmond Dekker sang about, when I finally began to listen to the words. The lines were cracked – bits of half-finished sentences, sliced by a strange guitar. And a jumpy beat that made swaying impossible. This was up-and-down music. It rattled everything I’d heard. It still does.

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