THIRD WORLD / “Third World Mixtape”
We sat in the back yard "ital"-ly eating vegetarian and mutually enjoying each other’s company as we reasoned and fellowshipped together. What a sight we must have been, all of us in our twenties or early thirties, believing with all our hearts and minds that we really were going to make a revolution. This was right after Third World’s first record (Third World-1976) with that beautiful cover had been released on Island records.
Founded by vocalist/keyboardist Michael “Ibo” Cooper and vocalist/guitarist Stephen “Cat” Coore in 1973, Third World was a relatively new band on their initial tour of the states. Both Ibo and Cat had been members of the popular Jamaican band Inner Circle before leaving to form Third World.
They had a two or three day stay in New Orleans and we invited them to visit Ahidiana Work/Study Center, an independent school we operated in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. If my shaky memory serves me correctly, Third World also did a wonderful set out at SUNO, where some of us had been intimately involved in a school takeover and year long demonstrations. It’s possible that I’m mistaken about SUNO being the venue, but I do remember that their performance was inspiring and roundly applauded.
For me that first album stands as the best of Third World, demonstrating both their breadth and their depth. So much music was covered, drawing on everything from Jamaican folk music and reggae classics, to then contemporary funk music (listen to that layering of drum rhythms on “Cross Reference”—when those funky traps drop in the song takes off into the stratosphere). What was distinctive is that they were able to maintain a distinctive reggae sound even as they incorporated diverse influences into the overall sound. Take careful note of their multi-part vocal harmonies.
After their third album success flattened out that diversity so many of us adored. “Now That We Found Love (What Are We Going To Do With It?).” Precisely. The $64,000 question. In fact, if you change “love” to “success” the dilemma because immediately obvious. Once you have a major cross-over hit, the pressures to make all your music head in a commercial direction is almost an offer you damn near can’t refuse without committing professional suicide.
The really hard noise about the success question is that once you start reaching for the gold records not only do you fall off your original game but worse there is no certainty that you’re going to succeed. Try as you might, you may never produce another hugely popular hit. And that’s precisely what happened to Third World.
Third World persists as a band—indeed they are the longest lasting of all reggae bands, they have weathered personnel changes and continue to tour and record, their music of the eighties and beyond pales on two counts in comparison to their music of the seventies: 1. They were less rootsy, less diverse, less interesting as a hybrid sound, and 2. they never had another huge hit like “Now That We Found Love.” So, there they are in pop limbo, constantly rehashing old hits as they try to come up with a new hit, and yet, make no mistake they are no throw-away band.
Third World made a real contribution to the development of the music, plus they never surrendered to dancehall slackness or silly bubble-gum pop, and their integrity on that count needs to be recognized and respected. They may not have remained innovators over the long course of their career but they never gave up on the dream of making music relevant to the people.
I listen to these tracks and that inspiring afternoon on Deslonde Street rushes back, inundating my mind with beautiful memories of when we were young and certain that we were going to make a cultural revolution…
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Third World Mixtape Playlist
Third World (1976)
01 “Sette Messgana”
02 “Slavery Days”
03 “Brand New Beggar”
04 “Cross Reference”
05 “Freedom Song”
96 Degrees In The Shade (1977)
06 “Rhythm of Life"
Journey To Addis (1978)
09 “Now That We Found Love”
10 “Fret Not Thyself”
11 “1865 (96° In The Shade)”
12 “Now That We Found Love (Extended Version)”
This entry was posted on Monday, March 15th, 2010 at 12:43 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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