Yabby You Tribute by Alex Peacemaker
First time I met Yabby was when he toured thru Vancouver Canada with the Gladiators in 85. It was Yabby’s set that riveted my attention and after the gig it was Yabby that I was magnetized towards. Thru the typical dressing room commotion I felt a powerful link with this man and he invited me up to his hotel room to reason and from that time till present Yabby & I have a brotherhood that I will try to recount into the short version.
The first physical thing anyone would notice about Yabby was his extremely narled and painful physical structure and his need to move about with crutches. At age 12 Yabby left home because he did not want to be a burden on his struggling single mother. He was sleeping ruff in the squatters camp called Riverton Gully Bank, Kingston Jamaica. Yabby developed malnutrition. He became so ill he was taken to the hospital, where instead of feeding the starving child, they cut open his belly from top to bottom to study what malnutrition does to the internal organs. (Yabby lifted his shirt to show me the scars) Then they gave him unknown injections and he died on that hospital bed. Yabby’s spirit left the physical – floated at ceiling height – going through walls and traveling to the other side to meet with angels who returned him to earth to finish his work.
Then he suffered extreme juvenile rheumatoid arthritis which narls and swells every joint with a terrible pain. Yabby attributed his spiritual acumen to the result of so much suffering and he called his sticks (crutches) “my cross to bear.”
I’d been in and out of Jamaica for years and had produced with some notable reggae veterans but I now started staying with Yabby and his wife Jean in Vere, and we engaged in a series of recording projects for his own Prophets label, for the emerging Peacemaker label and for some other indies too.
In the mid 1990’s Yabby’s vintage re-releases enjoyed a resurgence of popularity (Blood & Fire). He also kept a small income coming in from the renewed interest of the dj and record collectors demand for vinyl – both Yabby’s own compositions and the recordings Yabby had produced for a wide range of veterans – ie. Michael Prophet, Trinity, Curtis Prophet, Half Pint, Willie Williams.
During this same era Yabby kept trying to release new material but, in retrospect, the new recordings and stage performance by this time were hurting because of his deteriorating health. In my opinion Yabby’s last album where his vocal chords still held the swing was the mid 80’s ‘Fleeing From The City’ (Shanachie).
Through these times I was privileged to have an intimate insight into Yabby and into the unique role Yabby has in the reggae fraternity. He is a man respected by many because of the profound sonics and the spiritual authority of his musical message - yet at the same time many were vexed by his firm stance against what Yabby called: “the mental illness of man-made religions.” The purpose of this eulogy is not to get into any religious debate whatsoever. From when I met Yabby he told me he was through arguing religion and I have found that too is the best guideline in life.
Yet still there are a few of Yabby’s anecdotes that need be preserved for the historical record. It was around 77 and Bob Marley’s mortal career was busting out internationally. Bob was on stadium tours round the world and he would come home to Jamaica with the stature of a rock star. At times hundreds of idrens (spiritual brethrens) would be in Bob’s yard at 56 Hope Rd. as well as nuff band-wagon-jumpers who managed to talk their way past the gate-man. Dreads reasoning, kicking ball, cooking food, passing chali, promoting schemes etc. At times Bob had the gate-man handing out $100 (Ja.) bills, and larger, to a long line of sufferers out on the street.
For almost 500 years, from the days of slavery, any dreadlocks caught in public would be shot on sight by the police. Till this era dreadlocks knew if you wanted to stay alive you best keep invisible up in the hills - but now the Jamaican ruling elite seen the money this reggae music was pouring into the island tourist industry so they allowed the dread to live and reggae to be played on the radio for the first time. Rasta consciousness was peaking and Bob Marley’s yard was the epicenter of the commercialized music portion of it.
And no one better disrespect that! - because nuff in the 56 Hope Rd. crowd were hard core ghettologists and rudies (nascent gangsters). Bob had even glorified the rudies in song and anyone daring to come into that Ras presence with a contrary opinion, interpreted as disrespecting His Imperial Majesty, would most certainly get a box in the mouth – at the very least. This was no polite debate society. This was hard-ball ghetto reality.
Yabby and Bob knew each other well for they had come up together as ghetto children on the street and Yabby had no difficulty coming thru the gate at 56 Hope Rd. for a one-time-only visit. Bob was holding court and Yabby came in speaking with a spiritual authority that silences even the haters: “No I … is not a good ting for man and man to bow down to another man – dat an evil ting.” Bob nodded his head in agreement and say “Yah right Yabby.” The crowd was silenced and Yabby walked out unscathed.
A next time Yabby was cornered on a dark ghetto road by robbers intent on theft and murder. One Yabby eulogist recently reported that Yabby came home with rock-stone marks on his shirt but no bruise or damage to his structure. The way Yabby and his wife told me the story is he came home with multiple knife cuts in his shirt and his roll of $ still in his pocket.
I will include one more anecdote for posterity. Yabby’s family land is in Vere, Clarendon and Vere is known as the center of Jamaican Obiah (Voodoo). Jamaicans, being the superstitious people that they are, still to this day come in a steady stream from all around the island into Vere for paid consultation with the Obiah workers. Yabby was a Jesus dread and most definitely not an Obiah worker but one time a woman, who somehow knew of Yabby, came into the yard and started crying: “Suh! Suh! mi beg ya – help mi - mi a strugglin woman wit 8 pickney fi feed and nah help at all. Mi a just got $500 (Ja. about $9 US) fi mi name an mi nah know wha fi do. Tell mi someting – I beg ya - help mi Yabby.” Yabby said: “Sister go home and come forward tomorrow and tell I wha ya ah dream tonight.” Next morning she return and tells Yabby her dream. Yabby says to a youth in the yard: “go uppa road an get di racing form.” (horse racing is a national passion in Jamaica). The youth returns with the race form and gives it to Yabby who studies it for a moment. Yabby points to a certain horse on the race form and says to the woman: “Ya see sister. Is simple! Ya dream a tell ya put ya money on this horse in the third race tomorrow.” The horse won and paid the woman something like 40 to 1.
OK – one more anecdote again. Vere is the Spanish word for ‘plain’ and it was the first region of Jamaica colonized by the Spanish because of its suitability for sugar cane cultivation. One time we were driving thru Vere and Yabby made a small detour to pull into this old churchyard specifically to show me something. He said: “see dat church deh – is da first church bahkrah massah (the colonial big boss) built on Jamaica an see dat big tree behind da church – dat still called the hangin-tree to dis day.” It had been Catholic and now it is Church of England but it is still that very same big old tree slaves were hung from.
I will not sugarcoat this eulogy about any perfect man on earth or fairytale angels with wings above. Yabby was still a man and like all man he had an upside and a downside. Despite Yabby’s general benevolence and mental-telepathic acumen, he was at times overwhelmed with pain and got confused about who his friends and adversaries were – but **** ! How would anyone feel with non-stop pain like a knife in every joint of their structure. It’s a miracle that Yabby was overall so positive, happy and productive. The other obvious thing is that Yabby was a poster child for the benefits of medical marijuana.
The music indusstry was not kind to the reggae pioneers and Yabby was particularly indignant with the rise of music piracy – firstly the organized Chinese Army counterfeiting of vinyl, cassette and then CD’s in the 80’s which flooded much of the world markets, and then the onset of internet free file sharing which sucked the life out of the business end of roots musics and is particularly grievous to the livelihood of those ghetto sufferer musicians still living a hand to mouth existence.
Yabby always spoke of his Jamaican countrymen being a mashed down people, cut off from their African roots, and controlled by churchianity. He frequently said: “to rule the people ya got to fool the people”, Yet despite his stance against church doctrines he himself was a product of the Jamaican environment and he relied on the King James bible.
Yabby and I would sometimes bang heads about our different opinions on: patriarchy, racial intermarriage, Bob Marley and the Ras etc. for the bible says things like: “Jah is a man & man is suppose to rule woman” and “don’t mix cotton and flax in a garment” which some interpret as an injunction against racial intermarriage.
But regardless of these differences of opinion – That which unites us is greater than that which divides us and the purpose of this eulogy is to show the whole man – human side and all – and in doing so to memorialize the goodness Yabby accomplished in the face of terrible adversity. The human side is the small of it and Yabby’s musical legacy speaks for itself.
Upon receiving word of Yabby’s mortal death, my first reaction was relief to know he was released from the pain he experienced most of his life. Then Yabby’s music started echoing round and round my inner-life and continues to do so as I write this memorial.
“I’m fleeing from the city – the city is set up on fire” “Be you Yabby Yabby you – be you Yabby Yabby You – Out of the hills of Zion with lightning and thunder – Be you Yabby Yabby You”. Incidentally - Yabby never named himself Yabby You. His colonial birth name was Neville Vivian Jackson and his family still calls him Neville. His street name was Yute Irn (Youth Iron) and when Conquering Lion bust onto the Jamaican soundscape in 1972 people spontaneously started calling him Yabby You. Then when people started noticing he was dread & reggae but not Ras they called him Jesus Dread.
Yabby was never a pretty-voice singer and the advance of disease made it more and more difficult for him to hold a tune, but to the end he still had a resonant oratorical voice. A few months ago I proposed to Yabby he try a dub-poet genre where he could ride back on the mic and relax the vocal chords with some rhydmic spoken-word swing in his thing – dropping the bass line in and out and inserting the vocal as the bass line itself. Yabby is known as one of the top dub maestros so the dub-poet genre seemed a natural for him. I put up the $ and Yabby recorded with R. King studio in Spanish Town. Yabby hadn’t recorded anything in years and he was re-invigorated to be in the studio again. Before the session he spoke of being appalled by the corruption of today’s Jamaican society and music and, being a warrior of old, he wanted to move up again to the frontline of the battle one more time. Yabby warmed up the recording session with a sing-j remix version of his song ‘Hungry Belly’ and his vocal sounded surprisingly good. When it came time to try the dub-poet track Yabby could not finish and we knew then his work on earth was done.
Yabby and his wife Jean were never able to have their own children but they fed and provided for many children from the extended family and community. Anyone who would like to help continue Yabby’s community work please get in touch with Jean. The ‘Hungry Belly’ remix track was his last recording and anyone interested in doing something with it, or with a heap of unreleased archives (including Studio One tracks), can also contact Jean. For example, there is an entire unreleased album called ‘Yabby You meets Jackie Mittoo – The Last Dub’ sitting in the archives.
Recently Yabby spoke of wanting to travel to visit with our Native Indian friends, where we live up in these mountains in the Pacific NW, and it certainly would have been interesting to witness Yabby sitting-in with the Medicine Man who know another part of the ½ thats never been told. But it was not meant to be. Yabby’s time on this earth was done and he high-stepped up the eternal staircase in perfect health and strength with a glowing radiance and flanked on each side by an angel of light. Perhaps Yabby and Bob Marley will sit-in again and reason further because Big Mountain most definitely reach too. Perhaps they will have a good laugh about the human side.
1Luv - Kinship with all life
Last edited by Peacemakeya
on Mon Dec 10, 2012 7:04 am, edited 4 times in total.