The Phono Project

Exploring the history of the groove

“The Banana Boat Song”

The Jamaican beat you’re listening to is ‘The Banana Boat Song’, or ‘Day-O’.

This calypso style song was recorded by singer Harry Belafonte in 1956. You may recognize it from Tim Burton’s movie BeetlejuiceBut what made this song so famous wasn’t the movie. So what did?

Perhaps it was the song’s relation to Belafonte’s civil rights activism as friend of Martin Luther King Jr. and advocate for the anti-apartheid movement.

There is call-and-response at play in the song, paralleling the prayer-like call and response in King’s speeches.

This folk song originated from Jamaican banana workers during apartheid who had to work overnight shifts stocking bananas when sugar plantations failed there. As a Jamaican-American, Belafonte recorded this song with his heritage and the political climate in mind.”

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