The song began on a cold January day in 2011. My daughter had brought me her Casio keyboard to keep me company while she and her mother traveled in India. I love the preset rhythms on the old Casio and remember the time when it was the only drummer of our neophyte reggae band. As in the old days, I amplified the keyboard rhythm and played through our old One Drop PA system. I started playing with the rhythm and this song started to happen. It seemed a good time to make a song about romance and lifetimes. I know I was looking at a wind-swept snowscape when I imagined a warmer planet, “closer to the sun.” This is the first song Caitlin played on. One of her friends had cajoled her to volunteer to play on my recordings. I’ve been grateful to him ever since. This song was written in the dead of winter. I remember picking her up on one of the coldest days.
https://soundcloud.com/mikeopitz/midnight-in-triana In the ruins of the cityCardboard for a bedSleep the great musiciansWith visions in their heads. At the end of EmpireLiving in the debrisArise the great dancersStruggling to be free. The city falls around them“The fruits of Babylon”*Soldiers in the streets at nightTerror in the dawn. (“O yeah” / “Police and Thieves”) Gunfire in […]
“Liberation is getting out of the toils of Karma. During your many past lives, you’ve done all kinds of deeds, good and bad and you are reaping the consequences of these deeds today. And also today, you’re setting up future consequences. Before you can be liberated, you’ve got to pay off your karmic debts. All your karmic creditors will come to your door.”
Alan Watts, “The Joker,” YouTube lecture.
Sometime during the recording sessions of 2013, we started calling our virtual and loosely organized band, The Karma Refugees. We had not played the song together; it was a One Drop song. But the song title is catchy and curiously contemporary. Somehow with no one planning it, the name stuck. And that caused us to revisit the song and to record it again—in 2016.
When Tom Daddesio and I started our exploration of reggae music and cultural theory, we had no idea we would someday play the music. We approached it as scholars and collectors of obscure Jamaican records. Sometime around 1991, we attempted to approach the music in a less scholarly and more holistic way—by learning to play it. Our first recordings were on cassette tape. Digital recording eventually supplanted analog tape but developing a format to present our new digital recordings presented a problem. With the help of CSBSJU media consultant, Adam Konczewski, I developed a webpage and that page has evolved over the last ten years. Because our music grew out of the study of reggae which is also the study of slavery in the capitalist system, we always saw social theory as our main reason for making songs. As we began making songs, recording and production technology changed again and we have now updated this website. All along the way, we have discovered what we are doing while we are doing it. Each step taught us something.
A few years ago, one of my students–I think the class was Environmental Literature.–had been reading a labor newspaper before class and gave it to me. It had an article about how often women organized and supported labor movements but that the men took the credit and also took the labor of women for granted. I was a kid at the time, but I remember when my dad, a railroad worker, would be on strike. I remember being scared but was too little to know why. Men would meet on our porch and have dark, threatening conversations. My mom would cook for them and keep the kids away from the porch. So the Anna in the first verse is made-up from that. The irony of the labor movement exploiting the labor of women did not dawn on me for many years.
Won’t you be my inspiration?
Won’t you be my guiding light?
I like to feel so desperate in the darkness.
I don’t need everlasting light.
I get so burned out doing business.
I get so weary making war.
I get bored exploiting nature.
I need more creatures to destroy.
Sufferahs caused by slavery
An’ live in the system (shitstem) that’s slavery’s child
An, live in the depot of slavery’s trade (in Jamaica)
Live in the dread pit slavery made
The Sufferahs got nothin’ to lose
When the slavery system falls
When the ego system dies down slow
When the empire system rots.
Anna was an activist –she organized for the men.
She stood with them on the picket lines
And helped them get home again.
She never wavered in her belief
In the brotherhood of man
She gave her love to those treacherous dreams
Like justice and freedom …
The wind came up. A storm was brewing
On the night the traveler died.
He carried a mysterious suitcase.
Lost love travelled by his side.
But the borders were all shut down,
And the boundaries could not be known.
All the knowledge in the universe
Could not guide the traveler home.