SONG: Oh Carolina
ARTIST: Folkes Brothers
Listen to it here:
“Oh Carolina” was recorded and released by the Folkes Brothers (John, Mico and Junior) in 1960. It was produced by Prince Buster, who had a formidable reggae and ska career in the 1960s. Prince Buster paid the Brothers $60 for the recording and gathered some Rasta drummers (also known as Niyabinghi) and Owen Grey (seen as Jamaica’s first home grown singing star) to play the piano part. The song’s most popular iteration came in 1993 when Jamaican Dance hall artist Shaggy released his cover which saw international success and peaked at number 59 on the Billboard Hot 100.
I couldn’t really find anything biographical about the Folkes Brothers, but I did see that there was a copyright dispute between the Brothers and Prince Buster in 1994 after Shaggy’s version of the song came out.
“Oh Carolina” was written about John Folkes’ girlfriend Noelena.
When I sat down to start researching this song, my boyfriend asked which song I was researching and I said ‘this one is called…Oh Carolina by I don’t know who’ my boyfriend immediately launched into it, and that was my first clue that we have our first Jamaican song (he said his parents used to listen to it). It’s still super early so reggae isn’t a thing yet so we don’t have that very recognizable Jamaican sound, but you can still tell it’s Caribbean. It sounds like a very budget recording and maybe done all in one take, as it sounds like the pianist makes a mistake right in the intro! For instrumentation it sounds like we have piano, handclaps, and the loudest drum in the world that overpowers everything and everyone. The piano is pretty tinny sounding, like all they had access to was the out of tune studio upright piano. The singing is…fine? Background singer harmony is good, but a little drab. The main singer is pretty good, nothing special, but definitely has that Jamaican accent. I would like to know more of what he’s singing, but that damn drum is overpowering the lead singer! It’s cool to hear early Jamaican music, but this isn’t something I would add to my collection.
Another tune I don’t know by a group I don’t know! Well, I mean except for the Shaggy version from the 90s, which I think ripped some of the sound from this recording. This recording sounds really scrappy! Low budget, not much post production, and just kind of a party atmosphere. I like how it sounds both chill and high energy at the same time, and the background singers sound so fun! The percussion is …. well…. really really present in the mix, and everything else could be louder in comparison, but I do really really enjoy the overall vibe of this song. You can totally hear the reggae sound in the rhythms and the way the lead singer sings. The chord structure and melody seem pretty simple, not a ton of variety or change, and this song feels very unstructured in that the chorus and the verse are pretty close to the same, but this is one of those songs that doesn’t suffer for repetition. This feels like an archive record – an example of a time and a place that has been collected for historical posterity. This music is not really something I know a lot about so I’d be really curious how this stacks up in the history of reggae and how much of an influence the Folkes Brothers had on up and coming artists at the time, and into the future.
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
Of course, Shaggy with his hit version:
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Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist: