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Spanish Harlem connects King to dancehall

Published:Friday | May 8, 2015 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Spragga Benz
Lutan Fyah

Since his death on April 30, Ben E. King's longstanding connection with Jamaica has been extensively noted. However, while he performed in Jamaica from the 1960s until a show at the Courtleigh Auditorium, New Kingston, in May 2013, as an R&B artiste, King still had a dancehall connection.

It comes mainly through the song Spanish Harlem, originally released by King in 1960, written by Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector and produced by Leiber and Mike Stoller. As an early hit after moving away from The Drifters, it was an important song in his solo career, establishing that King could stand on his own.

Among the Jamaican covers are one by Slim Smith, former lead singer of The Uniques (a group which also included Jimmy Riley in one version). However, another singer connected Spanish Harlem solidly with dancehall, as Richie Stephens did it over on the Far East riddim. While Barry Brown's song gave the beat its name, deejays like Buju Banton (Murderer), Bounty Killer (Nuh Have No Heart), and Capleton (Cold Blooded Murderer) were influential in its continuing as a dancehall staple.

Lutan Fyah uses parts of Spanish Harlem in There is No Peace in Spanish Town, his commentary on the gang violence which has long plagued the old capital - a popular way of referring to the former capital of Jamaica which Fyah uses in his song.

And while the opening lines of Spanish Harlem are used in the chorus of Lutan Fyah's song, he replaces lines while keeping the melody as he


"The bad man dem rise dem gun

Is like dem take it fi fun"

Spanish Harlem's dancehall treatment goes even further with a remake, widely credited to Spragga Benz, featuring Ben E. King.

And the original Spanish Harlem lyrics are given sound-system treatment in a dubplate for King Jammy's Superpower in which the lyrics are adjusted to pay homage to the king.