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Zungguzungguguzungguzeng, the biggest dancehall song in the world - Yellowman

Published:Friday | December 14, 2018 | 12:00 AMSade Gardner/Gleaner Writer
Winston 'Yellowman' Foster, after receivng the Order of Distinction in the rank of officer at the Presentation of National Honours and Awards held at King's House in October.

It is almost impossible to mention the name Yellowman without thinking of his ingenious dancehall classic Zungguzungguguzungguzeng. The track is delivered in a freestyle fashion, with the deejay jumping through topics ranging from a goat and rooster, to having 110 girlfriends who bear his yellow babies. The song has since been sampled by several entertainers, including Tupac, Queen Latifah, Junior Mafia, Buju Banton and Vybz Kartel, but what does it mean?

The Gleaner caught up with the deejay to discuss the song's success and album of the same name, released 35 years ago.

"It can mean anything, you know. Mi can look pon somebody and say, 'if you don't leave me alone I will Zungguzunggugu-zungguzeng you'," Yellowman explained. "It's just a slang that came to me when me go inna the studio and hear the riddim. I didn't sit down and write it, me just rhyme up the words and mek the verse."

Produced by long-time collaborator Henry 'Junjo' Lawes, Yellowman presents his arguments as the single unfolds on the 'Diseases' rhythm. Even though the entertainer gained popularity after placing second in the Tastee's Talent Contest in 1979, he noted that he was often dismissed by producers for being an albino.

Zungguzungguguzungguzeng would ultimately change that.


Love for music


"I didn't think the song would be big. Me just did love the music and love weh me a do," he shared. "I used to go to the studio and people used to turn me away. Jungo give me the chance, and when dem hear the music me and Jungo made, everybody start call me."

The album itself hosts 10 tracks, featuring Can't Hide From Jah and Who Can Make the Dance Ram. There are also numerous collaborations with late dancehall deejay Fathead, including Dem Sight the Boss and Take Me to Jamaica. Needless to say, the title track is his favourite.

"I feel it is a unique song because generation come and love it up to this day. That is the biggest dancehall song in the world, so every time people hear it, it sounds new like they just hearing it for the first time. I still doing it on tour, it's a signature song on stage for me."

Following its release on the Greensleeves label, Yellowman signed a major label deal with CBS Records. He also toured London, Canada and Hawaii, which he cites as a personal career highlight.

Zungguzungguguzungguzeng is not just a hot number at your street dance, Yellowman also spoke of its other values.

"It's one of the favourite dubplate songs in the dancehall - everybody and every sound want it for dubplate all over the world," he said. "I can't put a number on how much I've done, but it past the hundreds long time."

Yellowman, born Winston Foster, spent his formative years at the Maxfield Children's Home and Alpha Boys' School in Kingston. He started to explore his affinity for music by forming alliances with sound systems like Aces International before starting a recording career in the early 1980s. Zungguzungguguzungguzeng aside, he is also known for other tracks like Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt, I'm Getting Married in the Morning and Mad Over Me. His accolades include being awarded the Order of Distinction for his contribution to music; a place in the Guinness Book of Records for releasing an average of five albums annually in the 1980s; and being given the keys to the cities of for Fort Lauderdale and Connecticut.

Yellowman recently returned from a performance in Cancun, Mexico, and said his catalogue keeps him in high demand.

"I tour every year. I have a tour in Argentina in January, which I go to all the time. I have new markets all over the world, like Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Egypt, Cairo, Dubai ... . I've even toured places that not even Bob Marley ever go, but I know him would go if him was alive. A lot of people wouldn't know these things because I don't come pon programmes and TV and tell people, or hype about where I go and what I do."