What, exactly, is the old Desmond Decker protoreggae song "Israelites" about?

Today I heard this song on an oldies station, and was reminded of how I’ve never been able to figure out what this song’s about. It seems to have some sort of Old Testament biblical connection, but in other places it sounds like Desmond is singing in a foreign language. Can someone give me a little help with the lyrics without violating Board policy?

All I get is:

  • Wake up in the morning, slaving for <???>
    So that every mouth can be fed,
    Oh, oh…Israelites.

At first I thought it was “slaving for breakfast”, but when I listen now it sounds more like “slaving for beksah” whatever that is.

Anybody got a clue about this?


Basically, his life sucks because he’s an “Israelite”.

Here’s some info about the guy.

The lyrics again, with fewer popups. (I couldn’t get Mr. Blue Sky’s link to show up .)

You get a lot of this kind of stuff in reggae, it just goes hand in hand with being a Rastafarian. They trace their religion back to Judaism, and so you get a lot of Biblical references in songs by devout Rastafarians. The musicians sure do seem devout, maybe it’s because marijuana is a sacrament. :wink: Lots of Bob Marley’s songs have the same themes, although the songs aren’t about him quite as much. Exodus, Iron Lion Zion, etc. And tons upon tons of mentions of Babylon, which stands for everything bad and corrupt in the world.

There was a hilarious TV commercial–probably British–for (I think) Maxell tape. It had “The Israelites” playing while a guy held up cards with an approximation of the lyrics, which got progressively more and more bizarre (I just remember that the second line was “Sold out to every monk and beef-head”), until he held up cards reading “At least I think that’s what he said–I didn’t hear it on Maxell!”

Rastafarians consider themselves descendants of the so-called “Lost Tribe of Israel”.

thank you thank you!!

Now for the 2nd half of my life I’ll know this.

In the style of Bob Dylan’s Subterranian Homesick Blues film.

Oh – oh - oh-oh - my ears are alight

My ears are alight
I don’t think it’s British. I’ve seen it only once on British TV and that was on a best-adverts-from-around-the-world show.

It was definitely British. I remember it being on British TV lots when I was young. Must have been around the mid- to late-1980s I think.

Ah… 1989, in fact (see no 42).

You can see it here, if the link works.

Brilliant! Thank you, Colophon! I only ever saw that once–possibly on the same show that Peter Morris mentioned–so it was a real treat to see it again. Glad I brought it up!

[mild bragging mode]
I have an original Jamaican pressing of this record. It’s on a white label with what looks like rubber-stamped titles. No label name or catalogue number. It says “(Poor Me) Israelites” and “Desmond Dekker and The Aces”, and nothing else. The B-side says “Version” and is the same thing as the A-side. I don’t expect to ever see another copy!
[/mild bragging mode]