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SONG ROOTS BLOG

Bambu Station: Gunsmoke

“The situation has changed. It has gotten worse.”

It’s been over 20 years since Jalani Horton first wrote “Gunsmoke” to reflect on increasing gun violence in his homeland, St Thomas, and the Virgin Islands writ large. Horton becomes ponderous when reporting that the situation is more dire, especially since there are no gun stores on the island. Yet they’re coming from somewhere.

“Let me paint this picture for you,” Horton says, sitting up tall. “I’m up on the tallest mountain in St Thomas, overlooking the ocean and neighborhoods below. Picture a dark sky glistening off the water. It’s beautiful. Suddenly, I hear bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah, bah bah, bah, bah from down below. It sounds like the Gaza Strip.”

This isn’t hyperbole. Horton has spent a lot of time in Israel. His brother moved to the country as a member of the African Hebrew Israelite community. Horton never imagined his 32-square mile island would produce such sounds, such violence. He thought he knew his tight-knit community better.

Growing up there, Horton was fascinated by American Westerns. His uncle regularly took him to a drive-in. Open landscapes and heroic mythologies spoke to him. Later he would learn what real gun-slinging cowboys meant for indigenous communities, but the images from those screens were etched in his mind.

After moving to North Carolina to attend college, Horton watched in horror as the KKK marched through town. The image of America he knew from the screen and the reality of the country’s long racist history clashed. He realized that violence lives everywhere. “Gunsmoke” is his grappling with the fact.

“Gunsmoke” was written in 2002, while Horton was visiting guitarist Tuff Lion, in Hampton, VA. Bambu Station’s drummer Andy Llanos and keyboardist Jamal James were jamming in Tuff’s home studio when Horton picked up a headless Hohner bass and found a sweet spot. Tuff Lion came in from the yard, a huge cloud of smoke leaving his mouth, inquiring about the riddim while picking up his guitar. They pressed “record” on the console. The sweet sounds of roots reggae filled the space.

After returning home to Washington, DC, Horton thought about the fifties-era television show, “Gunsmoke.” While reminiscing, he recalled the sweet fragrance of that other smoke—one that he doesn’t partake in, but he knows well from reggae culture. Mostly, Horton thought about the increasing gun violence on his home island. The lyrics poured out.

“While the shattering of a young life by bullets is traumatic and devastating, I also wanted to bring awareness that the gunman is a victim of the community’s lack of responsibility,” Horton says. “The community had changed: it was now scared of the gunman and the violence.”

There are now Bloods and Crips on the island, Horton says. This isn’t an impoverished island. Sure, economic disparity persists everywhere. The higher you physically ascend, the more wealth accumulates. But there’s no shantytowns. Something else was happening.

“By the time I wrote this song, it was clear to me that our young thugs were more destructive than our American enemy, the Ku Klux Klan. Our young thugs were killing us. They were destroying our families from the inside because they were us.”

Twenty-two years later, the lyrics of “Gunsmoke” ring more true than ever.


The 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition Digital and Double LP Vinyl of Bambu Station’s “One Day” will be released on Old Growth Records on May 3, 2024. The special edition will include two bonus versions of “Gunsmoke”: “Gunsmoke Epic” and “Tuffsmoke.”

“Gunsmoke Epic” is an extended version featuring new lyrics based on a conversation that Horton had with his cousin, whose brother was killed in the same St Thomas neighborhood that those Gaza-sounding bullets were fired in.

“Tuffsmoke” is an instrumental version featuring an extended guitar solo by Tuff Lion. “I told him to play what you feel,” Horton says, “because I love to catch the raw emotion of an instrumentalist. There’s no take as good as that first take. So Tuff did what Tuff does.”

 

 

Jalani Horton.

Bambu Station – One Day

 

20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

“Gunsmoke”


One man pull his iron,

So the other man, retaliate

While the youths dem in the streets ah playing

Someone’s life gets destructed

“Innocent victim” is what the newsman will say

But I beg to differentiate, you see

The gunman was once a youth

And the community let his life go to waste

 

Simmer down youth man, life can be so great

Simmer down youth man,

Hold on

 

One man pull he Glock, so the next man

So the next man pull he Glock,

And the next man fire shot, gunshot

Lord, Mac-10, Gatt, Nah!

Now these clown ah got

Grena— a— ades!

 

Look what smoke dem ah toke

Gunsmoke, Gunsmoke

Walking ‘round strap with their holster bout

Gunsmoke, Gunsmoke

 

Look what smoke dem aH toke

Gunsmoke, Gunsmoke

Walking ‘round strap with their holster bout

Gunsmoke, Gunsmoke

Gangsta is what dem want to be

Might as well, wear white sheets

Like deH Klan, all U do is, shooting people down

Like deH Klan, like deH Klan

Lord, all U doing is, shooting our heroes down

Like deH Klan, like deH Klan

Catch dem alone and dem man aH “cow” (coward)

Satan’s Cap-pi-tans!

Satan’s Cap-pi-tans!

Man adopt, bussing shot in, Babylon ways

 

Bloodshed on our little islands

Too many Mommies crying over graves

But the gangsta, wouldn’t last a day in Vietnam

Where were they when, Grenada got invade

Dem don’t try to improve the schools for the youths dem

Don’t fight the bigotry of the ku Klux Klan

Don’t fight deH economic genocide

Lord, that is rampant in our lands

 

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