Feast and Phrase

Gastronomy in the world of words.

Banana

‘Day-O’: ‘The Banana Boat Song’

There’s nothing like identifying a song that has been repeating in your head – a song which seems to have jumbled lyrics and no clear name. In my present case, that turned out to be ‘Day-O’, also known as ‘The Banana Boat Song’. Thank you, Google!

For a while, I had the phrases ‘Hey Mr Banana-Man’ and ‘Hey Mr Taliban’ going round and round my mind. The correct version is, of course: ‘Come Mister Tally-man, tally me banana / Daylight come and me wan’ go home.’ (Bananaman is a British superhero, and ‘Hey Mr Taliban’ is an unfortunate parody of the song.)

Harry BelafonteHarry Belafonte made ‘The Banana Boat Song’ immensely popular with his 1956 rendition, ‘Day-O’. Image from the Van Vechten Collection, Library of Congress.

Have a listen to the famous song by American singer Harry Belafonte, which you will almost certainly have heard before. The lyrics are:

Day-O! Day-O!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Day! Me say day, me say day, me say day, me say day, me say day-o!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

Work all night on a drink o’ rum!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Stack banana till de mornin’ come!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

Come, Mister Tally-man, tally me banana,
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Come, Mister Tally-man, tally me banana,
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

Lift six-foot, seven-foot, eight-foot bunch!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Six-foot, seven-foot, eight-foot bunch!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

Day! Me say day-o!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Day! Me say day, me say day, me say day…
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

A beautiful bunch o’ ripe banana!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Hide de deadly black tarantula!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

Lift six-foot, seven-foot, eight-foot bunch!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Six-foot, seven-foot, eight-foot bunch!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

Day! Me say day-o!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Day! Me say day, me say day, me say day…
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

Come, Mister Tally-man, tally me banana,
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Come, Mister Tally-man, tally me banana,
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

Day-O! Day-O!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.
Day! Me say day, me say day, me say day, me say day, me say day-o!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

A modified version of lyrics written by YouTuber Kristin Crumpler.

Jamaican Postage StampA three-pence Jamaican stamp, possibly from the 1930s, featuring an image of a banana-labourer and a profile of King George VI. Image from Flickr user Mark Morgan.

‘Day-O’ is said to be based on a Jamaican folk song known to the locals as ‘The Banana Boat Song’ – supposedly sung by labourers offloading bananas from ships at the docks. Prior to Belafonte’s 1956 hit, an earlier version was released by Trinidadian singers Edric Connor and the Caribbeans in 1952.

While most place the origin of ‘The Banana Boat Song’ in Jamaica, some suggest it may have come from Trinidad. Either way, it’s a catchy work song which has made a place for itself in popular culture with everything from numerous covers to its use in the 1988 Tim Burton classic, Beetlejuice. Happy listening!

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1 Comment

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