Though everyone may not immediately recognize the name “Harry Belafonte,” almost everyone in America is familiar with Harry Belafonte’s most famous hit, “Day O,” also known as the “Banana Boat song,” with its classic lyrics, “Day O, Me say day o, Daylight come and me want go home.” Though this wildly popular song may just sound like nothing more than a fun, catchy pop song, there is great deal of rhetoric embedded in its lyrics that expresses the plight and hardship of the native Caribbean people working under the colonial system. Providing background for an in-depth interview Michael Eldridge conducted with Belafonte in 2002, Eldridge describes how this song “dramatizes the drudgery of alienated labor in the colonial produce trade” (Eldridge 110). You can see this social theme vividly illustrated in the words, music, and performance of “Day O” by Belafonte. Originally sung in unison by Jamaican dock workers as a “ work song (used to) get them through a long night of hauling the fruit from trucks to boats” (Roth), Belafonte chose to perform this song to a Calypso beat for mass audiences, in the process exposing the plight and hardships of the Jamaican colonial laborers. I’ve included a copy of the lyrics to follow along with as you peruse my analysis of this song:

“Day-o, day-ay-ay-o
Daylight come and me wan’ go home
Day-o, day-ay-ay-o
Daylight come and me wan’ go home

Work all night on a drink of rum
Daylight come and me wan’ go home
Stack banana till de morning 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-ay-ay-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

Beautiful bunch of ripe banana
Daylight come and me wan’ go home
Hide the 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-ay-ay-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-ay-ay-o
Daylight come and me wan’ go home
Day, me say day, me say day, me say day….ay-ay-o

Daylight come and me wan’ go home” (Belafonte)

Belafonte’s delivery is one rhetorical device that conveys the deeper meaning of the song. His cry of “Day-O, me say day-O” is almost plaintive, and there seem to be tinges of sadness in Belafonte’s voice throughout the song, especially toward the end. This sad, almost hopeless tone conveys the sad, almost hopeless feeling many of the Caribbean workers must have felt as they subjected themselves to the backbreaking, unending labor of the colonial system. The repetition of certain lyrics, such as “Six foot, seven foot, eight foot, BUNCH,” evokes the monotony of labor they had to perform, with a collection of repetitive lyrics that call forth the idea of oppressive, never ending work. The lyrics themselves subtly express a great deal of discontent felt by the workers in the Caribbean colonial system, with the repetition of the line, “Day light come and me wan go home,” evoking the idea that none of the workers are happy to be in the condition in which they find themselves. There also seems to be a figurative “call and  response” occurring within the context of this song, as, in one line of the song, Belafonte seems to call out, while in the next line, he seems to call back in response to himself. This calling of Belafonte back-and-forth to himself evokes the idea of assembly line-like labor where one Caribbean worker calls to another worker, who then calls to another and another.

Beyond Belafonte’s amazing musical and artistic achievements, he was also a close friend and ally of Martin Luther King, Jr. during King’s years as the leader of the Civil Rights movement and personally served as a “spokesman, strategist, benefactor, and fund-raiser for the Civil Rights movement” (Eldridge 110). In his most famous hit, “Day O,” we get the first example of Harry Belafonte’s social message in action as he expresses the plight and endless labor of the Caribbean colonial workers in a pleasing pop music format that reached mass audiences around the world.

Works Cited

Eldridge, Michael. “Remains of the Day-O.” Transition 92 (2002): 110-137. Web. 24 Feb 2010.

Roth, Mark. “The Banana Boat Song: ‘Daylight come and me wan’ go home …’.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 27 Nov. 2005. Web. 24 Feb 2010.

Belafonte, Harry. “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song).” Calypso. RCA, 1956.

Leave a Reply