A Journey on a Slave Ship with The O’Jays

Title: Ship Ahoy

Artist: The O’Jays

Date: 10 November 1973

Label: Philadelphia International Records

Length: 9:41

The O’Jays are known for their smooth love songs, funky and groovy jams and soulful sounds. What some people don’t pay attention to are some of the songs that have at their core political and social relevance. This R&B group has been speaking to their audience and using music as a teaching vehicle through some of their hits. Ship Ahoy is one of these wheels that carried a heavy message and lesson on it.

The song begins with the crack of whips, a strong cold wind blowing and the sound of crashing waves. “…the motion of the ocean…” as they point out in the lyrics. There’s an eerie quality wrapped around the song but they did it so without leaving out the powerful and sweet voices of this remarkable trio. It’s dark and spine-chilling.

Ship Ahoy brings awareness to the Middle Passage of the Atlantic slave trade when Africans were captured and shipped to the New World. Some of the slaves died at sea while those who survived remained alive in unimaginably horrific conditions. Diseases and starvation accompanied them on the voyage to the so-called land of Liberty.

It’s quite a long song but with not as many lyrics, with the repetition of “Ship Ahoy” more than other lines. However, they didn’t need to write out a full, long sermon of lyrics to make a point. The combination of those few lyrics, the slavery theme sounds of the ship and the waves, and the honeyed vocals create a grim yet pleasing gem.

The song is the second track on the track-titled album. The album cover itself produces the clear image of slaves, including the members of the group in the slave hold. The artwork successfully registers with the listener and adds accuracy and support to the song and the title of the album.

This is what I love about music, the ability to speak beyond the written lyrics, to educate, to entertain, to reach out, to bring the hidden or unknown to the surface and to touch us in new and meaningful ways. R&B lovers, people with an interest and social and political consciousness, history lovers, those who die for golden oldies and just anyone who has an ear and a heart for smooth soul or fans of The O’Jays will definitely dig this.

Enjoy.

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