Song Spotlight: “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)”

A view of the ocean with clear blue sky and a strip of sand at the bottom of the photo. Palm leaves poke out of the top corners of the photo. Song spotlight genre label reads, "calypso."
  • Mood: Optimistic, Lighthearted 
  • Themes: Jamaican folk 
  • Tempo: Upbeat 
  • Genre/Style: Folk, Calypso

In 1956, Jamaican-American singer Harry Belafonte released his single “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” that became one of his signature songs. 

The Banana Boat Song is a Jamaican folk song that likely originated around the beginning of the 20th century. The song was sung by hard working Jamaican dock workers working night shifts loading bananas onto the ships. 

Here are some of the lyrics:

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

The song describes the labor involved in the dock workers’ shifts and the desire for the workers to go home after a long day of work. The call-and-response singing style also created a sense of community and togetherness amongst the workers when listening to this song.      

In an interview, Belafonte described this song as “a song about struggle, about black people in a colonized life doing the most grueling work.”He then said, “I took that song and honed it into an anthem that the world loved”.

Try This:

This is a great song to use in a 1:1 setting or group and would go well with a collection of songs that explore the theme of folk songs from different regions of the world.

Theme: This song would fit well into a Folk Music or Calypso Music theme. 

Add movement  and invite participants to explore different ways to move to this lively song.

Add instruments such as drums, shakers, tambourines, and other rhythmic instruments. 

Sing along to this song. Divide participants into two groups for this call-and-response sing along. 

Look at photos of Harry Belafonte while listening to a recording of this song.

For more song spotlights, visit our Song Spotlights page.

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