w w w . r e g g a e w r i t e r . c o m
Promoting reggae music in a global style and fashion
A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
Warrior King brings relief to the dancehall
With number one hits in Jamaica and on New Yorkâs reggae charts, itâs easy to see why Warrior King believes Jah has given him the power to chant. The conscious, 23 year-old sing-jay (singer/deejay) sensation from Jamaica has brought a breath of fresh air to reggae music, at a time when Jamaicaâs musical output has become polluted with too much sexually explicit and hardcore homophobic language.
Out of nowhere, the humble newcomer swept the international reggae world with his hit single, âVirtuous Woman.â The cheerful ballad warmed the hearts of reggae fans globally, with honest lyrics consumed with respect for women. Since then, Warrior King has continued to set a course to uplift people with his debut album, âVirtuous Womanâ (VP Records/Calibud). Filled with simple words of truth, love and righteousness, the album is set to bring and excess amount of joy to an international audience at a time when the world needs some healing.
âI give thanks to the Almighty Father that my music is reaching people of all age groups, races and spiritual creeds,â Says Warrior King during his tenth interview of the day at VP Records in New York (and itâs only mid-afternoon). âEverytime I write a song, I pray I donât lose the vibe because I want to touch people with good, substantial music.â
The vibe has taken ten years to manifest and it is still in its infancy. Like most, young Jamaican reggae artists, Warrior King began chanting lyrics as a teenager, not knowing where or what was going to happen with it. He just loved the music.
âFrom birth Iâve always loved music, but it wasnât until I attended high school that I thought about it as something I could do myself.â Recalls Warrior. âI used to get a lot of encouragement and inspiration from my peers and the music just naturally started to flow.â
Born Mark Dyer on July 27th, 1979 at Kingstonâs Jubilee Hospital and raised by his mother Doreen, the two relocated to Sanguinetti in Clarendon before settling down in Waterford near the growing city of Portmore. At 13, the youthful lyricist began to cut his teeth musically while performing at school concerts and talent shows. Voicing under the stage moniker of Bounty Junior (named after his idol Bounty Killer), he joined ranks with another youth, Marlon Stewart (son of veteran singer Roman Stewart) who voiced under the name of âLikkle Blacks.â The two tried their hand at Jamaicaâs famous, career-breaking Tasteeâs Talent Show. âThe talent shows are the best places to get exposure because a lot of producers and promoters are in attendance.â Says King. â There were many, many times we wouldnât even qualify to get on the show, but we nah give up. We also did live shows with sound systems in the community, which was where I linked with my manager, Garfield Watson. Everything changed once Garfield took me âpon road.â
Garfield âFresh Footâ Watson was already a seasoned deejay, trying to get a break in Jamaicaâs very competitive music business. After moving to Waterford from the Waterhouse district of Kingston â a heavy breeding ground for reggae artists, he ran into the then Bounty Junior on a street corner and takes up the story from there.
âI used to come home in the evening from being on the road and would hear some youth voicing âpon the corner and Warrior was one of them.â Remembers Watson. He always asked me to take him on the road and for me to try and link him with Bounty Killer - who was his mentor at the time. I used to encourage the youth each time I saw him, because him sound good! He was about 18 or 19 years old then.
One night, I came home and hear a little sound (system) string up over at Eastgate (Shopping Center) and before I could get close, I could hear Warriorâs voice echo about the place and the vibe was nice. Well, when I see him up close, him pass me the mic and I touch a likkle tune and pass it back for him to chant. I could tell he had improved and ânuff people say the little rasta musâ bus soon. So I did a likkle meditation where the youth was concerned and what really feel me up was when I saw him singing to a group of children who used to follow him around and I knew then, he was deeply into his music.â
It was during this period that Bounty Junior went through a series of stage name changes, as Warrior King recalls, âWhen I started voicing at thirteen, I used to model in the style of Bounty Killer because he was the leading artist at that time. I called myself Bounty Junior at school and then Junior Kid for a while until I met Steady Ranks while hanging out at Caveman Studios in Portmore. He told me I wasnât a kid, but a King - so I changed my stage name to Junior King. It wasnât until âFresh Footâ happened to visit the house of dancehall artist Frisco Kid before I became Warrior. Garfield say Frisco always have a way of greeting people with, âBlessed Love Warriorâ and I told Fresh - that was it! Warrior King was the name for me. Jah say so.â
Under the guidance of Garfield Watson, Warrior King went out on the road to try and establish himself. Watson, who had made the journey many, many times, had already secured some good links with artists and producers along the way. âI know a lot of people in the business, because I was around Elephant Man, Determine and Bounty Killer before they all bus. I kept taking Warrior to established producers until finally âCalibudâ let him voice âNever Go Where Pagans Goâ for him one day.â
Sheldon âCalibudâ Stewart was also establishing himself as a new producer in reggae, with his Calibud label. According to Garfield Watson, the audition for Stewart was fruitful in the sense that the producer liked his voice and delivery, but when weeks ran into months and nothing had developed from the session, the two hopefuls ran out of patience and moved on.
During this lull, Warrior King took an engineering course at The National Tools and Engineering Institute in Portmore. Education has always been key with the young warrior, something his mother had instilled in him as a boy. â My mama always used to say â âYou musâ be like a car with a spare tire, so that when car fall flat, you always have something to fall back on.â Meanwhile, âFresh Footâ was still out on the road promoting the newcomer. Watson happened to run into an old friend, Michael âMikey Johnâ Johnson who also had started a new record label named Lion Paw.
âQuite a while, I had not seen Mikey John.â Remembers Watson. âI told him I was promoting Warrior King but werenât going to meddle with no mediocre producer. Mickey John say him have a hit with Capleton (âGood In Her Clothesâ) and was interested in hearing Warrior King. Well, it jusâ so happen that I had a cas-sette of the âPaganâ tune in my pocket, so Micky tell me to come by his studio and catch him there. I would go and go until finally I see him in his car and we chat and he tell me to go by his office that night. First him waanâ to keep the cas-sette, but I tell him âNo.â I didnât know if he was going to steal the melody or tune, but finally he talked me into it and told me to come back next morning. So next morning, I see his secretary and she gave me back the tape, plus another tape with Mikeyâs new âZion Gatesâ riddim on it. When Mikey came out of his office, he said â âFresh, that boy sound good!â That night, I ran the riddim by Warrior King, but we both nahâ like it. I still encourage Warrior to voice over the tune because this was a good chance for him. Next morning, I make an appointment to go âpon road as usual and Warrior tell me he voiced over the riddim already. So after I check it, I tell him to work on the bridge some and come off the chorus stronger and within minutes we had âVirtuous Womanâ done and I told him â âWarrior, that tune GONE!â
Mikey John was sold on Warrior Kingâs tune and released it early in 2001, alongside a number of other songs on the same rhythm by established artists including Luciano, George Nooks, Half Pint, Junior Kelly and Glen Washington. The âZion Gatesâ riddim was a remake of legendary producer Clement Doddâs instrumental from the vintage Studio One years. It proved itself to be one of the most popular rhythms of the 2001 season with Warrior Kingâs, âVirtuous Womanâ taking the number position in Jamaicaâs charts. Warrior King was still completing his engineering course, while his song was being played on the radio. â I didnât know what I was going to do after I completed the course.â Says King. âI thought about doing an internship, but as a rastaman itâs often difficult to get work because of what you believe in. Then after the record release, everything started to go well with my music and I thanked the âFatherâ for the blessing.â
Although the initial, successful break occurred through Michael Johnsonâs âLion Pawâ label, it is Sheldon Stewartâs name that is predominately associated with the production of Warrior Kingâs songs, including that on his debut album. âWell, I like to vibe spiritually with more than one producer, because different riddims give off different vibes and that helps with my creative process. Although Calibud didnât release the first single, he did eventually release âNever Go Where Pagans Goâ and it went strong. So we vibe spiritually on an album after that and though many producers approached me to voice on their riddims, I wanted to focus on the album and not saturate the market with too many songs.â
Indeed, the album is chock full of spiritual vibes from start to finish. Opening with an acknowledgement to Jahâs work on âPower To Chant,â Warrior King expresses his beliefs and fortitude on âNever Go Where Pagans Goâ and âJah Is Always There,â before hailing up the ladies with the lovers rock tune, âBaby Donât Worry.â Subsequent hit singles include, âBreath Of Fresh Air,â âEducation Is The Key,â âEmpress So Divineâ and the ever-pleasing, âVirtuous Woman.â Radio jocks will swarm to his rendition of Marvin Gayeâs, âWhatâs Going Onâ performed in a combination style with singer Jahmali and a guest appearance by poet DYCR on âOh Mamaâ rounds off the sermon in fine style. All in all, âVirtuous Womanâ is a solid showcase of the artistâs output from the past twelve months and not one overwhelmed with hardcore militancy, as with those released by Sizzla and Capleton.
âOccasionally, itâs the militant tâing that attract me too, yaâ know - because sometimes itâs the only way to bring attention to certain unjust things in the world we live in.â Reflects Warrior King. â But I donât always agree with some of the lyrics Sizzla and Capleton are using in their songs, because I know how much impact music has on people, especially young people. You have to be careful with the words that you chose. You put out love in the hopes that love will come back to you. Personally, I want to be able to produce music my mother, grandmother and family can enjoy and be proud of.â
(Published in Reggae Nucleus magazine Winter 2002)
CANâT STOP JAH WORKS
Reggaeâs Luciano arrives as Jah Messenger
The 1980âs were not a fruitful period in roots, rock reggae. With the passing of Bob Marley and Jacob Miller earlier in the decade, the music went into a lull, as if in mourning so to speak. Other key figures like producer Lee Perry and dub master, King Tubby shifted away from the hard ârockersâ and âsteppersâ music they became known for and found interest in new ventures. Perry moved to England and Tubby tried his luck at producing.
Just as artists like Black Uhuru, Junior Reid(later to join Black Uhuru) and Half Pint were immerging from Kingstonâs Waterhouse ghetto with a very conscious message, reggae was becoming digital. The newly invented style of reggae known as âragga,â by producer King Jammys, was taking over the dancehalls. Dancehall music became bouncier, the rhythms âcatchierâ and the whole appearance took on a more flamboyant look with artists like Yellowman, General Trees and Tiger grabbing attention in their wicked and wild costumes.
A decade would pass before reggae would find its roots again. In 1993, Phillip âFatisâ Burrel, once a pioneering producer of the ragga movement, set sights on reformulating roots music on his own Xterminator label and brought into his camp an up and coming singer, who was later to become one of the biggest influences in todayâs modern roots sound, Luciano.
Initially discovered by singing legend and producer Freddie âBig Shipâ McGregor, Luciano teamed with Fatis after feeling slightly neglected by the âBig Shipâ due to his own busy schedule. âAfter having the opportunity to work with a great master like Freddie Mcgregor, I knew my time to break would soon come.â Said Luciano currently on tour. âActually, Mr. McGregor wanted to manage my career, but as you know heâs a great artist himself and was always on tour, so I shopped around for another studio.â
Luciano went to the Xterminator camp and stayed for six years. Backed by Burrelâs band, The Firehouse Crew and saxophonist Dean Fraser, Luciano rose to reggae stardom with an exquisite, harmonious delivery that began in a slow, loverâs-rock style with McGregor to a more cultural, conscious style with Burrel. â I tell you one good thing about âFatisâ my brother, and that is he always insisted I sing conscious lyrics and original music ya know.â Says Luciano. âThat was at a time when a lot of singers and producers were more inclined to record melodies that were already familiar to the people, so there were a lot of cover versions around.â
Lucianoâs first album, âShake It Up Tonight,â was a released in England and Jamaica during his days with Freddie McGregor in 1993. It was later released in the U.S. by VP records in 1995, under the title, âAfter All.â The singing style was, as Luciano puts it, âOf a man in loveâ which made a big hit with the ladies and brought him a lot of good notice within the industry itself.
The album was noticeably different from the first release with Fatis, âMoving Up,â that appeared in the U.S. on RAS records 2-years prior to the VP album. Burrelâs previous, stripped down, ragga arrangements had been replaced with slower, heavier bass lines and though some tracks were re-spun from the rockers period of the 70âs, it was a significant sign that the bold, well-known producer was returning to roots, rock reggae. Lucianoâs voice fit perfectly with the sound. Soulful, warm, sincere, humble, a real suffererâs voice from a man who once sold oranges for a living in a Kingston marketplace during the day and slept there at nights. A new star was in the making and alongside the rise of other fellow cultural artists like, Cocoa Tea, Tony Rebel and Garnett Silk, it was apparent an exciting change in reggae was on the horizon.
Luciano linked again with VP in 1995 with, âOne Way Ticketâ an album of immense popularity, the title track of which blew up the reggae charts to become the number one single for that year. Quickly he moved on to Island Jamaica, a division of Island records that had long been respected as the largest international reggae carrier. Two albums in two years, âWhere There Is Life,â and âMessengerâ solidified his international appeal, but his relationship with the record company turned sour. âI felt very disappointed and turned off by Island,â reflects Luciano. They had such a nice thing going man, dealing with the works of Bob Marley, Ernest Ranglin and such, but I discovered they looked at reggae only from a business perspective and were doing nothing to support rasta or all demâ things Bob sing about. In England they started a film company called Palm Pictures and put out âDancehall Queenâ and âThird World Cop,â two films that depict a negative view of Jamaica. There are so many nice things going on in Jamaica that I think Island could have done better making a film of the rasta culture and the struggle of the music.â
The singer returned to work with VP records in 1999 and released a superb album, âSweep Over My Soul,â again still under the driving force of Fatis Burrel and the Firehouse Crew.â I give thanks for Chris Chin and everyone at VP records, they have really inspired me. Itâs obvious they genuinely care about the music and want to see it grow by the way they treat every artist. They understand what itâs like to be Jamaican, itâs in the blood and a lot of Jamaicans look to them for their strength, insight and support. As an artist, I am grateful.â
Currently, Luciano has two albums on the market, âGreat Controversy,â released in England by Jet Star and a new VP release titled, âNew Day.â The positive vibes still flow, the music is fresh and original only this time there is no Fatis at the controls. The two roots revivalists parted ways a year ago, under a cloud of much speculation. Luciano explains, âActually, for years things were going well with tours and recording etc. then I introduced Sizzla to the group and before you know it, the whole vibe came crashing in. Sizzla is a talented youth, but he began to bring down I & I energy man. Over the years Iâve always brought a positive vibration to reggae music, but alongside Sizzla I couldnât stand it any more because I and I a bible man, but Sizzla, him got some doctrines of his own ya know - Bun(burn) the establishment, bun batty (gay) man, bun everything. I tried to talk to the youth, but him set in his ways, I spoke to Fatis but I didnât get the vibe he was interested in culture with the brother. Sizzla has a gift, but if you have no love in your heart, no love for God or the elders, you have nothing at all.â
Regardless of the big split, Luciano still invents new ways of bringing his conscious message of peace, love and unity to anyone who will listen. âNew Dayâ is an exceptional album of quality and bolstered by the continuing sell-out crowds that are showing up in numbers on his current tour to support it. It was reported that 500 people were turned away recently, at the House Of Blues in Chicago. Accompanying him are two artists with their own significant and valuable contributions to reggae. Singer Mikey General has been a long-time friend and companion to Luciano, âI couldnât go on tour without him, â cheers Luciano. âHeâs my singer man, fâreal. His time to open up big is soon to come because he is such a prolific writer man, and such a GREAT singer!â Junior Kelly has also had an incredible year. Since the release of his single, âLove So Nice,â a huge hit last summer, the singjay (singer/deejay) artist has quickly developed a large following with the reggae massive with his direct, conscious hard hitting truths that Luciano describes as, â The positive side of Sizzla.â With the addition of sax supremo Dean Frazer, the package is undoubtedly one of the biggest to hit the U.S. to date and certainly one not to be missed.
(Published Spectator Newsweekly, June 2001)
The Road Maybe Rockyâ¦.
But Junior Kelly can still afford to âSmileâ
If you are searching for artists that typify the true essence of todayâs reggae music, meet Junior Kelly. Once described by Luciano as 'The positive side of Sizzla," the striking, dreadlocked sing-jay artist from Jamaica reflects all that is righteous in reggae. You will not find any lewd lyrics degrading women or homophobic language against gays, what you will find is a reverent rastaman, mature of mind and someone engaged in life. His stinging social commentaries are modeled on many a hard truth, yet he is also a writer of beautiful love songs. Even his protests of injustice and corruption are delivered in an intelligent and dignified manner.
Having journeyed through many trials and tribulations, including the death of his older brother Jim and a near-fatal car accident, Junior Kelly stands tall. Born Keith Morgan on September 23rd, 1969 in Kingston 13 and raised in nearby Spanish Town, Kelly was surrounded by music at an early age. Both his father and grandfather played banjo, while his mother sang in church and his older brother Jim was a popular deejay with the Kilimanjaro Sound System. Despite the poverty that surrounded him, Junior has fond memories of his youth. âGrowing up in Spanish Town was nice experience for me. Even when I came to the realization of how poor my family lived, there was always love in my house. We stuck together and always supported each other.â
The sudden death of Jim Kelly took a large toll on the family. Jim was the major bread winner and a role model for Junior, who awed at his older brothers stories of being on the road with Kilimanjaro. âJim was the first one in the family to take the music out of the house and onto the street,â recalls Junior. âHe had touched up the mic during the late 70âs and early 80âs and always came home with stories of being on the road, going from parish to parish with artists like Supercat. Heâd sit and talk to me for hours and I always found it interesting. If my brother would still be alive, heâd be a rastaman for sure.â
After Jimâs passing, Junior did roofing work to help support the family. He followed in his brothers footsteps by honing his own vocal skills on the microphone, at sound system shows. He was sixteen when he cut his first record in 1985, âOver Her Bodyâ on Neco Records. âThere were a lot of bredren I knew, much older than I and friends of Jim who loved the music like I did,â remembers Kelly. âThey pooled their money together to get their own production tâing going and the first artist they wanted to produce was me.â
Juniorâs musical output slowed during his twenties, when he became a father for the first time. âWhen I turned twenty-one, I became a father to my first child and continued to do roofing and masonry work to put a little food on the table. I was still writing and formulating lyrics, humming and creating tunes in my head - which sometimes became a problem at work because Iâd lose my concentration.â
It was also a time when Junior began to embrace Rastafari. âRasta was a natural progression for me. It nurtured the environment and culture of the poor people who focus was on âlivityâ â not only for themselves, but for the community as well. Even as a youth, the movement captivate and infiltrate my whole being â just like the music, which I never resisted.â
Some ten years after the release of his first single, Junior released, âGo To Hellâ on David Reidâs âSkyâs The Limitâ label. The controversial song was banned from Jamaican airwaves for its anti-political sentiment. âHaving been given the opportunity to express myself musically, I felt it was also time to express my feelings and views towards the trickery and thievery within the political system. A protest without violence if you like, only it took just one phone call from the politicians to the radio station to take the tune off the air. But, banning the song only created more demand for it. The only downside was that I had to watch out for the henchman, whose only interest was to gun me down.â
Still, with his career picking up momentum, Junior found himself appearing at some of the bigger shows in Jamaica during 1995, like Sunsplash and Sting. He toured North America where he recorded two songs, âHungry Daysâ and âGood Tidingsâ for Willie Carsonâs Front Page label. âWillie and them all come from the same community in Spanish Town, so they knew the history of Junior Kelly,â remembers the artist fondly.
Returning to Jamaica, Kelly went on to record a number of songs for Michael Spanford on his M-Rosh Productions label including his biggest breakthrough hit âLove So Nice.â The song incorporated Bob Marleyâs âStir It Upâ rhythm and sailed around the globe before it finally shot to number one in Jamaica, a position it held for fifteen weeks in 2000. Originally, the tune was released by Jet Star Records in the U.K. as a CD single. Delroy G, a radio dee-jay from Canada bought the single while visiting the U.K. and upon his return, played the tune constantly on the air. During this period, Jamaican disc jockey Richie B was visiting Delroy for a song-for-song clash in which Delroy dropped âLove So Niceâ during the face-off. Richie B was so impressed with the tune, he took a copy back to Jamaica where he played it on his show -only he was introducing Junior as an artist from England! âI laugh at it now, because really - whatever it takes to justify the means,â laughs Junior. âAt the time of its release though, I couldnât get anybody to play the song in Jamaica.â
Jet Star went on to release Juniorâs debut album, âRiseâ in 2000 without the âLove So Niceâ track oddly enough, although the tune became the title track for VP Records release in the summer of 2001.Then came the fateful accident.
On November 26, 2001, Junior was driving with manager and close friend Sasha Lawla, his cousin Michael and friend on the Spanish Town Road when a taxi collided with his Honda Accord. Kellyâs vehicle was described as âwritten offâ and the artist suffered a number of broken ribs, a fractured pelvis and punctured lung. Surgeons at the Kingston Public Hospital performed emergency surgery to remove fluid from his lungs and to stop the internal bleeding. âThe accident took its toll on a certain level,â recalls Junior. âWhat with the rehabilitation and so forth, but the most pain I suffered didnât come from the broken ribs, pelvis or punctured lung â it came from the heart. You see, I just love to perform and get up close and personal with the fans and the accident happened at a time when I was about to go on a big U.S. tour and all fifteen shows had to be cancelled. Although I was very disappointed, I got a lot of encouragement from my family and friends and from people like Dean Fraser, George of the Firehouse Crew, The Daffodils who sing with me and Warrior King â who, at the time was very busy with his own career, but still manage to come to my bedside. It was the first time we actually spoke to each other. Heâs a good youth.â
Luckily, Junior Kelly has bounced back to become fighting fit. Jet Star released three more albums including âConscious Voiceâ, âJuvenilleâ (plus a dub version) and âBlessâ and recently VP Records released what is arguably the best, âfeel-goodâ reggae album of 2003 in âSmile.â
âOn the âSmileâ album, unlike any of the others, I feel like I had more control over the artistic process. Being able to produce most of the album helped me pour out more of my vision and I give thanks to Dean Fraser who helped tremendously with the arrangements and harmonies and so forth. You know when you have a good album, when you canât choose just one particular favorite from it and âSmileâ is like that.â
Indeed, âSmileâ is solid from end-to-end and finds Junior delivering a fine selection of uplifting chants, love songs, anthems and Rasta hymns with plenty of vigor and intensity. With a bountiful number of danceable rhythms included, Juniorâs heartfelt wail punches through The Daffodils beautiful, background harmonies on tracks âJust Another Blend,â âBaby Can We Meetâ and âBlack Am Iâ and when you think youâre about to rest, he hits you with more. The optimism sown into his lyrics is infectious and the love that he shares through his music is a powerful tonic.
(Published: Reggae Nucleus, Winter 2003)
TIME FOR A REBELUTION
Yami Bolo is about to start something serious.
To the untrained ear, it would be easy to mistake the singing voice of Yami Bolo to that of Junior Reid and Michael Rose. The same suffererâs-style vocal is apparent in all three singers, except thereâs less, if any âstanna hoyâ exclamations associated with Yamiâs style.
âPeople say, my style is a Waterhouse-style of singing like Junior Reid and Michael Rose, but sometimes the message is a little bit different,â said Yami in a recent interview. âNone of us see it as a problem. We just keep on focusing on ourselves, our music and the fundamental rights of humanity.â
Already a veteran recording artist at age 33, the soft-spoken culture singer who rose to prominence during the early years of the digital dancehall era, has already amassed an amazing nineteen albums to his credit and enjoyed a noteworthy amount of success in Japan and Europe.
Born October 1st, 1970 in Kingston 13, Jamaica, Yami (real name Roland Ephraim McLean) began singing, (like most Jamaican youths) in church at the age of eleven. The name Yami Bolo derived from a girl Yami new at school, who once tormented him about his incessant eating or ânyaming.â Belly full, he began to voice dub plates on Sugar Minottâs Youth Promotion sound system at age thirteen and was known to have spent many a night curled up on the studio floor, surrounded by the equipment.
âWhen I audition for Sugar Minott, him say I & I was already a star - which gave me the confidence to continue singing and establish a name for myself,â remembers Yami. He traveled and sang with the Stereo Mars sound and performed his first major stage show in 1983 at the St. Andrew Technical High School, Kingston where he delivered his hit tune âWhen A Manâs In Love.â Although none of the early material voiced at Youth Promotion was ever released, it was this song that caught the attention of producer, Winston Riley who released it as a single in 1985, on his Techniques label. Riley released two more singles, âJah Made Them Allâ and âBad Boy Posseâ shortly after, launching Yamiâs career into high gear.
âGrowing up in Kingston was a wonderful experience for me, because it was where I learn the beginning of conscious knowledge. Itâs a place where the suffering of the people becomes a true inspiration for reggae music,â recalls Yami.
In 1987, Yami was invited to tour with Augustus Pabloâs âRockerâs Internationalâ crew, where he both sang and played percussion alongside veteran singer Junior âJuxâ Delgado. âIt was a great learning period for me. A time when I learned to play the keyboards and guitar and learn the great Pablo rhythms,â says Yami. It was also a time when the young singer began to embrace Rastafari. âAfter a period of meditation with Augustus Pablo and Junior Delgado in the hills, it was time for me to put my faith into action.â
Some of Boloâs early albums included âRansom Of A Manâs Life,â(Shanachie/Greensleeves) âJah Made Them All,â (Rockers Intl/Greensleeves) and âHe Who Knowâs It Feels It,â(Heartbeat) but his breakthrough album âUp Life Streetâ released through his own Yam Euphony Music Company in 1991 in conjunction with ace producer Trevor âLeggoâ Douglasâ found Yami Bolo more mature in voice and backed by his mentors in the studio including, Sugar Minott and Augustus Pablo. It was arguably the best roots album to come out of the digital age at the time.
âI formed the Yam Euphony Music Company to have control of my own music and to ensure that we have culture music for the next generation coming up,â says Yami. The important thing is that we preserve our ancestral right to the music and forward a positive message to all humanity. I feel itâs my duty to do this, not only through music, but through words and deeds as well.â
Perhaps his most indelible impression in reggae music to date, occurred during his 1994 appearance on Japanâs Splash tour where Yami collaborated with Japanese superstar, Kazafumi Miyazawa (Miya). The collaboration lead to a best selling album in Japan âLove Is dangerousâ (over 500,000 copies sold) and the single release of âBrotherâs Uniteâ voted âBest Reggae Single 1994.â
Yami continued to release a series of consistent, credible albums during the latter part of the 1990âs including, âFighting For Peaceâ produced again by Trevor Douglas and âBorn Againâ with legendary toaster come producer, Tappa Zukie. He found himself in demand also, during the reformation of cultural reggae music in the mid-late 1990âs singing in collaboration with âfiyamanâ Capleton on the dancehall smash âPut Down Your Weapon.â Further collaborations followed with Ghetto Youths Damian and Stephen Marley on the No.1 Jamaican single, âStill Searchinâ and a glimpse of Yami singing âWorldwide Corruptionâ can be seen on the critically-acclaimed documentary by Stephanie Black, âLife and Debt.â
Recently, Yami teamed up again with Capleton to release the single âLiberationâ taken from his new album, âRebelution.â A hip-hop version of the song is also in the works, produced by DJ Cutfather and dropped over Bonecrusherâs mighty, âNever Scaredâ rhythm.
The âRebelutionâ album, produced by Zion High Productions (visit www.yami-bolo.com) finds Yami in fine singing form and covering all the bases as far as arrangements were concerned. âItâs a very professional album that contains an essential vibrationâ Yami states proudly. âIt was also the first time that I did all the over dubs, play the organ and piano myself and take care of all the arrangements.â
Indeed we may still find Yami Boloâs best years are yet to come. âRebelutionâ is a fine testament to Yamiâs hard work and dedication to his craft, consisting of insightful lyrics and supported by an army of musicians he calls his âMajestic Ministry.â With Santa Davis on drums, Jawge Hughes on accompanying keys and featuring the talents of Sky Juice, Bongo Herman, Ras Michael, Capleton, Al Pancho and Bunny Mystic among others â it was clear that Yamiâs intention was to start something serious. âCollaboration is the mother of civilization, so it was a wonderful experience to work with everyone involved on this project. Itâs a radical album that seeks to change the solutions facing the problems of humanity and a welcome change to the bombs and violence that face the world today â it speaks for itself,â says Yami confidently. âIâm not talking about a rebelution where one strong oppressor overcomes the weak â itâs about love and changing the minds of humanity and to change peopleâs perception following the events of a catastrophe. Itâs time to stop the eradication of people in this world.â With maturity of mind and love in his heart, Yami Bolo pretty much says it all.
(Published: Reggae Nucleus, Fall 2003)
KNOW YOUR ROOTS & CULTURE
In step with the âDread At The Controlsâ â Mikey Dread
As with other musical genres, reggae has its legends, pioneers and icons. Artists, who in some shape or form, have moved an audience to love and respect them. Not all of reggaeâs heroes though are players of instruments and singers of songs. There were and still are, legends who sat behind the mixing boards and ran the recording studios. Men like Osbourne âKing Tubbysâ Ruddock and Lee Perry, who created âdubâ or thunderous, instrumental versions of tunes using only Teac four-track recorders. For the music to reach a global audience though, it required broadcasting. In this arena, we have one man to thank. Someone who, during 1975/76 stepped up to the microphone at Jamaicaâs Broadcasting Company (JBC) and played the kind of roots reggae music men like Tubbyâs and Perry were producing, to the world. The âOperatorâs Choice,â Jamaicaâs number one radio show at the time was created by the worldâs first roots, rock, reggae disc jockey, the man they called Mikey Dread, known to millions as the âDread at the Controlsâ.
Mikey (real name Michael Campbell) began his career at JBC as a technical operator after studying electrical engineering at the College Of Arts, Science and technology (now the University of Technology). He also dee-jayed in his spare time, selecting and spinning records for the âSafari Discoâ sound system near his home in Port Antonio. After gaining the trust of studio officials, he became the operator of his own program late into the night from 12am to 5am, playing the same tunes he had for Safari. His audience, mostly students, taxi drivers, prisoners and police officers responded favorably. âIt was fun, man. Real fun.â Said Mikey recently, from his current home outside of Miami. âMe used to have police man come visit me at night and bring food and soda, because I was alone with security guard asleep downstairs. Him tell me, âBoy Dread, street quiet tonight. Youâre coming has helped keep the crime rate down âcos all of the bad boy haffe listen to Dread at the Controls to tape your show.â His audience grew and word spread quickly around the island about the type of reggae music Mikey was playing. Up until his coming, reggae was not considered to be a viable source of music to reach the demographic of âsociety peopleâ JBC was trying to reach. During the day, the station operators played mento and calypso music by Byron Lee, a well- respected musician in society at the time. Mikey Dread was a deejay at dancehalls in the ghettos and country and linked directly with the people, producers and performers. He played the current records that filled the juke joints, by artists like Dennis Brown and Delroy Wilson and was the first deejay ever to play âdubâ music on the radio.
âMen like King Tubbyâs and Lee Perry would reserve a lot of âspecialsâ (dub plates or personalized acetates) for me, that no sound (system) had ever heard. So when people listen to my show, they were getting some wicked tune that was never released on record.â With these connections, it was just a matter of time before Mikey turned to releasing records himself. He cut his first tune, âLove The Dreadâ at King Tubbys studio in 1977 which charted in Jamaicaâs top ten. This was followed with a number one smash , âBarber Saloon.â Mikey brought a natural tone to his recordings which people instantly recognized. His popularity grew and by 1978, Mikey Dread was named âTop Radio Personality of The Yearâ by the people, a distinction that had always been awarded to JBCâs rival, RJR.
By 1979 and in top flight, Mikey decided to move to England. He continued his education at the National Broadcasting School in London where he had earned a scholarship. His reputation had followed overseas through the circulation of tapes of his radio show, which had especially caught favor of Britainâs most appreciated punk rock band â The Clash. After numerous phone calls, Mikey agreed to work with the band and mixed a number of songs in the studio that were later released on âBlack Market Clashâ and 1980âs epic, âSandinista.â Mikeyâs own âBankrobberâ single with the band charted at number 12 in Britainâs charts - the highest chart entry in the history of The Clash. Numerous projects followed with UB40 (âRed Red Wineâ), but after much unfair treatment financially, Mikey returned to broadcasting, becoming presenter for a six-part TV documentary, âDeep Rootsâ for central TV-London and the âRockers Roadshowâ a 10-part series for Channel 4. The late 80âs/early 90âs brought Mikey to the U.S. where he became Program Director for the Caribbean Satellite Network based in Miami.
Currently, Mikey is working on re-issuing his catalogue of albums from his web site (www.mikeydread.com) as well as promoting and producing up-and-coming reggae and hip-hop acts. Still active in broadcasting, Mikey just finished a series of interviews for the BBC for a forthcoming reggae documentary to be aired later in the year. He continues to perform in the U.S. and Europe supported by the Fully Fullwood Band (formerly Soul Syndicate) and dub master Scientist. A package of living musical history if ever there was one.
(Published: Spectator Newsweekly, July 2002)
A lot of attention has been paid towards Warrior King over the past twelve months, due mainly to his initial success with the single from which this album took its title. Almost overnight, the singjay artist leaped to reggae stardom, peaking at number one on Jamaica and New Yorkâs reggae charts. In a somewhat syncopated style, âVirtuous Womanâ appeared like a breath of fresh air amid a slue of âslackâ and homophobic lyrical content that was (and still is) pouring out of Jamaica. The uplifting ode to women bubbled on Michael âMickey Johnâ Johnsonâs reworking of the âZion Gatesâ rhythm, upstaging the likes of Glen Washington, George Nooks, Half Pint and Luciano who recorded respectable songs over the same rhythm also. Fine, if not better singles followed as the young rasta began circulating with other producers including, Sheldon âCalibudâ Stewart (âNever Go Where Pagans Goâ) and Donovan Germain (âEducation Is The Keyâ).
With the release of âVirtuous Womanâ - the album, the 23 year-old is primed for a nice career. Produced mainly by âCalibud,â the album is chock full of spiritually uplifting vibes from start to finish. Opening with an acknowledgement to Jahâs work on âPower To Chant,â Warrior King expresses his beliefs and fortitude on âNever Go Where Pagans Goâ and âJah Is Always There,â before hailing up the ladies with the lovers rock tune, âBaby Donât Worry.â
Subsequent hit singles follow including, âBreath Of Fresh Air,â âEducation Is The Key,â âEmpress So Divineâ and the ever-pleasing, âVirtuous Woman.â Radio jocks will swarm to his rendition of Marvin Gayeâs, âWhatâs Going Onâ performed in a combination style with singer Jahmali and a guest appearance by poet DYCR on âOh Mamaâ rounds off the sermon in fine style. All in all, âVirtuous Womanâ is a solid showcase of the artistâs output from the past twelve months and not one overwhelmed with hardcore militancy, as with those released by Sizzla and Capleton. Warrior King brings great energy and promise and stands among the fine legion of reggae cultural artists currently raising the bar, somewhere between Anthony B and Junior Kelly. TH
Live In Jamaica DVD
Music Video Distributors
Iâd lay good odds, thereâs not a reggae music lover alive who hasnât enjoyed, owned and worn out at least a dozen of Half Pintâs hit tunes. The dynamic Jamaican singer, born Lindon Roberts has scored with reggae audiences for two decades now, with hits including: âSallyâ, âWinsomeâ, âLevel The Vibesâ and the tune that many call Jamaicaâs National Anthem â âGreetings.â Crowned the new âPrince of Reggaeâ by Jamaicaâs press, a title shared by very few other exceptional artists including Peter Tosh and Dennis Brown, Half Pint has emerged through dancehall fever and the conscious roots scene as one of reggae musicâs most dignified, humble and best-loved artists.
Having been covered by rock and rollâs greatest band, The Rolling Stones in 1987 (âToo Rudeâ was officially recognized as a cover of âWinsomeâ) audiences worldwide now have the opportunity to watch Half Pint perform his greatest hits live, during this hour-long, May 2001 Heineken Startime concert in Kingston Jamaica. Looking healthy and sounding as crisp as a biscuit, Half Pint entertains thousands of smiling faces bedecked in a fine crown of dreads and white linen threads. Backed by the ever resourceful, everlasting Lloyd Parks & We The People Band, Pint covers the stage beyond the stature of his stage name and segues in and out of fifteen numbers majestically. From the opening âGreetingsâ, âWinsomeâ and âCrazy Girlâ numbers, Pint warms the crowd with âCost of Livingâ and âPolitical Fictionâ before turning the heat up a notch with âLevel The Vibes.â From then on itâs âVictory,â the girl favorite, âSubstitute Loverâ and a host of old favorites including, âLove Zoneâ, âPuchie Louâ and âSally.â
Bonus vibes include two music videos, âJust Be Good To Meâ and âTogether We All,â a television âOn Stageâ interview with Winford Williams, a bio, discography and photographic slide show. The first music video has some good shots of Pint happily cruising in a convertible red Mercedes but is somewhat clouded by the amateurish love interludes woven into the plot. âTogether we Allâ is much more real in comparison and visually stimulating.Bonus vibes include two music videos, âJust Be Good To Meâ and âTogether We All,â a television âOn Stageâ interview with Winford Williams, a bio, discography and photographic slide show. The first music video has some good shots of Pint happily cruising in a red, convertible Mercedes, but is somewhat clouded by the accompanying amateur acting. âTogether we Allâ is much more real in comparison and visually stimulating.
Overall, the sound quality is excellent (5.1 surround sound) and apart from some annoying disruptive edits in between song segments, the filming is good. Mid-way through the concert there are some good close-ups on stage, making up for some color saturation problems due to low light and the nature of the outdoor/evening location in Kingston. Still, with these small diversions aside, this DVD is a must-have for Half Pint and reggae lovers alike, as it offers a rare glimpse of a singer who represents all that is uplifting and righteous in todayâs reggae business. TH (June 2003).
Three In One
Itâs true, reggae artists have to work that much harder to reach an audience. The puzzling lack of commercial radio airplay is countered with long stints on the road, just to get in front of people. How else can reggae artists survive? The Morgan Family are tireless in their efforts to reach a broader audience. Their popular presence on The Warped Tour during the past two summers for instance, have helped identify their uplifting teachings with the new wave of punk rock bands emerging from garages around the U.S. With their sixth release, âThree in One,â the Morganâs pullback the reigns a little with the rasta teachings and bring to the fore a combination of jah works and head-on, social-political commentary. The Bobby âDigitalâ Dixon produced set opens with âJump Around,â a catchy, disco-tinged arm-waver before moving into the more ârockazâ style Morgan Heritage have made their own with, âAh Who Dem,â a finger-pointing slant at Christianity in a combination with hot sing-jay Junior Kelly. âGrampsâ Morgan sounds uncannily like Peter Tosh on âThe Truth,â though the song is thin on substance as Grampâs never really letâs us know what actual âtruthsâ from Garvey, Marley etc heâs referring too. âRebelâ is stronger, reminding me of Steel Pulse with its poignant chant for justice as is the equality claim on âA Man Is Still A Man.â A shift to the ska helps shape the tone of âEverything Is Everythingâ and a soulful draw from the likes of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding turn âSheâs Still Loving Meâ into the highlight track on the album. The âAnti-War Songâ speaks for itself and is a reminder of all what we should be aware of in âdis yaâ time. The excellent single âWhatâs Going Onâ helps sees us through towards the end as does the excellent Anthony B on the call for unification plea âIn The Ghetto.â Overall, âThree In Oneâ is not as strong as the previous five MHG essentials, but itâs the most likely to push the Morgans closer into the suburban homes around the globe and onto the airwaves. Letâs hope so, they deserve it.
Perhaps slightly overshadowed by Bob Marleyâs iconic career, Jimmy Cliff was himself a legend during the pioneering days of reggae â recording ska anthems like âMiss Jamaicaâ in 1962, (a recording rumored to have been bought by every Jamaican expatriate residing in England at the time) and the enormous dance floor killer, âKing of Kingsâ that followed a year later.
During a brief migration to England in the mid-60âs, Cliff joined forces with Island Records founder, Chris Blackwell. The time spent wasnât essentially fruitful, but notable for the singersâ cover version of Procal Harumâs âWhiter Shade of Pale.â
Shortly after returning to Jamaica, Cliff represented his country in the 1968 International Song Festival held in Brazil. Cliffâs entry âWaterfallâ attracted a huge following in the country (the song bombed in Britain) that later funneled around South American like a tornado. It was enough fuel for the singer to gather the creativity needed to compose some new material. In 1969, Cliff reached global stardom with the rousing chant, âWonderful World Beautiful People.â A year later, he caught the attention of American folk music hero, Bob Dylan who described Cliffâs anti-war song âVietnamâ as the best protest song heâd ever heard.
His mesmerizing performance as Ivan Martin, the notorious gun-toting, rude boy in the 1973 cult classic, âThe Harder They Comeâ earned Cliff further global recognition. Itâs accompanying soundtrack was recently voted as one of Mojo Magazineâs âTop 100 Film Scores ever.â The film was reportedly the first Jamaican feature film to be made by Jamaicans and one that was constantly under threat during production, by the police. Among its many hits, the soundtrack featured, âYou Can Get It If You Really Want, âMany Rivers To Cross,â âSitting In Limboâ and the catchy film title itself.
Just when super-stardom was expected to befall on Jimmy Cliff, nothing materialized. The rise in fame and popularity of Bob Marley and reggae musicâs shift into a more militant hard core drum and bass pattern overtook Cliff and edged him into the sidelines somewhat.
Though recording quality albums on his own Sunpower label later in the decade, he never regained the sort of attention that ballooned at the beginning. It didnât matter because subsequent live shows in Nigeria and Soweto, South Africa at the beginning of the 80âs, found Jimmy Cliff accepted and respected in Africa. His popularity in the continent grew to the point where he even outshone Bob Marley. He won the reggae Grammy in 1985 with his album âCliff Hangerâ and later returned to the movie screen to appear in the comedy âClub Paradiseâ with Peter OâToole and Robin Williams.
A convert to Islam, Cliff decided to relocate to Africa where he still resides. Although very much an active live performer still, Cliffâs recording output has slowed down considerably. In the past decade, Cliffâs notable cover version of the Johnny Nash classic, âI Can See Clearly Nowâ brought some focus back to the singer, as the tune (then included on the âCool Runningsâ soundtrack) broke into the U.S. Top 20.
With over thirty Jimmy Cliff albums currently available, if I had to narrow my choices to less than a handful this 2-CD anthology will be among the first three. Covering four decades and all but one (âWhiter Shade Of Paleâ) of the classics mentioned here, this package pretty much encompasses the entire length of Cliffâs celebratory singing career. Not only is it a well-rounded introduction to any new fan of Jimmy Cliffâs, but it reminds the seasoned followers of his day, just how beautiful a songwriter and how hip an entertainer he really is. Forty-two tracks may seem a stretch to capture forty years of music, but the selections are extremely well-chosen and ones a majority of Jimmy Cliff fans would want to have on two CDâs.
Dub It To The Top 1976-1979
Blood and Fire
The British connoisseurs and purveyors of classic reggae, have unearthed yet another sublime collection of roots music, this time with the 1977 King Tubby-mixed LP, âYabby You Meets Michael Prophetâ with vocal and dub. Blood and Fireâs previous thirty-seven reissues have all been outstanding and collectible and upon listening to âDub It To The Top,â the fine consistency and high quality of reproduction continues. Producer, Vivian âYabby Youâ Jacksonâs earlier work with his band, âThe Prophetsâ has already been compiled in a B&F 2-CD set entitled, âJesus Dread,â yet it is this later work that bites a little harder. Mixed down by King Tubby and Prince Jammy, âDub It To The Topâ enters into the rockers and steppers arena with seven additional b-side dubs from Yabbyâs 45âs output of the time and a choice 12â dub (âSteppin Highâ) featuring the late tenor sax player Tommy McCook. Robbie Shakespeareâs chugging bass lines and Sly Dunbarâs echoing drum licks crash throughout the CD and the subtle horn, percussion and guitar phrases add plenty to the stimulating dub experience. Backed by The Revolutionaries, the set kicks off nicely, with three of Yabbyâs versions of the âShank-I-Shekâ riddim (here entitled âZambiaâ) the last featuring a lyrical toast by Jah Walton (now Joseph Cotton). Michael Prophet was an up-and-coming singer at the time and his sufferers-style vibrato weaves in and out of the rest of the mixes beautifully. If there was ever a more perfect soundtrack to the dub sound of this period, this is it. Not only that, it is the perfect compliment to herb.
(Published: Reggae Nucleus, Fall 2003)
Joseph Hill is one of reggaeâs greatest living songwriters and survivors. With an amazing thirty albums in over a quarter of a century to his credit, the leading force behind harmony group Culture still continues to enlighten us with his battle-song anthems against the ills of global war, poverty and injustice.
Sounding as strong as when Culture began some twenty-seven years ago, Hillâs unmistakable husky rasp draws you in to this self-produced release and keeps your attention throughout. A master at writing sing-a-long chants in a hymn-like manner, Hillâs catchy, arm-waving choruses are all revealed on âWorld Peace.â
From the cries of âSome of them a holler, some a ballâ on âTime Is Gettingâ to the persevering restraint shown on âNever Get Weary,â Hillâs hypnotic hooks grab hold and never want to let go. Whether heâs inviting George Bush to reason by his side (bible in hand) under a marijuana tree (as on the title track) or chanting alongside niyabinghi drums on the exceptional âBabylon Falling,â Hill captivates as well as he does communicate. âThereâs enough (freedom) to satisfy a mans need, but not enough to satisfy his greed. Hill declares on. âSweet Freedom.â
The delightful harmonies and anecdotes on âWorld Peaceâ are enhanced by the inclusion on three tracks (âBad A Bawlâ, âDogâ and âHoly Mount Zionâ) of Jamaicaâs leading roots band, The Firehouse Crew. These tracks are by no means superior as âBabylon Fallingâ will a-test, but certainly help solidify the album. Regardless of the fact, Joseph Hill has left us with another sublime piece of work for us to think about, repeat and respond to. Letâs hope that he, Albert and Telford Nelson continue to walk in Jah light and soldier on toward world peace until all of lifeâs tribulations âcome down.â
Rough Guide To Ska
World Music Network
Nice to see the World Music Network delving a little deeper into the reggae genre to highlight some of the pioneers of Jamaicaâs early musical form, ska. Quite fitting too, that these twenty, well-gathered tracks were selected from the vaults of late producer, Vincent âRandyâ Chin who died in February 2003. Chin was the Godfather of the Jamaican record business. The pioneer behind Randyâs Record Shop, the most popular record watering hole in Jamaica at 17 North Parade in downtown Kingston and whose Studio 17 upstairs, once played host to The Wailersâ historical recording sessions with Lee Perry. Chin was an accomplished producer himself, having recorded many singers who are now part of reggae history themselves, including Alton (Ellis) & Eddie (Perkins) âLet Me Dream (1961), Stranger & Ken (Boothe) âRevelationâ (1964) and Cornell Campbell with âMake Hayâ (1963). All are featured here along with Bunny & Skitterâs early rasta-felt chant, âLeave Out Babylonâ (1961) that blends some early calypso with the hand drums of Count Ossie. Chinâs recordings with The Skatalites are as equally impressive as those recorded with Clement Dodd at Studio One. The CD opens with the band swinging on, âMalcolm Xâ (1964) a bouncy lick over Lee Morganâs 1963 jazz scorcher, âThe Sidewinderâ and further makeovers of tunes including âSka-Rachaâ (1964 taken from âLa- Curachaâ), âFreedom Skaâ (1964) and âBaby Elephant Walkâ (1964). Other treasures include a swinging ballad by obscure vocalist Basil Gabbidon âIvereeâ (1962), two gems from the lead vocal group of the time, The Maytals âSomeoneâs Going To Ballâ (1964) and âLost Pennyâ (1964) and a smooth dance floor killer by crooner Lord Creator âDonât Stay Out Lateâ (1964). More than half of the tracks compiled, are reissued for the first time in over thirty five years so acknowledgement must go to reggae historian Steve Barrow and Vincent Chinâs son Chris for their efforts and Laurence Cedar who mastered this CD. The collection is a fine example of how Jamaican music began taking root with the integration of American âjump bluesâ and itâs native âmentoâ sound. Those early years between 1960-1965 helped define what we are listening to today and there was no better ambassador for reggae music than Vincent Chin, the man who alongside his wife Pat (Miss P) launched what is now the largest reggae distribution company in the world, VP Records. TH
(Published: Reggae Nucleus, Summer 2003)