Tribute to Lord Tanamo

tanLord Tanamo and his rhumba box

The music world received the news that yet another Jamaica legend had recently passed away, and so Foundation Ska pays tribute to this musical master, Lord Tanamo, who died on April 12th at the age of 82 in Toronto, Canada. He was former member of the legendary Skatalites and the Jamaica Observer wrote of him:

The singer/percussionist, who was born Joseph Abraham Gordon, combined ska with mento and calypso on several of his songs including Japanese Invasion. He led the Skatalites on songs like Come Down and I’m In The Mood For Ska.

Musicologist Kingsley Goodison remembers Lord Tanamo as a very influential member of the Skatalites.

“In addition to having his own songs, he was a percussionist as well as a back-up vocalist. He acted as emcee for the band and introduced the songs before they were played,” Goodison told the Jamaica Observer.

Raised in Denham Town, West Kingston, Lord Tanamo was strongly influenced by the legendary Trinidadian calypsonian Lord Kitchener, who lived in Jamaica during the 1940s.

At the dawn of the 1970s, when calypso and mento waned among Jamaican artistes, he kept the beat alive with songs like Rainy Night In Georgia, originally done by Tony Joe White.

He migrated to Canada during the mid-1970s but continued to record singles and albums for producers in Jamaica, most notably Bunny Lee and Sonia Pottinger.

“He left and went to Canada with keyboardist Jackie Mittoo. They performed together and became a big hit there,” Goodison added.

In 2008, Lord Tanamo suffered a stroke that left him unable to talk.

tanamo 6 26 69 calypsoniansLord Tanamo and his Calypsonians, from the Daily Gleaner, June 26, 1969.

A 2002 article in NOW magazine out of Toronto includes words from Tanamo himself. The article states: The Kingston, Jamaica-born Joseph “Lord Tanamo” Gordon, who has made Toronto his home for over 35 years, helped create the sound we now know as ska by combining elements of calypso gleaned from Lord Kitchener with the lilting mento rhythms of his childhood.

“When I was about four years old,” recalls Tanamo from his home at Dufferin and Eglinton, “a fella, Cecil Lawes, came into my yard with a rumba box, which is similar to a marimba. I liked the sound from the first time I heard it. That’s where it all came from.

“Later, when I was a teenager, I began performing on the corner with Cecil and his rumba box. In the day I’d put on torn pants and a straw hat and sing calypso to hustle the tourists, and then at night I’d put on my suit and tie and sing ballads with a band. It was all just music to me.”

It was a few years later, in the spring of 64, that Tanamo would make his most notable mark in ska history, following a fateful recording session with some of Jamaica’s top young studio talent.

“When we did recordings, the musicians were usually paid individually, but for some reason on this date Mr. Khoury made out only one cheque payable to me. So I said, “Gentlemen, since we have this bulk payment, why don’t we form a band?’

“When they asked me what we should call it, I thought, well, we’re playing this way-out music and the Americans were sending satellites into space after the Russian Sputnik. So I said, “Let’s call it the Skatallites,’ because ska was the thing everyone was doing.”

Along with naming the Skatalites, Tanamo is also credited with being among the first of many popular Jamaican artists to take up residence in Toronto, where he opened the Record Nook, the city’s first record shop selling the exciting new music coming out of the Caribbean.

“I think it was in 64 that the Eaton’s company sent for me, through the Jamaican Tourism Board, to come to play some shows in Canada with the rumba box. When I arrived in Toronto, I liked the multicultural atmosphere and I guess I fell in love.

“It happened at a show,” he remembers wistfully. “I saw a young girl crying at the front and I asked if my music was making her sad. She told me that it was actually making her happy. For some reason, I married her, and I’ve been trapped here ever since.”

tanamo star
tanamoarticle

This article in the Jamaica Star, June 5, 1964, noted how Lord Tanamo had switched from calypso to ska. What a dapper young Tanamo! Handsome fellow! In case you don’t want to get out your glasses, here’s what the article says:

Big name in the world of ska today is Joseph Gordon, alias Lord Tanamo. The 28-year-old Kingtonian entered show business 13 years ago as a calypso singer appearing at leading hotels in the city with his small band before moving to the North coast to perform at hotels. After two years on the north Coast, where he appeared at such hotels as the Royal Caribbean, Tower Isle, Casa Montego and Casa Blanca, Tanamo began recording calypsoes, his first one being “Crinoline.” In 1962, however, he switched from calypso singing to ska and today his first ska recording, “Come Down” is still a favourite with radio, juke box and sound system fans. Tanamo now claims hit parade tunes “Iron Bar” and “Matty Rag,” both of which are old Jamaican folk songs done up in ska style. His popular “Ol’ Fowl” recently finished a long stay on the hit parade, but is still riding high in juke boxes and on sound systems. Apart from thrilling thousands of record fans, Lord Tanamo has long been a favourite with stage and nightclub audiences.

tanamo 9 14 57From the Daily Gleaner, 9-14-1957

Lord Tanamo is photographed below during the Legends of Ska Concert back in 2002 in Toronto. Tanamo is on the far right next to Johnny “Dizzy” Moore, Justin Hinds, and Stranger Cole.

Tanamo ska concert

And of course, here is the great Lord Tanamo here with the Skatalites, as one of the four vocalists for the legendary group. Lord Tanamo is to the right of Doreen Shaffer.

The Skatalites

From the Daily Gleaner, June 26, 1969: Calypso Group in Montreal–MONTREAL, June 16. Terres-des-Homes (or Man and his World) 1969 got off to a roaring start with a huge fireworks display on Thursday June 12th. Total attendance for the first three days was 297,000 visitors. Feature attraction at the Jamaica Pavilion this year is the Jamaican Group of Lord Tanamo and his Calypsonians. This group is already an early favourite and has drawn special attention with its unique Jamaican musical instrument— a rhumba box and a bamboo saxophone, with a fork and grater occasionally thrown in. When asked about the durability of his saxophone, Wilbert Stephenson replied that he keeps it in a cool place to avoid possible splitting of the bamboo due to heat and as an added precaution he brought an extra one with him. The group will play daily at the Pavilion until the Fair closes in September. Personnel of the group is as follows: Lord Tanamo (Joseph Gordon), guitar; Carlton Lewis, maracas and bongo drum; Cecil Laws (rhumba box); Cecil Largie (congo drum); Wilbert Stephenson (bamboo saxophone).

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Mike Garnice has substantial information on Lord Tanamo and his mento career which can be found HERE

So raise a Red Stripe in toast to Lord Tanamo, and enjoy these fine chunes from Mr. Gordon!

Iron Bar

Come Down

Dash of the Sunshine

Watch him perform in 2003 at the Glastonbury Festival with Lester Sterling, Lloyd Knibb, and of course, Ken Stewart on keyboard and band manager for decades! I’m in the Mood for Ska

One of my favorites, a tribute that Lord Tanamo did as a tribute for Don Drummond, Big Trombone

tanamo skatalites ad 6 21 64From the Daily Gleaner, June 21, 1964.

Prince and Jamaica and Ska

prince notes

You might think that the only Prince popular in Jamaica is Prince Buster or maybe Prince Count Miller or Prince Jazzbo. However, THE Prince, the artist-once-again-no-longer-formerly-known-as Prince, the recently deceased Prince, was also popular in Jamaica, as he was all over the world. Countless Jamaican artists have included Prince songs in their live concerts, and the Jamaican press has followed Prince’s career throughout the decades, including his induction in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his Grammy Awards, his perfume for women, and other events and news.

Kingston movie houses screened Prince’s movie “Purple Rain” when it first came out and then periodically over the years that followed.

prince dec 20 1984

One of many advertisements for the screening of Purple Rain, from the Jamaica Gleaner, Dec. 17, 1984.

Jamaican musicians were inspired by Prince’s genius, and in an article in today’s Jamaica Observer, “Wayne Armond, the former front man and guitarist for the ‘70s reggae band Chalice, said he was rendered speechless when his wife informed him of the 57-year-old musician’s passing. ‘I dropped my wife off at work and was making my way back home when she called and told me Prince had died… I was heartbroken. Honest to God, that is the only way I can describe how I feel about his passing. You would not understand, but Prince is my favourite artiste,’ he told Splash. For Armond, Prince’s music represented a new, fresh sound for the time. But being a fellow guitarist meant that these two had much more in common. ‘A lot of people don’t recognise what a monster guitar player Prince really is. The popularity of his songs and performances really overshadows his tremendous skills on the guitar. I have watched clip after clip of him playing and it is just amazing to behold. I remember watching him guest at an event with a number of other great musicians and when they played My Guitar Gently Weeps. The only way I can describe his guitar solo for that performance is… sheer artistry.’ Prince penned classics including Purple Rain, When Doves Cry, 1999 and Nothing Compares To You. Music aside, the late artiste also captured Armond with his determination and the forthright nature he displayed from the very start of his career. ‘I remember hearing him as a 19-year-old, he took his early music to a record company. When the music execs said, ‘We like it but we will find someone to produce’ Prince just asked back for his demo tapes and left. I respected him from that day in the same way I respect Muhammed Ali for his humanitarian work. It the same way I feel about what happened when he was having troubles with his record company and he just changed his name to The Artist formerly known as Prince in order to release his new music… Just great,’ said Armond. He believes like the music of the greats Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Prince’s legacy will never die. ‘Every Jamaican musician should look into this man’s music. His work should be studied by students at the Edna Manley College for his compositions, lyrical content and musicianship.’”

Of course, there is a reggae version of many of Prince’s songs, including the album, “Purple Reggae,” which features a number of Prince tunes covered by various artists like Ali Campbell of UB40 and Sinead O’Connor.

prince

From the Jamaica Gleaner, Nov. 18, 2014.

But I think my favorite connection between Prince and Jamaica comes in this little editorial that was submitted to the Jamaica Gleaner on July 9, 1987 that complained about the lyrics of Prince’s music and the popularity of North American music.

prince july 9 1987

Ska has a long tradition of covering other songs, and so here is a collection of Prince songs in the ska and reggae genre. And could it be more appropriate that the links are purple?!

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, “Nothing Compares 2 U”

Ali Campbell of UB40, “Purple Rain”

Potato 5, “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”

 

Walt Jabsco and Mircosoft

emoji

An article in Newsweek by Joe Veix on March 30th revealed the meaning of the strange floating businessman emoji and it turns out that this little-used character actually has its roots in ska! Turns out that the emoji has evolved from a version that Microsoft typography employee Vincent Connare created the character for a font in the early 1990s called Webdings, a relative of Wingdings–both fonts that utilized little pictures instead of letters and numbers.

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Veix writes, “Webdings included 230 images, culled from when Microsoft’s ‘team of iconographers traveled the world asking site designers and users which symbols, icons and pictograms they thought would be most appropriate for a font of this kind.’ This included useful things like a disembodied eye . . . ” and it also included the levitating business man icon, which looked like this:emoji3Connare says that his character invention was inspired by, you guessed it, Walt Jabsco. “After deciding to incorporate Webdings in the browser, the Internet Explorer team and Connare’s manager, Simon Daniels, drew up a list of symbols to design, mostly stuff that might look good on a website in 1997. Connare went down the list, selecting the ones he was interested in. One option immediately stood out. ‘I had a Specials Japanese import LP, and I saw one of the keywords was “jump” so thought it would be good to make a jumping, pogoing man, he said. ‘The style of the 2 Tone guy was black on white, and it was graphic, so it was easy to make something like it into a font,'” wrote Veix.

 

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This character, Walt Jabsco, is the creation of Jerry Dammers and was inspired by Peter Tosh on the cover of the Wailing Wailers album, and as my good friend and member of the killer Minneapolis ska band The Prizefighters Aaron Porter points out, the Wailing Wailers cover was inspired by a photo of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions! So Walt Jabsco, and thus the levitating businessman emoji, is actually inspired by Fred Cash!

TheWailers-TheWailingWailersimpressions

I have written before on the ska connection between The Impressions and Curtis Mayfield HERE so have a read, but in the meantime, here’s some more that I’ve written on Walt Jabsco and The Specials in this excerpt from my book, Ska: An Oral History:

“[Jerry] Dammers, an illustrator from his days at art school, designed a logo to go along with their new look [in order to better market the band, as suggested by their manager, Bernie Rhodes]. He drew dapper man in a suit and pork-pie hat, very similar to the rude boy look of the 1960s Jamaica, known as Walt Jabsco, a moniker he assigned from one of his own used bowling shirts. The illustration was based upon a photo of Peter Tosh that is the cover of the Wailing Wailers album. Walt Jabsco became the mascot for English ska.”

The levitating business man is also “pogoing,” according to the emoji originator. Pogoing also has an origin related to ska! Oh ska, is there anything you can’t inspire and create?!

This is an excerpt from my book, Ska: The Rhythm of Liberation, in yet another shameless plug!

“The skank during the British era was similar in many ways to its Jamaican predecessor, but it was also different because it combined elements of other musical genres and the frustrations of the dancers. Instead of merely swinging the arms back and forth, crossing them at times as they did in the 1960s in Jamaica, the British form of the skank incorporated balled-up fists, perhaps in response to the anger of post-punk times. The British skank also incorporated more verical bounce, probably integrated the pogo, the punk dance that may have been invented by Sid Vicious himself, whereas the Jamaican version often left the feet completely stationary.”

To read the Newsweek article in its entirety, click HERE.

Pata Pata Patsy

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So thrilled to see that Pasty Todd will be performing with Stranger Cole, her longtime vocal partner after Derrick Morgan, in Minneapolis May 13-15th accompanied by Phil Chen, Dennis Sindrey, and the Prizefighters! I will be there for sure! More information on this show is located here. So today let’s celebrate that talented woman who was one of the few, along with Millie Small, Yvonne Harrison, Hortense Ellis, and a small handful of others, to break the gender barrier in the 1960s. I found the lovely photo above of Millicent “Patsy” Todd in a 1969 issue of Swing Magazine in the National Library of Jamaica archives in Kingston this past February. And the following is the chapter of my book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music, which I have written on Patsy, which you can purchase here:

Pata Pata Patsy:  Millicent Todd

Millicent Todd was just a teenage girl when ska hit the town. She was born on September 23, 1944, grew up in Fletcher’s Land in West Kingston and was Prince Buster’s next door neighbor. She attended All Saints School and left at age 14. Although she wasn’t raised in a particularly musical home, and the Catholic Church she attended didn’t have much to offer in the way of music since the program was still presented in Latin in those days, she did listen to the music coming from America. “I’m somebody who liked to listen to the radio, and I really got interested in this group, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers. I used to hear them singing and I used to sing after them,” she says.

Her mother, Miss Kitty, realizing Millicent’s talent, helped to get her daughter’s start. Miss Kitty approached Derrick Morgan on Orange Street and told him of her daughter’s talent although today Patsy says she has only heard the story from Morgan and didn’t know the details. “Derrick told me the story because I didn’t know anything about it. He said he saw this woman and she told him she had a daughter that could sing. And I saw this guy came to my gate, knock on my gate. I’m looking at him and he’s saying he’s Derrick Morgan, and I say to myself, ‘So?’ And he said, ‘I heard you can sing,’ and I’m looking at him wondering what he’s talking about. And he said, ‘Could you sing something for me?’ and I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘I just want to hear something.’ And I did. But as far as I’m concerned, I didn’t know who this guy was, what he wanted. Somebody just come appear to you, telling you he hear you can sing and if you would do a song with him. And at first I was kind of, something ain’t right here. But then he told me a story about another artist that the song was about, and this guy, I hated him, still do. And when he said that, I was ready to sing that song. And I did. And we have this producer, Duke Reid, God rest his soul, a nice man, and he start shooting up the place. My God! I was so scared! I ran! And they said, ‘No! That’s a good thing! When he hears something that he likes that’s going to make a hit, this is what he does!’ So that experience was great for me and after that it was history. The song was ‘Love Not To Brag,’” says Patsy. The man who inspired the song was Eric “Monty” Morris who grew up with Morgan and was known to be boastful. He and Morgan were vocal competitors. Millicent recalls the scene after the take, “We have this producer, Duke Reid, God rest his soul, a nice man, and he start shooting up the place. My God! I was so scared! I ran! And they said, ‘No! That’s a good thing! When he hears something that he likes that’s going to make a hit, this is what he does!’ So that experience was great for me and after that it was history.”

patsy1Derrick and Patsy in their early years.

            Millicent was young and the music industry could be an unkind environment, especially with so much skilled talent, professional musicians in the studio and producers wanting to get one take down on acetate for play at the sound system days later. “It was hard. Very hard,” says Millicent. “I was 15, 16 years old. And it was hard because you didn’t have a say. I didn’t get the chance to go to rehearsal and things like that. I would go to the studio and my partner would tell me, ‘This is so-and-so and so-and-so,’ and I would write it down, and I would sing from the paper, that was it. I don’t remember what it was, what I did or how much record I did. I didn’t have a say, to say to the musicians, ‘Would you play this,’ or “Would you play that.’ They would kill me. You just take what they give you and that’s it. The musicians that we had were great musicians. I think they could play with anyone in this entire world. They knew music, they knew what they were doing. They were absolutely fantastic. But they were very egotistical. You know, it was either just them or nothing. The problem when you have a band that every musician in that band could be the leader, it’s very hard. That’s how great they were,” Patsy says.

patsy2Millicent Todd

            She was young, innocent, naïve, but her talent transcended. Graeme Goodall recalls her work in the studio. “I loved her dearly. She was a very nice person, very pleasant to work with, very polite. She was not so much a leader, but she was very very good and she, like most of the vocalists of the day, understood that this was her big break,” Goodall says. Derrick & Patsy continued to record hit after hit as a duo, including “Feel So Fine,” “Are You Going to Marry Me,” “Crying in the Chapel,” and countless others. Perhaps the most well-known song the duo recorded was “Housewife’s Choice” in 1962 for producer Leslie Kong. This song was originally named “You Don’t Know How Much I Love You,” but Marie Garth, legendary radio host, had so many housewives call in to the station to request the tune that she renamed it and future pressings reflected this name change. The song also became popular in the United Kingdom as West Indian immigrants played the tune which was released on the Island Records label. Derrick & Patsy were a hit. They were the perfect boy-girl duo singing sweet songs of love and romance. They were so big that when popular American artists came to perform in Kingston, so too did Derrick & Patsy as part of the Jamaican spectacular. They performed at shows with Ray Charles, Ben E. King, and Sammy Davis Junior. Derrick would record with a number of female vocalists in duets including Gloria Franklin (who also performed as Gloria & the Dreamlets), Naomi Phillips (who also recorded with Doreen Shaffer), Hortense Ellis, Paulette Morgan (Derrick’s sister), Yvonne Harrison (also called Yvonne Adams), and Jennifer & the Mohawks (Jennifer Jones).

patsy3Derrick Morgan performs in Chicago in 2013. Photo by Heather Augustyn.

            When Derrick Morgan left to go to England to try his hand at success overseas, Patsy was approached by another singer with the offer to perform duets. She recalls, “Stranger [Cole] came to talk to me. He said that Duke Reid sent him and he said he wanted to do some record and the only way that Duke Reid would record him if I sang with him. And it kind of hit me off guard because Derrick was in England, and I said to him, ‘I don’t know about that, I have to think about it,’ and then I saw this guy really needed to do this. He believed he could make himself better and do something that he love and getting paid for it, you know, a charge was in him. And I said okay, I tell him yes. And that’s how Stranger Cole and I came about.” One of their biggest hits was the song, “When I Call Your Name,” which they recorded for Duke Reid. Other classics include, “Down the Train Line,” “Yeah Yeah Baby,” “Give Me the Right,” “ Love Divine,” and plenty more. The tunes were also classic boy-girl duets, inviting and harmonious. Most were recorded in 1964 for Sonia Pottinger and Duke Reid. Stranger remembers his days with Patsy. “Mr. Reid was the one who asked me to sing with her. He told me to go to her and asked me to sing with her. So ‘When I Call Your Name’ we recorded and we do many many more songs together. She was not shy, she was much braver than I. She make hit record before I do, with Derrick Morgan, so she was a more limelighted artist than I was. I think that was a blessing for me to have a lady with more hit songs before me. I am very lucky to sing with her, and I think she is very lucky to sing with me,” says Stranger.

            Patsy wasn’t just a duo artist. She was also an artist in her own right—Queen Patsy. At a time when women weren’t doing much solo work at all, Patsy paved the way for strong female vocalists. One of these tunes, “A Man is a Two Face,” is not a ska or rocksteady song, but true to the American R&B tradition with soulful vocals, music by Lynn Taitt & the Jets. The lyrics offer advice from a mother to a daughter that she shares with other women about how a man will smile and sweet talk but leave you singing the blues in the night. It was not the submissive songs of innocent love she sang with Stranger and Derrick. It was a song of empowerment and knowledge and sisterhood. It was Patsy’s take on “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” both in sound and in spirit. She was physically without a man by her side as in her duos, and she, as a solo artist, was all woman. Her voice transforms in this song from her duos. She is no longer the little teenager—she is informed, guiding, warning. The flip side of this recording on Sonia Pottinger’s Gay Feet label is “It’s So Hard Without You” where Patsy sings that there is nothing she can do without her man, so what do we make of this paradox? Certainly these songs reflect the emotions women feel in relationships—the phases and complexities.

patsy5Stranger Cole performs in Chicago in 2012. Photo by Heather Augustyn.

            Two of the other solo songs that Patsy recorded for Producer Sonia Pottinger were “Fire in Your Wire” and “Pata Pata Rock Steady” which were unique in their content. “Fire in Your Wire” is a soca tune originally written by Calypso Rose of Tobago, another pioneering woman, whose lyrics are the typical sexual innuendo of calypso and soca, but certainly not typical of those sung by a female up to this point. “Pata Pata Rock Steady” was also a song written by a female artist in 1957 by Dorothy Masuka for singer Miriam Makeba, both South African artists. “Fire in Your Wire” and “Pata Pata Rock Steady” were songs that showed Patsy’s take-charge side and celebrated the creativity of other women. Of “Fire in Your Wire,” Patsy says, “I wanted to prove a point that I could do other styles. I would take chances to see what I could do. I never had a say in any of the songs I sang with the duets, so this was an opportunity to try different things.”  “Pata Pata” was not the only Miriam Makeba song Patsy covered. She also recorded “The Retreat Song,” also titled Jikele Maweni, which had a distinct African feel, especially since it was sung in the Xhosa (KOH-suh) language whose lyrics tell of a vicious stick fight. Not the typical teenage love song.

Patsy traveled overseas to share her talent, to the U.S. with Byron Lee & the Dragonaires and to Belize. She sang on over 100 recordings. But she left it all behind in 1969, as the music left ska and rocksteady behind. She simply grew tired of the industry and moved to New York to start a new life. Since the Legends of Ska Concert, organized by Brad Klein in Toronto in 2002, Patsy has occasionally returned to the stage to perform, alongside her duo partners, Stranger and Derrick Morgan, as well as on her own.

 

 

The Drums of Count Ossie

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Today is a celebration for many around the world who recognize Easter, so today, I bring you another kind of celebration–that of the drums of Count Ossie. The above article appeared in Swing Magazine in 1969 and it speaks of a program featuring the drums of Count Ossie to encourage further understanding, or overstanding, of the instrument and culture.

The following is an excerpt from my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist about Count Ossie including recollections from Rico, Carlos Malcolm, and Clive Chin:

Count Ossie was born Oswald Williams in March, 1926. He is considered to be the originator of Rasta music which began in the late 1940s at his first camp on Salt Lane in the Dungle, an area that was a refuse dumping ground for the government and tenement yards. Count Ossie was living at the bottom of Slip Dock Road at the time but he started a camp in the Dungle since he frequently traveled to the area to reason with local brethren about such subjects as Rastafarianism, Garveyism (the teachings of Marcus Garvey who advocated for repatriation to Africa and who prophesied the birth of a king in Africa), and black awareness. They discussed their belief that Haile Selassie, who was crowned King of Ethiopia in 1930 and was a descendent of King Solomon, fulfilled the Biblical prophecy as noted by Marcus Garvey. Selassie was given the title Ras, an Amharic title of royalty, Tafari, the king’s family name. He is called King of King, Lord of Lords, as proclaimed in the book of Revelations. He is considered by followers to be the incarnation of God and a savior for black people in times of great oppression.

File Count Ossie

During these conversations with fellow Rastafarians, Count Ossie, who always had a love for music, particularly drums and percussion, met a master Burru drummer named Brother Job. Brother Job played drums in the Dungle and at a camp held by a Rastafarian who went by the name Skipper.

The Burru were a group of men who emerged during the days of slavery on the island. Bands of Burru, African drummers, were permitted by slave owners to play drums and sing for the workers in the Jamaican fields to raise the slaves’ spirits—not for emotional reasons, but to impose more productivity. The first Burru drums were heard on the island of Jamaica in 1903 in the parish of Clarendon. Their drum beat was the heartbeat of Africa. After slavery was abolished, the Burru could not find work and so they congregated in the impoverished areas of Kingston. They continued their drumming and music, which was not religious in nature, but still had a ritual component grounded in the Jonkonnu, a West African musical festival and parade. Each Christmas season, the Burru men gathered to compose their own music with words about local events or about people in the community who had committed an act of wrongdoing. They worked on these songs starting in September and then on the holiday they traveled throughout the community, going from home to home, playing their bamboo scraper, shakka, and rhumba box for percussion, singing songs which were intended to purge the evil of the previous year before the new one began. Although the music was composed during the months previous to the event, they also were known to improvise on the spot.

Because the Burru were mischievous in this manner, and because they lived in the slum areas of the city, they were mistakenly considered by many to be criminals or undesirables. They were not unlike the Rastas in their early days. Both groups were persecuted by society and the government, both were anti-establishment, and both were firmly rooted in their African origins. So in the 1940s the two groups merged. The Burru acquired a religion or spirituality from the Rastas, and the Rastas acquired music.

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Although Count Ossie learned his drumming from Burru men like Brother Job, he also developed his own individual style. In the early days, Count Ossie didn’t own his own drum but he had Brother Job’s teacher, Watto King, make a custom set for him. Count Ossie then traveled to meet with other groups of Rastas and share his drumming with his brethren, spreading the musical form in areas like Brother Issie Boat’s camp which was located in the Wareika Hills. Soon other brethren learned to drum and because the communal camps were transient in nature, the music spread quickly. In 1951, Count Ossie’s camp at Salt Lane was destroyed by Hurricane Charlie. He then spent some time at the Rastafarian camp at Rennock Lodge before establishing his famous camp in the Wareika Hills off Adastra Road near the area known as Rockfort. Saxophonist Herman “Woody” King says that Count Ossie taught them all how to play. He says, “Count Ossie was a magnificent drummer. He not only played in the Rastafarian style, but he was able to play with the musicians, like jazz musicians, so he was very versatile. He could adapt his style. And me being such a lover of music and the Rastafarian doctrine, I was right there when he was coming along and playing.”

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Count Ossie’s camp became a place for groundations or Nyahbinghis or Issembles, a spiritual communion of music composition, herb smoking from the chalice, and reasoning. Nyahbinghi originally meant “death to the whites, or death to the Europeans” in the 1930s, but then evolved to mean “death to the white oppressors and their black allies.” During these musical sessions, it wasn’t uncommon to borrow from melodies of other songs, such as hymns, a practice that also took place by other musicians in the studios and on stage. The groundations were a time of spiritual bonding meant to heighten one’s spiritual consciousness. They were gatherings that took place anywhere from three to seven days in length when brethren and dawtas engaged in communal activities, such as music, chanting, dancing, and smoking herb. A purpose of the Nyahbinghi was to restore the natural order of creation through purging the evil from the world. The music had an emotional purpose, a healing purpose, and a religious or spiritual purpose. Numerous visiting musicians came to participate in the groundations, including Roland Alphonso, Cedric Brooks, Little G McNair, Bra Gaynair, Rico Rodriguez, Tommy McCook, Johnny Moore, Vivian Hall, Ernest Ranglin, and Don Drummond. This group of musicians, sometimes called Count Ossie’s Band, performed until dawn throughout Jamaica at dance sessions and at Coney Island, an amusement park in Kingston.

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Carlos Malcolm recalls the days when music was created in the Wareika Hills. “We used to practice against the hills. Oliver Road used to come down from Wareika Hills and that is where the Eastern musicians mostly used to congregate. This was, when we started, a little before Count Ossie started recording. He grew up in the hills. Don Drummond used to hang out at Oliver Road with Vivian Hall (trumpeter). Everybody used to go up to the hills,” says Malcolm.

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 Clive Chin remembers the times he too went into the hills, not as a participant, but as a spectator when his dad, Vincent Chin, came to talk to the musicians. “They used to go up there and my dad would take me up there and at times he would leave me out in the car and sometimes I could get upset because he would leave me out there for hours, although he had someone watching me, but I ask him permission on a number of occasions to come out and look and see what they are doing, and I think one of the things my dad didn’t like was the atmosphere of the ceremonial things that they had to do, the smoking and stuff, he didn’t want me around it. Ossie would be playing a full setup of drums and it was mostly just rehearsals where Don would come in and solo and then back out and Tommy come in and do a solo and Johnny Moore come in and it give them a little way to introduce themselves and flow in. They were improvising. Herman King was there a lot too. He’d always be there. There were quite a few men, mostly men,” Chin says.

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Drumming was always the foundation of the music in the hills. The drums used involved three drums: a repeater, or akete which is the melody line; the fundeh, or funde which plays the steady rhythm or life line in addition to syncopation; and the bass drum, a two or three-foot drum hit many times with a paddle, which keeps the same basic beat of the fundeh but varies it in rhythm and tone. Count Ossie’s bass drum featured a phrase written in large letters on it— “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity,” a passage from Psalm 133. Percussionist Larry McDonald says the camp was a place for drumming and dancing and it was a popular place for musicians in the 1950s and 1960s. He says, “I used to go up to Wareika on Sunday evening because on Sunday evening the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari would play up there, Count Ossie. Ossie is a friend of mine, so I go up and carry my drums up and every Sunday they’d set up and we’d play a big set. And me and the little kids would hang out. It was just about going up and getting a chance to play the music.” The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari was a group consisting of Count Ossie and some of his drumming brethren. They later recorded music and performed on stage, even for the visit of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie to Jamaica on April 21, 1966. This date is marked each year still today with celebratory groundations.

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The musicians came to Count Ossie’s camp because it was a chance to be free with their music and they could truly expand their skills in a way no studio or stage would allow. But they also came because of the spiritual and emotional connections to their fellow brethren, led by Count Ossie, although there was no leader in a strict hierarchical sense. Rico Rodriguez who spent time actually living at the camp pays respect. He says, “Count Ossie was like a chief. He was like a chief in the hills. Everyone look up to him. Once he told me he wanted to learn trumpet but he was more into the drums, so he played the drums instead of the trumpet. A lot of Rastas around and I used to go home. I used to go home. We go away and play and I don’t go back to my mother’s house no more until I’m ready to come to England. I was leaving from Wareika Hills to come to England. Some of us stay in Wareika Hills. It was safe there. We cook and eat and they had Wareika school for the children to teach them about history. Communication everyday was about prayers, psalms and we chant psalms and play instruments. No really bed, just makeshift, yeah. Rough living, you know? No house, shelter, sheltered place. Everybody lived in stiffs, a variety of stiffs, you know? But it was a community. We play music all day, all day, all day and night.”

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Get Up Adina Edwards

In February 2015, I was having breakfast with Tommy Cowan and he mentioned that he was the one who discovered Adina Edwards. I had just finished writing about this incredible woman, and so here was the person who took her from the street where she, a blind woman, played accordion and sang for a few coins and recorded her for his own company, The Talent Agency, after he branched off on his own from Dynamic Sounds in order to promote more local talent. He had Byron Lee’s blessing and support, both financial and emotional, and so Adina Edwards was able to experience some success. This past February, 2016, I was delighted to see Adina Edwards’ accordion on display at the Jamaica Music Museum at the Institute of Jamaica, a place that everyone must visit. Tommy Cowan told me, “I will never ever forget this is when Byron allowed me to record a woman named Adina Edwards. She was a blind woman who sang and played accordion for years at the corner of Barry and King Street and Byron said go for it. I said I always pass this woman and she’s there for years. I went down there and took this woman off the street side and took her to Dynamic Sounds because they had to give me the money to record her and she went straight to number one, ‘Don’t Forget to Remember.'” The accordion was donated to the collection by Tommy Cowan and here is a photo I took of the display below.

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Below is an excerpt from my book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music, on the amazing Adina Edwards:

Adina Edwards was a blind performer who sang and accompanied herself. She was a self-taught accordion and keyboard player and always performed spiritual and gospel music, but in 1972 she recorded for Byron Lee. Her career starts in 1939 during a performance of the Salvation Army Institute for the Blind when she performed for a holiday program. She was a student at the institute and received such applause for her performance of “You Can Smile,” that she came out to do an encore. In July of 1946 she performed for a recital which was covered by the Daily Gleaner. The headline read “Blind Soprano to Give Song Recital.” The article stated, “On Wednesday evening July 31 a song recital unique in Jamaica’s musical history will be given when Miss Adina Edwards twenty-year-old blind soprano will give a recital of songs at Bartley’s Silver City Club. Possessed of a warm, colourful voice, Adina Edwards is certain to satisfy her audience with the songs she has chosen for this programme from Negro Spirituals to the light classical. The singer is being presented by Mr. Granville Campbell who will act as her accompanist for the evening while Mr. E. Roosevelt Hinchcliffe will contribute violin solos as fitting interludes to the programme.”

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In 1949, Adina was presented with a cash donation of five pounds, 18 shillings, and three pence which was collected from the audience at Eric Coverley’s New Year Morning Show at the Ward Theatre in Kingston. Adina sang the song “Because” and was accompanied by Granville Campbell, followed by an encore of “Ah Sweet Mystery of Life.” She received “tumultuous applause from the audience,” according to the Daily Gleaner article, which prompted Coverley to comment, “This girl is not here because she is blind but because she can sing. I am asking you to help her.” Audience members placed money into hats while Adina performed “Red Hot Boogie Woogie” on the piano.

In 1959, Adina performed on the famous launch pad of talent, the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, although she did not win. Joe Higgs and Roy Wilson sang “Manny Oh” to take first place, the Blues Busters took second place, and Adina placed third with her vocal rendition of “The Lord Got the Whole World In His Hands.”adina4

Jamaica Gleaner columnist Roy Black wrote, “Little is known about Adina Edwards, except that she made a big impact with her gospel-tinged, 1972-Tommy Cowan-produced recording ‘Don’t Forget To Remember Me.’ She started her career as an inauspicious blind musical entertainer, who accepted collections for her performances on the streets until Byron Lee recorded that hit for her.” In early 1972, Adina’s accordion broke. She obtained a new one through the effort of local admirers.

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In 1973, Dynamic Records recorded her album “Soul of Adina.” Musicians Boris Gardiner performed on bass, Peter Ashbourne on keyboard and violin, and Marjorie Whylie and Dawn Forrester sang back up. In December 1982, Adina performed in the Salute to Our Musical Heritage show at the National Arena with Ken Boothe, The Heptones, King Stitt, Bunny And Scully, U Roy, Derrick Harriott, the Gaylads, Lascelles Perkins, Dennis Brown, Delroy Wilson, Theophilus Beckford, Marcia Griffiths, Jackie Edwards, Lord Comic, Val Bennett, Stranger Cole, Toots and the Maytals, Tommy McCook, Derrick Morgan, and Pam Pam and Gloria Kid. In 1983 she performed in an all-island gospel festival and was a popular billing on the lineup. She was still performing for audiences in June 2000 and a Jamaica Gleaner article interviewed her before the gospel show. “Adina Edwards, an enduring gospel artiste, said most gospel songs earned the message of love and that men and women were not loving each other. Gospel singing is becoming like olden days when music was composed and most male performers nowadays cannot bother to reach perfection in their craft. ‘Women are into experimentation until they get it right. I am doing a song called ‘Real Real’ and I am applying all kinds of techniques to let it appeal to people,’ she said. Adina has now taken her singing ministry to a higher level where she is no longer singing for adults on the sidewalk, but participating in school devotions.” The following year she gave another gospel performance for a Mother’s Day celebration at which the Alpha Boys Band also performed. “I am very excited about the concert,” she stated in the Jamaica Gleaner article. “Already I am getting a lot of support. I will be performing all of my favourites, songs like ‘Keep The Love Light Burning,’ ‘When Waking Up This Morning,’ and ‘Just A Closer Walk With God.’ People always like to hear ‘Don’t Forget to Remember,’ which was produced by Tommy Cowan and promoted by Byron Lee. I will never sit back and allow my disability to defeat me,” she said.

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In 2001, an article on female musicians who had adopted children, including Lady Saw, told the story of Adina Edwards who had also adopted a child. Adina Edwards has had her daughter, Amoie, when she was two days old. “At that time she was very sick and God help me to make her better. I do not call her an adoption and she does not call me anything but mother because she never knew any other. She is my sixth child. The most special thing about Amoie is that she a pretty girl and to think she loves this blind, ugly, old woman. It’s very touching. I love her. Whenever I needed any of my children they were always there. And when I called them to flog them, they would come and I wouldn’t bother,” she said. The article also stated that Adina had run a large nursery in the 1970s in Kencot, Kingston where she was responsible for over 48 children.

Though Adina Edwards passed away on April 4, 2008, her music lives on. Enjoy the incredible Adina Edwards with the links below:

Jamaica My Isle

Talk About Love

Lay Your Guns Down Brethren

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After a wonderful conversation with Jumbo Shower of the Netherlands, I wanted to post our exchange here to further enhance this history:

Nice article, but why is there no mention of the 45s and the album she recorded for Tabernacle in the 60s, and that single on Help the blind?

Heather Augustyn
Heather Augustyn Well I do talk about her gospel career, but I rarely get into every song title or labels, there are just too many details in that and too many others who are far better than I in that kind of history, yourself included! I like the narrative.

Jumbo Shower
Jumbo Shower Yes i think it was a spontanious attack of amnesia, when Cowan forget that she already was an established gospelsinger who had recorded and album and a handful of singles before he discovered her… smile emoticon

Heather Augustyn
Heather Augustyn I see what you’re saying now, Jumbo! You’re right. Hmmm. Well I guess it wouldn’t be the first time someone claimed credit that wasn’t theirs! Thank you, that has me wondering what the real narrative is now. Tabernacle was Coxsone, so wonder how he came to find her.

Jumbo Shower
Jumbo Shower I don’t know if you can read it from this link , but on the back of her Tabernacle album Jackie Estick writes that she was very well known for singing in Kingston and that Coxson discovered her and offered her an exclusive recording contract. https://www.discogs.com/Adinah-Edwards…/release/3733164

Heather Augustyn
Heather Augustyn I see that, thank you Jumbo! And this was in 1968 which definitely predates Tommy’s account. If you don’t mind, I’m going to add this to the bottom of my blog post. Many thanks.

Happy 82nd Birthday Don Drummond

Birth CertificateDon Drummond’s birth certificate.

 

Donald Willis Drummond was born on this date, March 12, 1934. He would have been 82 today, had he not died on May 6, 1969 at Bellevue Mental Hospital. The above birth certificate took me about two years to secure from the Registrar General in Kingston but I wanted to prove once and for all when he was born, as the record from Alpha Boys School has him born in 1932. This is a mistake, for whatever reason. He first lived at 26 Potters Row in Kingston, and his mother, Doris Munroe, was a domestic. You can read more about that in my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist by going to skabook.com. I was even able to find classified ads for her domestic services and more information about her, but little on his father, Uriah Adolphus Drummond, though I did find his birth record, as well as Doris’s birth record, pictured below.

uriahUriah Adolphus Drummond’s birth record.

Doris Munroe birth recordDoris Maud Munroe’s birth record.

To celebrate Don Drummond’s birthday, I would like to offer the foreword that Delfeayo Marsalis wrote for my book. Marsalis, as you may know, recently performed at one of the Grounation events last month at the Institute of Jamaica courtesy of the Jamaica Music Museum. Carter Van Pelt wrote an extraordinary summary and review of this performance for his blog that you most definitely need to read HERE. Delfeayo Marsalis is one of the top trombonists, composers, and producers in jazz today. He is a member of the distinguished Marsalis family, father Ellis and brothers Branford, Wynton and Jason who earned the nation’s highest jazz honor, a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award, in 2011. He considers Don Drummond to be a masterful trombonist. The following is his foreword, for which I am very grateful and feel it is a perfect homage to the great Don Drummond on the day of his birth:

In 1985, I was returning to the Brooklyn residence of my eldest brothers Branford and Wynton from a sojourn in Manhattan late one evening. As fate would have it, the Jamaican taxi driver recognized my slide trombone and proclaimed, “You know about Don Drummond and the Ska-talites?” At that point it occurred to me that I had indeed seen in Branford’s collection several albums by this particular group, but—not being interested in Ska music at the time—had not checked them out. The driver continued to rave about Drummond being one of the greatest in history, which I basically accepted with a few grains of salt until he asserted, “J.J. Johnson went to Jamaica just to hear Drummond his legend was so strong!” The matter had suddenly become serious business with the utterance of such a proclamation. Johnson was not only my primary jazz influence, but he was also one of America’s great jazz masters, known for his precision and profound command on the trombone at all tempos and volumes. Would J.J. have traveled to Kingston, Jamaica solely to hear Don Drummond?

I immediately scoured the library and discovered three Ska-talites albums. I listened and was overcome by the pathos and immediacy of Drummond’s improvisations, his melodies expressing an adolescent innocence undergirded with the knowledge of an elder. Extroverted, eccentric and self-taught, Don Drummond’s trombone style has an earthiness and songlike quality that makes it immediately identifiable. His melodies are so simple, perfectly constructed and memorable that they are reminiscent of children’s songs; each note placed in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. He managed to consistently maintain certain qualities not steadfastly present in Johnson’s style.
My interest in Drummond led me to the Brooklyn storefront studio of Mr. Coxsone Dodd at some point in the mid 1990s and eventually to a few trips to Kingston, Jamaica. I found that many of the older people were aware of Drummond and his music. His celebrity was such that stories were shared with equal aplomb about his extraordinary musicianship as well as his peculiarities. He not only worked the women into frenzies with his aggressive rhythms, but he also would cause many to weep at the sorrow he expressed on ballads. During the 1950s-60s, Jamaica was a hotbed of musical talent featuring the likes of Roland Alfonso, Johnny Moore, Lenny Hibbert and Tommy McCook. Don Drummond, it turns out, was able to channel emotions from gentility to absolute rage through his music with as much authority as anyone to ever play trombone.

Trips to Jamaica were learning experiences on many levels; however, the greatest single lesson for me concerned understanding and accepting the traditions of the Jamaican people. Although they were respectful towards me and happy to assist in my efforts to learn about this musical giant, they still let me know in subtle ways that they were Jamaican and I was not. When they wanted to have private conversations, the language became unrecognizable. If there were even a hint of impatience from me, actions slowed down to a snail’s pace. These quirks gave me a sense of how strong nationalism and pride was in the Jamaican people. As a whole, the individuals I encountered had a way of thinking that was centered on honesty, integrity and good old common sense. While they would never admit to the reality as such, these unique qualities of a people, when codified properly, can form the backbone of their art.

Bob Marley gave a voice and hope to all Jamaicans during the 60s and 70s with his songs of political awareness and protest. The individual who influenced Marley the most with songs that celebrated Jamaica and its unique characteristics was Don Drummond. Marley spent a period of time performing with Drummond and clearly knew of his brilliance. Marley’s voice covers the same basic range of Drummond’s trombone and as further proof, his “Crazy Baldheads” is pretty much Drummond’s “Eastern Standard Time” in a minor key! Even without lyrics, the trombonist displayed his socio-political awareness with songs entitled “Man In the Street,” “President Kennedy,” “Lee Harvey Oswald” and “Reload.” Marley was able to take Drummond’s music to the ultimate level, internalizing its strongest characteristics and incorporating them in his own style to great advantage.

Whether by Drummond’s own design or that of producer Coxsone Dodd, the Skatalites performed all of their songs with the famous guitar-led ska (boom-chick, boom-chick) beat. Certainly, a studied and adventurous musician like Drummond was capable of creating less formulaic compositions, and his desire to do so is evidenced in at least one example, “Far East.” This song highlights an awareness of other cultures and musical contributions as it is a tribute to Eastern music in Jamaican terms. One captivating aspect of ska is the degree to which it is specifically localized (from the people) and universal (for all people) simultaneously. While Don Drummond’s distinctive sound was strengthened by consistent performance with the same Jamaican musicians, if he had been afforded the opportunity to share experiences with musicians from different cultures as is customary today, his music could have expanded to even greater heights.

Speculations aside, we celebrate all that Don Drummond accomplished as a great musician and representative for the Jamaican people. Thanks to his ingenuity, ska remains the only music in the world in which trombone plays the lead voice with trumpet and saxophone playing the secondary harmonies. Don Drummond was a soft-spoken introvert whose life was defined by the trombone and the great music he created with it. Trombone provided his voice in a way words could not. Don Drummond played music as though it was all he had; or perhaps as though he felt it was all he had. As listeners, we have benefited greatly from his immense talent and unique ability to touch human souls around the world.

This is the definitive documentation of a seminal figure in the history of Jamaican music which is long overdue!

Delfeayo Marsalis

 

Perhaps an even better way to celebrate is by listening to his music. Here are links to a few of my favorites. Roll on Sweet Don.

Don Cosmic

Confucius

Addis Ababa

Cleopatra

Chinatown

Occupation

 

 

 

 

Memories of Chocomo Lawn

From the Daily Gleaner, June 23, 1964

This week I am asking for you, the reader, to share your memories of Chocomo Lawn, should you have the experience in your past. Even better, if you have photos of Chocomo Lawn, then or now, I would be very interested in hearing from you. This site was a “ground zero” of ska, as were other sites such as Forrester Hall, Orange Street, Brentford Road, and many more. Chocomo Lawn was/is in West Kingston and was the headquarters for Edward Seaga during his early years in politics. In a Daily Gleaner article on December 23, 1967, Seaga held a holiday party for thousands of children in West Kingston, and he held the fete at Chocomo Lawn. The article read, “About 4,000 children were given a Christmas treat at Chocomo Lawn, Wellington Street, on Thursday afternoon sponsored by the West Kingston Constituency Committee and the Hon. Edward Seaga, Minister of Finance and Planning. This was the fourth Christmas treat for children of the area since Monday. Mr Seaga assisted by Miss Veronica Carter handed out the gifts at all the treats. Mr. Seaga announced that a special feature of this year’s Christmas treat for the constituency application forms for admittance to two youth camps for boys in the area
between 15 and 16 years were available at the constituency headquarters. To close the series of treats a special dinner for 1000 old people of the area was given yesterday afternoon, Supt. Joe Williams of the Denham Town Police was special guest.”

Years before this charitable gathering, Seaga, had come to West Kingston as a site of culture where he would study and cultivate the music–music of the revivalist religions (kumina, pukumina) and ska. In a Jamaica Observer article on March 21, 2004, former Kingston mayor Desmond McKenzie recalls this era at Chocomo Lawn. The article states, “A decisive turning point in the lives of the residents, particularly the young people in Western Kingston, came with the arrival of Edward Seaga, McKenzie remembers. He would make an awesome impression on them and under his tutelage some would rise to national prominence, notably “Babsy” Grange, Daphne Hurge, Samuel Dreckette, the late reggae superstar Dennis Brown, Winston Bopee who was lead guitarist for We the People band, the Techniques, among others. Seaga had entered West Kingston on grounds that he was researching culture and revivalism in the area. . . .  They were also thrilled by the way Seaga could move to the beat of the revival drums. Seaga eventually bought out Victor’s Pop Band that gave birth to the Techniques. Many young Jamaican talents were nurtured there. Young upcoming stars such as Jimmy Cliff, Marcia Griffiths, Delroy Wilson, Count Prince Miller and the like played at Chocomo Lawn, the cultural centre that Seaga developed. Such was the reputation and prestige of the place that ‘anybody who was anybody played the Chocomo Lawn.'”

One of these “anybodys” was Byron Lee & the Dragonaires who came to Chocomo Lawn, along with Ronnie Nasralla, to learn about the ska. Until then, like most other bands on the island, Lee and his group were playing in the American rhythm and blues styles that were popular at dances and in clubs. Other bands, like Carlos Malcolm, performed jazz. Each club, each studio, was an incubator of sounds from the Caribbean, America, and Africa, but at Chocomo Lawn, the scene was ska and Seaga encouraged his friends to come for a listen, to help spread this new sound. In a Daily Gleaner article, October 25, 1980, the writer chronicles a celebration of Seaga’s imprint on the culture. “Mr. Seaga mentioned such names as Jimmy Cliff, Ken Boothe, Stranger Cole, Toots and the Maytals, Hortense and Alton Ellis who he said always frequent Chocomo Lawn in Western Kingston — the place where ska was born. He said that as Minister of Finance and Planning in the JLP government, he tried to popularise ska internationally allowing Jamaica to be known as a country of creative people. After the ska, he said,
there was the rock steady, then reggae from which super stars like Bob Marley were born. Mr. Seaga said that Jamaican music today was acclaimed internationally, ‘It began as a little seed planted at Chocomo Lawn in Western Kingston, nurtured into a bigger tree and blossomed so that the entire world can see its beauty,’ Mr. Seaga said. Mr. Seaga paid tribute to Byron Lee and the Dragonaires who were celebrating 25 years in the music field. He said they have helped to spread Jamaican music abroad more than any other artistes in the country.”

Though I’m sure the above text will cause some debate. For every person who claims they are the one who started ska, there are an equal amount who feel they know who started it. This is good! This speaks to the passion of the music! There is ownership and pride! So those who may have memories to share of one of these sites of creation, Chocomo Lawn, please share your thoughts here and if you have photos, please contact me at haugustyn@yahoo.com. I am researching this time period and would very much like to hear your oral histories!

You can read more about the connection between Chocomo Lawn and ska here.

Prince Buster on His Persecution as a Muslim

prince buster

What better way to celebrate an election in Jamaica than with the ruler of them all, Prince Buster?! I recently came across this Swing Magazine dated January 1969 in which Prince Buster appears on the cover of the digest-sized magazine and the small feature cover story details, among other subjects, his recent rise to the top of the music charts, the characteristics of ska and rocksteady and the potential of Desmond Dekker & the Aces, and his brief boxing career (read more on Prince Buster’s boxing career here). Perhaps most interesting in this short article, however, is the discussion of Prince Buster’s conversion to Islam and troubles with the Jamaican authorities in becoming a member of the faith. When we think of religious persecution in Jamaica during this time, we tend to think of the Rastafari oppression at the hands of the government and colonial people, but little do we think of those members of other religions as well, such as Nation of Islam, to which Prince Buster converted after meeting Muhammad Ali during his travels to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York with the Jamaican delegation. Here Prince Buster had gone to promote his country’s culture and celebrate his dedication and pride in his country, yet the authorities in that country in turn harassed him for his own culture. I in no way single out the Jamaican government for being at fault in this, as I recognize any group or authoritative body is likely to persecute the unknown until there is enlightenment. Let us hope that we as a society evolve closer to a sense of humanism and acceptance within our lifetimes. The article is below:

prince buster 2More on Prince Buster in Foundation Ska can be found on the links below:

Prince Buster Interview

Prince Buster Boxing

Prince Buster and Federal Records

Prince Buster Takes on the Beatles

Dance the Reggae, Reggay, Rege?

During my recent visit to Kingston, I conducted some research at the National Library of Jamaica with my good friend and colleague Roberto Moore who has an excellent knowledge of the holdings there at the library. He introduced me to the rare books room where we went through a few bound collections of Swing Magazine from 1968, and therein we found the following articles and photo spreads on the reggae as a “dance craze.” The dance is done with “hunched shoulders, hands almost still, feet in a step by step trance, and a whole lot forward jerking of the torso and knees.” The article cites Studio One as ground zero for reggae music as Jackie Mittoo’s rocksteady keyboard blends with the “congo and bongo” drums of Afro-Cuba. The article below traces the evolution of reggae from ska and rocksteady, from Clu J, to Prince Buster and Derrick Morgan, to the World’s Fair, to Hopeton Lewis and Carlos Malcolm. Enjoy and kick up your heels this weekend!

 

reggae 1

 

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