Tribute to Rico


I was so sad to learn this morning that Rico Rodriguez has died. He was one of the sweetest men I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to and had a genuine warm spirit and immeasurable talent. The world is a better place because of the talent and joy that Rico gave to all of us, his fans.

Emmanuel Rodriguez, also known as Rico, Reco, or El Reco, was born on October 17, 1934 and he spent his entire life dedicated to music. I interviewed Rico a number of times over the phone, about his career, his relationship with Don Drummond, and his days at Alpha Boys School. Here’s a bit of our conversation from 2011 that have been excerpted from my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist.

Rico says he came to Alpha Boys School at the behest of his mother, Amy. “My mother think that I need some correction, you know? She was working. I used to go down to the waterfront. It was rough. Rough,” says Rico. So instead of going to school, Rico went to the docks to hustle for money from the sailors who came into port. When he got hit by a car and was seriously injured, Rico’s mother had him sent to Alpha, afraid for his safety and life. He says that he tried many trades at Alpha before finding music as his occupation. “The first job I did in Alpha was in the garden. We didn’t have a jet, a jet-type to water the garden. We used to take a paint pan and dip it into a hole for the water. We used to catch the water and water the plants like that. And sometime you eat what you grow, carrot, beet root, the onions and everyting, you know? I used to go to the pottery too, learn to make brick and pot, with clay, with clay, yea. And to get that special shine into the clay you have to use horse dung and lead and then when it goes into the kiln it shines in the pot, but I used to be in the garden most of the time. It wasn’t easy to get into the band. I tried, but I get in because I have a few friends in the band, like Don Drummond and Tony Brown and Ossie Hall, a few good friends in the band. They take me in and I decide to do horns, horns. F horns, F horns. I used to play that thing and you just play ‘pop pop pop pop,’ you know? I did a lot of different instruments before. A little trumpet and saxophones, there were two saxophones. The most things they had at school was clarinet and trumpet. Trombones were full so I didn’t go on trombone. The bandmaster [Reuben Delgado] was very good at it, you know. Anyone who come out of that teaching was brilliant. He was the bandmaster, the bandmaster, so him keep the show. Delgado was the man in charge and the bigger ones look after us.”

One of the bigger ones who looked after Rico was Don Drummond. Rico told me, “I met him in the band and he was an excellent player and he show me things. He was a little bit quiet, you know? A very very quiet person. You don’t know what he’s going to do next, you know? Not like a lot of others, he was a quiet man. He don’t talk a lot, quiet. He was my friend, my friend. Through the bandmaster and on account of the band, he was a trombone teacher, you know? He write some different things we used to play and so forth, so there is always someone from the band that can teach you something. When he write the music he get you to come and sit with you and play the music with you. He taught me the double tongue and things like that, yea, different styles. Don was first trombone. And I was a learner, a learner (laughs). I’m a student. I’m a new player in the band at that time. I used to take his stand in his practice. When the band goes out I carry his stand, music stand, carry the music for him. The ones who were more advanced show the ones who were not so advanced. He used to give me some scales to study, one or two scales for the day and he would see how I was getting on. He show me everything. He’d play the scale and show me before so I get the feel, you know? He was tough on me, tough on me. He told me, ‘If you want to be a musician you have to take everything seriously and practice.’ He was okay with me. He was a friend, a friendly-type of person.”

After his time at Alpha, Rico performed in a number of bands around Kingston and on a number of recordings in the studios at the birth of the recording industry. He spent time in the Wareika Hills with his fellow musicians and Rastas and entitled his first album in 1976, “Man from Wareika.” He talked to me about his time in the hills.


“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. When we go, he [Don Drummond] used to tell me, ‘Don’t play man, just listen. Don’t play, just listen to me.’ Sometimes I get to play with him sometimes. Listening to Drummond gave me a much deeper opportunity to hear it. Not being in a band, just free playing. I am happy to have heard him playing the trombone with the drums around him, more than anything else. He was a Rasta in the Wareika Hills, so I went. I used to go up there and look for them, you know, if Drummond was one of the trombone players, so I just go and look for him and he could give me a good ting or two. When we go to Wareika Hills we used to play together. Sometimes he was so busy I don’t wait for him. Sometimes he call me to go play with him. And when I go up to Wareika then I used to go home, you know? And he said to me, ‘Rico mon, you see this area? Come up.’ And when he used to tell me that, I stay at Wareika and I don’t leave until I leave for England. I never leave that year until I was coming to England. He was a good man. He was so excellent, he was so good that I want to be as good as him so I work real hard, reading and so forth, writing. When he write the music, he get you to come and sit with you and play the music with you. Drummond was a quiet person, but he was my very good friend, you know? I held his music stand fe him. Whenever he wrote any music he always call me to come play it with him, you know? He was a very good person. He was a very good person. He always come and pick me up to go and practice with him, you know? And sometimes I didn’t have a trombone and I used to go and borrow his trombone. But sometime he don’t want to lend me. Before he give me he always shine it up. ‘Look after this and bring it back.’ I didn’t have one, he used to lend me his.”

Today, we lost a member of our band and although it is a sad day, we celebrate the music of this incredible legend.

Enjoy a selection of my favorite Rico tunes:

“Rudy, A Message to You,” by Dandy Livingston with Rico on trombone

The Specials’ “A Message to You Rudy,” featuring Rico

“Trombone Man” from Tribute to Don Drummond

“Rockfort Rock”–a Don Drummond/Skatalites tune by Rico & His Band

Rico singing and playing “I’m in the Mood for Love” with Jools Holland

To read a wonderful interview with Rico on the Reggae Vibes website, click HERE.

A fascinating documentary clip HERE.

Sparrow Martin, Uncategorized

Sparrow Martin–Drummer, Bandleader, Alpha Legend


I came across this article on Sparrow Martin while combing through the Star Newspaper archives and was reminded of yet another Jamaican musician who has never quit and continues to leave a legacy to the next generation of musicians. I have had the pleasure of meeting him a number of times and he is always full of love and smiles. He has coined  nickname for me–Scary Bird. I’m a tenacious American, what can I say?! In 2011 he told me how he got his nickname while a student at Alpha Boys School. “We were told in school we are not to go out in the rain ’cause of the cold that you would catch, and we liked to play in the rain. But Sister (Ignatius) always come down when the rain starting. She would come down with her umbrella and she walk and look to see who is in the rain. So one day, I was in junior home, and I didn’t see the Sister was coming up. I was playing in the rain. So I climb up in a tree and when I climb up, it start to rain some more. And she come under the tree and said, ‘Come out of the tree, you naughty little sparrow. What would your mother do if you stayed here and drown?’ The boys now heard her so they start singing, ‘Sparrow treetop, la la la la la.’ From that come my name. When I left Alpha, I wanted a name as a musician, so I used the name because my name is Winston Martin, so the name is Sparrow Martin, and I became world famous.”


The following is the text of the Star Newspaper article from November 29, 1964:

Top Drummer ‘Sparrow’ is a Man of Many Parts

“Meet Winston ‘Sparrow’ Martin, the new top drummer with Carlos Malcolm and the Afro-Jamaican Rhythms. Tall, quiet and with an easy smile, 23-year-old ‘Sparrow’ has stacked up a great many successes in a few short years of professional musicianship. He has mastered five instruments.

During his school days at Alpha, ‘Sparrow’ began on the E-flat horn, then he learned trumpet, then drums. The last, now his favourite instrument, he learned about from Lennie Hibbert. In his ‘spare time’ he learned to play the euphonium and it became ‘Sparrow’s’ specialty, with the trumpet as his second instrument for the three years he was in the Jamaica’s Constabulary Force Band. This was from 1958 when the band was formed at a time when its members were not required to be in the force.

Came 1961, and ‘Sparrow’ moved to the Jamaica Military Band and alternated the euphonium this time with the French horn, which he learned to play by the ‘do-it-yourself’ method. His ‘spare-time’ also stretched at this point to allow him to branch out into the popular music field, and his first recording he proudly states, was when he drummed for the Joe Williams group in the accompaniment for Lord Creator’s ‘Independence Calypso.’ On a more solid footing, he joined the Sonny Bradshaw Quartet and was with them for a year.

Red-letter days for ‘Sparrow’ are too numerous to list. Remember the drummer of the LTN pantomime production ‘Jamaica Way;’ the ballet production ‘Footnotes in Jazz,’ the 1963 Independence Anniversary Jazz Festival, and the all star band for the Sammy Davis Show? Then you’ve remembered ‘Sparrow’ Martin. He recalled his three-month tour with the Vagabonds to England early this year, cut short because he had to return home to go with the Jamaica Military Band to St. Kitts to represent Jamaica at the West Indies Arts Festival. For with all this ‘sideline’ activity, ‘Sparrow’ has still all along been a permanent member of the Military band.

To prospective drummers, ‘Sparrow’ advises dedication as the keynote to success. Of all the instruments he plays, he finds the drums allow him to express himself most. ‘You have to listen keenly to the other instruments, know the other members of the band, be with them, ‘read’ them. At the same time, you enjoy going with all you’ve got–your hands, your feet, your mind . . . ‘

There’s the greatest possible scope in jazz drumming ‘Sparrow’ avows as he rhapsodies about Sammy Payne, Sam Woodyard, Rufus Jones, Max Roach, and Elvin Jones.

Above all, though, as he beats it out with the Afro-Jamaican Rhythms, he has a feeling of being the closest he’s been so far to his fans. ‘They’re with it,’ he says, ‘and of course it works both ways.’ He leaves the Jamaica Military Band this month to join the Afro-Jamaican Rhythms on a permanent basis.” –Joy Gordon

Sparrow came to Alpha Boys School because he was a bit unruly. He told me, “My father couldn’t mind me. I was a guy who was very rude, didn’t want to go to school.” After he left Alpha and performed with the Constabulary and Military bands, and Carlos Malcolm’s group, he event formed a group of his own, as seen here in this advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, December 3, 1980.


Sparrow Martin had a successful career in music before bringing his knowledge to the youth as band master at the Alpha Boys School. “I used to do recordings and I left all of my musical life and it feels good,” he told me about taking on the role as band master in 1989. He still leads the boys band today even though Alpha Boys School is now known as Alpha Institute and is a day school only, no boarding after over a century of housing and schooling the students. When I drove by the school on South Camp Road last week, even the sign had changed to proclaim the new name, Alpha Institute. And Sparrow continues to school his boys in music and today leads his own band of musicians, a group that in 2011 he was just starting to put together in his creative mind. He told me in 2011, “I am very excited about the New Skatalites, the Young Skatalites, because I think it is going to be very big. These guys are young. I was with them, there are five of them who are ages 23 to 25. When they founded the Skatalites band, these guys were over 30 years old and you guys have more of an advantage because you are young,” he said. That band is not called the Young Skatalites but instead is Ska Rebirth. They were formed in 2011 and I had the pleasure of seeing them perform in 2013 during a rehearsal. They performed Skatalites tunes classics like Guns of Navarone and Rockfort Rock.


Just last week, another group that Sparrow leads, the Alpha All Stars, performed for Reggae Month with Travis Wedderburn on trombone, a young graduate of Alpha who promises to be the next Don Drummond, and Alpha Old Boy and Skatalites’ Lester Sterling on sax. Who is that on drums? Yes, Sparrow himself!



Below is an article ran in the Jamaica Gleaner on April 30, 2012:


Winston ‘Sparrow’ Martin, OD, has had a highly distinguished musical career and is now celebrating 50 years in the music industry.

Since 1989, he has been the musical director of the Alpha Boys’ School Band. In 2007, he was awarded a Bronze Musgrave Medal for his eminence in music, and was only just awarded at the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons Limited’s Jamaica 50 Living Legacy Award for contributing invaluable service to Jamaica since Independence. It is indeed noteworthy that Sparrow was one out of two musicians so awarded.

Ska Rebirth

Now focussed on his brainchild, Ska Rebirth, a band formed in June 2011, the band is said to be Jamaica’s only existing ska band.

Sparrow leads the charge as its band master, and is also on drums, and has a complement of nine persons. The other band members are: Odane Stephens (keyboards), Kemroy Bonfield (saxophone), Rayon Thompson (saxophone), Camal Bloomfield (saxophone) Lance Smith (trumpet), Kemar Miller (trombone), Rohan Meredith (bass guitar) and George Hewitt (lead guitar).

More than half of the band members are graduates of Alpha Boys’ School, the home of ska music. The band is deeply committed to keeping the indigenous music form, ska, alive in Jamaica and the rest of the world; following in the tradition of their mentor, the legendary Skatalites.

“What we are doing here is not just starting a band!”, says Sparrow, in between one of his signature off beat, on beat, snare drum slaps, during a Ska Rebirth rehearsal session, “We are starting a movement, one which will bring back the original sound of ska from its roots and home, Alpha Boys’ School in Kingston, Jamaica, and spread it once again across the entire world, this is the real SKA Rebirth!!”

Since inception, Ska Rebirth has performed four times: On the talent stage at the 16th Annual Jazz Festival in January 2012, where they thrilled the audience who danced to the memorable ska sounds.

Flexibility with music

They also entertained at the Jamaica Cricket Association Annual Awards Dinner held at The Jamaica Pegasus on February 18, 2012, displaying their flexibility with background music during dinner and a lively entertainment segment. Among the distinguished guests there were the prime minister and governor general.

They again graced the stage during a joint venture that was held with Vinyl Record Collectors Association, Jamaica Chapter, on February 25, at Heather’s Garden Restaurant on Haining Road. Here the band showcased its versatility in a live show, doing a number of jazz and blues cover pieces, tantalising ska beats and backing the renowned ‘Stranger Cole’.

The band’s most recent event was a lunch-hour concert hosted by the Institute of Jamaica on March 29, targeting school children at the primary level. The children were thrilled with the novel sounds of ska and were eager to show their moves in the dance competition.


Here is an interview with Sparrow Martin in 2007 on YouTube.

Here is a rehearsal of Ska Rebirth performing in 2013 on YouTube.

Here Ska Rebirth performs live on Jamaicansmusic.com


The Monkey Tambourine Tree


I am beyond excited to write this week’s blog post! I have stumbled across a photo of the Monkey Tambourine Tree, also called the Dibby Dibby Tree, that once stood at the Alpha Boys School. I was looking through some old issues of the Jamaica Journal that I recently purchased off of ebay for the fun of it, and located in the May-July 1987 issue was an article titled “The Search for Africa’s Baobab Tree in Jamaica.” This photo appeared on page 6, and I thought, could this be the tree? The one that Don Drummond practiced under that I had been told about by various Alpharians? I posted my inquiry on Facebook and had my hopes confirmed–this is the tree!!!

My friend Ronald Knight who was an Alpharian and a member of the band says, “Yes it was. We used to do our musical theory lessons under it every morning, the buildings you can see was where instruments were kept. And to the right of the tree,out of sight was the printing & bindery buildings. It brings back some memories , that tree ….” Alpharian Charles Simpson confirms, “Its back of the printery and binding shop right of the old band room,” and Rico Rodriguez also agrees, this was the tree!

Why is this so exciting for ska fans like me? Well I would like to talk about it by including the following information which is an excerpt from my book in the chapter entitled, The Monkey Tambourine Tree. Had I discovered this photo before it was published, this certainly would have been included in the chapter. I get chills thinking of Don D practicing as a child under this tree. I can picture him there, I can almost see his ghost.

From Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist:

How did Don Drummond develop such musical skill at such an early age? Certainly Reuben Delgado had a big hand, Drummond’s classmates and mentors like Carl Masters had a hand, but truthfully, it was Drummond himself who took the opportunity he was given and made the most of it. Instead of playing games like other boys, instead of going to class to further develop his math or reading skills, Drummond spent time, on his own, under a tree, practicing. Winston “Sparrow” Martin recalls Drummond’s discipline for music when they were both students at Alpha. “I came here when I was nine years old and Don Drummond was on his way out. He was a man who liked to stay by himself. There used to be a tree by the band room when I used to be here called the Monkey Tambourine Tree and he used to sit there practicing, or if he not practicing he would be looking at a piano book. He practiced the trombone out of a piano book, because the piano has the melody and the harmony so you practice that and he would play the part of what the piano played. On the piano you have something called the treble section and the bass section so he would play the bass section,” says Martin. A monkey tambourine is a specific style of wood tambourine. The tree that Martin and others referred to as the Monkey Tambourine Tree was also called the Dibby Dibby Tree by Sister Ignatius and others after a slang term meaning bad quality.


Headley Bennett also remembers Drummond practicing and studying under the Monkey Tambourine Tree. “We meet him at Alpha. He never used to play games with us. He just sit under the tree and watch the games. And he used to read a lot. He used to read a lot about leaders, like the Russian leaders and German leaders. He used to read those kind of books. And I used to look at him and tell him that I don’t really understand those books. He need the knowledge, you know? But they were too high for him, for his age, you know. He was around 14 or 15 years old and we were the same age. We played cricket, football, baseball. He sat under the tree and watched us. And he always smilin’, you know? When we see him under the tree he smiled. He used to practice more than any one of us. When we finished class at three or four o’clock, he practiced every evening when he’s not watching games. He practiced very hard, more than us. We were in the band together with Reuben Delgado. He was a very strict band leader. Drummond was quiet. You could not get him to talk too much. He don’t want to discuss nothing. You don’t have to talk about nothing at all. He used to read a lot, that’s how he tried to gain more knowledge,” says Bennett. It was during this time that Drummond was fitted for glasses since he was found to be extremely nearsighted. His glasses were very thick, like magnifying glasses.

Martin says that Drummond even began skipping classes to practice on his own and the administrators allowed it since he was so skilled at music. Walking the path on Alpha’s campus from an area of overgrowth and debris that used to house the old band room, Martin recalls, “When he was going to school, we take our instruments from here and walk to the practicing area. But when we leave the practicing area and come back to put all the instruments away, Don don’t put his instrument away yet. He sit down under the tree and practice, so when the bandmaster come in, Mr. Delgado, he would still stay there, with his instrument but he would have the piano music in his hand.”


Drummond spent time studying classical music in the classroom, but on his own he listened to jazz on the radio and he started to compose songs of his own. “Don Drummond didn’t want to play classical music, he wanted to play jazz music and he practice jazz music, so a lot of guys do that when they’re older, they want to go into jazz, the Louis Armstrong, the J.J. Johnson, all these type of jazz musicians we used to hear about,” says Martin.


Mutt & Jeff Sound System



The Mutt & Jeff Sound System wasn’t just any run-of-the-mill sound systems in Kingston during the 50s and 60s. This sound system was vital to the growth of Jamaican music for a number of reasons. Not only was the sound system itself constructed by Alpha boys in the woodshop, but it was overseen by an Alpha teacher and former Alpha boy, and was then given after ample use to the Alpha directress, Sister Mary Ignatius Davies, who used it to instruct additional Alpha boys. In many ways, the Mutt & Jeff Sound System was an Alpha Boys School sound system.

Mutt’s real name was Kenneth Davy and he named his sound system Mutt and Jeff after the popular comic strip of the day which featured a very tall character, Mutt, and a “half-pint” named Jeff. The comic strip was carried in the Jamaica Star, one of the island’s newspapers. Davy, who was over six feet tall, held the Mutt moniker, and Jeff was better known as Leighton Geoff, a short fellow with an appropriate last name.

            Davy attended Alpha Boys School and was a skilled public speaker and debater. After he graduated, Sister Ignatius asked Davy to return to emcee various school events and presentations, such as plays, concerts, and sporting competitions. He did this all without the aid of any amplification, but around 1956 he purchased a microphone, a small amplifier, and two 12 inch speakers. He quickly moved into providing background music at these events and started hosting sound system dances at Alpha. As word of his entertainment skill spread, Davy started hosting dances outside of Alpha and he soon found the need to upgrade his equipment to meet demand. Davy worked his full-time day job in the Alpha Boys School printery, directing the boys in the trade of setting type, inking presses, and printing books that were then bound in the school’s bindery. With the blessing of Sister Ignatius, Davy’s sound system upgrade was a project handled by the school’s woodshop. The boys learned to produce a custom item under the watchful eye of Davy whose printery was adjacent to the woodshop and he would frequently leave his shop to help supervise the boys with their table saws, sanders, and hammers. The woodshop, like the printery and the pottery shop and the garden and the shoe shop, were not only areas of trade instruction for the boys. They were also revenue makers, as they still are today, helping to offset the operational costs of the school. Making custom items for customers was part of the school’s operation, and part of training for the boys.

Davy’s friend Leighton Geoff was an electrical technician at Wonards, a large appliance store located in downtown Kingston which opened in 1948. Staff at Wonards was akin to staff at Radio Shack today in the U.S., knowledgeable about all things electrical. They were vital to helping make the creative ideas of sound system operators into a reality, wiring speakers to amplifiers. Davy then had the woodshop boys build the speakers into towering cabinets known as “Houses of Joy.” Geoff not only built the speaker system, but he also maintained its clarity, continually fine-tuning the sound for precision. Davy now had his sound system, and with his entrepreneurial spirit he also had the means of marketing his system, using the printery and free labor at Alpha to send advertisements for his events which touted, “Mutt & Jeff Clear As a Bell,” as well as promote his wife Gloria’s catering services since she was a fantastic cook of such local dishes as curry goat and green bananas and rice.

The Mutt & Jeff Sound System played holiday music for a Christmas party for needy children in December, 1959 and that same month played as “the disinherited of the earth were not forgotten” as several hundred “inmates at Bellevue Hospital” were given a party. “A poignant note was struck when they expressed the wish for Christmas that everyone should pray for them that they would soon be well again and happy in their own homes,” said the article. These are just two examples of the charitable outreach that the sound system provided and Davy was able to generate a decent amount of revenue from playing at parties and dances. He decided in 1964 to leave the life of the sound system behind to spend more time with his wife and their eleven children. He sold his entire set, equipment and music, to Sister Ignatius who added the records to her already-large collection. Sister Ignatius had hundreds of 78 and 45 records in her collection—everything from classical music to speeches by Malcolm X. This collection was built from not only Davy’s additions, but Sister Ignatius would regularly send her students, such as Floyd Lloyd Seivright, to purchase records from local record shops, giving him money for the acquisition and a list of her selections.


Stanley Motta, Recording Pioneer


Stanley Motta is always mentioned as an early pioneer in the ska industry since he had the first recording studio on the island, although they were not pressed there–Motta sent the acetates to the U.K. for duplication. But Motta began the recording industry in Jamaica. His recording studio was opened in 1951 on Hanover Street and his label, M.R.S. (Motta’s Recording Studio), recorded mostly calypso and mento. Motta’s first recorded in 1952 with Lord Fly whose birth name was Rupert Lyon. It is to be noted that in his band on these recordings were Bertie King on clarinet, an Alpha Boys School alumnus who would go on to have a successful jazz career in Europe, as well as Mapletoft Poule who had a big band that employed many early ska musicians and Alpha alumni. Motta also recorded artists like Count Lasher, Monty Reynolds, Eddie Brown, Alerth Bedasse, Jellicoe Barker, Lord Composer, Lord Lebby, Lord Messam, Lord Power, and Lord Melody (good Lord!).


There is a strong ska connection too. While I originally thought and posted that Baba Motta was Stanley Motta’s little brother and got that misinformation from Brian Keyo (here: http://www.soulvendors.com/rolandalphonso.html), I have been corrected by mento scholar Daniel Neely, as you will see from his fantastic and helpful comments below. They, in fact, are not related. Baba Motta was a pianist and trumpeter who also played bongos at times. Roland Alphonso performed with Baba Motta and Stanley then employed Roland to play as a studio musician for many of his calypsonians. Baba Motta had his own orchestra based at the Myrtle Bank Hotel. Baba Motta also recorded for his brother Stanley Motta with Ernest Ranglin. And other ska artists who recorded for Stanley Motta include Laurel Aitken and Lord Tanamo. Rico Rodriguez also says he recorded for Stanley Motta. Theophilus Beckford also performed for other calypsonians that Motta recorded, playing piano before he cut his vital tune “Easy Snapping” for Coxsone, the first recognized ska recording.


So who was this Stanley Motta character and what was his interest in Jamaican music? Well as most Jamaican residents know, Motta was the owner of his eponymous business that sold electronics, camera equipment, recording equipment, and appliances. They also processed film, if you remember that! Motta started his business in 1932 with just two employees. Motta’s grew to hundreds of employees over the years and they sold products from Radio Shack, Poloroid, Hoover, Nokia, and Nintendo, to name a few. Stanley Motta was born in Kingston on October 5, 1915. He was educated at Munro College and St. George’s College. He was married twice and has four sons, Brian, David, Philip, and Robert.


Motta chose to get into recording perhaps because it was a new industry for the island. And as a businessman, he saw that there were tourists who flocked to Jamaica with spending money, and in an effort to capture some of that money, he began recording to send them home with a souvenir. Many of these calypso and mento recordings for MRS were intended to be souvenirs, a take home example of the sounds enjoyed while on the north coast beaches. In fact, later Motta would serve on the board of the Jamaica Tourist Board from 1955 to 1962, so this was a focus for Motta. He recorded 78s, 45s, but also 10 full-length LPs including “Authentic Jamaican Calypsos,” a four volume series targeted at tourists upon which Roland Alphonso is a featured soloist on the song “Reincarnation.” In short, Motta was an entrepreneur, so his interest in recording came from a vision to fill a need, and he quickly moved on into more enterprising endeavors when he saw that need was being met better by others, like Federal Records, a physical pressing plant, and he chose to focus on his retail stores instead, stores which are still in business today.


Motta was also involved in broadcast, but not as you might think. In 1941, after viewing a program that was broadcast on NBC, Motta was so moved by the content of the program titled “Highlights of 1941,” that he wrote to NBC to obtain a recording of this broadcast. He secured the one-hour program which he then showed for audiences at the Glass Bucket Club and he used donations from the screening to support war funds. The program dramatized many of the events of the year interspersed with real footage of Pearl Harbor and the milestones leading up to World War II.


Motta was likely also a supplier for many sound system operators, as you can see from the advertisement above. He sold amplifiers, speakers, and all types of recording equipment so without his influence, the face of Jamaican music would not be the same, in many ways. Share your stories, memories, and research on Stanley Motta here and keep the dialogue going!


Here are a number of links to more information on Stanley Motta and his recording legacy: