Sun | Dec 16, 2018

Reggae's Front Runners Spread Music Globally

Published:Sunday | February 14, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Gregory Isaacs
Desmond Dekker
Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert

A roll call of the artistes that have made reggae month - (February) and International Reggae Day - (July 1) possible, shows Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Alton Ellis, Toots and The Maytals and Desmond Dekker as the front-runners.

Dekker may perhaps be the first to have made people look at Jamaica's reggae music as a popular and legitimate music form with his recording of Israelites, in 1969. It was historic, as it became the first recording by a Jamaican artiste to occupy the number-one position on the British charts. Its success was amazing, when viewed against the background of its almost unintelligible lyrics. Originally titled, 'Poor me Israelites', with the first line of the song mistakenly interpreted as, 'Get up in the morning, baked beans for breakfast', the Leslie Kong-produced recording spoke to the age-old and ever-present lament of the struggling working class to stay alive by honest means:

'Get up in the morning, slaving for bread sir,

so that every mouth can be fed.

Poor me, Israelites.

Shirt dem a tear up, trousers a go,

I don't want to end up like Bonnie and Clyde'.

Dekker seemed to have been divinely touched, prompting his use of an excerpt from the book of Exodus chapter 20, verse 12, to bolster his debut recording for Kong, - "Honour your mother and your Father", in 1963. Four years later, he placed, 007 (Shanty Town) at the top of the Jamaican charts and at number 12 on the United Kingdom (UK) charts, - the first Jamaican-produced record to sit in the top-20 of the UK charts. He went on to make further inroads with, A It Mek and You can get it if you really Want. Dekker thus became a standard-bearer of Jamaican music, bringing to it a recognition it had never previously enjoyed.

The works of Brown and Marley are well known, and have been previously expanded on. Jimmy Cliff, quite rightly, was in the class of the two esteemed gentlemen as far as his influence goes towards the establishment of Reggae Month and International Reggae Day. Having the advantage of being the only one of the batch to have starred in a full-length movie, Cliff helped reggae music to soar to astronomical heights with 12 unforgettable soundtrack recordings that brought reggae music to an international audience.

Like Marley and Dekker, Cliff began his entertainment career as a vocalist with Producer Leslie Kong's Beverley's label, in 1962. He debuted with, Hurricane Hatti - a story about a 1961 hurricane that flattened Belize, formerly British Honduras.


Thereafter, Cliff helped to promote Jamaica's ska music and dance at the New York's world fair in 1964, and later in England, he pushed Jamaican reggae music into the UK chart with Wonderful world, Vietnam and Wild world in 1969. One of Cliff's latest dream is to enact a reprise of his role in the highly successful movie - The harder they come.

If ever there was a vocal group that could truly be said to be an integral part of Reggae Month and International Reggae Day, it must be Toots and The Maytals. Beginning at Clement Dodd's Studio1 in 1962 with Henry 'Raleigh' Gordon, Nathaniel 'Jerry' Mathias and Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert', the trio brought a new type of Ska music to the Jamaican scene which was deeply rooted in spirituality.

Toots, who was the front man and mainstay of the group was the epitome of that style, having been brought up in the church. Among their early songs were, He's Real, Prayer is my daily Food, Hallelujah, Never you Change and Sixth and seventh Books. Moving into the reggae mode, the group had, Do the Reggay, Pressure Drop, Sweet and Dandy, Monkey Man - their first international hit in 1970, and 5446 was my Number, which became a hit on almost every continent.

Parting with the original members and reforming in the 1990s, Toots and the Maytals, which Hibbert also branded himself, took reggae music to every corner of the globe through numerous stage shows and international hits which included three best-selling albums for Island Records, and the international hit singles - Funky Kingston, in 1973 and Reggae got Soul, in 1975. The three-time Festival Song competition winners reached number one in New Zealand with Beautiful Woman in 1982 and in 2004 their album, True Love, won the Grammy for Best Reggae Album.

Another artiste who would certainly rank in the top-10 of those who placed reggae-music on the international map, thereby securing for the genre a month and a day in which it would be duly celebrated, is Gregory Isaacs. Like Toots and The Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley and Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs promoted Jamaica's reggae music globally through frequent stage shows at home and abroad, while several of his hits rode high on overseas charts.

Born in Kingston on July 15, 1950, Isaacs emerged in the mid-1970s and portrayed a style that was described as 'Cool, slow and hypnotic'. In both his songs, which were mainly written by him, about his personal life, Isaacs portrayed the lonely lover who wore his heart upon his sleeve. His debut recording, Another heartache in 1968 was somewhat undistinguished, but his follow-up My only lover in 1970 came good, and was like the template for subsequent lover's rock recordings.

Peter Tosh, born Winston Hubert McIntosh, in Westmoreland, Jamaica, on October 19, 1944, was the uncompromising revolutionary, who preferred to 'call a spade a spade' and didn't mince words in expressing his views on certain issues through his music and the spoken word. For years, Tosh had been lobbying for the legalisation of marijuana but didn't live to see the partial fruition of his efforts in Jamaica. He, along with another ambassador of reggae - Bunny Wailer, were members of the original Wailers.

Alton Ellis, by his very title, 'The godfather of reggae', bore the mantle of being one of the pillars and founding fathers of the genre and hence was a major contributor to the founding of Reggae Month and International Reggae Day.