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The Music Diaries | Independence and the birth of Jamaican Music

Published:Thursday | August 2, 2018 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Strangejah Cole (Stranger Cole)
A very young Delroy Wilson
Jimmy Cliff

The year 1962 not only signalled the birth of Jamaica as an independent nation, but also signalled the birth of the career of several outstanding Jamaican entertainers.

It was also the birth year of Jamaica's foundation music: ska. For some odd reason, Jamaica's popular music literally took off, right on the heels of Independence, without any real attempt being made by the Government or any Jamaican music entity to mobilise artistes or to create music to complement the inaugural independence celebrations. It all seemed to occur spontaneously.

One may argue that the then minister in charge of culture, Edward Seaga, had commissioned band leader Byron Lee to go into west Kingston, where ska was prevalent, familiarise himself with it, and, thereafter, take it uptown, and eventually to New York via the New York World's Fair in 1964. But such contenders need to be cognisant of the fact that ska was already established by then.

In offering an explanation for the sudden explosion of Jamaican music during the Independence celebrations of 1962, some music connoisseurs and aficionados declare that the national exhilaration, triggered by the spirited celebrations at the time, had given singers and musicians that extra impetus to create a sound that was uniquely and distinctly Jamaican.

Heading the list of artistes whose careers were born in 1962 were Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Delroy Wilson, Stranger Cole, and Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert.


Bob Marley


Marley began his career with the Chinese-Jamaican record producer Leslie Kong, doing the recording Judge Not on Kong's Beverley's label. The singers' debut portrayed the true Marley image as he sang:

"Who are you to judge me and the life that I live?

I know that I'm not perfect and that I don't claim to be

So before you point your fingers,

Be sure your hands are clean

Judge not."

Marley formed a group with Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Junior Braithwaite, and Beverley Kelso, and they did their first set of recordings for producer Clement Dodd's Studio 1 label as The Wailing Wailers.

Jimmy Cliff had somewhat of a rocky start after his initial submission, Dearest Beverley, was turned down by audition man Derrick Morgan on the grounds that it was too slow and wouldn't take the market. Cliff's substitute, Hurricane Hattie, became a massive No. 1 ska hit in Jamaica in 1962 and effectively launched his career. Backed by the Drumbago All Stars Band, he followed up with other numbers like Miss Jamaica, Since Lately, King of Kings, One-Eyed Jack among others. They were also among the many ska hits that blared at dances and festive occasions during the Independence euphoria of 1962.

At 12 going on 13 years old, Delroy Wilson, still in short pants, attending Boys' Town Primary School, was perhaps the earliest and youngest of the stars that came with a bang in Jamaica's inaugural year of Independence. Apart from creating music that helped to sweeten the celebrations, Wilson's arrival at Studio 1 was pportune, as it provided producer Clement Dodd with the ammunition he needed to re-establish himself as the top record producer of the early 1960s. Young Wilson provided a barrage of songs aimed at Prince Buster, who had earlier denounced Dodd with the recording One Hand Wash The Other and others. Wilson responded with cuts such as Joe Liges Stop Criticise, The Lion of Judah, Prince Pharaoh, I Shall Not Remove, and Remember Your Nest.

Stranger Cole, now known as Strangejah Cole, and whose name was derived from the family's observation at his birth that he didn't resemble anybody in his family, came on the scene as a 17-year-old with a stunning ska piece titled Ruff And Tuff. Cole warned in the song:

"Don't bite the hand that feeds you

'Cause the good you do lives after you."

It was an ever-present selection at festive events during the Independence celebrations of 1962 and climbed to No. 1 on the Jamaican charts. Incidentally, it was the only hit recording Cole had as a solo artiste.

Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert adopted a more spiritual approach when he arrived on the Jamaican music scene. He, along with Nathaniel McCarthy and Henry Gordon, calling themselves The Maytals, arrived at Studio 1 with a new style, a new spiritual ska beat that was eagerly welcomed by the music lovers. With Hibbert, the youngest of the three doing lead vocals, they hit hard with Sixth and Seventh Books, Prayer Is My Daily Food, War No More, He's Real, He Will Provide, Hallelujah, and Shining Light.

In later years, Hibbert's work helped to place Jamaica on the international music map. Although not using the original combination, Toots still performs as The Maytals and won a Grammy award in 2005 for the album True Love.