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The Music Diaries | Caribbean's contribution to Jamaican music

Published:Thursday | August 30, 2018 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Rita Marley
Tommy McCook in 1979
Lord Laro.
Laurel Aitken

Last week's article on Lord Creator highlighted one of the notable features of early Jamaican popular music the impact that entertainers who were not born in Jamaica had on the development of the Island's music.

There are no fewer than a dozen other entertainers whose origin lies outside the island, but who made a lasting and ineffaceable mark on Jamaican music in its embryonic stage.

The list includes; saxophonists Tommy McCook and Rolando Alphonso, trombonist Rico Rodriguez, vocalists Laurel Aitken and Rita Marley all from Cuba; guitarist Lyn Taitt, vocalists Lord Brinner and Lord Laro from Trinidad; vocalist Jackie Opel from Barbados; trombonist/bandleader Carlos Malcolm and drummer Phil Callender from Panama; and guitarist Dennis Syndrey from Australia.

The role that McCook and Alphonso played was crucial to the success of the inimitable Skatalites band, and by extension the establishment of ska the foundation on which succeeding Jamaican genres were built. Both gentlemen were born in Havana, Cuba McCook in 1927, and Alphonso in 1931. Alphonso moved to Jamaica with his Jamaican mother before he was two years old. While attending the Stony Hill Industrial School, he began learning the saxophone, and by the time he left in 1948, he was well equipped to take on roles with bands such as Sonny Bradshaw, and Eric Deans. He soon found himself irresistibly attracted to the music being played by 'Sir Coxsone's Downbeat' sound system, and by 1952 began recording for Studio 1.

Alphonso has the distinction of performing with Studio 1's first in-house band Clue Jay and The Blues Blasters, which backed the massive watershed recording Easy Snapping, and countless others, which helped to establish the label in the days before Clement Dodd built his studio. Later, Rolando became a star with the Skatalites band, and then led The Soul Brothers band on some unforgettable cuts. He was awarded the Order of Distinction in 1977.

Rodriguez also played with Clue Jay and The Blues Blasters on Easy Snapping and other hits of the period before migrating to the United Kingdom in 1961, where he had a successful career. He was awarded an MBE at Buckingham Palace in 2007, and the Silver Musgrave Medal by the Institute of Jamaica for services to music.

McCook moved to Jamaica in 1933 with his mother and siblings. He enrolled at the music-oriented Alpha Boys School, and like Alphonso, joined The Eric Deans band in 1943. In 1962, he was approached by local producers to record, and opted to satisfy the urgings of Clement Dodd by recording the jazz album- Jazz Jamaica. Further collaborations with Dodd led to the formation of the Skatalites band with McCook as bandleader.

Laurel Aitken was born to a Jamaican father and a Cuban mother in 1927. He moved to Jamaica when he was 11 years old, and won the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour talent contest as a teenager. He danced and sang in Kingston nightclubs for tips, recorded several seminal boogie-woogie recordings, including Boogie In My Bones, and Little Sheila in the late 1950s, before migrating to England in 1960. He reaped rich rewards there with a number of English-made Ska recordings, thus becoming the first Jamaican artiste to expose Jamaica's Ska music to an international audience.

It is reported that Rita Marley was born in Cuba in the mid-1940s, and relocated to Kingston as a youngster. In a 2004 interview with The Vintage Boss magazine, Beverley Kelso a founding member of the Wailers, claimed that she introduced Rita to Studio 1 boss Clement Dodd. Rita later took her cousin Constantine Walker and her friend Precious, and debuted with Opportunity as the Soulettes. They also did Time For Everything, A De Pon Dem and Pied Piper. Solo pieces like One Draw and Play Play established her career, which rose to another level as a member of the legendary I-Threes that backed her husband on seven monumental albums for Island Records.

Trinidadian Lyn Taitt, was crucial to the establishment of rocksteady as a legitimate music genre. He helped Hopeton Lewis to create arguably the first rock teady song Take It Easy in late 1966, and then went on to arrange and play guitar with his band, The Jets, on a multitude of top hits during that period.




Following in the tracks of Lord Creator, Lord Laro (born Kenneth Lara) first sang in calypso tents in Trinidad before joining the army and becoming known as 'the singing soldier' in 1961 the same year his battalion was sent to Jamaica for further training. It became the catalyst for his future musical endeavours, and his eventual domicile in Jamaica. His marriage to a Jamaican, and the success of his recording -Referendum, further strengthened his thoughts to remain in Jamaica. It became a reality in the early 1970s while Laro's hit recordings Foreign Press, Yu Have Fe Dread, Woman Ruler and others dominated the Jamaican charts.

From Barbados came Dalton Bishop. Parading his talents under the name Jackie Opel, he unleashed a barrage of ska hits, primarily for producer Clement Dodd. You're No Good, Turn Your Lamps Down, You're Too Bad, Push Wood In The Fire, Solid Rock and Cry Me A River were unforgettable gems.

Panamanian-born Carlos Malcolm, migrated to Kingston as a youngster, and formed his band, Carlos Malcolm and The Afro-Jamaican rhythms in mid-1962. Playing a blend of ska, mento, African and Latin rhythms, they brought a new dimension to Jamaican music with hits like Rukumbine, Bonanza Ska, Coolie Gal, Cut Munu and Slide Mongoose. Malcolm's compatriot, drummer Filberto Callinder, made his presence felt on Studio 1 hits Real Rock, Nanny Goat, Full Up and Satta Amassagana.