Vintage Voices | Seaga the music man
Edward Seaga had a multifaceted career that traversed anthropological endeavours, politics, music, and sports. But contrary to what many may think, his greatest ambition as a youngster was to become a nuclear physicist. He explained this when I spoke to him from his office at The University of The West Indies in 2007. The idea was uppermost in his mind as he left Wolmer’s Boys’ School to attend Harvard University in the late ’40s. “It was about three to four years since the explosion of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It excited the minds of many people, including myself, as to how this tremendous force was wrapped up into little things that are microscopic – atoms. I wanted to know more about the functioning of the atom and its vast storehouse of power. But at Harvard, I was introduced to the social sciences – psychology, cultural anthropology and sociology – and that fascinated me even more, so I switched without any idea in my mind about what I wanted to do,” he said.
Seaga’s study of anthropology, inevitably led him into folk cult music, pocomania music, and the love for people. He produced folk and religious (revivalist) music and conducted several sessions with a Kumina band, recording their music while living in Salt Lane, behind the Coronation Market.
Out of that music, Seaga compiled an album prepared and produced by Folkways Records in the United States. By bringing it to the Jamaican record shops and exposing it to the record-buying public, it prompted buyers to ask for music by foreign artistes. “I wasn’t really into that, but they persuaded me to import some, and I did. That took me into the music business,” Seaga revealed.
Linking this foreign music with his own indigenous music, Seaga was there when our own popular music was being born (around 1959), and so he ventured into that and created history by producing the first Jamaican hit record that was put on vinyl for commercial purposes – Mannie Oh by Joe Higgs and Roy Wilson in 1960. According to Seaga, “That opened the eyes of composers and artistes, who now felt that since something can go on vinyl, as against soft-wax acetate, you could play it a million times, and consumers could buy it. So the music really took off from that time.”
Mannie Oh, a number-one song on the Jamaican charts for weeks, became more like the flagship recording that helped to set up and establish Seaga’s West Indies Recording Limited (WIRL Studios) as the top recording entity in the Caribbean at the turn of the decade. Out of it poured a plethora of hit recordings originating in Jamaica and from abroad. Sadly, though, Seaga’s involvement as a producer, and with the entity, was short-lived when he became involved in politics. “After building it and starting it out, I got involved in politics, and I turned it over to my father who started to look about it for me. We sold it to a man from Guyana, and he in turn sold it to Byron Lee, and that is when it really played a role”, Seaga said. Lee eventually renamed it Dynamic Sounds.
Seaga has left an indelible mark on Jamaica’s sports, music, and culture. The establishment of The Jamaica Festival Commission to help preserve the arts, music, culture, and heritage of the island, and the introduction of ska music to the world through the New York World Fair in ’64, are perhaps the earliest of his multitude of endeavours.
During the twilight of his career, Seaga served as a distinguished fellow at The University of The West Indies; Chancellor of The University of Technology; and chairman of The Premier League Clubs’ Association. A resolute and outspoken statesman, Seaga was always true to form. He proved to be no less so, even in death, when he chose to leave us on May 28, 2019, the same date on which he was born back in 1930.