By Eddie J. Grant, Contributor
Doreen Shafer, Stranger Cole, Patsy Todd, Lord Tanamo, Prince Buster and Justin Hinds
BY THE time DJ King Stitt brought the sweltering crowd of over-40 long-time Caribbean-originated ska nostalgics and new-age punk-style 20-something, mostly White Torontonians, to a boil recently, they were more than ready for the history-making 'Legends of Ska' event at Palais Royale in Toronto, Canada. For two solid nights, music lovers in Toronto and many who travelled from several cities across the United States were able to witness and enjoy the talent of some of the greatest singers and musicians Jamaica has ever produced.
When Stitt cooled his turntable, the 12-piece Skatalites Orchestra launched into such monster hits as Lee Harvey Oswald, Eastern Standard Time and crowd favourite Guns of Navarone. Many of the singers in the line-up recorded songs that stayed on the charts for several weeks during the 1960s and have transcended the ska era that ruled the airwaves, clubs and house parties not only in Jamaica, but other Caribbean islands and in London, England.
From the opening segment of the first night, fans knew they were in for a treat. Alton Ellis made his grand entrance, launching into his all-time favourite song Girl I Have Got A Date, followed by Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.
Ellis was right on the money when he told the audience that the show was a historic event. To make sure the talents and sounds of the ska artistes are never lost, event organiser Brad Klein is collaborating with other production companies to create a documentary on ska.
Lord Tanamo, who first got into the music at age four when he received a rumba box as a gift from Cecil 'Count Razza' Lawes, told a reporter that ska was born out of combining jazz and calypso. Long after the final show ended he was still plucking away backstage on his rumba box. The love these performers have for the genre is overwhelming.
Singer Winston Samuels bounced on-stage with Be Prepared, a song he recorded 30 years ago. Other songs included Let Them Talk and You Are The One I Need, which was recorded in 1969.
Owen Gray, a dynamic entertainer and a singer who is no stranger to Toronto, was next on the list. Millie Girl, Darling Patricia, On The Beach, and Sinner Gonna Weep and Mourn, had the fans rocking, after which he made way for Roy Wilson of the Higgs and Wilson duo. How Can I Be Sure, a song made in 1963, and Oh Mommy Oh, another hit for the duo, were well received.
London, England-based performer Derrick Morgan, an original legend of ska, was next on stage. Always a crowd-pleaser, Morgan treated the audience to some of his well-known songs including Be Still, Hey You Fat Man, Blazing Fire and In My Heart, made in 1963. At this point he was joined by long-time singing partner Patsy Todd and they brought the roof down when they performed Housewife Choice and Look Before You Leap. It was Todd's first time on stage in 33 years.
Trinidadian-born Lord Creator, who has made Jamaica his home for the last 40 years, was the next performer, making his first visit to Canada.
The final night saw sterling performances from the remaining legends on the roster. These include opening act Justin Hinds, who took the audience way down memory lane with some of his chart toppers songs such as Over The River, The Higher Monkey Climb, Rub Up Push Up and Carry Go Bring Come. Lord Tanamo then did a mento segment accompanied by former Vagabond Band bass player Phil Chen and other musicians. Next was Doreen Shaffer, then Derrick Harriott, who also thrilled the audience with his fine falsetto on Sugar Dandy. Harriott had complete accompaniment on Stop That Train since there did not seem to be a person in the audience, young or old, who did not know the lyrics.
Later he explained the longevity of ska. "The music lives on because it was the right type of music, the right type of songs, the right lyrics. It never dies." Harriott added that he was grateful that "we still look good and also still have the voices." It was his first return to a Toronto stage in 15 years.
The night clearly belonged to Stranger Cole and the dapper dynamic Prince Buster. While Cole had the fans screaming when he performed Bangarang, Buster, making his first Toronto appearance, really had the audience in ecstasy, especially his ever popular Wash Wash. After the show, an endless stream of young fans waited patiently for him to autograph his CDs.
"I don't know what took me so long to get to Toronto," he told The Gleaner. I'm happy to be here. I didn't know the city was so magnificent." When asked about the "third wave of ska" popularised by punk music bands, Buster said, "Punk fans are my friends, because the music is for everybody."
As usual Jeff Barnes, a former Radio Jamaica personality, did a superb job.
"You might not have another opportunity of seeing these musicians performing together again," he told the audience.
Those responsible for making this happen, especially Karl Mullings and Klein, should be commended. Klein anticipates that the ska documentary will be on screens in September 2003.