Young legend - Remembering the work and life of Garnet Silk
LeVaughn Flynn, Entertainment Editor
Sixteen years after his death, one question seems to come to mind when Garnet Silk is thought of or mentioned - What if?
What if he didn't die at 28, and had gone on to fulfil his promise as the next truly great global reggae star? What if he hadn't left his wife, Novlyn, and three children in Kingston to visit his mom in Mandeville on December 9, 1994, which turned out to be his last day alive? What if he were alive today? Where would his legacy be among those of the greats?
If one were to put imagery to Garnet Silk's voice, it would be like honey flowing through a well-tuned Don Drummond trombone, manifesting itself each time the instrument was played.
His voice was sweet, soulful and equally rich on each note and inflection. It had a pureness and clarity that was beautifully simple. Then there were the lyrics, his conversion to Rastafarianism shaping his message, which earned him comparisons to Bob Marley.
At 28 years old and with a relatively small catalogue, Silk, born Garnet Damon Smith, had a profound impact on Jamaica's music landscape. His career boom (1992-94) came at a time when the public was converting from vulgar dancehall tunes to conscious songs that spoke to the needs and desires of the African diaspora in Jamaica.
Over his life, there were specific developments that shaped Silk into the person he was up to death. He was first known as Little Bimbo in Manchester while he worked as a toaster on local sound systems in the mid-'80s. He was soon convinced to pursue singing instead of deejaying as his voice was more suited for it. Around the same time, friends Tony Rebel and Yasus Afari and brother-in-law Frederick Bent introduced Silk to the philosophies of Rastafarianism and he accepted them. His conversion a few years later gave new perspective to his songwriting.
Silk teamed with producing duo Steelie and Clevie in 1990 but was dissatisfied with the development of his album and went on a hiatus. This break allowed him to rejuvenate in Manchester and focus on his songwriting with friend Anthony 'Fire' Rochester. He returned to record some of his best tracks, including
Zion in a Vision
At the apex of his career, Silk and his mother perished by fire in their Mandeville home. Like other musical immortals, the combination of his impact and untimely death at a young age forged an iconic status on Silk among reggae lovers.
Some of the persons who knew the 'silky one' best divulged details on some of the key periods of his life that saw the development of Garnet Smith to Little Bimbo to Garnet Silk to a young legend.
- As told by his sister, Marcia Smith
"Garnet really born in dancehall. That boy been licking pan and deejaying from him was nine years old. We use to have hard time fi him go school. As day light him use to go inna one likkle old van weh mi father had and beat it like a sound system.
"Not too far from the house in Hatfield (Manchester), there is a centre, that them also use as a basic school, and they use to keep events there, so that's where he started. There were two main people in the area with sound systems. There was Soul Faith, owned by Robert Palmer, and Girl Soul International by Teddy Hickling. They use to put Garnet on beer box so people could see him, and him would deejay and mash up the place.
"Him grow up fast. When he was 15, you couldn't even call him a boy 'cause him a work him likkle $250 pon the sound.
"At around 17, he did his first recording with Delroy Collins (
). After that him use to be back and forth to Kingston and Mandeville just fi get a bread, enuh. Me always use to beat him and tell him fi go learn trade because this music nah carry him nuh weh. When me see him start locks mi use to lick him same way, because yu grow up and people always think seh Rasta a cruff and all dem things deh so deh likkle mentality in a yu same way.
Nah dutty up him hand
"Mi use to tell him fi go do woodwork, and him rail up and tell me seh him nah dutty up him hand, a music him a do, and mi tell him seh him nah get nutten out a music, yu just a walk and a mek up noise, and him seh, alright you will see. Yeah, man, that was him. The music born in a him.
"His intention was always to help him mother 'cause she never really had it. So fi him intention was just to go out there and do sum'n so that mamma could a survive."
- Garnet embraces Rastafarianism
As told by Tony Rebel
"From mi know Garnet Silk him was a yute weh did a seek. From in the late '80s, when me live in a di hills a Manchester, him use to come link mi and we use to have some serious reasoning. When he converted to Rastafarianism, he converted with a deep conviction. He was a genuine yute. Him love Rastafari, mi know that fi sure.
"Rastafarianism changed his life. Him was a yute who use to sometimes shy towards certain things. I remember one day, when him just start dread, him use to wear him tam, and one day him couldn't find any and him had to go downtown without it, and him seh him just feel a braveness. There was a certain amount of bravery that came with it because to grow yu dread in a society where, even though Rasta was originated there, there was certain amount of opposition that was still around that he was aware of. So he didn't know if he would be welcomed or not. After wearing his locks, he expressed to me that he felt he did something right.
"As his dreads grew and his belief in Rastafari grew, it simultaneously grew with his music into the faith and the whole combination of Rastafarianism and his spirituality enhanced his music. He was singing long time, but not like the way he was when him turn Rasta. Even his persona changed. Him just start look different when him start wear him dread. We use to sit down and reason seh Rastafari really enhance his life, wholistically, and that was true."
- Career peak
As told by former manager Bridgett Anderson
"When we just started working together he was working mainly on sound systems but he had a vision of working with live music and taking his music to another level. Garnet's music was about saving souls. We use to leave the house up by Tavistock Avenue (Millsborough) and he would say, 'Well, we gone save some souls now.' And he never cared if there were two people in the audience or 20,000. He always wanted to know that he touched people's lives by what he made. He was selfless when he was on that stage performing. He let go of self and really allowed the spirit of God to move through him and that was evident in how he performed. He was an evangelist. Money and all those things didn't matter to him that much. He was a kind person. He gave and gave and gave. He had a list of things he would bring back for people each time we went out to work.
"I've represented a lot of good artistes and Garnet is in a category by himself. When it came to the message in the music, he was an advocate for truth and rights and righteousness. At that time there was a lot of slackness in the music. I remember Angie Angel before she was a Rasta, we were at a show in Bermuda, and Garnet just said to her, 'God want you, enuh.' He was just like that.
"People never use to jump up and down when they listened to Garnet. They stood spellbound. They were transformed just standing up and drinking in his performance. We did a show at CV Smith Park in Miami in 1993 and the next day they called it Garnet Silk Day. People were just in awe of his performance. I saw people cry and said, 'Your music gives us hope. It gives us something to hold on to'. He was something else. He was really an awesome human being and he was dedicated to spreading his message of truth and love.
"During this period he did songs like
Christ In His Kingly Character
Mama and Zion In A Vision
Christ In His Kingly Character
was a very crucial song for him. His acceptance of Christ and the role that His Imperial Majesty played in the personality of Christ - that song explains his belief of the personification of Christ in a kingly character."
- The professional
As told by producer Donovan Germain
"Garnet was the consummate professional in his whole attitude and approach towards the work. He was always well prepared and that's one of the greatest things about an artiste. He didn't come around trying to find the song. He always came prepared so it was just a mater of fine-tuning it when he got to the studio. I would normally give him the track in advance and he would go home and write the song and rehearse so when he came to the studio it wouldn't be any long drawn-out session."
- Garnet Silk's legacy
As told by Yasus Afari
"I would define Garnet as a silk worm who was given the mandate of adorning the people with a vocal garment of music. So we would want to see that garment getting stronger in the future, hopefully being more relevant. This is a very special garment that we need to value and learn from and be inspired by. Over the last 16 years, that has been happening to different degrees. And for the next 16 years and beyond, hopefully, we'll cherish that garment. Don't misuse it but use it just enough to get the value that it was placed for.
Capsules of memories
"A man's works is his testimony and we judge him by the fruits weh him bear. Garnet's legacy - these songs and inspirations and capsules of memories - can be likened to his fruits. Memory is the sperm of life and time, so you could consider his memory as a legacy also.
"Outside of the music, people have encountered him by absorbing his energy from the stage, from interviews, from walking with him on the street, from embracing him, and these could be etched in the psyche of people.
"Silk had so much love, and that is part of his legacy - the love weh him have fi di people and the love weh dem reciprocate. Garnet is a yute weh Jah inspire and that was his life; it was an intrigue and a fascination. He was in awe of Jah as a student of Jah. So he absorbed Rastafari love and blessing and then passed that on to the people as much as possible and that, I think, was a peculiar ability."