Fri | May 25, 2018

Happy Anniversary, Music Diaries

Published:Sunday | December 30, 2012 | 12:00 AM

December 25, Christmas Day, is perhaps for many people, the most important date on the Jamaican music calendar.

In a week-long celebration each year, numerous musical events and activities are centred around this one day. The Music Diaries, on this, its first anniversary, is proud to be able to share its inaugural date (December 25, 2011), with such a momentous occasion.

Many have expressed their appreciation of some 53 articles over the past year, while bemoaning the fact that they missed the early set through ignorance. To all the readers, I say thanks for your support.

We were particularly blessed to have made our entry in the 50th anniversary year (2012), of Jamaica's Independence, which broadened our scope in highlighting a number of issues, events and personalities, who and which have played vital roles in the entertainment industry during 50 years as an independent nation.

Focusing primarily on the root of Jamaican music, and its effect on a society in transition, it highlighted the many Jamaican recordings that have been written since Independence on various topics.

a 'political' debut

One such topic was 'The music of politics', which gave The Music Diaries its debut on December 25. It was particularly timely and appropriate, in a year dominated by politics and the Golden Jubilee celebrations.

'The music of politics' brought to the fore the many Jamaican recordings written and performed on that topic since Independence.

Over the years, political parties have used many of those recordings, some even without the permission of the authors, to help bolster their political campaigns. Although the practice was attempted before, 1972 saw the real emergence of it, when Delroy Wilson's Better Must Come was extensively used in the People's National Party's (PNP) election campaign, and in no small way helped their election victory. Other recordings on that topic, included Max Romeo's Let The Power Fall On I and Joshua, Row The Boat Ashore (in reference to Michael Manley, hailed by his supporters as Joshua, who received a rod from Haile Selassie) to lead his people into the promised land. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), on the other hand, successfully used Bunny Wailer's Crucial, towards the end of the PNP's 1970s reign.

The Alpha Boys' School was singled out in a March 25 article as the institution that made one of the biggest contributions to the development of early Jamaican popular music by providing the Jamaican industry with a plethora of musicians and singers, trained in the famed Alpha School Band.

Names like the world-rated trombonist Don Drummond; saxophonists Tommy McCook, Lester Sterling, Tony Greene and Headley Bennett; trumpeters Johnny Moore, Raymond Harper, Bobby Ellis and David Madden; xylophonist Lennie Hibbert; drummer Sparrow Martin; trombonist Rico Rodrigues; DJ King Yellowman; and singing sensation Leroy Smart are just a few of the many legends that have passed through the institution.

remembering vere johns

Clement 'Coxson' Dodd, Arthur 'The Duke' Reid, Leslie Kong and Sonia Pottinger headlined the record producers that were featured, in laying the foundation for the early artistes to build on. Their input was indispensable as they provided the financial backing and, in some cases, the studios for the production of the recordings.

But one man,who played an even more critical role in this respect, as outlined in a May 27 article, was Vere Johns.

Perhaps Jamaica's truest music hero, he single-handedly unearthed and exposed many of the artistes (who today go under the banner, 'vintage icons'), through his self-organised and self-financed 'Vere Johns Opportunity Hour' talent shows of the late 1950s.

Producers were known to visit his shows in search of prospective artistes. The astonishing list of these would-be vintage icons runs like an unending roll call of luminaries and bears testimony to Johns' achievements.

They include Millie Small, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, John Holt, Derrick Morgan, Alton Ellis, Joe Higgs, Laurel Aitken, Bunny and Skully, and Wilfred 'Jackie' Edwards, among countless others.

Most of those early recordings were done at Ken Khouri's Federal Records, the only 'up and running' studio at the time.

By 1965, Clement Dodd (Studio One), Arthur Reid (Treasure Isle), and Vincent Chin (Randy's) had established their own Studios at 13 Brentford Road, 33 Bond Street and 17 North Parade, respectively.

The Jamaican-Chinese Justin Yap also recorded a number of creditable pieces by the Skatalites band on his Top Deck label during this period.

harmony groups

Another theme that ran throughout the articles was the prevalence of harmony groups and their contribution to the musical landscape in the 1962-72 decade. The Melodians, Techniques, Gaylads, Heptones, Paragons, Wailers and Maytals, each in their own way, played vital roles in establishing the ska, rocksteady and reggae beat as legitimate musical forms.

Duos like Alton and Eddy, Keith and Enid, Derrick and Patsy, Owen and Millie, and Stranger and Patsy added to the excitement. Getting most of their inspiration from the black American romantic duo Shirley and Lee, these recordings almost invariably centred around the theme of romance.

Perhaps the most challenging effort was to arrive at the best 50 Jamaican songs since Independence, bearing in mind the multitude of songs since Independence.

The multitude of great recordings that poured out of Jamaica's busy recording studios in five decades, and the myriad of musical tastes, coupled with the many changes the music went through, made the task of agreement almost insurmountable.

However, Bob Marley's anthemic One Love, voted the song of the 20th century by a leading American magazine, would most certainly find its place in any compiler's list. Other recordings which I recommended for the top-50 list included Bob Andy's 1966 anthem I've Got To Go Back Home, Toots and the Maytals 5446 Was My Number, a perennial favourite among Jamaicans, and Oh Carolina by the Folks Brothers.

Desmond Dekker's Israelites would also find its place as the first Jamaican recording to top the United Kingdom charts, while the Wailer's Simmer Down and Justin Hines and the Dominos' Carry Go Bring Come from the ska period, among others, were also included.