Rich history for International Reggae Day to represent
Jamaica's music will again be placed under the international microscope with the celebration of International Reggae Day, tomorrow.
The idea to dedicate a day in recognition of Jamaica's reggae music was conceptualised by music administrator, Andrea Davis, following a speech by Winnie Mandela, ex-wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, while the two were on a visit to Jamaica in the aftermath of Nelson's release from prison in 1993.
During a speech from that visit, the mother of South Africa pointed to the inspiration reggae music gave to the people of South Africa in their fight against apartheid.
Davis, a member of Jamaica Arts Holdings and Toots and the Maytals management, was no doubt inspired by Winnie Mandela's speech, and saw a vision of reggae's impact spreading internationally, through the dedication of a day to the music.
Jamaica's media houses were invited to take a day to celebrate the brand of music Jamaica has become know for around the world, and by 1994 a full-day celebration was launched.
Currently, International Reggae Day is celebrated across the diaspora, with various functions and activities in recognition of the day.
All this seems to be the culmination of years of quality musical output by Jamaican artistes, musicians, producers and music aficionados, who helped to establish the genre in 1968.
It may be interesting to note that many of the artistes who laid the foundation began by singing in groups, and later went on to become successful solo artistes. Singing groups were indeed the order of the day during the 1960s.
The success and worldwide popularity of The Impressions, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes, The Drifters and others served as inspiration for a generation of Jamaican groups, and triggered the group-singing explosion, that resonated through The Wailing Wailers, The Maytals, The Techniques, The Paragons, The Gaylads, Justin Hines and the Dominos, Desmond Dekker and the Aces and The Melodians. All were trios.
Brent Dowe, leader of The Melodians, perhaps expressed the sentiments of the others when, in a 2005 interview with me, he said: "In the '60s was mainly groups. You had one or two solo singers. I was a good singer and Tony was, but we decided to join together for the purpose of harmony. At the time, groups was the dominance."
Dowe went on to a successful solo career in the early 1970s with hits like, Babylon Policy, Close To You, I'm Gonna Love You, and Build Me Up for Sonia Pottinger's Hi-Note label.
Build Me Up, along with several others sold well overseas, helping to position reggae music as a dominant music form.
The Wailers may perhaps be the best known of the early Jamaican groups from which reggae stars who paved the way for International Reggae Day emerged.
All three members, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, rose to international prominence and assisted in no small way, in the promulgation of reggae and the establishment of International Reggae Day.
After having their genesis at Studio One, and crafting several No. 1 singles during a decade-long career as a group, they disbanded after recording their second album - Burning, for producer Chris Blackwell in 1973.
Marley's heroics earned for him the title, 'King of Reggae', while Tosh, viewed by many as the uncompromising voice of the downtrodden man, hit the establishment hard with hits like, Downpresser Man, Get Up, Stand Up and Equal Rights And Justice.
The third member of the Wailers, Bunny, was equally impressive as a solo artiste with Battering Down Sentence, a 1967 recording, written about his incarceration for marijuana possession.
Bunny had earlier proved that he had a voice of real quality with lead vocals on Dancing Shoes and What Am I Supposed To Do.
The Paragons produced foundation member Bob Andy and drafted John Holt. Andy left the group early for other endeavours before embarking on a solo singing career, which continued into the 1980s with a number of collaborations with overseas producers.
Those collaborations saw the release of the Hanging Tough album, the single Mama Africa and the Willie Lindo-produced single, Give Thanks. John Holt's honey-toned voice blended well with Tyrone Evans and Howard Barrett's to produce the enduring classics, Only A Smile, Happy-go-lucky Girl, The Tide Is High and Wear You To The Ball, before he went on the international circuit with recordings like, Never Never Never and The Closer You Look.
Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert, who refers to himself as The Maytals, and who began with the group, Maytals, a title he now gives to his band and backup singers, is perhaps the most toured Jamaican performer of all times.
His contribution towards making International Reggae Day a reality is far reaching, having taken the music to every corner of the globe.
He won a Grammy for the album, True Love in 2005. In asserting his enormous stature, Hibbert claims that: "People I work with, others have to pay them to work with them, but these people pay me to appear with them."
Desmond Dekker from the group Desmond Dekker and the Aces, perhaps created the greatest impact as a Jamaican on the United Kingdom charts. The group's recording of 007 (Shanty Town), peaked at No. 12; A It Mek, peaked at No.7; and You Can Get It If You Really Want, a solo piece, hit No. 2.
Dekker then created history when he led the group on the first Jamaican recording to reach No. 1 in the UK - Israelites.
The Techniques, the falsetto-singing trio of the 1960s, produced the incomparable lead vocalist, Slim Smith, who many rate as the most talented singer during the early rocksteady and reggae eras. He voiced the recordings, Keep Walking, and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow in the UK where they became moderate hits.
Harris 'Bibi' Seaton of the Gaylads also made his contribution by becoming the first reggae artiste to be signed to Virgin Records, resulting in several hit recordings.