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Burning Spear's 'Marcus Garvey' not forgotten

Published:Tuesday | August 18, 2015 | 12:45 PMRoy Black
Burning Spear

The 1975 album Marcus Garvey, by the Burning Spear vocal group, was a special tribute, recorded in honour of the great St Ann-born Pan Africanist and Jamaican National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey, whose 128th birth anniversary was celebrated on Monday. Songs from the album, like Marcus Garvey, Old Marcus Garvey and Slavery Days, support the tenets and teachings of Garvey and were also big sellers as singles, both locally and internationally. The leader, songwriter and main man behind the group - Winston Rodney, like Garvey, was born in St Ann's Bay - Garvey in 1887 and Rodney in the mid to late 1940s. Rodney eventually became deeply influenced and inspired by the teachings of Garvey, whose principles are reflected in most of his songs.

In the recording, Marcus Garvey, the group was particularly passionate as they sang:

"Marcus Garvey words come to pass

Can't get no food to eat, can't get no money to spend, who-o-o

Come little one and let me do what I can for you and you alone.

He who knows the right thing and do it not

shall be spanked with many stripes.

Weeping and wailing and moaning, you've got yourself to blame.

I tell you do right, do right, do right.

Where is Bagawire?, He's nowhere around.

He can't be found.

First betrayer who gave away Marcus Garvey."

One of Jamaica's most prophetic and apocalyptic groups, Burning Spear began when Rupert Willington joined Rodney for an audition at producer Clement 'Sir Coxson' Dodd's Studio 1 in 1969. Arranged by another St Ann-born Studio 1 music stalwart, Bob Marley, it led to their first recording - a track titled Door Peep. It's somber, spiritual chant exhibited a style quite unlike anything that was previously recorded. Delroy Hinds soon joined the group and the trio recorded several singles and a couple of albums for Dodd, before working with producer L. Lindo (Jack Ruby) who produced the Marcus Garvey album. Dodd's collection have become collectors items and includes, Ethiopians Live it Out, Swell Head, Throw Down You Arms And Come, Foggy Road, and Rocking Time. Interestingly, this last cut includes the voice of producer Clement Dodd in one of his rare performances as a rapper.

On the cut, Old Marcus Garvey, from the album Marcus Garvey, Burning Spear draws a comparison between Garvey and some national heroes:

"No one remember old Marcus Garvey,

no one remember him, no one.

They been talking about Paul Bogle, they been talking about William Gordon.

They been talking about Norman Washington Manley, including Bustamante.

But no one remember old Marcus Garvey."


The success of the Marcus Garvey album in 1975 spurred a distribution deal with Island Records and this was when the group literally took off. However, by late 1976, they broke up, but Rodney continued recording solo as The Burning Spear. This late turn in fortunes effectively widened Rodney's profile on the international scene, while the establishment of his own 'Burning Music' label and production company gave Rodney greater artistic control of his works. Getting into self-production, Rodney followed with several successful albums for Island Records in the late 1970s, while developing a sizeable following in London.

By 1985, he was on the Grammy-nominated list for Best Reggae Album with Resistance, and in 2000 and 2009, copped the award with Calling Rastafari and Jah is Real, respectively. Conferred with the Order of Distinction in 2007, Rodney, whose stage name was derived from a military award given to the first president of independent Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, has been based in New York since the mid-1990s.