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Seaga’s musical contributions must also be remembered

Published:Thursday | May 30, 2019 | 12:00 AMShereita Grizzle/Staff Reporter
In this May 2005 file photo, Byron Lee (left) presents former Prime Minister Edward Seaga with a copy of the group’s 1959 album ‘Dumplings’, which Seaga produced.
Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga makes a presentation to Sheila Lee, wife of Byron Lee, in 2007.

Jamaica’s fifth prime minister, Edward Seaga, has had an illustrious political career. He served as Jamaica’s prime minister from 1980-1989, and spent more than four decades as the member of parliament for West Kingston. He was also leader of the Jamaica Labour Party from 1974 until 2005. He will perhaps be remembered most for his immense political contributions, but the formidable public figure also made his mark on the country’s musical landscape.

Jamaica’s musical history records Seaga as one of the main influencers of ska in the ’60s. He founded his own label, WIRL (West Indies Recording Limited) and signed Byron Lee & the Dragonaires, Slim Smith, along with the duo Joe Higgs and Roy Wilson. As a producer, he was involved in releasing some of the country’s earliest tracks, including Higgs and Wilson’s hit song, Oh Manny Oh. The song was one of the first records to be pressed in Jamaica, and went on to sell 50,000 copies. After becoming a member of parliament, he sold WIRL to Byron Lee, who renamed it Dynamic Sounds Recording.

Following news of Seaga’s passing on Tuesday, Sheila Lee, widow of the late Byron Lee, shared fond memories of the former prime minister. Describing him as a man who genuinely cared about Jamaica’s music and its culture, Lee said she hopes he will be remembered not just for his political contributions, but also for his work in the entertainment industry.

“I’ve known Seaga since I was a child. He was very close friends with my parents. They used to go to all the New Year’s Eve balls together, which was a big thing back then. And he always loved music and entertainment. He absolutely had every interest in seeing Jamaica’s music grow to new heights,” she said. “He was very much serious in his endeavour to get Jamaica’s music worldwide. When I was living in New York, we had a team of us that would promote ska there. He wanted ska to gain worldwide recognition and he worked tirelessly at that.”

Lee says she hopes that when history is being taught to the future generation, a shadow will not be cast over Seaga’s contributions. She says she hopes he will get his credits where they are due. “I don’t know anything about politics, and so I know very little about the politician side of him. I know him to be a true friend who was very instrumental in my husband’s career, and a true lover of Jamaica and Jamaica’s music,” she said. “I am very sad that he has passed, and I only hope that people in whose hands the future sits will remember him as the man who loved Jamaica’s music and its culture. I hope he gets the credit that he’s due when people speak about Jamaica’s musical history because he was genuine.”

Seaga died from cancer on Tuesday on his 89th birthday. He is survived by widow Carla, children Christopher, Andrew, Anabella and Gabrielle Seaga.