Ya mon, today, July 1st marks International Reggae Day, so put pan sum a dat irie muzik an git skanking. To help celebrate here’s some interesting facts about Jamacia’s national sound you may/may not have heard before, depending how up pon da scene you is.
1: Bob Marley &The Wailers Were Fired as Support Act for Sly & The Family Stone
Debatably, Bob Marley & The Wailers were booted off the 1973 Sly & The Family Stone US tour for upstaging them. It was early days for the band internationally, and they had fire in their heart and motivation to succeed. Meanwhile, Sly and The Family Stone were at the top of their game, the peak of their career, and it was largely reported the funk misfits were too intoxicated to play well. The Wailers were fired after the first four or five shows with Sly and The Family Stone, leaving much dispute to the reason. Me, I can read between the lines and it’s blatantly obvious why!
2: One of the Most Influential Figures of Reggae, was a Nun
Aside the obvious Bob Marely, one of the single most influential figures in the history of reggae was Sister Mary Ignatius Davies. A Sister of Mercy, Mary Ignatius Davies was an inspirational music teacher at Kingston’s Alpha Boys School. Prominent in the advances of ska and reggae, her music tuition at this “school for wayward boys” influenced many of the pioneers of ska, including Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One legendary inhouse band, The Skatalites, many who would later make up the Wailers backing band for Bob Marley.
3: Desmond Dekker Was Turned Down by Major Recording Producers
One of the greatest figures of reggae has to be Desmond Dekker, famed for the 1969 Pyramid song, The Israelites with his backing band, The Aces. Indeed, Desmond was prominent throughout the ska and rock steady periods too, and it was Dekker who encouraged a young Bob Marley, workmate in a welding factory, to approach Jimmy Cliff, which sparked his success. But if Desmond Dekker is celebrated for his smooth vocals, we should note he failed his own auditions at both the most dominant Jamaican studios, Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One and Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle, in 1961. Resulting in working for the lesser Leslie Kong’s Beverley’s record label later that year.
4: Red, Red Wine Was Written and Originally Performed by Neil Diamond
Think any of any reggae single to be most asked at a standard family disco in the UK, and I’ll guarantee it will be UB40’s 1983 version of Red, Red Wine. A number 1 hit for UB40, it sparked a new path for them in recreating and covering older reggae tunes. But while the song had indeed been a boss reggae hit for Tony Tribe, reaching only 46 on the UK chart in 1969, it was in fact written and originally recorded by Neil Diamond in 1967, included on Diamond’s second studio album, Just for You; a fact that even UB40 was unaware of at the time of releasing the song!
5: The Ethos of Hip Hop Came from Reggae
Okay, I might get shot via a drive-by for this one, but it’s an often-obscured fact that the originator of hip hop, the Bronx’s DJ Kool Herc was a Jamaican immigrant to New York, who despite moving with his family at just twelve years old, he grew up around Kingston’s dance hall sound system parties and wanted to bring the ethos to New York. Indeed, he did, as the bloc-party can be easily compared with the Jamaican sound system parties of the fifties and sixties. The only difference was, New Yorkers favoured the currently trending funk music, like James Brown, and Herc was quick to pick up on what the people wanted and adapt to the genre. But still, the ethos is comparable to reggae far more than soul.
6: Aswad are the Backing Band on Bob Marley’s Jamming
There are many facts I could throw at you about Marley’s second stay in England during 1977, while for his protection he was encouraged to flee Jamacia after a shooting incident. Firstly, that Punky Reggae Party was inspired by Don Letts introducing him to the punk movement, especially the Clash, it wasn’t recorded until he returned to Jamaica, at Joe Gibbs studio. The B-side was recorded in London though, with Aswad as backing. And I bet you thought the pinnacle of their career wasn’t until 1988 when they scored a UK number one with “Don’t Turn Around?”
7: Naomi Campbell Appeared in Marely’s Is This Love Video
Another fact about Marley’s stay in England was the music video for 1978’s Is This Love, produced and shot at the Keskidee Arts Centre in London. It’s a wonderful film in which Bob parties with the children of the centre, but watch out for the little girl sleeping, who Marley covers up with a blanket; it’s supermodel Naomi Campbell, at only seven years old!
8: Johnny Rotten Flooded the UK Market with Reggae
Richard Branson too, for he created Virgin’s short-lived reggae subsidy in 1978, Front Line, by sending Johnny Lydon of the Sex Pistols to Jamacia to sign as many artists as he could in reaction of Chris Blackwell’s Island Records success with Bob Marley & The Wailers. Rotten came back with contracts from U-Roy, The Mighty Diamonds, Keith Hudson, Johnny Clarke, Peter Tosh, I Roy, Prince Far I, Big Youth, Prince Hammer, Tappa Zukie, Sly Dunbar, and The Twinkle Brothers, to name but a few.
9: Toots & The Maytals Narrowly Missed Being Bigger Than Bob Marley & The Wailers
At a time when reggae was seen as a “novelty” music outside of Jamacia, resident Chris Blackwell, owner of Island Records wanted to bring a reggae band to the international stage in a similar light to a rock band. For this he toyed between signing either The Maytals or The Wailers. Though he didn’t want to deal with the young, rude boys which were the Wailers, he figured he would take his chances, as Toots & The Maytals sung too gospel for a white audience to accept. Together with the notion Marely was mixed-raced, he signed The Wailers first and advanced them money to make their debut album, Catch a Fire. While he quickly signed the Maytals soon after, he concentrated his efforts mainly on Bob, dividing him from Pete Tosh and Bunny Wailer, and it was in competition with Toots which concerned Marley the most.
10: Mark Lamarr Stopped Shabba Ranks from Becoming Reggae’s Next International Reggae Superstar
By 1992 Dancehall was fast becoming acceptable on an international level, and the king was due to be Shabba Ranks. He had gained popularity partulcarly in the USA, where he secured a contract with Epic Records, and won a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album. How a shadow was cast during his appearance on Channel 4’s The Word, when Mark Lamarr probed him for his opinion on Buju Banton’s controversial homophobic song Boom Bye Bye, which advocated the shooting of gays.
Live on TV, grasping a bible, Shabba called for the “crucifixion of homosexuals,” claiming it to be the “word of God.” Lamarr retorted, “That’s absolute crap and you know it!” Shabba may have been unaware just how grave his comments were, where in Jamacia such values are lesser thought of at the time, but it had serious consequences for him, and sent dancehall music back a decade in advancing to a popular international music. Immediately Ranks was dropped from a Bobby Brown concert, and despite making a formal apology, Sony released him from his contract three years later.