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David Simonelli

was born Oliver Anthony Stephens on 22 April 1927 in Santiago, Cuba, to a Jamaican father and a Cuban mother. One of six brothers, he spent his early childhood in Cuba, speaking Spanish; over the years, he learned Italian and French as well, and his multilingual singing abilities would contribute to his international marketability as a pop singer. His father moved the family back to Kingston, Jamaica, in 1938, where Stephens absorbed many different styles of music over the radio and in the streets—American rhythm and blues heard over New Orleans radio stations broadcast across the Caribbean, the hits of jazz crooners from the United States and Britain, and mento, the local guitar and horn version of calypso in Jamaica. In 1942, at age 15, he sang in a major local talent show Vere John’s Opportunity Hour, winning and collecting 2 pounds; he entered Opportunity Hour ...

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Cyril Daddieh

Ivorian reggae music star, was born in Dimbokro on 1 January 1953 to a Muslim mother and a Christian father. The oldest of nine children, he was named Seydou Koné, after his grandfather, and brought up by his grandmother, Cheri Coco, in the Muslim faith. Early signs of rebelliousness prompted his exasperated grandmother to call him “blondy,” an apparent mispronunciation of “bandit” (troublemaker). Reunited with his father in Odienné in 1962, young Blondy spent the next ten years attending Saint Elisabeth High School, where he became involved in student politics and also developed an interest in music. Expelled from school for an altercation with his math teacher, Blondy went to Monrovia, Liberia, to study English. He proceeded to the United States, settled in New York in 1973 and enrolled first in Hunter College and later in the Columbia University s American Language Program to pursue a career as ...

Article

Kate Tuttle

With his eleven albums and worldwide tours, Alpha Blondy has brought an African flavor to the Jamaican-born musical genre of reggae. Although critics admit that Blondy has not yet fulfilled his early goal of becoming the next Bob Marley (probably the best-known reggae artist), they do hail the Côte d’Ivoire singer’s passionate lyrics and charismatic performances.

The man born Seydou Kone in Dimbokro Côte d Ivoire was renamed Blondy a variation on the Dioula word for bandit by his grandmother who raised him Though little is known of his childhood Blondy says he chose his new first name Alpha himself and that he learned French from reading the Bible though his grandmother also introduced him to the Muslim holy book the Qur an Koran Expelled from school reportedly for forming his first reggae band the Atomic Vibrations Blondy eventually moved to New York City There he studied and worked and ...

Article

Matthew J. Smith

was born James Ezekiel Chambers on 30 July 1944 at Adelphi Land, a small rural community in the district of Somerton located in the western parish of St. James, Jamaica. Cliff came from a rural working-class family. His father, Lilbert Chambers, was a farmer and tailor, and his mother, Christine, was a domestic worker. Lilbert Chambers was an influential member of the community and devoted father to his children, whom he raised alone. At Somerton All-Age School, Cliff was drawn to music, especially the folk music of the island. By the time he was 14, Cliff had built his first guitar out of bamboo, was a member of the local church choir, and had won first prize at a popular singing competition in the parish of Clarendon.

His early schooling complete Cliff went to Kingston to pursue studies in radio technology at the Kingston Technical Institute But he was instantly ...

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Eric Bennett

Jimmy Cliff was born James Chambers in Somerton, Jamaica. Like many Jamaicans, Cliff migrated from the countryside to Kingston, the country's capital, during the political upheaval that accompanied Jamaica's independence in 1962. By that time, Cliff had already been singing and playing music for years. He sought opportunity and adventure in Kingston, finding both when his improvised rendition of “Dearest Beverley” (1962) inspired a partnership between himself and Chinese storeowner Leslie Kong, who agreed to record and produce his music. Consequently, by the age of fifteen Cliff had become a Kingston celebrity. In the early 1960s, Cliff toured with a Ska band, appeared in the promotional video This Is Ska and recorded early hits such as “Hurricane Hattie,” “King of Kings,” and “Miss Jamaica.”

In 1964 Cliff appeared at the New York World s Fair and soon afterward moved to England to record for ...

Article

Norman Weinstein

Prince Far I was born Michael Williams in Spanish Town and grew up in the Waterhouse area of Kingston, Jamaica. His musical career began in 1970 when he convinced the Reggae producer Coxsone Dodd (who employed him as a security guard at Studio One, Jamaica's most famous recording studio) to let him record when a scheduled musician failed to appear for a session. Dodd was so taken by Prince Far I's talent as a DJ (someone chanting or talking-singing spontaneously over prerecorded rhythm tracks) that he released several Prince Far I recordings under the name he created for the performer, King Cry-Cry As he gained confidence and sought other producers for his recordings Williams changed his name to Prince Far I Distinguishing features of his recordings under the name King Cry Cry or Prince Far I include a thunderously deep bass delivery of intensively personal lyrics laced ...

Article

Petra R. Rivera-Rideau

Panamanian singer of reggae en español (Spanish reggae), also known as “El General,” was born on 10 March 1964 in Río Abajo, a predominantly West Indian neighborhood in Panama City, Panama. Migrants from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Martinique, and elsewhere in the Caribbean arrived in great numbers to Panama beginning in the 1850s in order to build the Panama Railroad and later the Panama Canal. Many workers settled in Panama City and the city of Colón. Known as antillanos (Antilleans), West Indian laborers in Panama faced low wages, inadequate housing, harsh labor conditions, and, often, racial segregation. Furthermore, at various points throughout the twentieth century, Panamanian law restricted immigration and prohibited West Indian laborers and their descendants from achieving Panamanian citizenship. Although they eventually gained citizenship rights in 1946 West Indians and their descendants continued to be represented as foreigners within Panama despite their substantial historical and cultural contributions ...

Article

was born on 10 December 1945 at May Pen in Clarendon parish, Jamaica, the youngest of four brothers and three sisters. His father was a Seventh Day Adventist preacher, and Frederick sang in his church choir from the age of 7; religion remained a theme in his music throughout his career. His parents gave him the nickname “Toots.”

In 1961 the 16-year-old Hibbert went to Kingston to earn a living, finding work as a barber and training as an amateur boxer. He sang frequently, entertaining customers; he would later cite American singers such as Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, Mahalia Jackson, Jackie Wilson, James Brown, and Little Richard as influences. Most often, his singing voice was compared to that of the famous Memphis soul singer Otis Redding. However, like nearly all musicians in Jamaica during the era of independence around 1962 Hibbert s preferred form of music was ...

Article

Oluwakemi Adesina

The profound ramifications of the roots reggae music and Rastafarianism as philosophical and ideological tools for the understanding of Africa and the African diaspora reached its highest point with the eclectic musical career of Robert Nesta Marley (hereinafter Bob Marley). At home and abroad, Bob Marley was regarded as a poet, a prophet, and a mystic. He was a “revolutionary artist,” “Rasta Prophet,” and a host of other significant epithets all derived from Marley’s vintage messages of strength, defiance, and rebellion in the face of racial and all forms of oppression. A powerful writer of revolutionary and visionary songs, the extremely charismatic and iconic Bob Marley was the twentieth-century Jamaican music legend born of mixed parentage in St. Ann’s Parish, Jamaica, on 6 February 1945 When he was ten years old his father died of a heart attack and Marley then left home at the age of fourteen to ...

Article

Eric Bennett

The first global pop star to emerge from a developing nation, Bob Marley has won fans from nations around the world who share his vision of redemption and freedom and love his innovative blend of American and Caribbean music.

Marley was born Robert Nesta Marley in rural Rhoden Hall in St. Ann Parish, Jamaica. His mother was a Jamaican teenager and his father a middle-aged captain in the West Indian regiment of the British Army. Marley's parents separated when he was six years old, and he moved with his mother to Kingston, joining the wave of rural emigrants that flooded the capital during the 1950s and 1960s. Marley and his mother settled in Trench Town, a west Kingston slum named for the sewer that ran through it.

There, Marley shared quarters with a boy his age named “Bunny” Neville O'Riley Livingston The two made music together fashioning ...

Article

Matthew J. Smith

was born Allan Roy Hope on 26 December 1952 in the community of Rae Town, a fishing village in central Kingston, Jamaica. When he was 8 years old his father, also named Allan Roy Hope, died. His mother, Sylvia Chambers, raised him and his two sisters as Roman Catholics. At school he took the Rwandan name Mutabaruka—which means “one who is always victorious”—after he discovered it in a book of poems. Mutabaruka went on to study electronics at Kingston Technical High School. After four years of study, and still a teenager, he pursued a career as an electrician with the Jamaica Telephone Company Limited.

Mutabaruka was attracted to black nationalist movements in the United States in the late 1960s Jamaica s conservative government was wary of the influence of US black power on the island which was just beginning to reveal the political fissures that would later divide the country ...

Article

Norman Weinstein

Born Allan Hope in Kingston, Jamaica, Mutabaruka began his literary and musical career when he became affiliated with Rastafarianism in the 1970s. He published three poetry collections during that decade, all marked by his imaginative handling of Jamaican colloquial speech patterns, his praise of Africanisms in Jamaican culture, and his fiery condemnations of Western politics and materialism. The release of his first recordings in 1982 signaled the start of a new career as a so-called dub poet (a poet writing and performing poetry within the context of reggae instrumental music). Inspired by the example of poet Linton Kwesi Johnson Mutabaruka sought to arouse his audiences to take political action to counter what he perceived as the destructive actions of hypocritical authorities But his recording of Revolutionary Poets revealed a self critical examination of that stance revolutionary poets have all gone to the creative art centre to watch the ...

Article

Larvester Gaither

was born John Lester Nash to John Lester Nash, Sr. and Eliza Armstrong in Houston, Texas. “Johnny” Nash, as he was widely known, soared to fame on the wings of the ubiquitous hit song “I Can See Clearly Now,” which reached number one on the Billboard 100 chart in 1972, where it remained for four weeks. The song has been covered by hundreds of artists across many genres, including jazz player Kermit Ruffins, blues musician Ray Charles, rock group The Rolling Stones, and reggae artist Jimmy Cliff. Although much of his musical acclaim is identified with the song’s success, Nash is also credited with stimulating an American taste for rock-steady Jamaican reggae. In a very substantial way, Nash helped set the stage upon which the legendary Bob Marley triumphed with his internationally acclaimed music.

Nash s formative years were spent in Third Ward Houston where his father worked ...

Article

Matthew J. Smith

who became internationally revered for his songs about social justice was born Winston Hubert McIntosh on 19 October 1944 to a poor rural family in Grange Hill in the parish of Westmoreland. He was the only child of Alvira Coke and James McIntosh. Tosh never knew his father, a preacher who had fathered several children in the area. Unable to take care of him on her own, Alvira entrusted the primary care of her 3-year-old son to her grand-aunt, Loretta Campbell. A devout Christian, Campbell took Tosh to nearby Savanna-La-Mar, raising him in the church. It was there that Tosh’s musical interest developed. He joined the church choir, played piano, and taught himself guitar.

In the 1950s Campbell and her family joined the many rural Jamaicans who left in search of a better life in Jamaica s capital city Kingston They lived in Denham Town at first but after his ...

Article

Norman Weinstein

Born Peter McIntosh, Tosh's entrance into music began during his teenage years in the Trenchtown ghetto of Kingston, where he and his friends Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer imitated the vocal harmonies of Curtis Mayfield. Tosh's early recordings as part of a Ska/Reggae trio with Marley and Wailer (who became known as “The Wailers”) made clear that his singing and songwriting talents were strongly flavored by rage against hypocritical individuals and institutions. Songs like “400 Years” and “Downpressor” are prime examples of his mastery of political protest songwriting. His first recordings as a solo artist in the early 1960s include a wry commentary on sexual mores (“Shame and Scandal”) and a boastful declaration of Rastafarian identity (“Rasta Shook Them Up”).

After quitting The Wailers in 1972 Tosh pursued a performing and recording career as a solo artist marked by the cultivation of a persona ...

Article

Jace Clayton

Born Osbourne Ruddock in Kingston, Jamaica, King Tubby gained prominence in 1968 for playing his instrumental mixes accompanied by the crowd-pleasing “talk-over” deejaying of U-Roy (Ewart Beckford). The duo was known as Tubby's Hi-Fi and became highly popular in the impoverished Watertown section of Kingston where Tubby lived. U-Roy's verbal wordplay provided a perfect compliment to Tubby's increasingly experimental song versions. Using homemade and modified studio equipment, Tubby started dropping in vocal snippets, adding ghostly layers of echo and reverberation, soloing various instruments, inserting sudden silences, and employing unusual equalization and other studio effects. Crowds loved the soulful roots Reggae mutated by technical wizardry and avant-garde mixing approaches. Following Tubby's lead, many musicians and engineers began dubbing.

By 1972Dub fever had arrived. Fierce competition between sound systems kept creative pressures high, although King Tubby remained on top. In 1976 police attempted to shut down a ...