Come together: Reggaefest more about togetherness than music
BY THOMAS CONNER 06/28/1999
© Tulsa World
Whenever Tim Barraza speaks to me of Reggaefest — the annual summer festival he has organized in Tulsa for 14 years — the music is one of the last things he mentions.
First instead are the crafts, the games, the people-watching, the food and the general good feeling generated by hordes of people coming together for peaceful reasons. Barraza loves and promotes reggae music because it doesn't so much merit its own strict attention as it provides a soundtrack for such congregating. The idea is simple: The more people that get out of their houses, mingle with their fellow humans and have a great time, the happier they will be, and a small but vital blow will have been struck for world peace.
That seems to be the core reason why Barraza started Reggaefest back in 1985 — as a small street festival outside the nightclub he owned then at 18th and Boston. It's probably the reason the festival has grown so substantially over the years and why it has replicated itself in other cities throughout the southwest.
Last year, the Reggaefest idea had begun to show some wear. By then, it had grown to fill the River West Festival Park and had become less of a people's event and more of a Lollapalooza-influenced cluster-concert — three stages, vendors shoved out of reach and one clotted mass of people who could barely move and interact. The ever-impressive series of performers were singing about peace, love and understanding to an audience that pretty much stayed put and kept its eyes on the stage.
This year, there was new life in the Reggaefest ideal. This year, the two-day festival was back to its roots — in the street.
The real estate brokers are right: location is everything. Reggaefest '99 took place for the first time in the downtown Brady Arts District, and the new digs serve the festival's original purpose much better.
It was a funky village full of people to see and things to do. Booths selling sandals, shawls and shades lined Main Street. A full-fledged carnival — complete with games, rides, even a giant Ferris wheel — filled Main and Cameron streets. Vendors cooking everything from corn dogs to jerk chicken filled Brady Street with sumptuous smells; the restaurants and clubs along that street also were open, offering a cool (literally and figuratively) respite from the asphalt. In one intersection, the Lacy Park African Dance Ensemble along with the Living Arts drumming circle pounded the pavement with traditional dances and fierce riddims. Everywhere, men and women, black and white, young and old tapped their feet or nodded their heads to the music.
There was movement, mingling and mirth.
Oh yes, and music.
Saturday's line-up onstage was as diverse and internationally renowned as ever. The Mighty Diamonds sang three-part harmonies as breezy as the evening, namely their hit "Pass the Koutchie" (Musical Youth put it on the radio in 1982 as "Pass the Dutchie") and a song that fit the festival, singing, "We got to live some life before we go." Mighty Sparrow brought his droning calypso to the stage, pounding out incessant, indistinguishable rhythms and slowing down only for an hysterical soca ballad called "Don't Touch My President" — likely the most intelligent and hilarious lyric inspired by the Lewinsky fiasco ("We have real issues to address ... let's talk about police brutality / don't tell me about no Monica mess").
Sparrow covered all the bases, singing songs about swordfish and even quoting modern rock's Bloodhound Gang in his finale ("The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire"). Pato Banton closed the show with a lively set of traditional and earnest reggae, pausing a couple of times in his set to encourage people in the crowd to greet strangers around them.
See, Barraza is right. Even Banton admitted that love and peace and getting along is more important than the music. "That's why we have come here tonight in Tulsa," Banton said. The music is a bonus — Reggaefest is really about coming together and all the rest of that hokey stuff. Reggaefest in the Brady District makes that goal easier to fulfill than ever before. The crowd was significantly smaller this year, but Tulsa someday soon will get over its irrational fear of its own downtown and come together for street festivals like this. It truly is about more than good reggae music.
A Reggaefest on Brady? You better believe it.
BY THOMAS CONNER 06/25/1999
Reggaefest '99 hasn't changed much, really. The bill is
still packed with international world music stars, and the
peaceful vibe of easygoing summertime music is still as
strong. Barraza's just moving the party outside his club
"Reggaefest started as a street party, and this is a
chance to bring it back to to that feeling," Barraza said
Since launching Reggaefest in 1985 outside SRO's, the
festival has outgrown its original 18th Street and Boston
Avenue location. Reggaefest has carried on in Mohawk Park
and the River Parks Amphitheater. It's even replicated
itself into similar festivals in Pasadena, Calif., and
Barraza, though, has returned to the nightclub business.
Just last week, he opened The Bowery at Main and Brady
streets in the Brady District — and that's where Reggaefest
will be this weekend. Downtown, in the street.
"Reggaefest is more about seeing people and walking
around looking at cool stuff and listening to great music.
It's always been a street party at heart, even when it was
in the wilderness," Barraza said.
Barraza describes this year's event as a "teeming
marketplace" featuring arts and crafts, exotic food and a
full-fledged carnival including a petting zoo for kids.
The one-stage line-up for the festival follows.
Tickets for Reggaefest '99 are $15 per day or $22.50 for
a weekend pass, available at the gate or at any Tulsa-area
Git-N-Go store. Children under 10 are admitted free.
Reggaefest International, 749-4709.
Gates open at 5 p.m.
Local Hero plays at 6:30 p.m.
This group of Tulsa musicians has played every Tulsa
Reggaefest in every location. One of the most viable reggae
acts in the nation, Local Hero — led by Doc James, a
Rastafarian Gentle Ben — continues to stick close to home
and keep the reggae rooted in a city that really needs it.
Local Hero's latest CD is titled "Rebirth," from Third Street
The Mystic Revealers play at 8:30 p.m.
This Jamaica-based band is one of roots reggae's latest
torch-bearers, producing a subtly updated take on the music
that groups like Burning Spear have been churning out for a
quarter of a century. They understand better than most the
complex whole of reggae, and they don't concentrate on one
form of it, like dancehall. They're supporting their latest
album "Crossing the Atlantic."
Lee "Scratch" Perry with the Mad Professor and the
Robotics play at 10:30 p.m.
Some say he's a genius, others say he's crazy.
Everyone's correct. Perry is a towering figure in the world
of reggae music, a monolithic madman who has more than any
other artist helped shape the sound of dub and take reggae
to parts of the world it never would have reached. He's one
of the few reggae artists who sounds truly unique, and he's
got the individualist personality to match the singular
"I am the first scientist to mix the reggae and find out
what the reggae really is," he once said. He visits Tulsa's
Reggaefest as part of his Cities Too Hot Tour, which
beckons concertgoers with the slogan, "Burn down your
offices, sell your assets and come with me."
If Perry weren't enough, he's backed now by the Mad
Professor and his band, the Robotics. The Mad Professor is
a similarly unique reggae talent behind the boards; he's
leant his production skills to the likes of the Beastie
Boys, the Clash, Massive Attack and the Orb, to name a few.
The combination should be explosive.
Gates open at 2 p.m.
Hyacinth House plays at 2:30 p.m.
This on-again/off-again Tulsa collective take it easy on
stage and mix up every conceivable form of music into their
own heady brew — reggae, funk, rock and lots of Dead-ish
Native Roots plays at 4:30 p.m.
Albuquerque is not the climate you think of when you
think reggae, but Native Roots hold their own in the desert
quite well. Mixing reggae with a dollop of blues, this
Native American band marries the universal love of reggae
with a Native American respect for the earth.
The Mighty Diamonds play at 6:30 p.m.
The most consistent and long-running vocal trio in
Jamaican musical history, the Mighty Diamonds deliver an
achingly pure collective voice. Best known for reggae
classics like "Pass the Koutchie," "Country Living" and "The
Right Time," their arsenal is full of sharp songs and
The Mighty Sparrow plays at 8:30 p.m.
Francisco, aka the Mighty Sparrow, has been the ruling
king of calypso for more than 40 years. His first hit, "Jean
and Dinah," was covered by Harry Belafonte, but his jovial
singing style has been applied to more topical fare about
regional politics than those trademark calypso romantic
comedies. In the '90s, Eddy Grant's record label has been
reissuing many of his vintage records.
Pato Banton plays at 10:30 p.m.
Patrick Murray, aka Pato Banton, got his start in his
father's travelling DJ show. He captured his devloping
toasting skills on a single, "Hello Tosh, Go a Toshiba,"
which caught the ear of fellow Birmingham, England native
Ranking Roger, then building the successful group English
Beat. A duet with Roger followed, as did an appearance on
UB40's "Hip Hop Robot."
Soon he was on his own, debuting with a solo album that
featured Birmingham's Studio Two house band and an
appearance by the "Late Show's" Paul Schaffer. His comic
vocal characterizations won him his first notice, but soon
he devloped into a more streamlined pop-soul reggae artist.
His first American hit was a cover of the Police's "Spirits
in the Material World." His lively performances have won him
most of his sizeable following.
The heat may have kept the crowds away at Reggaefest '98, but the music was cool
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
The Specials had an encore planned, but Hepcat did not.
Ironically, the crowd had to be suckered into hollering for
a Specials reprise, but they willingly screamed bloody
murder to bring back Hepcat.
“This is really cool,'' said Alex Desert, one of
Hepcat's two singers. “You guys are really hip.''
Indeed, when Tulsans show up to a concert, they are
always a feisty and appreciative bunch. The trick is
getting them to show up. As Reggaefest '98 got under way
Friday afternoon at the River Parks Amphitheater,
organizers were wringing their hands and gazing at an
unusually thin crowd. Until the headliner, Dave Wakeling,
you still could plop down a blanket close enough to see the
wrinkles on the singers' faces. This was, after all, the
13th annual Reggaefest — was the numerology working its
The thin first-night crowd likely had more to do with
the extreme heat (you weenies) and the question numerous
readers might have asked in the previous paragraph: “Dave
who?'' Friday's bill — indeed, this year's whole Reggaefest
line-up — was less focused and recognizable than previous
bills. The talent quotient was high as ever — higher in a
couple of cases — but we're still a city that won't lay down
the entertainment dollars unless we're sure we'll be able
to sing along.
Most folks over 25 probably would have at least hummed
along with most of Wakeling's crystalline tunes. The crisp,
Cockney voice that once led such inimitable (and nearly
identical) second-wave ska groups as the English Beat and
General Public has lost none of its crispness in such
standards as “Tenderness,'' “I'll Take You There,'' even
his old cover of “Tears of a Clown.'' No one else sings
with Wakeling's kind of panache — punctuating verses with a
falsetto bark, opening songs with desperate panting and
stylizing his creamy vocals evenly along a line between
romantic indulgence and lurid excess. His new foursome,
tentatively called Bang!, is a straight guitar-bass-drums
four-piece. True, their are no horns — a ska no-no — but the
witty Wakeling has always been a better pop act than a
trooper in whichever ska revolution, and when the quartet
(electrified by the impressive effects of guitarist Danilo
Galura) blasted through a full-bore rendition of “Twist
and Crawl,'' who still gave a hoot about the unwritten
traditions of ska?
Tulsa's own Tribe of Souls started off the day with
their usual aplomb, and the Rhythm Lizards again deftly
fashioned their own Margaritaville on the second stage, but
other acts fell short. The Blue Collars are a frenetic
young ska-tinged posse absolutely packed with potential,
but lack of rehearsal and enough material to fill the
timeslot made for a weaker-than-usual set and a troubled
ending. Judy Mowatt arrived as they were finishing and,
after asking where was the changing room, added, “Ooh.
Who's making that
Mowatt herself, a former I-Three singer behind the
Wailers, didn't do much to blow anyone away, though. Backed
by a flavorless band, she relied on Bob Dylan covers to
boost the intake of her strong but indistinct voice.
Somehow, when she sang, “We're livin' in a mad, mad world
/ When will the war be over?'' it packed the same punch as
it would have coming from the mouth of Anita Baker, though
her set warmed up as the night cooled down.
Saturday's line-up held faster and drew the standard
Reggaefest throng. Tulsa's own Local Hero again dazzled a
crowd left hanging when King Chango didn't show (instead
opting for another bar gig in Spain — whatever). The night
was capped off by Eek-a-Mouse, a veteran reggae cowboy who
scatted (“bing bing biddley bong bong'') his way through
some middling reggae, but the evening acts nearly brought
the stage down.
The Specials were as smokin' as most fans thought they
would be. Opening with “The Guns of Navarone,'' they tore
through several classics (“Rat Race,'' the scorching
“Concrete Jungle'') and equally arresting new songs with
the manic Mark Adams gyrating behind his keyboards, Neville
Staple singing and toasting (“Man, I thought Jamaica was
hot ...'') and the ferocious Roddy “Radiation'' Byers
striking his Steve Jones (Sex Pistols) poses and wailing on
much more melodic and jumpy guitar solos. After the
still-topical anti-racism rant “Doesn't Make It Alright,''
Hepcat trumpeter Kincaid Smith joined the Specials for
their classic “A Message to Your Rudy.''
That was only a glimmer of the fun to come. Hepcat may
be the classiest, most entertaining act at Reggaefest since
it moved from Mohawk Park. Led by the playful duo of Desert
and Greg Lee, Hepcat brought the festival to life with an
unusual elixir: they combined the carefree cheer of
Jamaican roots rhythms with both the wide-eyed swing
touches of current retro bands like the Royal Crown Revue
and the cool soul-jazz stylings abandoned since the days of
'60s cats Earl Grant, Brother Jack McDuff or Harold
Johnson. As the poker-faced band kept the music bouncing,
Desert and Lee (and sometimes Smith) kept dancing. They
seemed to prefer instrumentals like “We're Having a
Party'' because it gave them the opportunity to dance
together on the runway, though their warm voices blended
well for both sprightly romantic ballads (“Goodbye
Street'') and grooving movers (“I Can't Wait''). Worth
every drop of sweat.
This post contains my complete running coverage of this annual festival ...
© Tulsa World
Brush off the black coat and polish the white shoes. This year's Reggaefest lineup is gonna get you skankin'.
By Thomas Conner 06/27/1997
Each year when Interfest organizer Tim Barraza brings over the
schedule for Tulsa's annual Reggaefest, the list of acts he has
booked for lil' ol' Tulsa raises brows around the newsroom. It's
that ""Wow, they're coming to Tulsa?'' look, and it instills the
respect for this festival it so richly deserves. This year's
line-up, when you stop to look at the roots of these acts, is
nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Friday night is particularly astonishing, a night set aside for
several of the finest contributors to ska music — if not the
founders themselves. A couple of local favorites introduce the
Saturday vibe before DJ pioneer Tony Rebel and the Queen of Reggae
herself, Rita Marley. Pack your sunscreen and take a look here at
who's gracing the River Parks stages this weekend:
The Blue Collars
Aside from being the only ska band in town, the Blue Collars are
amazingly adept. Since wowing the crowd two months ago at an
outdoor festival show, they've been landing gigs in clubs all
around Tulsa — at least, the ones that will admit these thoroughly
under-age players. (The keyboard player is in the eighth grade, and
the rest are high schoolers.)
The septet fell into playing ska when, still playing punk, they
signed on keyboard player Charles Halka who showed the others the
magic of synthesized horns. ""We decided, hey, let's give this ska
thing a try,'' said drummer JoJo Hull, and soon three live horn
players were added.
""It's amazing how this stuff gets to people,'' Hull said. ""Ska
seems to be easier for people to listen to than straight punk or
reggae. Most of our songs, too, don't have truly deep meanings.
They're about girls and being in love and stuff in life that's not
The song ""Bros. Before Hose,'' for instance, sprang to life
after Hull lamented the demands of a girlfriend who complained he
spent too much time with his bandmates. He chose the bros. over the
hose, get it?
The Toasters grew out of ska's third wave in the early '80s, the
years 2-Tone Records created such a revolution in Britain with acts
from Madness to the Specials. With their own record company, Moon
Records, boasting such strong new ska talent — including the
Scofflaws, Skavoovie and the Epitones (in Tulsa earlier this week),
and the Dance Hall Crashers — they're poised as ushers for the
latest ska craze.
The Toasters released their first single in 1983 and have been
touring pretty much ever since — occasionally knocking out clean
studio albums, some produced by Joe Jackson — tirelessly preaching
the salvation of ska to audiences that are consistently surprised
by the music's energy and history. ""I think a lot of people are
surprised to learn that reggae came out of ska music and not the
other way 'round,'' said guitarist Rob ""Bucket'' Hingley.
The band is supporting its latest album, ""Hard Band for Dead.''
Whether or not you've heard of the Skatalites — and, believe
me, every serious ska fan out there had a small cow when they heard
this bunch was on the bill — the one thing you need to understand
is that the presence of them on this festival's line-up was the
bait that lured in the other ska acts. The Skatalites, you see,
might as well have — and perhaps did — invent this form of music,
the precursor to reggae itself.
The influence the Skatalites have had on ska and so much music
beyond it is incredible considering the original band was only
together for 14 months and made pitiful few records during that
time. The first 10 members came together in 1963 when ska was just
taking off in Jamaica. They were left rudderless in 1964 when the
embodiment of the band's spirit and energy, trombonist Don
Drummond, murdered his wife and was committed to a sanitarium.
After that, the Skatalites fell apart, and ska's laid-back child,
reggae, came ashore in America and Europe.
Those 14 months were exciting enough to attract the attention of
numerous future rockers like the Clash's Joe Strummer and the
Toasters' Rob ""Bucket'' Hingley. The influence of the Skatalites
started showing up in their work in the late '70s and early '80s.
Madness brought black-and-white checks back to the mainstream, and
the Specials scored a hit with a Skatalites cover, ""Guns of
Navarone.'' The new interest in ska led the remaining Skatalites to
reunite at the 1983 Reggae Sunsplash festival in Jamaica, and the
fresh energy in the band kept them together again. A new studio
record, ""Scattered Lights,'' was out on the Alligator blues label
the following year, and a cassette issue of a live show soon
followed. The magic was back, and by 1995, the Skatalites won a
The Long Beach Dub All-Stars
Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh ran into each other on Big Wheels when
they were kids, and they've been hanging out together ever since.
As the rhythm section for singer-guitarist Brad Nowell in Sublime,
they pushed reggae-drenched music to the top of the pop and
alternative charts, where two of those songs still linger.
After Nowell died last year of a heroin overdose, Wilson and
Gaugh wisely chose not to wallow, to instead ""keep it positive''
and continue moving the music forward. Sublime was never really a
ska band, but pinning down the new Wilson-Gaugh project is even
With nine people in the band — drawn from the session players
who helped round out the one and only Sublime record and some of
the shows — the sound of this group is definitely textured. The
tight reggae grooves are embellished with plenty of scratching,
hip-hop beats, horn riffs and the attention-getting toasting of
leader Opie Oritz.
The bunch came together last year for a benefit show to raise
money for Nowell's son, and the musical concept has held them
together for a few more shows since. But the cohesion is likely not
strong enough to make this the next touring and recording outgrowth
of Sublime. This line-up has performed only about five shows
"This show should be a rare treat for the audience out that
way. It'll probably be the only show we do anywhere near the
Midwest,'' member Michael Happoldt said.
Tribe of Souls
Talking with the members of Tulsa's own Tribe of Souls reminded
me of one of the joys of Reggaefest: talking to musicians who are
so incredibly sincere about all those peace and love messages in
this kind of music. It was difficult to get a word in among bass
player Al Hebert's proselytizing, and that's OK by me.
"Love is a learned process,'' he would say. ""There is goodness
out there. Love is definitely something you fight for, whether in
yourself physically, mentally or spiritually. We get out there with
that message and encourage people to find the best in each other
I don't get to print things like that from other bands. Only in
That Tribe of Souls is appearing at this year's Reggaefest is a
bit of an accomplishment considering the band formed about three
months ago. Hebert had been languishing in town after the club gig
he moved in for collapsed. He'd worked on some songwriting with
then-Local Hero guitarist Brian Simmons and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
drummer Sean Layton, but with the demands of each player's other
bands, nothing materialized.
Then Simmons and Hebert auditioned an unknown drummer named
Charles Butler. Despite never landing a professional gig before,
the two agreed that Butler was the kick they were looking for. Soon
Simmons amicably departed Local Hero and the trio became Tribe of
We ran a story last weekend about one local band's growing
nationwide acclaim, as usual overlooking one of Tulsa's most
impressive exports: Local Hero.
This straight-up reggae band has played all but one or two of
the 12 Tulsa Reggaefests and have been offering their powerful
peace to audiences around the country for almost as many years.
This summer is another busy one for the local heroes, playing
festivals in Colorado and Iowa as well as regular gigs across the
If you didn't catch them at Mayfest, this may be your first
chance to see the band with original guitarist Kelly Campbell back
in the fold. After Brian Simmons left the band to form Tribe of
Souls, Campbell drifted back in, mostly as a result of Local Hero
member U-E Flannery occasional sitting in with Simmons' other
Flannery said that a final mix for a third Local Hero CD could
be finished this week, meaning it could be on shelves by Labor Day.
The Reggae Cowboys
Now here's something an Oklahoma audience can get into: a reggae
band with a fixation on the American West. Their fliers actually
read, "Y'all come forward and check the riddims!''
"One in seven cowboys was black,'' singer-guitarist Bird
Bellony is quick to point out. "Bill Pickett actually invented the
sport of bull-dogging.''
The West Indies meets the Wild West! The group's latest CD opens
with a version of "Hang 'Em High'' that conjures images of
tumbleweeds rolling down the beach, spaghetti westerns filmed in
Trenchtown, dusty loners meeting in the middle of main street to
toast each other instead of drawing guns. The album closes with a
take on ""Hotel California'' that shimmers with an eerie vibe with
its epicenter somewhere near Roswell, N.M.
Mainstream audiences might know Tony Rebel from his hit with
Queen Latifah, "Weekend Love.'' Reggae fans know him from his most
recent album, "Vibes of the Times,'' which lingered on top of the
reggae charts for months. He's an influential DJ — sometimes
referred to as the Bob Marley of DJs — and the leader of a new
movement in dancehall music.
His first hit was the song "Fresh Vegetable'' in 1989. Since
then, he has maintained an unbroken string of reggae hits while
developing and producing the work of other reggae stars like
R&B-flavored reggae sensation Diana King. Billboard magazine called
him "an awesomely gifted toaster ... unmatched in the dance hall.''
What Reggaefest would be complete without a Marley on the bill?
(Paging Ziggy: Please phone in.) This year, it's Bob's wife, Rita
— the woman who dried her tears after Bob's death ("No Woman No
Cry,'' after all), picked up the banner of his music and message
and kept the procession marching forward.
Rita Anderson, born in Cuba and raised in Trenchtown, Jamaica,
met young Robert Nesta Marley in the ghetto, and their similar
musical callings bonded. They were married in 1966, and by the
early '70s, she had formed the I-Threes (Rita, Judy Mowatt and
Marcia Griffiths) to harmonize behind Bob, who had become the first
reggae act to land an international record contract.
From that moment on, Rita was at Bob's side throughout his
triumphant career. She took the stage with him at the Smile Jamaica
Concert in 1976, three days after both were injured in an ambush at
a rehearsal studio (56 Hope Road, now the Bob Marley Museum). She
was part of the One Love Concert when Bob symbolically joined the
hands of the leaders of Jamaica's two opposing political parties.
She was there at the end when Bob died of cancer in 1981.
She carried on and organized the World Music Festival in Jamaica
in 1982, a concert featuring every huge name in reggae plus leading
crossovers from the Grateful Dead to Joe Jackson, and that's where
she received her official title as Queen of Reggae.
Reggaefest '97 Dishes Up River Parks Groove
By Thomas Conner 06/30/1997
The Friday night crowd at the 12th annual Reggaefest was pumped up. People were packing in close to the stage, and the heat of the day along with the concentration of bodies was adding to everyone's giddiness. The Toasters had gotten everyone's blood pumping, and now they were chomping at the bit for the night's big name: the Long Beach Dub All-Stars, remnants of the hit-packed band Sublime.
So when drummer Bud Gaugh slipped on stage to test his drums for the sound check, the frenzied crowd went even wilder. Engineers were still on stage, bewildered at the response. The crowd thought the band was beginning, and the band decided to go ahead and gratify them — about 40 minutes early. Since they got such a head start, flustered-but- amused Reggaefest organizer Tim Barraza told the band to drag out the set.
And they did, particularly at the beginning. This eagerly awaited supergroup started off slow and lazy, with nine band members haphazardly wandering around the stage listlessly tossing off riffs and confounding the spotlights. Frankly, for a while they were pretty boring. However, once they offered T-shirts to any women who would flash their gratitude and scores of women hopped onto their boyfriends' shoulders to, um, show their wares, the band suddenly found inspiration and began seriously dishing up the groove.
The All-Stars — featuring the rhythm section from Sublime, left adrift after the death of guitarist-singer Brad Nowell — are an unfocused bunch with occasional moments of brilliance. Gaugh has got the most powerful left arm of any drumming circle, and he uses it to pound a tight snare rhythm for the rest of the band to follow. Vocalist Opie Oritz recalls some of the rapid-fire toasting of Cypress Hill's B-Real but with less cartoonish oafery. The jewel of the whole bunch, though, is sax man Tim Wu, a player who can honk a fat ska line as well as pull pure silk out of his battered horn. His versatility, in particular, colored the few Sublime songs (except the hits — legal problems, no doubt) and a surprise cover of the Grateful Dead's “Scarlet Begonias.''
The Skatalites had started Friday off, just as they helped launch the ska genre that eventually gave birth to reggae itself. Sporting six of the original members from 1964, the Skatalites seemed to be showing their age, playing overly extended and surprisingly mellow instrumentals that had more to do with jazz than ska. Veteran alto sax man Lester Sterling and new trumpeter Nathan Breedlove are fine, competent players, but the way they traded off noodling solos over the steady reggae rhythms of keyboardist Bill Smith (and, please, the James Bond theme?) — it was like listening to David Newman and Al Hirt at the Jazz on Greenwood festival, not the booty-shaking party for lazybones they used to be.
Jack Ruby saved the day, though. Jack Ruby Jr., that is, son of the celebrated Jamaican DJ and now the lead vocalist for the Toasters. This band ripped through an hour-and-a-half set of, well, everything — reggae, rap, the third-wave ska which they uphold so valiantly, even a swinging jazz number called “Mona'' led by trumpeter The Sledge. Guitarist “Bucket'' Hingley sang quite a bit, too, but Ruby was the showman, jumping all over the stage and dousing the crowd with innumerable bottles of Aquafina (for which he was fiercely scolded by a stage manager after the show — that was the All-Stars' water). Everyone picked up the traditional “skanking'' dance and wore out the amphitheater grass from beginning to end.
Tulsa's own Blue Collars served up the most potent shot of ska between Friday's main-stage acts on the second stage. In fact, they drew a crowd comparable to that gathered for the Skatalites. Their original songs are well-composed and hotter than the River Parks asphalt. Charles' Halka's manic trance over the keyboards is the heartbeat for the entire combo to pump out rollicking ska, namely a song called “Purposeless'' with an irresistible “hey! hey!'' chorus.
The festival returned to the more laid-back vibes on Saturday, focusing on more traditional reggae, like the easy beats and firm convictions of Tulsa's own Local Hero. Few acts — even reggae acts — maintain the kind of musical integrity and social importance that this band has held together for more than a decade. When singer-bassist Doc James asked everyone to reach out and hold the hand of someone next to you as he sang “Yes I Remember,'' he wasn't pandering or merely trying to wake up the audience; he was simply a shining reminder of what this music is all about. It's religious music. Its messages and its very rhythms are about peace and harmony, and when the band is as attuned and adept as Local Hero, it's very exciting.
Later, after a lively preface by Sugar Black and LeBanculah with the Sane Band, Jamaican toastmaster Tony Rebel pushed that vibe forward even further. Sometimes jabbering clearly over a parade march, sometimes toasting with the sense of melody Buju Banton hasn't yet grasped, Rebel talked about God, goodness and love in his songs, even slipping in a verse or two from “Onward Christian Soldiers.'' Before kicking off his encores of “Don't Give Up'' and “Love One Another,'' he sermonized about his love for children and his desire for family units to be stronger. Why does reggae reach people with these messages where Christian music so often fails?
Before Rebel came on, the Reggae Cowboys provided an opportune time to wander off to the vendors lining the edge of the festival grounds. This Canadian band's shtick is playing covers (“Hotel California,'' “Hang 'Em High'') and original songs about the American West with reggae rhythms. Five Rasta players in cowboy outfits overusing the word “y'all'' is just odd enough to catch your eye, but the music was too bland to hang an ear on.
Tulsa's own Tribe of Souls held down Saturday's second stage with its fat, funky sounds — more funky than Reggaefest has seen in a while. Al Hebert uses his bass wisely as much more than a mere rhythm instrument, walking funky lines in rings around former Local Hero guitarist Brian Simmons' flashy guitar work. Hebert also plays the tambourine with his foot. Ten points for ingenuity.
The great fanfare leading to the appearance of Rita Marley included a few songs by her sister, Tahina. Festival organizers got wind that P.J. Allen, the youngest survivor of the Oklahoma City bombing, was in the crowd with his family. They were offered to appear on stage, which they did, quite coincidentally during Tahina's song “Save the Children.'' Goosebumps all around.
After an inordinate string of performers from Rita's Tuff Gong label, the queen of reggae finally took the stage before an ecstatic and loving crowd. She returned the love throughout her 45-minute set. During a cover of “To Love Somebody'' (that's right, the Bee Gees), she said, “I love you, Tulsa'' repeatedly while blowing kisses to audience members. Late in her set, she asked, “Do you love Bob Marley?'' Enormous whoops. “Me, too,'' she said, and began singing Bob's “No Woman No Cry.'' Again, goosebumps all around. She plowed through a lengthy medley of Bob's songs, a gracious and dignified part of his legacy. During her encore, she tried to say hello to some of the audience, and she either handed her microphone to the crowd or it was snatched from her. Before she could grab it back, we were graced with whoops and shouts from the frontline crowd.
This post contains my complete running coverage of this annual festival ...
© Tulsa World
Walls of wailing
By Thomas Conner 06/28/1996
Lloyd “Bread'' MacDonald and Winston “Pipe'' Matthews, together
known as the Wailing Souls, learned by doing. In their early teens, the two
would finish up a typical school day in Trench Town, Jamaica, with a vocal
jam session in an unused kitchen. Hanging out in their government yards (the
Jamaican equivalent of the projects) with the likes of young Bob Marley, Ken
Boothe and Delroy Wilson, they learned how to sing and how to mean it. Pipe
and Bread went on to record a string of reggae hits and establish themselves
as an important part of the reggae scene in the late 1970s and early '80s.
In 1988, they relocated to Los Angeles, but their mission and message stayed
the same. In fact, they discovered that the social worlds of Jamaica and Los
Angeles offered the same hope and despair.
We caught up with Bread in Los Angeles this week before his
Tulsa appearance as a part of Reggaefest this weekend.
Tulsa World: How did the environment of the government yards
in Trench Town contribute to the music you created?
Bread: When all the people are put together like that, it
teaches you how to get along with your neighbors. It helps to
develop a sense of family among many families. There is so much
poverty, and out of that is where most of the music is spawned.
People like Bob Marley and so many of the reggae singers are always
singing about oppression and suffering. That's our roots, really.
No matter where we are, we always remember the places like Trench
Town. It's easy for me to put myself right back into that frame of
mind in Trench Town. That picture stays with me wherever I go and
will be there all my life.
How are Trench Town and Los Angeles alike?
Trench Town in Jamaica is very much like Compton in Los
Angeles. Both places graduated many talented youths into musical
careers and both places have a lot of gangs. Lots of our friends in
school took the wrong path and did not survive. If Pipe and I
hadn't latched onto music when we were youths, we wouldn't be here
today ... Trench Town is a strange place. If you mix with the wrong
crowd, you could end up in prison or dead. We're thankful we found
guys like Bob Marley to hang out with and learn music.
And these conditions are pretty universal? Is that why you
wrote anti-violence songs like “O.K. Corral'' and “What's a Life
These things are happening all over the world. There is
violence going on all over. We always try to write songs that
reflect what's happening all around the world. Most of our songs
from 10 years ago are still relevant. I don't know if that's good
What's unique about reggae music? Why can it spread those
good messages so effectively?
That message itself is unique to reggae music. The rhythm is
very unique, too. You hear a reggae song and you know it's a reggae
song. We Jamaicans talk a different way and walk a different way
and dance a different way. The music basically reflects all those
things. It's music born out of the ghetto, not out of a
conservatory or something. The people who play reggae music learned
to play music by ear. It's created in jam sessions. In that way, we
have no boundary, nothing to say you can't do this or don't do
that. You just do whatever is natural in the context. It's freedom
Is it difficult to balance the demands of writing good music
and good messages?
We look at music as a spiritual thing, and the lyrical
content is most important. If we have a great track going but the
lyrics are not right yet, we'll take two months or whatever it
takes to finish the lyrics before we finish the track. The words
What do you think of other forms of reggae — ska, dancehall,
It's all the same music, man, it's just the music growing.
It's the same thing and we love it. You have to have the roots and
you have to have the branches. To me, it's just Jamaican music,
whatever you call it.
Walls of Wailing II
By Thomas Conner 06/28/1996
Bob Marley's last birthday party was thrown in Germany where
the Wailers had convened briefly after a tour. It was clear by that
point that Marley was not well, that his cancer was a formidable
foe even to someone as positively charged as Marley. Amid the
tempered revelry, Marley pulled aside the band's guitarist, Junior
Marvin, and bassist, Aston “Familyman'' Barrett, and told them to
keep the Wailers together.
“He said if worse came to the worst, he wanted us to keep
the positive energy going, to keep the music and the spirit and the
vibe going,'' Marvin told the Tulsa World last week in a rare media
interview. “We thank Jah we're still here, doing this for him and
True to Marley's wish, the Wailers have not stopped. They
played at Marley's funeral in 1981. A few months later, they were
already playing tribute shows in San Francisco. The occasional
legal wrangle has delayed recordings since then, but the band has
released three albums since Marley passed, and the members continue
spreading Marley's positive vibration around the world.
The Wailers without Marley are a different band, certainly. A
lot of technology has come around since Marley was in the studio,
and the Wailers make use of it to create their own sound, their own
songs. But they will always carry the legacy of Bob — a legacy in
music that extends far beyond the confines of “reggae'' or even
“black'' music — and they'll probably always play the old Marley
“Our show is about 50-50 old and new,'' Marvin said. “We do
about six or seven songs from our new album, and we do the Marley
classics like `Exodus' and `I Shot the Sheriff,' stuff like that. A
lot of people want to hear the old songs, but that doesn't mean our
audience is always old. There's a brand new generation out there.
Our crowds are full of 12-year-olds, 17-year-olds, parents,
grandparents, delinquents. They want to hear the things Marley sang
about. We don't get tired of it. It's like the Olympics, it's like
with Bob we won the Olympic medal. It's an honor. You can't decide
one day you just don't want to talk about it anymore. It's an honor
to keep the message going.''
The Wailers started humbly enough, as a trio of singers
wanting to take the doo-wop sounds they loved on radio and fit them
to the island rhythms of Jamaica. Marley's smoky voice led the
group through two albums that launched the band onto international
charts, and the peaceful revolution began.
Marvin hooked up with the Wailers in London in 1977. He had
played guitar on Steve Winwood's “Arc of a Diver,'' but he had no
steady band of his own. Marley recognized Marvin's ability to play
a wide variety of styles, from rock to blues to reggae riddim and
brought him into the fold. The first project they worked on
together was the “Exodus'' album.
“Our first session together was when I came in to play one
day with Bob and Tyrone Downey, the keyboard player. They were
jamming, so we became a trio. We were really happy with the way
things sounded, and I thought it was great to be playing with a
reggae band like this. Dreams really do come true,'' Marvin said.
Marvin's lead guitar gave some presence to the typically
bass-defined reggae pocket. His grasp of different styles came from
his upbringing — a jazzman father, an uncle who was a sound man,
schooling that exposed him to classical music and rock 'n' roll.
Marvin refers to his own playing as a mix of Jimi Hendrix and
George Benson, and Bob used that versatility to explore all the
Had Marley's popularity not taken off as it did, Marvin
wonders if Jamaican artists would have seen the acceptance they now
enjoy. Before Marley's reggae music got around, few off-island had
heard the style at all.
“Nowadays you see many reggae bands all over the world. In
Bob's time, hardly anyone from Jamaica was touring. Many were
putting out that positive energy in the music, but they hadn't been
able to get it out to the world,'' Marvin said.
So that's another reason the Wailers determined to carry on
with the band. Reggae is one part groove to one part sermonizing --
most of these musicians have a message of love they want to preach
to the masses, and in the wake of Marley their jamming can reach
wider audiences. The groove makes the message easy to take, and the
message makes you feel like dancing. It's musical mission work.
Marley was able to break through, Marvin said, because he
kept his messages simple. Plus, he practiced what he preached, a
rarity among musicians, Marvin said.
“Bob always said he wanted even a baby to be able to
understand what he was saying,'' Marvin said. “He was direct,
strong and forceful in a very loving kind of way. He didn't put you
off or upset you. He made you happy to talk about thing you might
be afraid to talk about.''
The latest Wailers album, “Jah Message'' on Ras Records,
uses a lot of new technology — drum machines supply a lot of the
groove and eerie guitar effects flavor the mixes — but the message
is the same. Some titles: “Rasta,'' “Jah Love (Believers)'' and
“Many Roads to Zion.'' “Know Thyself'' even reflects the Wailers'
doo-wop roots; Marvin and company open the song singing, “Shoo
whap shoo whap, do do do day.''
The world needs reggae, Marvin said. We need that message,
that reminder of peace. Music being a universal language, it can
reach cultures all over the world, and we always need it, he said.
“We need the message all the time. The conflicts and
troubles are the same around the world in every time of history. We
have a negative, warring side to us and we need to calm that
vibration. Music helps us stay calm and balanced,'' Marvin said.
“The message is very simple — 'Let's get together and feel all
right,' like the song says. It's that simple.''
By Thomas Conner 07/02/1996
It's easy to hype Reggaefest with lots of cutesy,
condescending ignorance — talking about musical styles you really
don't understand, insulting overuse of the word “mon'' — but when
the whole thing comes together, it really is something special. For
all the advertised peace, love and understanding, there is a
unified feeling of happiness and hope that actually delivers.
Or that could just be the delirium of heatstroke.
Either way, Reggaefest is the best party around, and this year's
bill was the finest lineup of world music talent in years — a
truly impressive bunch of international stars in lil' ol' Tulsa.
The crowd Saturday evening appeared to be a huge turnout even for
the perennially popular Reggaefest. The big draw was the featured
act, the one and only Wailers band. This continually evolving group
that once backed the legendary Bob Marley continues to tour and
perform Marley's songs as well as its own originals. But the crowd
came to hear those classics, and the Wailers came through.
What a show — you've got the expectation of seeing several
historical figures in the pantheon of world music, you've got a
catalog of timeless songs that by their very nature instill
positive vibrations and singing along, and you've got a band that
in spite of anyone's huffing about composition of original members
versus new members delivers a powerful performance. Lead singer and
guitarist Junior Marvin can perform “I Shot the Sheriff''
repeatedly and have his ticket written for him for the rest of his
life, but if he's resting on his laurels he doesn't show it. He put
every bit of his vocal strength and showmanship into Saturday
night's set, and they way he sermonized the sweaty congregation
hinted that his heart was in it, too.
The Wailers are still an impressive band. Aston “Familyman''
Barrett is the best bassist in reggae, a genre that revolves around
the bass guitar. Alvin “Secco'' Patterson is the happiest
percussion player you'll ever see. Saturday night he slapped his
drums and wore a towering rave hat with Rasta colors. During
“Where Is Love,'' he removed it and, sure enough, that huge hat
was stuffed with dreads.
Many Marley classics were covered — “Natty Dread,'' “I Shot the
Sheriff,'' “No Woman, No Cry,'' “Positive Vibration,''
“Exodus,'' even “The Heathen.'' The new Wailers material varies
between good progressive reggae, like “Jah Love,'' to silly filler
like “Rasta,'' sort of a Rastafarian “Jesus Loves Me.''
Marvin pulled out the 12-string guitar for “Redemption Song,''
and the performance of “One Love'' was as inspiring as any gospel
music. It is gospel music. Listen to those lyrics, “Give
thanks and praise to the Lord, and I will feel all right.'' It's a
devoted religious message being played to a multitude of eager
listeners, and it succeeds where much religious music fails because
of that extra step — feeling all right. Thousands of Tulsans held
hands and felt all right for two solid hours. Amen.
The two-day festival featured 10 other high-class musical acts.
Here are some highlights:
Festival organizers tried to branch out a bit this year. One of the
results of that effort was the appearance of the Grown-Ups on the
second stage Friday and Saturday. This is a ska band from Denton,
Texas, and they're pretty hot. Ska is a fairly rigid style of
music, but the Grown-Ups found ways to loosen it up a bit, chiefly
due to an energetic trombone player (with great shoes) and an
innovative drummer. The lead singer, though his lyrics are pretty
amateurish, barks with the force of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
When someone on Friday shouted, “Play some Bosstones!'' he said,
“What are the Bosstones? Is that 'More Than a Feeling?'''
Another result of branching out was Friday night's main stage set
by O.J. Ekemodie and the Nigerian All-Stars. Ekemodie and his two
female dancers, one on either side, must be the Tony Orlando & Dawn
of western Africa, playing their Afro-beat and singing songs about
“social concerns.'' He played a mean sax and a cool drum out of
which he got a surprising array of tones. His frequent dedications
to a free Nelson Mandela helped both charge and date the festival;
Mandela's freedom was still nebulous during last year's Reggaefest.
Billy Goat returned to Tulsa to ply us once again with its tribal
rhythms. This band, now based in Lawrence, Kan., played the
festival's second stage Saturday evening and actually got some of
the typically staid second stage audience members to dance. Billy
Goat always does. The rhythm is the thing for them, evidenced by
two drummers and a band member who's sole purpose is to dance.
Local Hero kicked off the main stage Saturday evening after a brief
delay caused by power problems. This Tulsa-based band has played
almost every Reggaefest, and the band deserves its billing on the
main stage. After seeing Local Hero a million times at venues
around the state, it's easy to forget how good they are until
they're in a festival alongside the international stars and they
hold their own. Heck, they were better than a couple of the main
stage acts from exotic islands. Lead singer and bassist Doc James
introduced the band's final number, “Put Your Hand in Mine,''
saying, “Everybody asks us why we're not bigger, more famous ...
I'm happy right where I am.'' We're happy to have him here, too.
Arrow is a tiny man but very mighty. He has taken soca music across
an astonishing number of borders, primarily due to the success of
his song “Hot Hot Hot'' — a terribly appropriate song for the
occasion — which he served up in the middle of his Saturday night
set on the main stage with infectious energy. His band was
incredibly tight and proficient; the drummer did not stop whacking
the same beat for the first 20 minutes of the set, and Arrow knelt
down before his three-man horn section for good reason. By the time
they blasted into “O'La Soca,'' everybody's feet hurt.
Bless those Rhythm Lizards. This local band of worldly music had
its own stage throughout the festival, playing sets while the main
stage was changing acts. They somehow came up with enough material
to perform for nearly six hours on a frying pan of a stage and
played their hearts out to a captive audience among the merchandise
booths. They win the endurance award.
Festival organizer Tim Barraza made a special dedication before the
Wailers set, dedicating this year's event to its former emcee, J.T.
“Dread'' Turner, and presenting a plaque to Turner's three
children. Turner died in September in a California hospital.
This post contains my complete running coverage of this annual festival ...
© Tulsa World
To Third World, It's Not Fans, It's Family
By Thomas Conner 06/23/1995
When the interview started, Bunny Rugs had just dealt his daughter
the second hand of a Jamaican card game called Three Card Peter
Pat. The young girl had just fleeced her father and was giggling in
anticipation of another rout.
Rugs is a family man, he said, just like Third World is a family
band — with family all over the world.
Rugs, a stage name for William Clarke, is the lead vocalist of
Third World, one of the featured bands at Tulsa's Reggaefest '95.
The Tulsa show will be the band's first gig on its summer tour.
A lot of bands strain under the rigors of cross-country touring.
But for Bunny, it's one big family reunion.
“I don't call them fans, I call them family,'' he said, after his
daughter won another hand. “Each year we look forward to meeting
our family all over again. There are so many people that we know in
Japan, in America, in Europe, especially in Jamaica, and touring
gives us the opportunity to see them all again.''
Rugs loves the road. He can't wait to get on the road again each
time, he said.
“It's not good for family life, but it pays the bills,'' he said.
“I love hotel rooms. My (two) girls come along sometimes when
we're going places they've never been before. I'd like to have them
with me more, but it's hard. Still, I love going out.
“You have to have that built-in chemistry to love the road. It's
hard to keep your energy up, but when the curtains go up, somehow
you find the strength, especially if you're doing something you
“Once, when we were in Europe, I was really sick with hepatitis. I
would lay in the bus until time to go on, drink a jug of ginseng
and go on, and I'd be just fine until the curtain went down. It's
the music that's just keeps me going.''
Rugs has his own music and his work with Third World keeping him
going. This summer's tour will support Third World's recent
release, “Live It Up,'' and Rugs just released his own solo effort
called “Talking to You'' on a small indie label in New York,
Shanachie. It's his first solo effort in more than two decades.
The solo work was produced by popular Jamaican producer Jack
Scorpio. “Our relationship turned out really well,'' Rugs said.
“It's a little different from the music with Third World, only in
terms of production. It's a little more dance hall, and I've got
some different styles from the different people working with me.''
“Talking to You'' reached No. 16 on last week's Black Echo chart.
The last time Rugs cut a solo recording was before he joined up
with Third World — in 1973. The members of Third World are most of
the original members of pre-Jacob Miller's Inner Circle. When four
of the members broke away to form Third World, Rugs went to see
them at New York City's Bottom Line club. “And I've been with them
ever since that night,'' he said.
Third World, however, is more than just another reggae act. The
lyrical sensibility is the same — lots of peace, love and harmony
— but the music worms its way through all kinds of styles, from
Caribbean into rhythm and blues and finishing with true funk.
“Third World's music has its own sound, sure,'' Rugs said, “and
the message is one of peace and harmony. We really haven't changed
over the years. The instrumentation might have changed, but we are
always singing about the same things — peace, world harmony, love
between man and woman. It would change if we were singing about
guns and violence, I guess, but we're on the other end of all that,
you know ...''
“Goodness, she beat me again,'' he said. “She's got me down
His daughter giggled triumphantly in the background.
“Next time we're playing for money.''
Goin' Solo: Reggae's Rose Makes a Comeback
By Thomas Conner 06/23/1995
Guess who's coming to Tulsa.
After a 10-year hiatus from visibility in America, reggae's great
uncle, Michael Rose, comes back ashore this summer, starting with
Tulsa's Reggaefest '95.
“This festival is like my big kick-off,'' Rose said this week in a
telephone interview from his doctor's office in Jamaica. “I'm jus'
tryin' to get healthy and put together my tour.''
And what a kick-off.
Since leaving Black Uhuru, the kingpins of reggae, 10 years ago,
fans of Rose's unique style and sound have been chomping at the bit
for a new album. Rose was Uhuru's chief songwriter, scoring such
hits as “Shine Eye Gal'' and “Guess Who's Coming to Dinner,'' and
he left the band right after its “Anthem'' album was awarded the
1985 Grammy for Best Reggae Album.
“It was just that we couldn't work together anymore,'' Rose said
of his departure. “There were no bad feelings. We just didn't have
anything verbally, and we couldn't do business anymore.''
As a soloist, Rose began to release singles intermittently --
material he had written and recorded between Uhuru tours. In 1990,
he released an album called “Proud,'' and in 1993 another called
“Bonanza'' (with the delicious hit “Ganga Bonanza''). Since then
he's tossed out several singles recorded from sessions with Sly and
Robbie, the infallible rhythm section that was the core of Black
Uhuru. None of this material, however, was released in the United
This year, Rose's first major-label, self-titled solo recording is
on American shelves. Released on Heartbeat Records, “Michael
Rose'' is a high-production addition to Rose's string of hits, if
not the monumental recording Black Uhuru fans have been itching for.
Rose, still fumbling for a solo voice (and control of his trademark
locks), tries a few stylistic experiments, but he sounds best when
he plays it straight, as in the disc's opener, “Too Hard a
Hearing,'' and the powerful “Warning.''
The album's first single, “Badder Than You,'' jabs at the
young'uns who have not only imitated his unique vocal wail, but
have downright copied him without any credit. He sings: “I can do
it better than you / I can do it best / You know that I'm badder
“I'm not really angry at no one,'' Rose said, “but some of these
guys don't give me credit. They never say they like me or nothing;
they only try to discredit me. Look at Snow. He took everything
Still, Rose is hunting for new young reggae stars. He and his
brother have launched the Jamaica-based Image label to focus on
Rose had his own influences, though. The most notable was
reggaemeister Dennis Brown, who Rose calls his “godfather.'' Rose
also cites — surprise — Bob Marley, as well as other actual
surprises like Billy Paul, Marvin Gaye and the Temptations.
“When we got started in Jamaica, we used to entertain tourists on
the streets, you know,'' Rose said. “That was the only opportunity
to get into music. Some of that old soul music attracted people to
Rose said he idolized Brown, but soon forged his own style.
“You can't be like someone else the rest of your life.''
He now is certainly his own man. Rose relishes some of the freedoms
he has now as a solo artist. “Working with myself, I'm my own boss,''
Dancehall Days: Yellowman Makes Tulsa Debut
By Thomas Conner 06/23/1995
Long regarded as the most important dancehall player in the reggae
universe, Yellowman has overcome great odds to make it in music.
Born in Jamaica an albino — with no skin pigmentation --
Yellowman was forced into institutions and special schools.
Dropping his real name, Winston Foster, he embraced his nickname,
Yellowman (because “I'm yellow, like cheese''), and turned it into
a winning moniker. And only recently, Yellowman won battles with
throat and skin cancer.
This summer, he returns to the road on the heels of his
latest solo release, “Prayer.'' With more than 25 albums to his
credit, Yellowman still pours on nutritious grooves in simple songs
like “Africa'' and “Reggae Music.'' The title track is a blend of
sweet vocals and a dancehall-style chanting of the Lord's Prayer.
He also collaborated with reggae greats like the Mighty Diamonds
and David Folkes on this album.
Yellowman's music ranges from the political to the spiritual.
His lengthy list of hits includes “Soldier Take Over,'' Mad Over
Me,'' “I'm Getting Married,'' “Jamaica a Little Miami'' and “Me
Kill Barney'' (which has nothing to do with the famed purple
dinosaur). Yellowman is the best-selling reggae artist since Bob
Wendy Shaw has a long history in reggae music — a genre not
exactly brimming with talented women. She started fronting an
all-Rasta women band called Jahdeeda in the mid-'80s, and now she's
causing quite a buzz in the record industry in southern California.
Her first album, “Praise His Majesty,'' came about after
lots of work recording and exploring in reggae's heartland,
Jamaica. After a show at the Sunsplash festival, she met Rita
Marley (wife of Bob). Marley encouraged her to come to Tuff Going
Music, which ended up distributing Shaw's first singles. She made
her debut in 1990 at the 9th Annual Bob Marley Day celebration in
Long Beach, Calif.
Her latest record, “Passing Through the Flames,'' continues
to speak a message of love and peace in a special style only a
woman could add to the reggae vein. Her spirituality dominates much
of her lyrical subjects.
“Rastafari is a way of life to live and be free from the
hooks of Babylon,'' Shaw has said. “All of my songs so far have
touched upon this theme.''
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.