In reply to mikesiva
Your piece on Byron Lee sent me to my archives. This is what I pulled out:
HOW LONG SHALL THEY KILL OUR PROPHETS?
by Ewart Walters
Copyright Ewart Walters 2009
May 1991 - Around this tenth anniversary of Bob Marley's death, one of the biggest talking points in the land of his birth is whether Soca is killing Reggae. Soca (a contraction of Soul and Calypso) is the reigning music of Trinidad and Tobago, the land that created the only musical art form in the Western Hemisphere this century - the steel band. Reggae is the born-in-Jamaica art form that Bob Marley (mainly) popularized the world over. The other big talking point is the wrangling over Bob's shrinking (legal fees are very costly) multi-million dollar estate. Fortunately, it now seems that his heirs have finally decided to come together to fight against a threat to sell his estate to foreigners. So what's the problem, you ask. Well, let's start at the beginning.
Strange as it may seem now to outsiders, Jamaicans have been culturized to look outside themselves for things of value and worth. In food this means having corn flakes and American apples instead of boiled green bananas and Ottaheiti apples. In dance, it meant a suppression of earlier dance forms such as the mento and the quadrille in favour of the waltz and the rock-and-roll. In music Jamaicans of the late 1950s and early 1960s tuned in night after night to the American station WINZ for the latest rhythm-and-blues and rock-and-roll offerings. Reggae's forerunner, the Ska, which displaced the mento and the Jamaica Calypso of the 1940s and 50s, was contemptuously dismissed as "dutty ska" (dirty ska) until Jamaicans Millie Small and later Desmond Dekker and Jimmy Cliff who had all migrated to England, shook the very portals of "the mother country" with it and started reaping fame and fortune out of the home-grown art form in England. Once England approved, then it could be good enough for Jamaica.
It was about this time Byron Lee formed his Dragonaires and took his own path to popularity through the new Ska sounds that were wailing all over Jamaica. Urged by a young Minister of Development and Welfare in the person of Edward Seaga, Byron Lee took on the task of popularizing the new Jamaican sound both in Jamaica and overseas. Calling himself "Jamaica's Musical Ambassador", Lee went on several tours around the Caribbean playing mostly Ska, did a lot of work with the Calypso King of the World, the Mighty Sparrow, and eventually became a fixture at Trinidad Carnival, playing mostly Ska and calypso.
The Mona campus of the University of the West Indies was established in the shadow of the Blue Mountains in 1947 and began almost immediately to make an impact on Jamaica. The Students Union at Mona was the venue for some of Kingston's best parties as, for the next two decades, Friday and Saturday nights bore witness to regular meetings between music and dancing feet.
But what was the music? With the exception of the offerings of Carlos Malcolm and his Afro-Jamaican Rhythms, the music was almost entirely Trinidadian. The students quickly formed a steel band, and a very good steel band it was in the late 1950s. The steel band took over as the mainstay of the Students' Union and in acculturizing the Jamaican and other (non-Trinidadian) students with a heavy dose of Trinidadian culture, also succeeded in spreading the gospel of steel band off campus and into greater Kingston.
An Eastern Caribbean culture enveloped the Mona campus much to the distress of the island's newspaper, the Daily Gleaner, which had difficulty making up its mind what it disliked more -- Eastern Caribbean culture or the University's Faculty of Social Sciences. The Gleaner notwithstanding, there emerged such a thing as a "Mona accent" as students, kept apart by miles of Caribbean Sea, finally came together. What is more - as the Trinidadians brought to Mona the whole new world of j'ouvert, bacchanal, play mass, Carnival Queen, Carnival bands and so on - Carnival, which was previously unknown there, came to Jamaica, or at least to Mona.
But the emergence of the made-in-Jamaica music - from Ska through Rock Steady - in the early 1960s could not be held back. As a former habitué of the Student's Union of the late 1950s, I got the shock of my life when I returned to Jamaica in 1968 after four years in Canada.
Taking in a party at the Student's Union I discovered a major change had taken place. Jamaican culture was not simply dominant; it was pervasive. There was no steel band in sight. Rock Steady was a carry the swing as they were to say later. I will never forget the obvious joy with which the rock-steady revellers sang with Bob Andy, I've got to go back home, even if I've got to walk, I've got to go back home, their voices swelling joyously "taa na na na nap ta-nap, taa na na na nap ta-nap, tap tap, taa taa na na na nap" with the trombone chorus.
By this time too, aided by the accumulated works of Laurel Aitken, the Blues Busters, Wilfred (Jackie) Edwards, the Wailing Wailers, Higgs and Hill, Alton Ellis, Hortense Ellis, Girl Satchmo, the Ethiopians, the Melodians, Prince Buster, Delroy Morgan, Dennis Brown, Stranger Cole, John Holt, Ken Boothe, Don Drummond, the Skatalites, Justin Hines and the Dominoes, and others, there was a growing body of songs and music that had become popular. All these were creators of original music.
Not so Byron Lee, whose Dragonaires in those days made several records covering the newly created Jamaican songs, and had only one original tune themselves in Dragon's Paradise. Lee went on to become Jamaica's "musical ambassador", taking the Ska, the first Reggay (sic) and Rock Steady to the US and UK as well as the Caribbean.
But when in the early 1970s, British singer-guitarist Eric Clapton recorded "I Shot The Sheriff", the song did extremely well and catapulted the song-writer to American recognition and fame. And who wrote the song? Robert Nesta Marley, a young man from Trench Town (downtown) who would go on to become the world's best known Jamaican, taking reggae rhythms to crowds in the hundreds of thousands in France, Germany, Europe, Australia and all over Africa, not to mention the US and Canada. It is to Marley that we can attribute the rapid spread of the infectious reggae to the extent that just about every singer of stature has found it necessary to incorporate reggae offerings in their albums and repertoire.
Musically, Jamaica was on the map. And yet, and yet; a music is not without honour except in its own country. Addressing the 1975 Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Kingston, Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi spoke with feeling about the gift of music which Jamaica had given to the world. Anyone listening to Jamaica's radio stations that week would wonder what she was talking about.
Like a spite, the radio music was decidedly not home-grown. But this was not a passing aberration. Friends of Jamaicans overseas have hankered after a Jamaican holiday only to return and say they did not hear any reggae while they were in the island. A visitor to an uptown party in the late 1970s to mid 1980s would find that American music was again carrying the swing. To hear reggae, a visitor would have to go downtown Kingston where the sufferers have maintained their love affair with made-in-Jamaica music - along with boiled green bananas.
In the meantime, "uptowners" - many of whom were graduates of the UWI Mona Carnival - began going to Trinidad Carnival each February from the mid 1970s. Back in Jamaica, their appetites for Soca grew - aided and abetted by the proliferation of "dub" and "dance hall" reggae, heavy drum-and-bass and rap "riddims" at the expense of harmony, and sometimes melody, so much so that some wondered aloud if it was still "music."
This led in the 1980s to the development of a small Orange Carnival in a section of St. Andrew to which you came by invitation. This exploded in 1990 and 1991 into a full blown Carnival, so big and so successful that it has the Trinidadians worried. It also has some Jamaicans worrying that "Soca is going to kill Reggae."
And what is the role of Jamaica's "musical ambassador" in all this? Head cook and Soca-winer.
A few years before, Byron Lee was the centre of a controversy because of remarks he allegedly made that reggae losing popularity and not making it overseas, adding that reggae did not employ brass. Who could he possibly have been listening to? Certainly not Lester Bowie (Coming Back Jamaica on the Brass Fantasy album), for one. His own Dragonaires feature a strong brass section that has never prevented him from playing reggae. If he was worrying about how hard it would be to spread Reggae overseas because of (Jamaican) lyrics, how does he explain the fact that only one Soca tune - Arrow's Hot, Hot, Hot - has ever made any impact on North America, while US record companies continue to sign up Dance Hallers like Ninja Man, Coco Tea and others? Now, to his dismay, he is seen as the Axeman of Reggae.
But, even if that were his stated intention, Byron Lee cannot destroy reggae. The stone the musical builders continue to refuse had long become the head stone of the corner. More to the point, the success of Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, Third World, Culture, and others, was predicated also on the movement of the ownership of record-producing facilities from uptown people to downtown people. Khouri's Federal Record Manufacturing no longer appears in the Jamaica telephone book. Byron Lee's Dynamic Sounds is still there.
But now there are also Tuff Gong, Ziggy's Record Manufacturing, Creative Sounds, Music Works Recording Studio, Sound Lab Recording Studio and others. The impression is that the ownership of most of these reflects the shift from uptowners to downtowners that has followed the financial success Reggae has brought to Jamaican singers who are almost entirely downtowners and many of whom are now in control of the business of reggae. This explosion cannot have taken place without having some impact on the business carried out by Lee's Dynamic Sounds. This, too, is part of Bob Marley's legacy.
If by some extended stretch of the imagination, reggae were to be killed in Jamaica, the country would have to be isolated completely from the rest of the world. While his relatives squabbled over his estate almost up to ten years after he died in a Miami hospital without making a will, Bob's joy is for I an' I, and neither that squabble nor the Soca-St. Andrew syndrome shows any sign of reducing the spread of reggae worldwide. Jamaicans would have to put up with the anguish of hearing foreign reggae coming back into the country of its creation.
So, as we mark the first decade after the Reggae King, Bob's main legacy is still very much in place. However, we should never forget the pained question he asks in the last song of his last album:
"How long shall they kill our prophets While we stand aside and look?" - Redemption Song.