Yami Bolo – Burning up the Charts From Jamaica to Japan
by Howard Campbell
The conviction Yami Bolo shows as he belts out Bob Marley’s “Heathen” reflects the singer’s coming of age, a conviction that is further enhanced by his commitment to the perfect sound, even during rehearsal. Four takes and a “turn it up little more deh bassie” and Yami Bolo is ready to rock.
Bolo was at the Tuff Gong headquarters rehearsing for the Feb. 6 Bob Marley concert at the Bob Marley Museum for which he was one of the top acts. While the event was a tribute to one of his heroes, the fact that he was billed as one of the evenings stars meant that Yami Bolo is finally being given the recognition that had proved so elusive to him at home.
A jocular, laid-back six-footer with a ready smile, Bolo is the typical Roots man. At home in cut off jeans and Reebok sneakers, he has reason to be satisfied with the route his career has taken in the last 12 months, and as humble as he is, isn’t afraid to say so. “Things a come on good, y’know,” the 24-year-old remarked prior to tuning up. “Right now, we jus’ a concentrate on all that is good for ’95; we’d a like win all awards ’cause we put we heart inna this project.”
The project Bolo speaks about is his debut album for Island Jamaica/Taxi records. It will be his ninth, quite a prolific output for such a young performer. Largely an unknown in his homeland for most of his career, the sturdily built Bolo created waves internationally last year, at the same time causing a few ripples locally, suggesting the man with the chiseled good looks and shoulder length locks could well be Reggae’s next big name on the world stage.
Until last year, the name Yami Bolo was more likely to raise eyebrows than turn heads, especially in Jamaica. Those familiar with it saw him as a Junior Reid sound-alike doing a good imitation of Michael Rose. As flattering as comparisons with the former Black Uhuru singers might be, Bolo states it does have its shortcomings. “We love that still ’cause Michael and we brethren and mi feel honored fi people put me beside an elder like him, but Yami Bolo always strive fi sound original.”
Last year’s triumphs saw Bolo going a long way in shaking off the Michael Rose tag, both overseas and at home. A collaboration with top Japanese Reggae singer Kazafumi Mizayawa (Miya) resulted in the successful mini-album Love Is Dangerous, which has become one of the biggest selling Reggae albums in that country with sales topping 500,000 units. Back home, he didn’t do too badly either. Two singles, a remake of Boney M’s “Born Again” and the Sly and Robbie produced ballad “Love My Woman” earned Bolo the airplay he so desperately yearned for in former years, and has raised anticipation for the vocalist’s upcoming Island album, which will also be produced by the “Rhythm Twins.”
“Is the first time we ever work so long on a album, but we hope that it will pay off,” says Bolo between pulls on an orange. As for the deal with Island, he’s even more excited. “It’s going to make a lot of difference because bigger distribution means people all over the world will hear us which is what we need.” And working with Sly and Robbie? “Them man deh a genius,” he said, cracking his ever present smile. “Everything them touch turn to gold.”
Yami wouldn’t mind a gold record. It would certainly brighten things up on his mantle-piece beside the silver Grand Prix award he received from Sony for “Love Is Dangerous” earning Best Video in Japan for 1994. But reaching an “iniversal audience,” not collecting plaques, is his main objective. “We definitely want [the new album] to be more commercial, but that’s not our strategy; we a study over the superstar thing, we jus’ want the music to reach the people.”
If the long-awaited record sounds as good as his Japanese venture and “Love My Woman,” Yami Bolo’s dream of mass international appeal won’t be long in coming, certainly not as long as it took him to gain recognition at home.
Not identifiable with the new wave of Rasta chanters, Yami Bolo has built a reputation for himself overseas courtesy of tours with Roots singers like Augustus Pablo and Junior Delgado, the type of artiste he was influenced by as a youngster growing up in the Kingston ghetto of Greenwich Farm.
Back then he was known as Rolando McLean, the youngest “soldier” in Sugar Minott’s Youthman Promotions camp. Among his batch mates were some of the leading Roots wailers of the burgeoning Dancehall movement, including Tenor Saw, Triston Palmer and Junior Reid, all of whom would go on to make a name for themselves. Bolo says their success “build up mi inspiration fi go forward.”
It was while at Youthman Promotions that Bolo met Delgado who produced his first album, 1986’s “Ransom of a Man’s Life.” Seven others followed on various labels, but apart from a minor hit with “Susanna”–a spinoff of Madonna’s “Spanish Lullaby”–no other Yami Bolo record created a stir on local airwaves. “I used to feel a way ’bout the airplay thing, but nuh like first time,” Bolo explained. “Wha’ we a try do now is win hearts.”
His teaming with Miya–which came after a standout performance at Japansplash ’94–certainly caused a few pulses to skip a beat in the Far East where “Love Is Dangerous” climbed the charts at a phenomenal rate, opening up new doors for Bolo in the Orient where he’s now one of the most sought after Reggae performers.
His powerful rendition of “Born Again” and the up-tempo “Love My Woman” gained Bolo, for the first time in his career, extensive airplay on Jamaican radio. His powerful set at the White River Reggae Bash last year saw him graduate from the “Yami who?” category to winning over a hoard of new fans with his now distinct shrill. “Yeah, a lotta doors opened for us last year,” he said. “It jus’ go fi show wha’ the power of the radio can do.”
Hopefully, his new found popularity and Sly and Robbie’s golden touch will prove even more powerful and earn Yami Bolo another impressive seller as “Love Is Dangerous.” That’s something the singer is looking forward to. “We get a lotta offer since last year and we jus’ a hope when the album complete it going to go the same after the release,” he said as he rose with members of his troupe to begin rehearsal with the Macabee Band. Work is what’s on Yami Bolo’s mind, not “bussin’ out.”
“No, sah, we nuh come fi bus’, that’s jus’ a Jamaican term,” he says with a flash of the locks. “We a look fi lick off the world charts, a that we a deal wid.”