Garnet Silk Bio
By M Peggy Quattro (written in 2000 for the release of Definitive Collection)
Garnet Silk, the young singer/songwriter who died in a horrific fire at the age of 28, was one of the brightest stars to ever shine in the Reggae galaxy. During his short, illustrious career, Garnet Silk was hailed by many as “the next Bob Marley.”
After five years of lewd and rude Dancehall lyrics, Garnet ignited the stagnant music arena with Roots Rasta music. He is credited as the artist most responsible for the conscious and spiritual resurgence of early 90’s Reggae. His profound lyrics and distinctive vocal styling—a throwback to the poignant messages of the Marley era—captured an international audience.
From 1992 to 1994, Garnet Silk released a multitude of songs that soared up Reggae charts and touched the lives of those who heard them. The long-awaited Big Beat/Atlantic Garnet Silk: The Definitive Collection is a celebration of the memory—and a tribute to the music—of this legendary artist.
Recorded at Tuff Gong and Couch Studios in Kingston and mixed at Kariang Studio in Ocho Rios, this two-CD set features 20 songs recorded and/or re-recorded over a three year span. Garnet’s silky voice is enhanced by the assemblage of Jamaica’s finest musicians—Sly & Robbie, Tyrone Downie, Earl “Wya” Lindo, Mikey Boo Richards, Earl “Chinna” Smith, Mikey Chung, Dean Fraser, and Sticky Thompson, to name a few. Garnet insisted that real instruments were to be used and all the musicians were to be in the studio at the same time. “Like the Wailers,” said Tony Chin Loy, co-founder of Kariang Productions and co-manager, “the old fashioned way—the Bob Marley way.” Chin Loy revealed that when Sly Dunbar came to do the project he had not played a real drum kit in five years!
Craig Kallman, executive VP at Atlantic Records, is the person responsible for signing Garnet Silk to Big Beat/Atlantic in 1993. “I was in a Jamaican Reggae shop when the owner sold me a bunch of Garnet Silk 45s,” said Kallman. “I was blown away and tracked him down. I signed him immediately after seeing him perform at the [Ocho Rios] White River Reggae Bash early in ‘93.”
Regarding the potential of Garnet’s future, Kallman explains: “It was clear to me that Garnet Silk was an artist at that extraordinary moment where his creative brilliance was unfolding with an ever-increasing speed. Signing Garnet was not a matter of trends or simply securing a sure-fire hit single. For me, it was about helping build what was doubtlessly going to be a remarkable career. I believe he was making music that people would listen to for years to come. I wanted Atlantic to be part of that, to contribute to that. He possessed a truly rare gift and it is my greatest hope that, with the release of this two-CD set, a whole new audience might discover the magic that is his music.”
The Definitive Collection features ten new songs recorded or re-recorded by producers Clive Hunt and Mikey Chung for Kariang Productions. Included are “Love You From a Distance,” “Wrong is Wrong,” “Tell Them to Stop,” “Too Frightened to be Scared,” “Life is Like a Piano,” “Slave,” “Consider the Garden,” and “Sayonara” (Kariang).” Additionally, “Mama Africa” (originally recorded for Star Trail) and “Place in Your Heart” (originally recorded for Digital B) were re-recorded at Kariang. Most of these songs were originally slated to be part of Big Beat/Atlantic’s debut Garnet Silk CD.
Rounding out The Definitive Collection are “Love is the Answer,” “Love is the Answer (the remix),” and “Beyond a Dark Cloud” (produced by Steely & Clevie); “Green Line” and “Thank You Jah” (produced by Sly & Robbie); “I Am Not for Sale” and “Rejoice in His Name” (produced by Bobby Digital); “Zion in a Vision” (produced by Jack Scorpio); “Fill Us Up with Your Mercy” (produced by King Jammy); and “Your Time Has Expired” (produced by Delroy Collins). These last ten songs were either recorded or released between 1992 and 1994.
Kallman adds, “When I listen to this music I can’t help think ‘what if.’ Garnet had so much to offer; he was just beginning to show the world what he was capable of. On a personal note, this collection is inherently connected to the pain and sadness that followed Garnet’s death.”
Garnet Silk was born Garnet Damion Smith in Bromelia, Jamaica, on the second day of April 1966. On December 9, 1994, he perished alongside his mother, Etiga Dulcie Grey, in an accidental fire that consumed his childhood home in the parish of Manchester. Family, friends, music industry colleagues, and fans worldwide were shocked and saddened by his unexpected and heartbreaking death.
The tragedy occurred inside the one-room wooden house around midnight. A friend was showing Garnet how to use a shotgun when it accidentally went off, striking a nearby cooking gas cylinder. Along with his growing fame, Garnet had become increasingly concerned about security at the house—though he was a true novice when it came to firearms. That night, the errant gun blast ignited the gas cylinder, effectively giving rise to a lethal blowtorch. Garnet, his two brothers and two friends managed to escape. However, when Garnet realized his mother was still trapped inside, he re-entered the inferno. Neither of them survived.
Growing up in the Hatfield district, about two miles west of Mandeville, Jamaica, Garnet’s early inspirations were Marley and Burning Spear. “From I was a youth,” Garnet told Reggae Report in a 1994 interview, “I loved the people who were into the music from a moral aspect.” Until 14 years of age, he attended Hatfield All Age School, where, besides writing, he admits he had no favorite subject. Sport was a different matter and he always enjoyed playing soccer [football]. Garnet admitted that he was popular at school because he could sing and DJ. When he first performed as Little Bimbo with the sound system Soul Remembrance at the age of 12, Garnet discovered an outlet for his thought-provoking lyrics—and an audience outside of his schoolmates and family. In 1985, the renamed Bimbo released his first single, the locally recorded “Problem Everywhere,” produced by Delroy “Callo” Collins for the Rhythm Track label at Roof International in Ocho Rios. It was not until he moved to Kingston in 1988 that the name Garnet Silk became recognized in the bubbling Reggae community. Although initially spelled Garnett, when asked, the young singer clarified in the 1994 Reggae Report interview that there was only one T, and questioned, “what’s the use of using two?”
In 1992, Tony Rebel, a popular DJ and close friend introduced Garnet Silk on stage at White River Reggae Bash in Ocho Rios. In 1986, Rebel and Dub Poet Yasus Afari introduced Garnet to the teachings of Rastafari, a discovery that altered his life forever. Born into the tribe of Rueben, Garnet has claimed no organized affiliation. “I see myself as a son of Ethiopia,” Garnet declared. “Ethiopia—where all things started.”
Garnet Silk was committed to the teachings of Emperor Haile Selassie I, the cornerstone of Rastafari. “This was his sole purpose,” Chin Loy explains. “He was spiritual in what he was doing. I referred to him as ‘the Teacher’. He was always teaching—little kids, big people. Anyone who would come in he would talk to and always come back to the teaching of His Imperial Majesty.”
Chin Loy tells a story where one evening, when Garnet was leaving the studio, two gunmen jumped in his car and wanted to rob him. Garnet says the blessing of the Father saved him because, right then, lightning began to flash. The gunmen became frightened when they finally realized who they had held up. Although they took his money and tapes and the speakers out of his car, Garnet gave them a lecture on top of it. He began teaching them that night when he started telling them about the Father. In fact, this incident was the inspiration for the song “Too Frightened to be Scared”.
“In the studio, Garnet was a funny guy,” Chin Loy adds. “The vibe was great and he was always so cheerful and happy. He loved to sing and he would sing from morning.” Always with his Bible, Garnet would refer to the huge dictionary he always had on hand when there was a word he did not understand. “He wanted to know the meaning of every word he was saying because he wanted to make sure he was saying the right thing,” said Chin Loy. “If you gave him a line, within a couple of minutes Garnet would give it back to you lyrically.”
Garnet Silk’s first major hit, “Hello Mama Africa” produced by Richard “Bello” Bell at Star Trail studio, was unleashed in 1992. To this day, “Hello Mama Africa” is the most popular Garnet Silk song ever recorded. Other hits, such as “Place in Your Heart” and “Zion in a Vision,” soon followed. The young singer was quickly catapulted to Number One positions on Jamaican, U.S., British, Canadian, and Japanese Reggae charts.
All throughout the next year, Garnet Silk recorded continuously and toured extensively, filling clubs and concert halls in America, England, Bermuda, and Japan. The pace was so grueling that on July 16, 1993, he had to leave the stage during a performance at the Ritz Theater in New York City. Diagnosed with low blood pressure and exhaustion, he went under doctor’s orders to take rest. Garnet retreated from the limelight. His fragile health was the reason given for the cancellation of his debut Reggae SumFest performance that summer of ‘93.
After a brief respite in Ocho Rios, Garnet was back on his feet. By the beginning of 1994, Garnet Silk was ready to continue his musical quest. He was signed with Kariang Productions for recording and management and, through Kallman’s championing, had secured his first major label deal with Big Beat/Atlantic Records. His comeback performance was at Rebel Salute, Tony Rebel’s annual birthday concert, in January 1994. Mandeville’s Fayer’s Entertainment Centre was packed solid and fans waited in the pouring rain until 6 a.m. to witness the much-anticipated return of Garnet Silk.
From the end of 1993 and throughout 1994, Garnet Silk recorded mostly for Kariang. His team kept him busy with shows and tours. Chin Loy tells of one memorable moment, early in ’94, when Garnet Silk performed in Trinidad. “Garnet did not know if or how much they would accept him,” he recalls. “To everyone’s surprise, the crowd of 45,000 strong was chanting ‘The King! The King!’ and Garnet thought, ‘Ah woe—that’s me they’re calling’!” He toured elsewhere in the Caribbean that summer and wound up in Montego Bay where he delivered sizzling and momentous performances at Reggae Sunsplash and Reggae SumFest.
Garnet Silk’s final performance was at the Mirage nightclub in Kingston the Tuesday night before the fire. Driving in from Greenvale in Manchester, where he was building a two-story home for his mother, Garnet was eager to be a part of good friend Richie Stephens’ birthday celebration. Another extraordinary singer, Richie Stephens and Garnet Silk joined forces earlier in ‘94 to record “Fight Back,” a popular anthem for the oppressed. This song was gaining steam internationally after enjoying several weeks at Number One on the Jamaican charts.
His philosophy and favorite quote sum up Garnet Silk’s life: “Seek ye the kingdom of God and all necessary things shall and will be added to you. Love your mummy and daddy and your brothers and sisters as you love yourself, and love Jah with all your heart. Be obedient, kind and willing and you will live forever.” Garnet lived—and died—for his family and the legend will live on through his beloved seven children. His devoted wife Lovey bore their fourth child, a son rightly named Garnet Jr., on April 3, 1995—only a few months after the fire and one day after his famous father’s birthday.
His inner light and childlike joy are forever deeply missed, yet he will live on through his music and message. Kallman aptly sums up Garnet Silk’s loss this way: “Beyond the music we will never hear, the loss of such a beautiful person is the real tragedy.”