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.” Continue reading →
An impish grin curls across Gregory Isaacs’ lips, his head bowed when the questions about his well-publicized battles with cocaine come up; how it has affected his career and if he’s still dependent on drugs. “Bwoy, mi nah really deal wid dat right yah now, mi ithren,” he says in that low, familiar nasal tone, “cause wi get to much bad publicity; anything Jamaican people hear dem believe right away, dem nuh inquire.”
You can’t blame Isaacs for wanting to erase the memories of the darkest period in his life. Since his first run-in with the authorities eight years ago for cocaine possession, the self-proclaimed “Cool Ruler” has experienced a decline of sorts in his career.
At 44, he’s still capable of rocking the crowds with a seemingly endless number of Lovers Rock hits (as seen at the White River Reggae Bash two years ago), and is still able to charm the ladies with his legendary onstage rapport. Though he has had a clutch of minor hits in recent times, the chartbusters that fans have come to associate Gregory Isaacs with have dried up; and many point to his experience with drugs as being the reason for the current dry patch. Continue reading →
Sly Dunbar smiles when asked what he thinks about the inevitable comparison of himself and partner, Robbie Shakespeare, to the legendary Clement “Coxsone” Dodd as Reggae’s greatest producers. “He’s [Coxsone] the greatest man,” says the dreadlocked drummer. “I’m his biggest fan and he doesn’t even know it.”
While Dunbar’s modesty concedes that accolade to the Rocksteady great, he and Shakespeare have no equal in the endurance department. Their eclectic style has encompassed Reggae’s metamorphosis from the post-colonial Rocksteady sound and the Rasta culture of the Marley era to the present Dancehall phenomenon.
There’s no disputing Coxsone’s contribution as a pioneer and visionary, but the magnitude of the “Rhythm Twins'” success, both as internationally respected musicians and producers, is incomparable. Continue reading →
A Conversation with Original Skatalites’s Tommy McCook
by Lee O’Neill
It would not be an exaggeration to call the Skatalites the first superstars of Jamaican music. Not only the house band for Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd’s Studio One label and Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle label (along with dozens of others), they were also Jamaica’s hottest live act at the peak of the Ska era. As individuals, they played on nearly every song of significance in the early ’60s, defined the Ska style, and became the core of the bands that would create Rock Steady. It would be no exaggeration to say that the roots of Reggae begin with the Skatalites.
I was fortunate enough to speak with Tommy McCook, leader and tenor sax player for the Skatalites and founder of Rock Steady’s Supersonics, shortly before the release of the Skatalites newest album, Hi-Bop Ska. The album features Prince Buster and Toots Hibbert on vocals, along with guest artists from the contemporary Jazz world–well-known names like Monty Alexander, Lester Bowie, David Murray and Steve Turre. It brings the music full circle to reconnect the sound of Jazz with the original Ska sound. That should come as no surprise to those familiar with McCook, because, as he told me, “Jazz is my first love.” Continue reading →
Recently, I was honored to have a bonafide Sister come through our gates in Brooklyn to share some positive reasoning and good vibrations with the Flatbush massive. I speak of one of the hardest working women in the music industry, Sister Carol, otherwise known as the Black Cinderella or Mother Culture. Sister Carol took time away from her busy schedule as an activist, artist, educator, mother and wife to engage me in a crucial discussion about music and her contributions to Reggae.
Sister Carol’s presence in the house was a special treat for my eight youths. They came strolling in from outside, one after another, to greet her. With her usual natural composure, Mother Culture spent a little time getting acquainted with them. The older youths tried their best to contain their delight at having “Sister Carol in da house, word!” However, my two youngest daughters, Yeshimabet and Tanagna Worq, would not ease up on Sister Carol. Needless to say, it was difficult to begin the interview. Amidst all the traffic and noise of young people going in and out the gates, Sister Carol and I embarked on an uplifting journey. Continue reading →
Buju Banton cries out for divine help in “God of my Salvation”; Capleton gives assurance that the Emperor still sits on the throne with the constant reminder that “Selassie liveth every time,” while Garnet Silk’s equally prolific shouts of “Jah Rastafari” have given the proclamation Bob Marley made internationally famous new flavor.
Such are the lyrics of cultural change that have been blaring through the speakers of Jamaica’s dance halls in recent times, replacing the gun and ribald lyrics of the DJs that dominated for the greater part of a decade. The cultural rebirth in the dance halls has also sparked a second coming of the Rastafari religion that traces its roots back to the late 1950s and which gained worldwide prominence in the 1970s with the international emergence of the dreadlocked Marley.
Buju’s newfound faith has been wholly accepted by the youth with whom he can do no wrong. The same can be said of fellow DJ Capleton and charismatic singer Silk, one of the forerunners of the revival. Their impact is there for all to see. It’s in vogue to wear locks again. It’s even cool to openly acknowledge Jah without fear of being ridiculed. It’s Jamaica 1995 and it’s hip to be Rasta. Whether a “God of my Salvation” will hold relevance as a “Roof Over my Head” 10 years from now is left to be seen. That could all depend on whether Buju and Capleton decide to forsake their still growing locks and Rasta rhetoric for the latest “talk,” or look, in the coming months. Continue reading →