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 →