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By Marlon Burrell ////

A new year is upon us and as we move forward, it is always great time to reflect on some of the events that took place in the year past. In this case, we reflect on happenings in the world of reggae music. Some things shocked us, while others were expected. Some will be remembered for years to come, and others will be soon forgotten.

On February 13, Buju Banton amidst his legal woes, won his first Grammy award for his latest album “Before The Dawn.” This was the Gargamel’s fifth nomination and the win was well deserved. Reports are that this album was originally slated for release in 2004, but with Banton having some legal issues in Jamaica, he elected to satisfy his dancehall fans with the release of the “Too Bad” album after resolving those legal woes. “Too Bad” did earn Banton a Grammy nomination. In 2009 “Rasta Got Soul” was released to the tune of another Grammy nomination but not a win. The Grammy win was about the only good news for Buju in 2011, because eight days later, on February 22, a guilty verdict was handed down in the star’s drug conspiracy case. A further blow was administered by the American legal system on June 23, when Banton was sentenced to ten years incarceration.

On a more positive note, on August 6, Jamaica’s 49th independence, eleven years after his passing, Dennis Brown was being honored by the Jamaican government with an Order of Distinction, along with Dobby Dobson, and Millie Small. Unfortunately, this was about the only thing positive of note that I have to report.

On August 24, we received news that Sizzla was involved in a serious motor cycle accident in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. He suffered some broken bones and had some internal bleeding, but reports indicate that his recovery was going well. That was good news. On October 3, Adijah Palmer aka Vybz Kartel, was charged with murder. He was also facing charges of conspiracy to commit murder, and illegal possession of a fire arm. A further murder charge was added on October 25. To make it worse for Kartel, on November 3, it was reported that the police have video evidence against him. On November 1, veteran producer and founding member of the Techniques, Winston Riley, was reportedly shot in his head and arm at his Kingston, Jamaica home. As sad as that news may be, I am sorely disappointed that the mainstream Jamaican media hardly mentioned it. The details of the shooting are very sketchy and Mr. Riley was reported to be recovering in an undisclosed hospital. Even progress on his recovery is hard to find. The little information we could find, indicates that his recovery is going well.

I write the remainder of this report with a heavy heart as I take time to remember the members of the reggae family who passed on in 2011. British DJ Smiley Culture died on March 15 from a stab wound  to his heart while police were executing a search warrant at his home in England. Police reported that the wound was self-inflicted, but the circumstances are suspicious and an investigation is still in progress. Singer Bobby Melody passed away on April 26 in Nottingham, England from cancer. The singer is best known for his 1976 hit “Jah Bring I Joy (In The Morning)” for producers Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson aka The Mighty Two. The song is based on the Gaylads’ rocksteady hit “Joy In The Morning.” He was also a member of the Ralph Brothers with Alric Forbes and Peter Pain, who provided backing vocals on Yabby You’s 1971 hit “Conquoring Lion” from which the latter got his moniker (“Yabby Yabby You”.) On May 12, we lost legendary drummer Lloyd Knibb. He was a member of the Skatalites and also played on many studio recordings as part of Tommy McCook & The Supersonics. He was awarded an Order of Distinction some years ago by the Jamaican government for his contribution to Jamaican music. Mr. Knibb was 80 years old and died from liver cancer. He had been active playing drums, and performed with The Skatalites in Peru, just weeks before his passing.

Just four days after the passing of Lloyd Knibb, Risto Benji was murdered. Born Michael Benjamin, Risto Benji rose to prominence in the second half of the 80’s as a pre-adolescent on the King Jammy’s sound system. He’s toured with the sound since he was 11 years of age and was the bread-winner for his family at that age, since his father was killed when Risto was a toddler. He also recorded at Jammy’s studio and scored his biggest hit in 1991 with the not fit for airplay “Passport Buddy.” Reports indicated that Benji was home when he was pounced upon by a gunman and shot. He was pronounced dead at the Spanish Town hospital. He was 36 years old. On August 16, we lost record producer and VP Records executive Joel Chin. He too was a murder victim and was only 35-year-old. Chin was shot as he came out of his car in front of his Stony Hill, St. Andrew home. His murder has not yet been solved. He served as director of A&R at VP Records which was founded by his grandparents Vincent and Patricia Chin in 1979.


Foundation Jamaican singer, Leonard Dillon of The Ethiopians, passed away on September 28. He was 68 years old and suffered from lung and prostate cancer. The Ethiopians are best known for their hits “Train To Skaville” which reached #40 on the U.K National Chart in 1967. The Ethiopians were primarily a duo until the other member, Stephen Taylor, died in a car accident in 1975. Since that time Dillon has mostly performed solo as The Ethiopian and under his own name. He is survived by his wife, seven children, seven grandchildren, a brother and a sister. We also lost another legend on November 23, in the person of  Barrington “Barry” Llewellyn of The Heptones. Barry passed away at age 63. In 1973, Barry sang lead on the group’s biggest hit “Book Of Rules.” The cause of his death was pneumonia. The group scored some massive rocksteady and reggae hits from 1966 – the mid 70’s with Leroy Sibbles serving as primary lead singer. Llewellyn also recorded some solo sides as Barry Heptones. Leroy Sibbles was quoted in The New York Times as saying that he and Llewellyn had toured together the past five years and their last date in Germany,was about three months before Llewellyn’s passing. Last but not least, producer and artist manager Phillip “Fattis” Burrell passed away on December 3 at 57 years of age. Fattis was best known for the hit songs on his Exterminator (later Xterminator) imprints. He produced hits by the likes of Beres Hammond, Frankie Paul, Sugar Minott, Cocoa Tea, Marcia Griffiths, Ini Kamoze, Sanchez, Nadine Sutherland, Ninjaman, and Pinchers, among others. He was instrumental in launching the careers of Luciano and Sizzla. Burrell had suffered a stroke two weeks prior to his passing and a blood clot near his lungs put him in a coma. He left behind a rich body of work, which will stand up over time in Jamaican music history.

We’ve lost some valuable contributors to Jamaican music in 2011 and a lot of the news for the living was negative. We hope for better in 2012. I hope there is less negative news involving reggae artists. I personally will try to show more appreciation for our living legends this year and give them some accolades while they can appreciate it. Here’s to a happy and prosperous 2012.


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