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BURNING SPEAR: REGGAE MUSIC’S ELDER STATESMAN!

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
Observer senior writer

 

WITH all this controversy over a Marcus Garvey bust at The University of the West Indies, it is appropriate to recognize Burning Spear and his role in reviving interest in Jamaica’s first national hero.

In 1975, Island Records released Spear’s epic Marcus Garvey, generally recognized as one of reggae’s finest works.

Burning Spear

Burning Spear

Produced by Lawrence “Jack Ruby” Lindo, Marcus Garvey was a powerful ode to the Pan African hero who died in 1940. Like Garvey Spear was born in St Ann.

In a 1999 interview with the Jamaica Observer, Spear said Jack Ruby understood his admiration for Garvey, and shared the concept of an album dedicated to him.

“Him hear some a mi song like ‘Marcus Garvey’ and ‘Slavery Days’. After some reasoning mi decide fi (to) work wid (with) him,” Spear recalls.

That decision turned out to be a fruitful one. “Jack (Ruby) neva understand the business side of things, but him did know music, full of ideas,” says Spear.

Burning spear

He was encouraged to take his music to Studio One in 1969 by none other than Bob Marley, another St Ann native. The results were a self-titled debut and Rocking Time, outstanding albums that announced a unique artist.

They included hard-hitting songs like Ethiopians Live it Out, Joe Frazier (He Prayed), Rocking Time, Call on You, Foggy Road, Swell Headed, and Weeping and Wailing. Those sets won Burning Spear a diehard underground following.

Marcus Garvey made him world-famous. For 30 years a succession of quality albums, promoted by tireless touring, made him the hardest working man in reggae.

Before he cut back on touring, Spear won two Grammys for Best Reggae Album with Calling Rastafari in 2000 and Jah Is Real in 2009.

Now 72, Burning Spear is an elder statesman of reggae. His music has been cited by younger reggae acts such as Anthony B as an influence, and bands such as The Grateful Dead and The Police.

He was invested with the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government in 2007.

 

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