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Interviewing the Caribbean Volume 7 Issue 2

Edited by Professor Opal Palmer Adisa

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One of the most influential Jamaican artistes and songwriters of all time, Toots was an extraordinary Jamaican singer, musician, producer, arranger, entertainer, family man and humanitarian, and one of the most important innovators in the Reggae pantheon. Toots was a musical pioneer, global ambassador and a chief architect of the Jamaican Sound, helping to create a cultural phenomenon the likes of which the world has never seen or heard before.

At the time of her international success in 1964, Small was just a young 16 year-old girl singing about a boy as her lollipop. Hence, “My Boy Lollipop” became the first international hit out of Jamaica done in the musical style, Ska, one of the eight musical genres to have emerged out of Jamaica in the latter part of the twentieth century.

That girl from Patty Hill, in the highlands  of Hanover, could step onto any stage as the leading character. She was my friend and sister, with a heart full of laughter that erupted like fire and gushed forth like water. 

At the age of 18, Judith Veronica Mowatt became a member of the Estralita Dance Troupe, and began touring Jamaica and the Caribbean as a stepping stone to getting into music, her passion. In 1967, she entered the music industry as a young vocalist and sang on the Federal Recording Label with a group called the Gaylettes.

In 1971, she was invited by “Sir Coxsone” Dodd to sing background with two ladies. And in 1974, Judy, Marcia Griffiths and Rita Marley, became Bob Marley’s official backing vocalists, known as the “I-Threes”; they occupied that role until his death in 1981. Singing with Bob opened the door for Judy to get on the international stage.

In 1979, Judy Mowatt became the first Jamaican woman to record a solo album—Black Woman, under the Tuff Gong label. Working Wonders, Mowatt’s 1985 album, made her the first female recording artiste to be nominated for a Grammy Award. In 1999, the Jamaican government awarded her the Order of Distinction for outstanding contribution to music in Jamaica. Despite these accolades, Judy Mowatt puts more value on her legacy as a benefactor. Born to a teenaged mother and growing up with no father around, she is determined to play her part in helping to alleviate poverty. Consequently, her music has become her ministry.

Myrna Hague (Mrs Sonny Bradshaw in private life) is the current Director of the Jamaica Ocho Rios International Jazz Festival, following the passing of her husband. Myrna should present an interesting study for a specialist in organizational management. She has the awesome task of scheduling; dealing with accommodation, air and ground transportation, sponsorship; and booking the acts for the festival.

Ms Hague is well known in Jamaica and the UK as a singer, actress and journalist. A past voice tutor at the Jamaica School of Music, Ms Hague has also earned her BA (music major) degree at the University of the West Indies, graduating with first class honours, 1992, while maintaining her performing career. In 2015, Ms Hague completed her Doctorate in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies, focusing on Jazz in the Caribbean. She has been inducted into the Caribbean Development for the Arts, Sports and Culture Foundation Hall of Fame 2012, for outstanding contribution in the field of music; received the Kiwanis Club of New Kingston Award for Excellence 2011, and been the recipient of the Silver Musgrave Medal 2015 from the Institute of Jamaica.

She is the lead vocalist with the Jamaica Big Band and the Jamaica Jazz-Mobile. An articulate speaker, she has presented papers on the Development of Jamaican Jazz during an islandwide tour of schools by the Big Band, a project which she spearheaded by creating the first concert in Ocho Rios, sponsored by Jamaican radio station FAME FM; and also at a symposium on Entertainment and the Tourism Product at the University of the West Indies. She has also presented a paper on Jazz at the Institute of Jamaica.

Her most recent project “Simply Myrna”, a solo concert, has had a successful seven-year run in Jamaica and the US and is ongoing.

Could be, could be not di Lord ah great at mi gate—
di soft spoken, nappy head man, dat
speak trut’, doan smell so good, but remin’ mi
o’ di black Jesus painting, wid di rose-thorn-crown
on di floor in di foreground, to his right
downtown, at di gallery—
who stop him trolley
an’ aks likkle, insignificant me
in proppa English for somet’ing to drink

Born April 19, 1949 in Trench Town, Kingston, Jamaica, Manley Augustus Buchanan better known as Big Youth, a deejay, whose popularity soared during the 1970s after the release of his first album, Screaming Target, 1973, and having seven singles on the chart at one time, with four remaining in the top 20 for an entire year. Also, during that period, Big Youth released his own self-produced LP, Reggae Phenomenon in 1974 on the Negusa Nagast. In the 1980s he appeared at Reggae Sunsplash four times. In the 1990s his career again soared with singles, “Chanting” and “Free South Africa”. Big Youth lives in Kingston with his family and has more plans for his music career.

Opal Palmer Adisa: Steve, you have a wealth of experience in music and the entertainment industry. You are a songwriter and an arranger and in recent years Intellectual Property and Entertainment Management, which I think is really important in the context of Jamaica and the wider Caribbean. What was your first instrument and how did you begin this journey?

Steve Golding (SG): My first instrument for formal training was the guitar. I have always loved the guitar. My dad had an old Hawaiian guitar. However, my first instrument was the drum. One of my older sisters used to dance with the Edinburgh Dance Group, and I remember as a child of 8 seeing them rehearsing on the veranda, and Harold Edingburgh, the head of the troupe, was actually drumming on the tabletop and sometimes he would bring his drum and I found that interesting. Years later, I would be afforded the privilege of having formal training with Marjorie Whylie. Then, however, for the guitar, I attended Noel Foster Davis and I just continued from there.

Say a little bit about your introduction into professional playing. You went to Kingston College, were you in a group there?

The KC experience started just about the time when I was feeling disenchanted with what was happening at Foster Davis. I didn’t do much playing in high school until maybe just before graduation. There was this group –The Rogues—that had Winston Barnes and Sydney Smith who would come to my house to rehearse so there was that interest in playing. In the Lower Sixth years we actually formed a band—Hugh Walker on trumpet, Alvin Becket playing the Euphonium, myself on guitar—and then around that time too the whole Up With People Movement was happening and so I was a part of Sing Out Jamaica, but I was doing more playing at that time and Fab Five evolved out of that. When I finished school, I went into Fab Five.

Louise Bennett Coverley, Mother of Jamaican culture, through her creative brilliance and trailblazing journey, set the table for Jamaica’s music and creative industries. An accomplished actress and author, Miss Lou was among the first Jamaicans to release an album in 1952 (six in total during her career), long before there was a Studio One or Treasure Isle. Her folk recordings later inspired fellow Jamaican Harry Belafonte, who included two of her songs on his Calypso album—the world’s first million selling album. Miss Lou championed the power of spoken word and music as an art form in studio, theatre and television. She single-handedly elevated and legitimized the use of patois aka Jamaican nation language, as the lexicon for Jamaica’s creative expression, which is today, one of the most admired in the world and further distinguishes Jamaican music in the market.

Shauna McKenzie (born May 22, 1984), known by her stage name Etana, is a Jamaican Reggae singer. Her debut studio album, The Strong One, was released in June 2008. On December 2018, Etana was nominated for the 61st Annual Grammy Awards for Best Reggae Album.

Reared in the eastern Saint Andrew community of August Town, Etana’s talent was discovered at 8-years-old, when she was overheard singing along to a hit by Air Supply. Intending to become a nurse, Etana migrated to the U.S. in 1992 but left college to join, Gift, a female group, whose dress style required skimpy attire that made her feel uncomfortable.

Etana decided to embrace Rastafari principles, which include a royal representation of women, and in 2005 she successfully auditioned to become one of Spice’s vocalists on his tour of Europe and North America. Reggae Forever, the fifth album she produced in March 2018, remained at number one on the Billboard Reggae album chart for two consecutive weeks, making Etana the first female in more than two decades, in Reggae, to gain top position twice on the chart.

James Chambers, OM (born July 30, 1944), known musically as Jimmy Cliff, is a multi-instrumental Jamaican Ska, Rock Steady, Reggae singer, and actor. Cliff is the only living Reggae musician to hold the Order of Merit, the highest honour granted by the Jamaican government for achievements in the arts and sciences.

Cliff is perhaps best known as the character Ivanhoe in the movie, The Harder They Come, in which he starred and which popularized Reggae across the world; he was also in Club Paradise. Known for his crossover music such as “Wonderful World, Beautiful People”, “Many Rivers to Cross”, “You Can Get It If You Really Want”, “The Harder They Come”, “Reggae Night”, and “Hakuna Matata”, as well as Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” from the film Cool Runnings, Cliff was one of five performers inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.

Willard White is a Jamaican bass baritone operatic singer who was awarded a Grammy Award in 1977 for the first stereo recording of Porgy and Bess, conducted by Lorin Maazel; he also received the Gold Musgrave Medal of The Institute of Jamaica.

In the 1989 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Othello, White starred in a non-singing role.

White’s voice was heard as one of the operatic soloists in the movie, Amadeus.

On June 5, 2019 at Portsmouth, in an audience of heads of state, including Queen Elizabeth II, Emmanuel Macron, and others, he interpreted the ‘Chant des Partisans’ in French, the most popular song of the Free French and French Resistance during World War II. In 2000, White was awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit (OM).

Opal Palmer Adisa: Shirley, thanks for taking the time to share with me today. I want to start with your iconic Heroines of Opera series.

Shirley Thompson: They have all been performed and filmed. I’ve actually produced Sacred Mountain: Incidents in the Life of Queen Nanny of the Maroons in Jamaica. I have been developing the language of classical music with strong Caribbean influences for the last thirty years. It is clear that I have ignited other Caribbean artistes to do the same thing, so that’s pretty revolutionary.

Opal Palmer Adisa: Indeed. I commend you. You are obviously strongly influenced by your Caribbean culture. Can you speak to that?

Shirley Thompson: I have always asserted Caribbean culture in my work! From university days, I was searching for African or Caribbean references in the music curriculum we were being taught, but there was none! I was quite disillusioned about the music education system because I wasn’t seeing anything of my Caribbean culture in what I was learning and experiencing. My artistic colleagues, in other fields such as film-making, and creative writing et cetera, were creating work through the lens of Caribbean and African cultures. I was reading the likes of James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou et cetera. However, there was no such movement in classical music. I had to start it!

Opal Palmer Adisa: You began in the music industry representing artistes like Shabba Ranks, Cobra,
Carlene Davis, Carol Gonzales and Leroy Sibbles. How and why did you enter this industry?

Babsy Grange: From very early in my life, I was exposed to the culture of the people. Born in West Kingston, in those days I was surrounded by churches, almost on every corner, of all denominations, and baptized as a child and brought up in the Roman Catholic faith; attending all types including Revival Church as a child.

On any day, I could rise to the sounds of drums or of people singing as they completed their many chores—taking care of their family, cooking, washing, preparing children for school or making a living as singers and players of instruments. Every day, everywhere there was excitement, whether it was down by Coronation Market, Orange Street, Chocomo Lawn or at the various studios where the music was being born.

Later, when I met Mr Seaga at a revival table, I was even more deeply introduced to the various cultural forms—from traditional rhythms like Kumina, Dinki Mini to mento, Ska and Reggae, Mr Seaga created the crucible within which I garnered some rich experiences of the culture of our people. I was mesmerized as I watched the women and men lead the circle around the table, lighting and holding candles even as they belted out “Daniel saw the stone rolling down to Babylon” and “Key man lock di door and gone”.

Through Mr Seaga, I interacted with Mallica Kapo Reynolds, a revivalist and an intuitive artist, and Imogene “Queenie” Kennedy, the Kumina Queen, who would move gracefully yet forcefully in a circular fashion while balancing tilly lamp on her head as the men seated on the Kumina drums in the middle of the circle made the Kumina drums talk. I came to love and respect these our ancestral observances.

In terms of my personal formation for the role I would play as artist manager, I credit learning a lot from Mr Seaga. At Chocomo Lawn, I interacted with many of our pioneers, from their early beginnings and was able to watch them grow—like Marcia Griffiths, the Techniques, Stranger Cole, Ken Boothe, Jimmy Cliff. In the end, it became a natural progression to transition to that professional position as artist manager, helping to build careers, to global success through the music.

Jamaica’s Dancehall music and culture came to the forefront of the musical landscape in the 1980s. The early toast and talk over the style of the deejays of the 1950s and 1960s had come of age with the robust laying of vocals over computerized riddims, heralded by the success of King Jammys/Bobby Digital’s Sleng Teng. King Yellowman, Josey Wales, Admiral Bailey and many others ruled the roost with hits after hits that sounded the alarm on national and personal issues. Yet, it wasn’t until the 1990s that Dancehall really hit its golden years, with icons such as Shabba Ranks, the Grammy Kid, paving the way. Young men from Kingston’s inner cities flocked to the sound, style and promise of mobility of the Dancehall. It was in this era that Dancehall’s crews also grew in number and popularity, moving beyond the duos of the earlier period.

General B forms part of this generation of Dancehall artistes who came to prominence in the 1990s, claiming space in a growing cadre of young men from Seaview Gardens who joined the ranks of the Dancehall. He carved out a solo career and then joined ranks with fellow artistes, Roundhead and the singer Ghost, to build the very popular Monster Shack Crew. In this interview General B underscores the long-standing connections and cross-fertilization between Jamaican music and dance, and North American popular culture, while highlighting the then challenging journey that many inner-city youths, like himself, faced in their quest to “buss”1 in the music business. General B’s exposition on the evolution of the production of a Dancehall hit, from the 1990’s cycle from the studio to the streets, to the almost solitary and technology-based cycle that is transforming relationships among contemporary artistes, is a critical point of departure.

General B (Dave Parkes) hails from Rose Lane, Kingston, and was raised in communities like Waterhouse and Seaview Gardens in Kingston. Known for his signature “turbine whine” and his often-humorous musical spin on situations at the start of his career, General B released his first song “Gal Yuh Ah Shine” on the Lego Label in 1989. He later joined forces with Ghost and Roundhead in 1994 to form one of Dancehall’s highly successful groups, the Monster Shack Crew.

A prolific songwriter and consummate performer, General B’s signature style includes his energetic performance, and his flashy dress, often with glittering trim/accessories, complete with brand-name sunglasses. General B’s songwriting skills enabled him to maintain a high profile individually with hit tunes such as, “Patricia”, “Nicky”, “Bad Inna New Clothes” and “Scream”. In the late 1990s, he recorded on sessions in New York, USA, that resulted in the hip-hop release, “If Me Did Know”. In the early 2000s he recorded on sessions for the second Monster Shack Crew album and with Roundhead released True Lover followed by several Dancehall favourites, “Shock Him Up”, “Jump”, “N-Vious”, “Ah Me Dis” and “When We Roll”. By the end of 2000, General B established his solo career with the very popular anthem, “The Business”. Some of his recent releases include “Nuh More Than Me” (2021), and a humorous tribute to the COVID-19 pandemic, “House Arrest” (2020) featuring Harry Toddler and Mr Lexx.

Dancehall music, from its inception in the 1980s, has had the attention of all and sundry, because of the unique traits it brought to the industry. Its riddim composition was more digital, the tempo was faster, and artistes introduced alternative styles of delivery. However, the genre’s introduction of topics of sex and violence drew the attention, and even the ire, of many, because its lyrical content was unfiltered and explicit. Nevertheless, Dancehall ballooned into a global phenomenon, giving musicians access to markets Reggae did not. How was this possible? How could a music this rough and rugged have this much success? The answer lies with the unofficial “gatekeepers” of the industry, agents who indirectly mediated and regulated the Quality Assurance and Control (QAC) of the genre. A few of these agents are identified and their footprint of QAC in Dancehall music described. The shift in QAC and the effects of such a shift in Jamaican Dancehall music is also described, as well as the factors that contribute to and enable these changes.

It soon be done
All the troubles and trials
When I get home on the other side.
It’s Wednesday night at the Rose of Sharon Tabernacle
I am singing along with Granny
And her bible study group
Women from the village shaking their tambourines,
rocking and swaying to the beat
some staggering; bodies electrified by the words of the holy gospel.

Marjorie Whylie OD, pianist, percussionist and educator was musical director for the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC), for forty-five years. She worked closely with the Honourable Louise Bennett Coverley, aka Miss Lou, on several pantomimes as well as Ring Ding, has taught drumming, voice and piano, was inducted into the Jamaica Jazz Hall of Fame, 1997 and is the recipient of the Government of Jamaica Order of Distinction, Commander Class (CD) for her distinguished contribution to the arts, 2015.

Opal Palmer Adisa: Your real name is Mikayla. How did “Koffee” come into being and why did you decide on this stage name?

Koffee: One day at school, we were ordering drinks and I was the only one, on a hot summer day, to order coffee. From then, my friends started calling me that. When I had to pick a name, that’s what I went with, but changed the C to a K.

Opal Palmer Adisa:You are very close to your mother, and she has gone on tours with you, and has been your strongest supporter. Describe your relationship with your mother and a specific value or quality that she has instilled in you.

Koffee:She’s been sharing her life lessons with me since I was a little girl, and she raised me in the Seventh Day Adventist church, which taught me how to be disciplined and grateful for what I have in life. Those lessons go into my music.

Considered a prolific artiste, Sean Paul is a rapper, singer and producer, whose singles “Get Busy” and “Temperature” capped the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in the USA. Many of Sean Paul’s albums have been nominated for the Grammy’s Best Albums, and his Dutty Rock won the award in 2003.

Sean Paul had a phenomenal year in 2006, receiving the American Music Award for “Give It Up to Me”; nominated for four other awards, and The Trinity, his third album released in September 2005, resulted in five big hits. Sean’s success continued when in 2019 he received the Order of Distinction, Commander Class (CD) from the Jamaican government “for contribution to the global popularity and promotion of Reggae music”. And despite the pandemic, this year, 2021, Sean Paul continues to reap accolades, releasing his 7th album called Live N Livin under Dutty Rock Productions, his own trademark.

Forty years ago, Pat Chin co-founded the VP Records shop (VP stands for Vincent and Pat), distributor and label in New York with her late husband, Vincent Chin. VP Chin has fostered the careers of superstars including Maxi Priest, Bounty Killer, Lady Saw, Beenie Man, and Sean Paul, to name a few. Pat Chin has been a driving force all along, and is still active in VP.

Opal Palmer Adisa: Ibo Cooper, it’s my immense pleasure to be talking with you. Many know the story about your name Ibo (skinny boy in Jamaica during the Biafran War), why have you kept it and did you have any spiritual or political connection to the Ibo People of Africa?

Ibo Cooper: The nickname came from being teased at Jamaica College. “Bwoy, yu top lip thick, you fava Chabo upside down.” Chabo was a teacher reputed to have a thick lower lip. It was shortened to “Bo”. Believe it or not, in those days a man with my nose and lips was an object of ridicule, I am not joking.

Opal Palmer Adisa: I know that.

Ibo Cooper: Then I was in the Inner Circle Band and there was a dark-skinned Indian guy named Richard Grey, who was the leader of the band at the time. I used to tease him and call him black-grey and him sey, “Well if mi a black-grey then you is a red Ibo.” Which you know in Jamaica was a ridicule for actual Ibo people, who were considered a little bit more light-skinned people than some of the blacker Africans, so them used to call them “Red Ibo” back in the day and it was actually a derogatory term, but it stuck and most people now know me as Ibo.

Some years ago, an Ibo gentleman from Nigeria came to Edna Manley to meet me. Part of his reason for being in Jamaica was to get Nyabinghi drums. I assisted him. He gave me an interesting perspective on the history of Nigeria. In relating this to me he added that, “among his people some of the elders said that I am a prophesy”. I nearly drop down. I shyly replied, “Mi no know ‘bout dem t’ing deh.”

When I went to Africa I realized the importance of having a name like that, believe it or not. The people there resonated with Third World’s music and the Africans looked on all of those things very seriously—things that we took trivially—so I became a sort of celebrity in a way. I remember one night leaving a concert in Côte d’Ivoire. After the concert I just heard a whole heap a footsteps coming behind me and when I looked, it was a crowd of people—about a hundred and they picked me up and put me on their shoulders, carried me to the hotel chanting “Ibo, Ibo, Ibo.”

I had a vision one evening, that I have a mission towards the advancement of Africa at home and abroad.

So, some of the things we look on as coincidences may be universal movements. I have never done a DNA check but the African side of my family, my two grandmothers, are very African-looking women in every regard.

Opal Palmer Adisa: It is my pleasure to interview Franklyn Horace Campbell and Grub Cooper of Fab Five. How old is Fab Five?

Franklyn Campbell (FC): [In] 2020, we celebrated fifty years. Unfortunately, we had COVID, so we didn’t do much celebration. In 1970, a group of young people, Grub Cooper, and Conroy Cooper (the first musical arranger and leader of the band) both went to Salvation Army School for the Blind. I was at KC [Kingston College] with Steve Golding. After school we formed a group and used to play music and then later we joined Sing Out Kingston.

Sing Out was a group of teenagers from America, formed in 1965, and we were doing a lot of shows trying to encourage the young people to do good, to keep good values and attitudes. I started to play bass and Steve was on guitar and Grub was at School of Music. Colin Wright, who was our musical director [and who died in 2021] was the leader. The four of us eventually started to play with Tony Duvall and Junior Bailey from Sing Out. Boris Gardiner was at Broncos Night Club, a little club in Union Square, and the newcomer said, “Why don’t you form a group?” So, we formed a trio. The following year my uncle opened Hotel Kingston on Half Way Tree Road and we got the job as the resident band, six nights.

So Charlie Babcock’s brother used to be on radio, we were doing a show at the poolside, and he said, “Wey the band name?” We couldn’t call ourselves the Broncos because we had just left there, and he counted five and said, “Fabulous Five”.

Opal Palmer Adisa:So just like that, that is how the name came about?”

FC: We didn’t use the name at first, but we got used to it after a while. Peter Scarlett came in and then a German man, whose name I don’t remember, came and saw us perform and took us to Germany along with Marcia Griffiths and a couple of other people. We went to Germany in 1969, went back in 1970 for three months and when we came back, just in time to go on a Sing Out island tour of Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana, they had fired us from the hotel.

So, “We say okay, let’s form a road band that would go out and play all over Jamaica and anywhere in the world.” We didn’t want to do any more resident work; road band was the way to go like what Byron Lee did, like what Tomorrows Children did, like what all the big bands of that era did. They toured all of Jamaica, the Caribbean, North America and Guyana, and we wanted to do that.

We became very popular overnight; I guess because we had two radio stations and one TV station, and once you came on TV, people saw you. By January, Winston Blake took us to Cayman, our first trip abroad, and by March Miss Lou, aka Louise Bennett took us to New York.

Opal Palmer Adisa: I am so thrilled to be interviewing you, the amazing Ernie Smith who has had five
decades of making tremendous music.

Ernie Smith: In 2017 it was fifty years, so it is fifty-three years. I started recording in 1967.

Opal Palmer Adisa: Remarkable! It’s important that the younger generation know of your music and legacy. Let’s begin with your long name; Glenroy Anthony Michael Archangelo Smith. Who named you?

Ernie Smith: We were raised Catholic, so I was given the name Michael when I was confirmed. Beato Michaeli Archangelo in Latin means Blessed Michael, the Archangel. My brother and I were altar boys, and fooling around one day, we decided to add a name to all we were given and put Archangelo at the end.

Singing and performing since she was 14 when she was forced
to leave school to help support her family, Chevelle Franklyn’s
formative years were spent in Tawes Pen, Spanish Town. She
moved from Dancehall to Gospel, and her music is considered
controversial for combining Dancehall with Gospel. Her 2001
album, Joy earned her international tours and won five Caribbean Gospel Reggae Marlin Awards.

Carolyn Cooper, CD is a cultural critic, essayist and literary scholar. She is the author of Noises in the Blood: Orality, Gender and the ‘Vulgar’ Body of Jamaican Popular Culture (1993); and Sound Clash: Jamaican Dancehall Culture at Large (2004). Cooper writes a weekly column for The Sunday Gleaner.

Michael Holgate, who has spent the last three decades, exploring theatre, dance and music, is a multitalented and energetic artiste; he is the current Head of the Philip Sherlock Centre at The University of the West Indies, Mona where he teaches. He is also the Artistic Director and founder of the very popular and versatile Ashe Company.

Hugh Douse is Director of Nexus Arts Performing Company and is now pursuing postgraduate work in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies, in the Institute of Caribbean Studies, where he is also a lecturer. He is a former administrator at St George’s College and Calabar High School in Kingston, Jamaica.

Opal Palmer Adisa: It is my immense pleasure to be interviewing you. How did you get into drumming?

Phillip Supersad: It gives me great pleasure to speak about it, because how could I have known that it would have become such an important part of my life? Both of them (art and drumming) started together. It happened very simply: I was at Knox College one day and my friend, whose habit was to travel to Kingston with his parents, came to school with a Kete drum that he played for awhile. I was enchanted by the drum and at some point, he shoved it into my hands and said, “Hold onto this, play it” … I had never seen one before. He went away to do something and it was like magic between me and this thing. When I touched it, it gave me a sound and ever since that day I have not being able to let go of a drum.

Opal Palmer Adisa: How old were you?

Phillip Supersad: I was about 14. Although I didn’t think of making a career of it at the time, it led me to want to purchase my own drum. I saved up $120 (US OR JA DOLLARS???) in 1974 and bought myself a drum and it has gone on since then.

Opal Palmer Adisa: Let’s start off with your name, “Bongo”. I know there are many Rastas who call each other Bongo. What’s the origin of it?

Bongo Herman: Bongo was a Rastafari name from the early days of the Rastafari movement. Back in those days most people were afraid to have the name Bongo, but I kept the name throughout my early recordings with Derek Harriot, who was the first person to record me in the 60s at Ambassador Theatre in Trench Town.

Opal Palmer Adisa: When you were 21-years-old you went to Trench Town to study the Nyabinghi rhythm. What intrigued you about Nyabinghi?

Bongo Herman: It was not a matter of studying Nyabinghi. I was born with Nyabinghi inside me, which is why I became a master drummer. My style of drumming is different from other drummers’ styles. Unlike many drummers, I don’t beat drum, I play drum. When you play drum, you play with melody and skill.

Would that I could, hop a ride on a Tata bus,
light speed to ’79, to find a man— tall, dark,
cool and rootsy like mi favourite wine.

With a disposition similar to macca,
who groove to my riddim—round, heavy and steady
like a Leroy baseline.

Paris La Mont Dennis (PLD): My name is Paris. I am a professional keyboard player and musician as well as a producer.

Shola Adisa-Farrar (SAF): I am Shola Adisa-Farrar and I am a singer.

PLD: For me being a Jamerican in Jamaica, it’s a case where I am getting the best of both worlds, I have American heritage, I have Jamaican heritage, so I am exposed to a lot of things that people who are just Americans aren’t expose to and people who are only Jamaicans aren’t expose to. I am aware that I am at a bit of advantage with certain things, especially being a musician.

SAF: Yeah, I would say having dual cultural experiences, growing up in the US was interesting because I didn’t realize how differently I was raised from my friends. I am Jamerican, which means that I was born in the US but my ancestry is Jamaican. I feel good when I am in Jamaica, and I am able to do a lot of the things that make me feel peaceful and content here. I was talking to someone the other day about bringing things back to Jamaica from the US and how I do it every time I come… It’s like being in a place that is considered First World and going back to a place that is considered Third World and what your contribution and responsibility is to both places. On a cultural level, Jamaica is super highly regarded … anywhere I’ve travelled in the world. And so I benefit from that cultural capital. And like Paris said, being an American means having access; an ability to move around. Having an American passport, access to American dollars, access to an American lifestyle and American infrastructure.

So to create music here it feels like “okay I have to be serious” and I also have an opportunity to be pushed, and so for me that’s an advantage, because I am someone who always like to get better and to improve.

The Wailers were primarily Bob Marley, Bunny Livingston and Peter Tosh, but at times included Junior Braithwaite, Beverly Kelso, Cherry Green, Rita Marley and Constantine “Dream” Walker. However, many seek to “position Bob” in the public consciousness without any mention of the others who were part of the group.

Some time ago, on a Sunday morning, I listened to a popular radio deejay play an extended selection of old Wailers recordings. It was the beginning of the week that would mark Peter Tosh’s birthday. The deejay repeatedly referred to the selections as Bob Marley’s without acknowledging the others, even when Tosh or Livingston was obviously the lead singer. He did so on some selections in spite of the fact that Bob was clearly not present on some songs. After repeatedly doing so, I decided to call the radio station and point this out to the deejay and to also suggest that he dedicate the session to Peter Tosh since Tosh’s birthday was a few days coming in the middle of the week. He, in no uncertain manner, let me know he knew what he was doing and didn’t need my opinion. The deejay went back on the air and said: “A bredda just call and want to talk ‘bout Peter Tosh. If him want to hear Peter Tosh, mek him go play him own Peter Tosh.”

Seretse Small has been a musician—a guitarist, performer, educator, promoter, producer and composer—for over forty years. He was once a guitarist for Sean Paul, and has composed music for choreographers at the Jamaica School of Dance, such as Nicholleen DeGrasse Johnson, and for Jamaican films: Missed, Going Down, Off-Guard and Ring di Alarm! He was also a National Director of the Global Battle of the Bands (GBOB) Jamaica (2005–2011), a Director of the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) (2009–2010), a Director of the Jamaica Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers (JACAP) (2004–2006) as well as a talent scout for the British Council in 2001, where he created linkages with artists and cultural organizations in the United Kingdom. In that capacity, he also made recommendations to the British Council about the ways in which they could support the development of the artistic and cultural sector in Jamaica. He is currently the Founder and Managing Director of Avant Academy of Music Limited in Kingston.

In this interview, Seretse talks candidly about composing music for motion pictures, games and dances in Jamaica. The journey through his composing life is eloquently expressed in his own words.