Rulers of reggae have global message

Reggae music isn’t just about Bob Marley or even Jamaica anymore. And Richie Daley knows it—as Jeff Heinrich reports for Montreal’s Gazette.

As a founding member of Third World, one of Jamaica’s best-known bands, Daley has spent over three decades touring reggae internationally and seeing its influence expand to unexpected places.

“We’re constantly meeting new audiences, still, after so many years,” the 60-year-old bassist said during a stop in New York before coming to headline the Montreal International Reggae Festival on Sunday.

“People get a pleasant surprise when they hear so much variety in our music – like the fact we incorporate the cello and other classical influences, as well as Latin, African, of course, and so on.”

The six-man band – all Jamaicans who, when they’re not touring, divide their time between Kingston and Miami – has been especially cheered by the openness to their music in Eastern Europe.

“It’s still new to people in Prague and other places that used to be communist,” Daley said. “They’re open to new kinds of cultures. It pleases them to see world influences in our music, and it pleases us to see that it pleases them.”

Touring Europe, the band has met many local reggae musicians who excel at the genre but whose origins have nothing to do with Jamaica. One is the German singer Gentleman, born Tilmann Otto in Cologne in 1975, the white son of a Lutheran pastor. In 2004, his album Confidence topped the German charts, an unheard-of success story for reggae outside Jamaica. Third World heard him three weeks ago when they both performed at the Amsterdam Reggae Festival. “His band sounded just like they were all born in Kingston,” Daley said.

“He’s part of a generation that’s originating their own style, and it’s phenomenal.”

Being closer to the Caribbean, Montreal’s reggae scene counts on a lot of local talent of direct Jamaican stock, some of whom will play this weekend’s fest, like veteran Jah Cutta (Carlton Williams) and Iley Dread (Colin Levy). Toronto-based musicians Exco Levi (Wayne Ford Levy) and Don Skilachi are also on the bill. Jamaica-based headliners include the soulful singing veteran Beres Hammond, R&B fusion crooner Wayne Wonder (Von Wayne Charles), “gangsta-for-life” Mavado (David Constantine Brooks), and roots reggae dancehall singer Gyptian (Windel Beneto Edwards).

But it’s the granddaddy of the pack – Third World – that gets top billing as the band with the most enduring popular appeal. Formed in 1973, the band found success in the late ’70s and early ’80s with an accessible crossover sound that mixed in American soul, funk and disco and produced several international hits. One was their cover version of the O’Jays song Now That We Found Love, in 1978. Another hit, written for the band by Stevie Wonder, was Try Jah Love, in 1982. Between 1988 and 2006, the band was nominated for seven Grammys for best reggae album.

Despite touring with him internationally in the late 1970s, Third World never achieved the fame of reggae’s only true superstar, Bob Marley. But Daley is quick to point out that even though it was Marley who made reggae famous worldwide, he did not invent the style, nor did he incarnate all its diversity of expression. “In every genre of music, people always gravitate toward an icon who represents – how shall I say? – a culture or a sound,” Daley said, giving an example from his youth. “The British Invasion (of the mid-1960s) might have started and stopped with The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, but there are many more groups that helped create the vision that became so popular.

“The Fab Four and Mick and Keith weren’t responsible for everything you saw and heard. I myself was listening to The Dave Clark Five and a whole lot of other English bands in those days who never quite got the applause that The Beatles or The Rolling Stones got. The same thing happened to reggae. Bob Marley did very well by reggae and did a lot for it, but there were other people who were very innovative and creative, and you don’t hear of them.”

Like other venerable reggae groups like Burning Spear and Steel Pulse that survived Marley and continue to perform live, Third World has had its ups and downs and changed its lineup many times over the years. But with its core of all-original members (or near enough) still intact – Daley, guitarist/cellist Stephen (Cat) Coore, and lead singer (since the mid-’70s) William (Bunny Rugs) Clarke – the band remains a marquee name. The band played for the opening ceremony of the 2007 Cricket World Cup, in Kingston, and last year celebrated its 35th year of touring.

Along the way, they’ve also managed to break some stereotypes about reggae artists, the Rastafarianism religious movement they espouse and the ganja (marijuana) that’s thought to be part-and-parcel of their lifestyle.

One surprising example: In their touring contract (viewable on their website, http://www.thirdworldband.com), the band always request no-smoking hotel rooms. “We live in a no-smoking age right now, and only two people in the band smoke,” Daley explained. For each show, the band’s dressing room is stocked with two cases of flat water, as well as fruit juices, vitamin drinks and herbal tea – and a case of Heineken, two bottles of wine and a bottle of VSOP cognac. The potato chips must be organic, the bread either baguette or whole wheat, and the sugar brown. And the band’s meals are free of pork, not just because (like Jewish kosher food) Rasta dietary restrictions forbid eating animals that feed off dead animals (lobsters and crabs are also no-nos), but also simply because several members of the band are vegetarian.

As to whether everyone in the band follows Rastafarianism, Daley was hesitant to say. Religion is “a personal thing for each individual, and although the band’s music is based upon a strong belief in it, it’s still up to the individual to embrace it as he sees it,” he said. “It was never a prerequisite to be in the band. But the belief in righteousness was always there.” And, he added, that includes condemning something that has given reggae a bad name in recent times: the homophobia voiced in their lyrics by younger Jamaican acts like Elephant Man (O’Neil Bryan), Bounty Killer (Rodney Basil Price) and the Grammy Award-winning Beenie Man (Anthony Moses Davis).

There’s no question the reggae scene has changed over the years, Daley said. “When we first came here (to the U.S., in the ’70s), there was almost no reggae on radio – it was like one in a million, it was never played. Now, you know, reggae isn’t totally identified as mainstream – and that means it’s not really successful – but people know about it and appreciate it.” Playing reggae has become more complicated, he added. “When we started, there was no such thing as a CD, no electronic drum machines, no personal computers. And now, in this day and age, they’ve become an integral part of the music. But one thing we’ve realized is that a computer can play a lot of music but it cannot write music from the soul. To do it, you have to do it yourself – from the heart. There’s no software application to do that; it still has to come from the inside. And that’s what we’re all about.”

He cites 96 Degrees in the Shade, a roots-reggae hit for the band (and the title of its second album) in 1977. A black liberation song, it retells the true story of the brutal repression of a rebellion by freed slaves in Jamaica’s Morant Bay in 1865. The song features a loping rhythm, stripped down instrumentation and sweet harmonies. The last verse goes like this: “Some may suffer and some may burn / But I know that one day my people will learn / As sure as the sun shines / Way up in the sky / Today I stand here a victim / The truth is I’ll never die.”

Since they started, Third World have released 23 records; their latest, Patriots, came out in Aug. 2010 and can be downloaded off the band’s website. “Our music is there to give an insight into what is taking place in the world and how it affects our people, poor people, and to be a voice for them and their woes and their cries for change, so that they can live better lives,” said Daley, who grew up middle-class in a military family (his father was a captain in the Jamaican Defence Force). Has the world found love – and do we know what to do with it? “Some people have found it, but they still don’t know what to do with it, unfortunately,” the bassist replied. “The world is still at war. What makes a man kill over 80 young children (in Norway)? I’m afraid we might never find out. Same thing for the riots in England. It’s a little bit unsettling.

“There are still some things to give thanks and praise for. But at the same time, a lot of weird things are still happening.”

The eighth annual Montreal International Reggae Festival runs Saturday and Sunday at the Old Port in Old Montreal. Third World plays Sunday at 4:15 p.m. Tickets cost $45 ($55 at the door) for a one-day pass or $80 ($120 at the door) for two days. For more details, including where to buy tickets: http://www.montrealreggaefest.com or 514-790-1111.

For the original report go to http://www.montrealgazette.com/entertainment/Rulers+reggae+have+global+message/5280913/story.html#ixzz1ViUiesyL

2 thoughts on “Rulers of reggae have global message

  1. You mentioned the homophobia of the lyrics of Elephant Man, Bounty Killer and Beenie Man.

    You left out Mavado, who is featured at the Montreal International Reggae Festival 2011.

    Mavado is known for songs like “Dem a Fag,” “Batty Bwoy Termination,” “Battyman,” and “Songwriter,” which are all “kill LGBT” songs.

    Mavado has never signed a Reggae Compassionate Act agreement.

    Elephant Man has signed a Reggae Compassionate Act agreement and is complying with his agreement.

    Bounty Killer never signed a Reggae Compassionate Act agreement. He’s as homophobic as he ever was. He has a number of “kill LGBT” songs.

    Beenie Man signed an RCA agreement, but soon violated it. On 12/05/09, in Kampala, Uganda, Beenie Man sang “Mi Nah Wallah” in which he says he wants to cut the throats of all gay men.

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