Desmond Dekker: From Jamaica to London

The Jamaica Observer‘s Entertainment section reflects on the influence Jamaican pop culture has had on Britain in ‘Reggae Britannia,’ a weekly feature leading up to the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the 50 years since Jamaica gained independence. In her articleDesmond Dekker: From Shanty Town to London,” Cecelia Campbell-Livingston explores the popularity of Desmond Dekker, the Jamaican ska, rocksteady, and reggae singer-songwriter who, with Bob Marley, was one of the best-known musicians outside the island. She writes:

On May 11, 2006 Desmond Dekker gave his last performance in England, the country whose pop culture he had greatly influenced. The singer best known for the hit songs Israelites and (007) Shanty Town performed at the Leeds Metropolitan University. Two weeks later, he succumbed to a heart attack, leaving a rich legacy of songs and a big impact on Britain’s music scene.

Born in Kingston, Dekker’s (born Desmond Dacres) life changed when he met producer Leslie Kong during the early 1960s. His first song, Honour Your Mother and Father, was issued in Britain by Chris Blackwell’s Island Records. Dekker was teamed with backup singers, the Aces, and they had great success in Jamaica during the mid and late 1960s.

Dekker’s reputation in Britain was huge. Commenting on his impact in that country, musicologist Michael Barnett reminisced on the period Israelites was released. “Because the song spoke about Israelites, the Jewish nation did not even look into the lyrics to see what it was talking about, they adopted the song right away,” Barnett said. “Jews across the world embraced the song because of the title.” Israelites topped the British national chart in 1969 and also made the top 10 in the United States.

In England, Dekker was embraced by the Skinheads, rebellious, working-class white youth, who identified with his songs of inner city struggle. “They were crazy in love with Desmond Dekker and would flood his concerts. He, along with Derrick Morgan, Laurel Aitken, Owen Gray and Millie Small broke ska and reggae music in England,” said Barnett.

While Small had a great bearing on Britain’s music scene (with My Boy Lollipop in 1964) as a trailblazer, Dekker was the most popular Jamaican artiste in England for several years. Shortly after hitting with Israelites, Dekker settled in England in 1969. In the early 1970s, he made the British charts again with a cover of the Jimmy Cliff song, You Can Get It If You Really Want.

Listen to “The Israelites” here:

For original article, see–From-Shanty-Town-to-London_11164244

For photo, see

3 thoughts on “Desmond Dekker: From Jamaica to London

  1. Excellent post Ivette – I was around when the first reggae wave hit and DD was a major contributor. Right On !!

  2. I vividly remember the first time I heard “007” off The Harder They Come soundtrack – it hooked me right away! Desmond Dekker’s music was my entry point into the wonderful ska and rocksteady of the 60s.

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