Evolving from its mento, ska, rock-steady days to reggae, this uniquely Jamaican creation has become a genre partaken off by millions all over the world and thanks to its continuous adaptation, the next 50 years will surely have reggae representation.
Desirous to have something Jamaican to call their own at independence in 1962 from Britain, the little islanders shifted from the fast and intense ska in the 60’s to the calm rock-steady which eventually grew into reggae.
In reggae is found funk, RnB, soul and when ready for consumption comes with a jazzy feel. Reggae’s foremost flag bearers were the ‘Wailing Wailers’ comprising Bob Nesta Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. The group would stake a claim in the tough world of music and the hard to please Jamaican audience with their first hit ‘Simmer Down’ in 1964 and would go on to tour the globe and become a household name thanks to the numerous hit albums they offered.
In a tough and Europeanized world, Rastafarians remain one of few true Afrocentric black people who preached and continue to preach self reliance and self confidence. For Rastafarians Haile Emperor Selassie is their king and prophetic lord so with a growing consciousness, the Wailers’ founders fused their music with their new found faith.
With Marley lacking a father figure in his youth, Selassie became his lord and master indicative of his messages and when on 21st April 1966, Selassie visited Jamaica on a state visit, Rastas could not believe their lack and when certain curious wonders unfolded, even the doubters including Rita Marley became converts. After Selassie’s visit, many Jamaicans who had suffered neglect and persecution looked up to Africa for inspiration.
Sadly all did not remain well with the trio of Bob, Peter and Bunny leading Bunny to leave the group earlier and after a tour in England due to pay disagreements and a believe that the group’s manager was out to rip the members off, Peter also brought his association with the group to an end.
Reggae’s chief ambassador however reconstituted the group with the I-threes and went on to achieve fame and success. Sadly however Bob Nesta Marley, the little youth from Trench town died on 11th May 1981 aged just 36. The claim was that cancer had infested the whole frame of Bob instigated by a sore received on the feet in a football match.
After 12 years as a background vocalist for the wailers, Peter ‘the rebel’ Tosh forged a solo career in the mid 70’s to impressive result. If Marley was the darling boy of reggae, Peter was certainly the rebel using his sounds to touch on pertinent issues such as the legalization of ganja, the need for justice and equal rights in society, the need for Africans to be proud of their ancestry and the need for apartheid to end in South Africa.
Being a militant and unyielding, Tosh paid a hard price for his principles often brutally beaten by the police and on certain occasions left for dead. It was little wonder Tosh left music for about six years to battle his demons where he explained he kept seeing ‘duppies’ (ghost or evil spirits) since his home was haunted.
Ultimately Peter McIntosh would be killed at home when robbers came to loot. Despite financially supporting those who killed him because he knew them, they nonetheless expired him ending a truly intriguing life which begun in 1944 and ended in 1987.
After Bob who like an eagle spread the message of reggae to the ends of the world, it was Peter who ensured the survival of the genre with his militancy and at times humorous take on European names and practices such as calling Chris Blackwell (Whitewell).
Although reggae’s apostles abound including Jimmy Cliff, Gregory Isaacs, Marcia Griffiths, Burning Spear, Steel Pulse, Black Heritage, Morgan Heritage, Dennis Brown, Beenie man, Bunny Wailer, Yellow man, Luciano, Sizzla, Black Uhuru, Bounty Killer, U Roy, Lee Scratch Perry and the Toots & the Maytals, the third force in reggae’s trinity is deservedly Joseph Hill a.k.a Culture.
Born on 22nd January 1949, Joseph Hill was the lead singer and songwriter for the roots reggae group Culture, most famous for their 1977 hit Two Sevens Clash, he would go on to record twenty-two albums underlying just how prolific he was.
Mr. Hill begun his career in the late 1960s as a percussionist then a deejay and then begun performing as a backing vocalist, leading to his singles ‘Behold the Land’ and ‘Take me Girl’ in the early 1970s.
Hill formed Culture in 1976, quickly he and the band developed a reputation as a performing group after a performance at the ‘One Love Peace Concert’ in 1978 and soon begun regularly touring the United States, Europe and Africa. In recent years the group continued to perform at least one hundred concerts each year underlying their quality.
If there ever was a man who sought to know Jah and serve him better, that man was Culture. Culture’s life and times makes for interesting observation. Here was someone who was conscious and kept reminding consumers of his work to be mindful of their actions and prepare themselves to render account to Jah upon death yet had a weakness for alcohol and smoking.
That weakness as confirmed by widow, Mama Pauline led to liver cirrhosis as the cause of Culture’s death after years of heavy drinking and smoking.
However Joseph Hill’s devotion to the traditional Rastafarian values of purity, simplicity and justice were clearly evident in his works and albums such as ‘Nuff Crisis’, ‘Cumbolo,’ and ‘Wings of a Dove’ set the standard for the ‘roots’ genre.
In ‘Addis Ababa’, Culture indicates that Africa remains the spiritual home of the Rasta faithful with king Selassie as king and even though an attempt was made by Benito Mussolini to take the Ark of the Covenant from Ethiopia and colonize its people, Jah people prevailed.
On ‘Behold’, the ‘Keeper of Zion Gate’ sounds the warning that having heard the voice from the most high above that he will hold each one accountable for his/her deeds, the hour had come to do just and respect and serve Jah as no tongue and faith shall be spared on the day of reckoning.
Displaying his love of history and hatred for the slave trade, man like Culture states that till this very day, the smell of blood from our elders can still be experienced at the Cape Coast dungeon in his ‘Cape Coast to Jah’ track. Delving deep into the history, culture notes that the brutality was without let or hindrance where our elders were given crude names and loaded unto slave ships to shores beyond adding that denying mothers/fathers a chance to hold their kids was a truly evil scheme.
‘No Night’ remains one of the Hill’s best tunes and on the track, the conscience of the nation informs…no night in Zion…King Rastafari is our light and we no need no other light…oppressor full of foulness, only knows how to make guns and ammunition…never know how to make good decision adding that the people continue to suffer because of the oppressor’s wrong decisions.
With election being a source of mayhem in many countries, Culture in his ‘Election’ track urges the youth and elders to drive the ‘politrician’ away as they steal from the people to build mansions and acquire assets at their expense. He does not spare the preacher men and catholic priest either.
In ‘Jah Rastafari’, Culture makes the case that wrong has held sway for too long and it was time to smash down Babylon gate and prepare the way for Jah people whiles urging the youth to put crime away and rather hold up righteousness.
‘Slice of Mount Zion’ sums up the Jamaican Reggae Walk of Fame inductee’s hope “… I pray to Jah earnestly to please let me live honestly, love my brother is all I need, need no riches just harmony.”
Being a herb man, Culture on ‘Get them Soft’ decries the use of hard substances and bemoans the loss of faculties folks addicted to cocaine experience with loss of use of limbs and personal hygiene thrown to the dogs.
Culture makes it clear on ‘Satan Company’ that those who rob and cheat the poor and black people are snipers and he certainly wants no part of them.
‘Why worry about them’ perhaps explains the prayerfulness of Mr. Hill. Culture wonders why Jah people worry about the evil ones when they can pray them off adding that even when forsaken by one’s dada and mama for no justifiable reason and persecuted for having dread locks, the fellow should hold on to Jah as he is the sovereign lord.
On earth troubling no one, non-political, no matter what is done remain blind and deaf passing through Babylon. The little possession I have is to help my brethren as its better to have a friend than need one. Lift up a brother than to put him down. Work till skin starts to strip yet goes about my duty. Prays for a day of peace and ‘inity’. These sentiments make up the ‘Humble African’ track.
The ‘Outcast’ track talks about Columbus who was never wanted and regarded in Italy and Spain and seeking to know how such a fellow reigned supreme in the West Indies perpetuating his mayhem on the people. Culture adds Columbus the thief came to rob gold as well as rape the sisters and daughters but even in death he shall account for his deeds.
On ‘Tribal War’ Culture, the Shock Bronze Medal recipient for music intimates that we don’t need tribal war, all that is needed is education, love and togetherness as tribal war can’t solve the problem. Loved globally, Culture’s influence in Africa especially in Sierra Leone and Liberia was phenomenal as people afflicted by war found comfort in his music.
Other treasures in the Culture’s music vault include (jah alone a Christian, lion rock, stop the fussing, want go see, pay day, peace, love and harmony, they never love in this time, one stone, I tried, Mr. sluggard and rastaman A come).
Sadly Joseph Hill a.k.a Culture died after collapsing following a performance in Berlin on 19th August 2006. His son Kenyatta subsequently took over his role in Culture and through Kenyatta a piece of the Zion Gate Keeper remains with us.
Enjoy ‘Addis Ababa’ from Culture: