Taking reggae to the world – 50 years of Island Records @ Reggae University 2009

9 julio 2009

Would it be possible to top the previous sessions? Yes it was and it was based on the fact that we had such prominent icons of the Reggae world to join our session turning it nto a historical event. So we were happy to present Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, to the public who played a key role carrying Reggae music worldwide, especially referring to his efforts to launch Bob Marley’s career internationally. On the other hand we were honoured to have Bunny Wailer, the one and only remaining member of the Wailers, to share his thoughts, views and arguments with us. You had to make sure to be at the venue from early, as it was ram-packed long before the session was about to start.

Bunny Wailer spoke eloquently about his early days, getting to find out his place in life and being musically influenced by a churchly background as son of a Revival preacher. Later in the session he also referred to further influences like Chuck Berry or Fats Domino when talking about his excursions to other musical genres like R & B for instance. But it was mainly his interactions with Bob Marley from their childhood days, which led to the foundation of the Wailers right after Bob’s move from rural St. Ann to the infamous, but inspiring ghetto of Trenchtown in Kingston. Being musically supervised by the late Joe Higgs, the Wailers with Bob, Peter (Tosh) and Bunny eventually became one of the most successful acts in Jamaica. Bunny underlined more than once how proud and honoured he feels to be part of this ever growing Reggae tree, carrying the message of love, peace and unity to the four corners of the world, always guided by his strong rastafarian faith.

The first recordngs were done by Leslie Kong (Beverley’s) and of course Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd (Studio One), but the first steps into international recognition happened with the help of Johnny Nash and the renowned Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. According to Chris Blackwell, it was Perry’s brilliancy that led to some of the strongest Wailers songs ever. Mr. Blackwell was overwhelmed by the talent and appearance of the trio and decided to enable them for an international break. Their first album under the wings of Island Records (‘Catch a Fire’) became a crucial milestone in the history of Reggae, but it was Mr. Blackwell’s intention to establish the Wailers as kind of a black rock group to a wider audience, that made Bunny Wailer leave the group to start his solo career. He released his first album ‘Blackheart Man’ which must also be regarded as one of the most crucial masterpieces in Reggae. As this album was also released on Island, a little dispute about the royalties came up during the session, but our host David Katz managed to bring back the discussion to the key subject, which is music.

Bunny Wailer has released several albums since then, mainly on his own Solomonic label, and surprisingly he also supported the growing branch of contemporary Reggae by putting out heavy dancehall stuff on albums like ‘Rock’n Groove’, ‘Rule Dancehall’, ‘Gumption’ and ‘Dance Massive’. Bunny Wailers current projects are the production and release of his daughter Cen C Love’s debut album called ‘Save the people’ and we were happy to hear that he will soon release two albums of himself: one is called ‘Unite’, the other is called ‘Combinations’ and this will feature all big female DJ’s like Patra or Lady G, to name a few.

Having always refused to perform in Italy because of the historical context between Ethopia and Italy, we are very glad that he finally changed his mind. It is also more than remarkable that he will spend half of his pay at the festival to italian earthquake victims and the other half on projects supporting Ethiopia.

Chris Blackwell started in the early 60’s getting involved into the music business and the song ‘My Boy Lollypop’ by Millie Small was his first international hit as label owner, so he calls this still his favourite song. His impact and efforts for the globalisation of Reggae music can hardly be put into words, as he brought many acts like Black Uhuru, Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, Burning Spear, Inner Circle ans Steel Pulse to the world. Although being a person of controversy, a life dedicated to Reggae music deserves the utmost respect. So we say thank you Mr. Blackwell for letting us become aware of the heartbeat pulse of Jamaica’s music and its ambassadors.

This was truely history in the making and it closed our series of five outstanding Reggae University sessions. We are looking forward to presenting more at the 2K10 Rototom.

On behalf of the crew, we say thanks to you.

16* Rototom Sunsplash 2009
Jul 2-11 Osoppo Italy