Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Burning Spear takes Reggae to the People

Jamaican-born artist plays Orange Peel
By Carol Mallett-Rifkin
published: April 14, 2006 6:00 am

"I don't mind" is an expression that Grammy-winning reggae star Burning Spear says a lot in his beautiful sing-song Jamaican voice. It doesn't mean he doesn't care - political activism and songs with a message are at the core of his music. Many fans who flock to hear his music and words weren't even born when Spear began taking Jamaican reggae sounds around the world in the early 1970s. Rock to his reggae next Thursday at The Orange Peel as the legendary artist brings his large band and danceable presence to the stage.

"Everything I do is based upon a social aspect," Spear said. "People can be people amongst people with no jealousy, anger or greed. I see this as a very important thing for people to know."

Originally born Winston Rodney in the parish of St. Anne's in Jamaica, he's from the same region that produced reggae superstars Bob Marley and the Wailers. "I met him (Marley), that was in 1969; he is from the same parts I am, too," said Spear. "He lived in the countryside, and I lived down in the town. I went to his area and bumped into Bob. He directed me to Studio One and I went and recorded there."

On Marley's recommendation, Spear recorded his first two classic albums at Studio One, "Burning Spear" and "Rocking Time" and went on to record "Marcus Garvey," "Man in the Hills" and "Garvey's Ghost" on Island Records in the '70s, establishing himself internationally.

A string of hits followed, including the Grammy-winning "Calling Rastafari", "Rasta Business", "The World Should Know" and more.

He wears his politics in his name and music. Spear is passionate about clearing the name of Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican native (also from St. Anne's Parrish) he feels was wrongly treated in both the U.S. and Jamaica.

"He came to America in the '20s and was there for the African-American people and did a lot of good things for them. At some time, it went wrong and people turned on him. He wanted to show African-American people that they could function as a nation. I think the Jamaican government should set his record free and clear his name," Spear said.

The term Burning Spear is a reference to Jomo Kenyatta, a political activist who championed for a free and democratic Kenya and went on to become that country's first president. Spear adopted it as a band name and then his name.

"I don't mind which you call me," he said.

For close to 20 years, Spear has been living in Queens, N.Y., with his wife and partner Sonia Rodney, creating the Burning Spear record label. Their 2003 "Free Man" was Grammy nominated and their newest release, "Our Music", builds on Spear's tradition of promoting peace and harmony to a danceable groove.

"Well, it's nine of us on stage, we have three guitars, drums, keyboard, a horn section and myself. I'm playing a lot of percussion," said Spear, who says lately his favorite instrument is congas. "They are all young people. It is good to have a lot of young people around you. It's like a family on the road, we're rockin'." Every ticket holder to this show will receive a commemorative Burning Spear at The Orange Peel poster.

With more than 35 years on the road behind him, he is not ready to retire any time soon.

"You have to condition your mind and body to keep it going, be serious about it," said Spear. "I want to continue until the time is right. I am working on my documentary telling the true story about Burning Spear. A lot of people haven't gotten it right. I'm Burning Spear, and I'm telling the story."

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