I sure do love me some reggae; my island-music tastes are mainstream, but once you get past Marley, the names are fading from memories. Maybe I can reverse that a bit. Let’s start with Winston Rodney; his first band was Burning Spear, then he just adopted the name for himself. His music is a little deeper, his singing a little edgier, his horn arrangements excellent. Slavery Days has all of those things, and deserves to live forever.
When you consider Mr Rodney, you have to take Rastafari (the religion, I mean) into account; he’s serious about it. It’s a strong flavor in a culture that produced a whole lot of really good music. Just like Lutheran Christianity was essential to Bach and Eastern Orthodoxy is essential to Pärt. Doesn’t mean you have to believe in it, which is a particular relief when the faith in question involves the divine aspect of Haile Selassie. I’m OK living in Babylon, myself.
Slavery Days appears on the superb Spear album Marcus Garvey, whose title refers to an actual real human being, a seriously interesting dude, whatever you might think of his more eccentric segregationist ideas. A quick tour through his life story on Wikipedia is a good investment of a few minutes.
Slavery Days isn’t religious at all, it’s just what the title says, a lament for those bad old days. Having said that, it’s got a super happy sound, opening with an ebullient brass proclamation, then spinning and lurching back and forth through chants and counter-chants and instrumental breaks, with the horn obbligato dancing around the reggae pulse and that beautiful resonant Burning Spear voice at the center. It’s maybe my favorite reggae song of all time. Back in the day, I used to use it as my ringtone (remember them?) and I smiled every time that horn explosion went off meaning someone wanted to talk.
Winston is still living, last time I checked, and if he’s still performing, I’d recommend a trip to see him. Lots of interesting stuff on his YouTube Channel.
Links · Amazon, Spotify, iTunes. As for live video, the Net is full of it. The quality is wildly variable; some of the backup bands are better than others, and, well, some nights seems like Burning Spear dug a little too deep in the herb drawer. That said, here’s a relatively clean studio version, and a 1981 concert in which the Spear burns especially bright.A pity, none of those clips have Winston on percussion; he can really make the congas sing. But I could listen to that band play that groove all day and all night.