It’s Friday, and I’d thought I’d throw some Reggae out today. I got a great haul this week, and this is a record I’d been looking for for a while. It turned up (as well as a huge haul of JA pressing Lp’s) at my local. Apparently there is more, so I will hopefully be grabbing a bunch more over the weekend. Here’s a song that Prime-Mundo featured on his FMF Guest Mix: Yes Rasta. Check out U-Roy with “Chalice In the Palace” from the Dread In A Babylon Lp from 1975.
U-Roy was born Ewart Beckford in Jones Town, Jamaica in 1942. He gained his ever famous nickname from someone who couldn’t pronounce Ewart. He cut his teeth at various Sound Systems in the 60’s: Doctor Dickie’s Dynamite, Sir George the Atomic, Duke Reid’s, Coxsone Dodd, and eventually King Tubby. At this time Tubby was developing his pioneering Dub sound, and recruited U-Roy to be his top DJ of his new Sound System. This would be around 1969. In 1970, he would go on to record for Duke Reid (at the recommendation of John Holt, who heard U-Roy toasting), releasing some powerful singles: “Wake the Town”, “Rule the Nation”, and “Wear You To the Ball” on Treasure Isle. Although they are really reworkings of other songs (riddim, etc), these are very important songs in their own right. He changed the game, and as a DJ he would lead the way for others to follow. His work in this period with Lee Perry, Bunny Lee, and Peter Tosh would not go unnoticed either. The version was born, and U-Roy was in high demand, recording all over JA. The list of people influenced by him runs from Big Youth to Dennis Alcapone to I-Roy and beyond. After this record in 1975, U-Roy was at his most powerful. Interest grew from Jamaica to Europe, and in 1976 he’d go to Britain. This was a trip that would be crucial to his career. Shortly after a live record of the shows (backed by the Revolutionaries) was released, and he went on to form his own Sound System Stur-Gav in 1978. This in conjunction with his new record labels Del-Ma and Mego-Ann kept him on top. He furthered his world domination with the release Jah Son of Africa. Unfortunately, as in many of Jamaica’s greats, the music tells an all too real account of daily life in JA, and his Sound System would be destroyed due to election violence. U-Roy would come back strong though shortly after, enlisting new DJ’s Josey Wales and Charlie Chaplin. A superb appearance at Jamaica Sunsplash in 1983 lead to further live appearances at the landmark event and collaborations with Tappa Zukie and Prince Jazzbo. However, it was Mad Professor that would coerce U-Roy to go back to his recording pace (after a decline in output) in the 1990’s. He has been back on top ever since. U-Roy is an integral part of Jamaican DJ and Dub culture, and will forever remain an important figure throughout the music’s history.
Backed by the Soul Syndicate and Skin Flesh and Bones Band, U-Roy was the epitome of Natty Dread on this record. The song itself is a recut “Queen Majesty” by the Techniques. Produced by Prince Tony Robinson, U-Roy’s initial release for Virgin was a showcase of his Rastafarian beliefs. This was a turnaround from earlier recordings, and was a tactic used on Robinson’s Big Youth releases as well. Although it was said that he “chatted commercial dread lyrics over rocksteady classics” at that time, which may have been true, some almost 35 years later, this record does make sense. From the imagery of U-Roy engulfed in smoke from his chalice, to a cover of Trenchtown Rock, it may have been passe at the time, almost corny. It did serve a purpose, however, and there is no denying that U-Roy has paved the way for many a conscious DJ, eager to promote Rasta, and toast their way into Jamaica’s rich history of Reggae music. I’ll see you on Monday, Keep Diggin’!