Chillin’ to reggae roots at the MACC
Formed around 45 years ago in Jamaica, Black Uhuru rose to prominence as one of the world’s greatest reggae bands.
“Our vision was to tour the world, sing conscious music and write good songs,” says co-founder Derrick “Duckie” Simpson.
Acclaimed for their crucial roots songs such as “Solidarity,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “What is Life?,” “Anthem” and “Shine Eye Girl,” they were the first reggae band to win a Grammy Award.
The roots of Black Uhuru were formed in Kingston in the early 1960s, when Simpson recorded some tracks with the Wailing Souls before creating his own group. The original Uhuru (Swahili for freedom) featured Simpson, Euvin “Don Carlos” Spencer and Rudolph “Garth” Dennis.
“Jamaican music came from American music,” he explains. “In the early days we used to listen to a lot of R&B. The Four Tops, the Ojays, I used to listen to all of them. We had music like mento, rock steady and ska. I’ve been influenced by that type of music coming up.”
A reformed version of the band with Michael Rose and American singer Sandra “Puma” Jones, teamed with legendary drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare, brought Black Uhuru to a world audience.
“With the passing of reggae’s primary architect and prophet, Bob Marley, the Kingston-based vocal trio Black Uhuru appeared poised to assume the mantle of reggae’s leadership,” noted Rolling Stone. “At a moment when the music was in critical need of a strong new voice, Black Uhuru’s finest album, ‘Red,’ shone with all the musical intensity and political fervor of the Rastafarian movement.”
“Red” was voted No. 23 in Rolling Stone’s list of “100 Greatest Albums of the 1980s.”
The impact of “Red” led to the Jamaican band opening for the Rolling Stones at London’s Wembley Stadium before 70,000 fans.
“That was a great feat,” he says. “Keith Richards played on one of our singles, ‘Shine Eye Girl.’ “
Subsequent albums, “Chill Out” and “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,” solidified their popularity and then “Anthem” won the first ever Grammy for Best Reggae Album in 1985.
In recent years, the reggae Grammy has been dominated by the Marley family, which irks Black Uhuru’s leader.
“The Grammy is like a disrespect to reggae,” he says. “They don’t even approve of us getting the Grammy upfront, they deliver it to you backstage. Winning the Grammy wasn’t much. It doesn’t do anything for reggae. And if you’re not the Marleys — the Grammy is made for those guys. I’ve done a couple of things more exciting than the Grammy.”
One of their hits from the Grammy-winning “Anthem” album, “Solidarity,” was composed by Steven Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.
“It’s a cover,” he says. “The idea came from the CEO of Island Records. It was Little Steven’s song.”
Over the years, other songs they’ve covered include Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe,” War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness” and Peter Gabriel’s “Mercy Street.”
In 2001 they released “Dynasty” with lead vocalist Andrew “Bees” Beckford, which marked a return to the classic Black Uhuru sound of the 1980s. It featured accompaniment by reggae’s “rhythm twins” Sly and Robbie, and guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith, who played with Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff.
The band has just finished recording a new album.
“It’s complete,” says Simpson. “When we come to Hawaii, we’re going to be singing four songs from the new album.”
The tracks include “War Crime” — “that’s talking about all these wars, and the way they take out (Muammar) Gaddafi and all them stuff,” continued Simpson.
Looking over their long career, Simpson feels proud that he was part of a recent Hollywood musical, “Loving the Silent Tears,” in 2012.
“That is my biggest feat,” he says. “And in 2012, I got the keys to the city of Las Vegas (Aug. 31 is officially “Black Uhuru Day“), and a lifetime achievement award.”
Still moving audiences with their powerful roots reggae, a Coachella Valley Independent review praised: “Black Uhuru’s set included songs ranging from early classics such as ‘What is Life,’ to a new single, ‘Chalice.’ The set also included ‘General Penitentiary,’ ‘Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner’ and, toward the end, ‘Sinsemilla.’ The band sounded tight; many of the classics sounded great; and some of the newer songs fit well into the set list. The star of the show is definitely Andrew Bees. His energy and passion lit up the stage.”
Having last performed on Maui in the mid-1980s, Simpson is looking forward to returning to our island.
“We’re coming there to party,” he says.
Maui’s Marty Dread and Belgiun-born reggae artist Onesty will open.
The Maui Chamber Orchestra opens their new season on Saturday with the “Audacity of Genius” concert featuring works by Beethoven — “Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21”; Brahms — “Serenade No. 2 in A Major, Op. 16”; and Grieg — “Holberg Suite for String Orchestra, Op. 40.”
The Grieg is a beautiful suite of five movements based on 18th- century dance forms, composed in 1884 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Danish-Norwegian playwright, Ludvig Holberg.
Constructed around the traditional multi-movement suite model, Brahms’ Serenade builds to a joyous finale.
“I have rarely composed with such exhilaration,” he wrote. “The music flowed so sweetly and gently inside me that I was filled with joy through and through.”
Dedicated to Baron Gottfried van Swieten, an early patron of the composer, Beethoven’s sublime first symphony was premiered in 1800 in Vienna. It was hailed as a masterpiece.
“They were all composed when these composers were young,” says conductor Robert E. Wills. “All pay tribute to their predecessors. Beethoven was influenced by Hadyn and Mozart. In the case of Greig and Brahms, they are paying homage to Beethoven. At the same time all the compositions push the envelope forward.”
* “Audacity of Genius” is presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Sunday’s event includes “Conversations with the Conductor” at 3:30 p.m. Tickets range from $27 to $55. Saturday only, buy one adult ticket, get one student ticket free (18 and younger). For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.mauichamberorchestra .org or www.mauionstage .com, or call 242-6969.
George Kahumoku Jr. just celebrated the 14th anniversary of his “Masters of Hawaiian Music” show on Wednesday at the Napili Kai Beach Resort. Richard Ho’opi’i, Kevin Brown and Hawaiian lap steel guitarist Geri Valdriz joined Uncle George.
The slack key guitar master has completed a successful crowd-funded campaign to record a new album, “Tutu’s Favorite Songs.”
“I remember being curled up in my great-grandmother tutu Lottie Koko’o Ha’ae Kahumoku’s lap, listening to her play her ukulele and sing her favorite songs after a long week of picking coffee,” he says. “She would hum these songs while weaving her lauhala mats and hats, sharing her love of Hawaiian music. This special collection includes some of the songs I remember hearing her sing from my early childhood and now I want to share them with you.”
Last month when Gretchen Rhodes was performing in Lahaina with Mick Fleetwood and The House Shakers, she discovered a fan in Stevie Nicks, who was in the audience and loved hearing her singing Fleetwood Mac songs.
In the second installment of “Willie’s Stash” series of archival recordings, country icon Willie Nelson will debut “Willie Nelson and the Boys” on Friday. The record features Nelson teaming with his sons Micah and Lukas on a selection of American country music standards and classics, including seven composed by Hank Williams Sr.
According to Willie, the album is, “kinda like the country version of ‘Stardust,’ where you have all these great songs and standards that the young people have never heard, then all of a sudden you have a whole new audience out there.”
The new 12-song album features classic Williams’ songs like “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” with country standards made popular by Hank Cochran, Hank Locklin, Hank Snow, Fred Rose and Alyssa Miller, plus one Nelson original, a new version of “Healing Hands of Time.”
Nelson recently headlined a “Harvey Can’t Mess With Texas” benefit concert for Hurricane Harvey relief in Austin, joined by Paul Simon, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt and Lyle Lovett.