HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE CROWN PRINCE OF REGGAE
OUR AMBASSADOR5™ SERIES SHOWCASES 5 QUESTIONS/FACTS WITH A CULTURAL AMBASSADOR WHO IS ACTIVELY PROMOTING CARIBBEAN CULTURE THROUGHOUT THE WORLD.
By Jason Walker
Growing up in Jamaica I used to truly enjoy Saturday mornings. A very lazy time where the sun would be rising over the beautiful island yet I was under the covers because of the cool morning breeze coming from the trade winds. Through the air came the smell of breakfast being cooked by various in the community; ackee & saltfish, seasoned dumplins, fritters, mackerel rundown, breadfruit and any amalgamation of wonderful island cuisine. Wrapped around these elements of paradise would normally be the silky wonderful voice of the Crown Prince of Reggae, Dennis Emmanuel Brown, taking all these elements to a place of euphoric harmony.
These were the times when Jamaica only had two radio stations, Radio Jamaica Redifusion (RJR) and Jamaica Broadcasting Commission (JBC) and in a time when Reggae was represented very minimally on the air, on a Saturday morning the artists that would break through this discrimination would include the Wailers and Dennis Brown.
THE EARLY DAYS
Born in 1957 and dead so early by 1999, Brown had electrified the music world from early, Bob Marley who was crowned the King of Reggae, called Brown’s voice the best voice he ever heard. By age 9 Brown was already performing, he performed in front of the legendary Byron Lee and the Dragonnaires for 3 years. By age 12 he caught the eye of legendary producer Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd. Coxsone who by now had produced some of the greatest ever (Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Toots & The Maytals, Marcia Griffiths, and Jimmy Cliff, just to name a few). Dodd immediately got to work with what music industry had seen as a child prodigy, Reggae’s Micheal Jackson and a generational talent.
HIS FIRST HITS
By the age of 16 Dennis Brown had his 1st single and album hit “No Man Is An Island” which began an odyssey of hit after hit, amazing performance after amazing performance and the production of roughly 100 albums. Hits such as “Cassandra”, “Revolution”, “Stop The Fighting”, “Silhouette”, “Love Has Found It’s Way”, “Promise Land”, “Should I”, “Westbound Train” “Love and Hate” and many many more.
When Marley died in 1981 there were many who believed that he had done enough to now assume the crown of Reggae King, a consideration that had only seriously been placed on one person throughout the industry, to this day.
I remember in 1991, I went to one of the last ever Reggae Sunsplash concerts (7 day concert that was the epitome of Reggae and Dancehall representing the Golden eras of both). Some of the greatest performances remembered in Reggae history occurred at that concert. The band Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers was at the height of their popularity and the performance matched that, Shabba Ranks and Maxi Priest were taking the world by storm and their performance was equal to that, Shinehad had the most popular song in Jamaica at the time “Strive” and became one of the few artists to ever be carried over the heads of a Reggae Sunsplash audience. They all paled in comparison to the closing act of the 7 day concert; Dennis Emmanuel Brown.
The sun was just rising, the first light of the day, the backdrop of the stage was the Caribbean Sea. The stage went silent, no singer was on the stage, just the band. All of a sudden we heard the voice, the unmistakable, powerful, silky voice belting out “Love & Hate, shall never be friends, ooooh noooo, oooh nooo”, there was a break and then the thunderous bass of the band came in and all of a sudden, Brown dressed in shining white with Gold, Green and Red trimmings comes dancing on the stage singing the next lyrics “Here I come with love and not hatred, Surely goodness and mercy shall follow I, All the days of I life….”. With his locks flashing, dancing and beaming with his signature smile that lit up the who concert venue, Brown thoroughly entertained all in attendance.
The audience of tens of thousands, who had been awake all night and for some days before, got off their feet and rocked with all energy from beginning to end. On that day Brown was the king. His songs of love, consciousness and upliftment would take all in attendance to a higher place. And even at the height of his career all who knew and met him were struck by his humility and utter generousity.
The stories of cocaine use, career mismanagement and health issues would come later to dim the radiant light that was Dennis Brown. He would die young as the king before him had done. However in a short time he had given us the best of all there can be in music, quality, consciousness, positivity, edutainment, love and the drive to illicit the best in all of us. Happy Birthday Dennis Emanuel Brown, thank you for the blessings.
Jason Walker is a freelance writer for Caribbean Today Magazine who has had an award winning journalism career that spans 20 years. He can be followed on twitter atwww.twitter.com/jasonwalker_