Sunday, September 11, 2016

Prince Buster Jamaican Music Pioneer - Ska Rocksteady Music Trends!

The only dance I ever saw my late dad did was ska he was stuck in that era.  I clearly remembered the expression on his face while dancing to Prince Buster's music. Dramatic! but happy, proud but very careful as he seemingly glided across the room, back bent, legs apart, arms swinging and like the veteran he taught he was, added a few new steps along the way. He would make an outburst from time to time like "aah!" and "yes!" so loudly he was shameless.
Always smiling or laughing whatever that painful pleasant look in those moments was, nothing else mattered. My Dad's footsteps, were so carefully placed round about the space he was in that it seemed as if he had put careful taught in, ahead of making them, in a mere split of a second. He could make no mistake or, mis-stepped as he, "washed his troubles away" then "pick him up, n lick him dung den bunce right back what a haad man fi ded." That's how I came to know of the great Prince Buster the artist whom I met in my living room under hysteric laughter watching my dad put on his best performance to his songs.

But although I became familiar with some of his songs it was years later that I would learn of the man Cecil Bustamente Campbell, who was regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of ska and rocksteady music. Prince Buster made his singing debut at the Glass Bucket club in the mid-50s. A club that established a reputation as the premier music venue and social club for Jamaican teenagers. He fronted a number of groups but it was in 1959 after launching Busters Record Shack and The Voice Of The People sound system that many would come to know him as Prince BusterAs a matter of fact my friend's Dad told me of his memory of Prince Buster, "I use to go to his record shop on Orange Street. In those days vinyls sold hard and people had to join long lines to get new records from that store".

In 1961, 22 year old Prince Buster released his debut single, and in some sense, the move suggest what the energy of the Jamaican people might have felt like, ahead of gaining independence in 1962. The instrumental "Little Honey"/"Luke Lane Shuffle" featuring Jah Jerry, Drumbago and Rico Rodriquez under the Buster's Group name was an introduction of the rhythm of ska in the Jamaican music industry. The wave of excitement that followed among music fans across the island after the release of this song was symbolic of the spirit of independence. The sounds of "Little Honey" was said to have been far removed from the American RnB sounds that swamped sound systems and a new sound was born, a Jamaican made sound called, Ska. That same year Prince Buster produced "Oh Carolina" by the Folkes Brothers which became a hit.

By year 1962, Prince Buster released a string of hits.  Interestingly however, is that it is alleged those songs gained popularity from a feud he had with producer Leslie Kong. Tracks such as "They Got to Go" and the smash hit "Madness" peaked during an endless feud between the two men who spewed hateful lyrics at each other, song after songs, sounds familiar? The feud spilled over into streets and parties gaining supporters who slugged it out on the dance floors and in the streets. The musical melee ended when a truce organised by the government was made between the two and of course, Prince Buster now a recording artiste and producer had released so many singles that he had to set up two new imprints to help with the overflow from his Voice of the People label, he became a superstar in Jamaica and almost as big in the U.K.

The hits kept on coming including, "Wash Wash", "One Step Beyond" and "Alcapone". Whether by production or recording Prince Buster kept winning but not without competition. The feud had ended between Leslie Kong and Prince Buster but stiff competition ensued. Other great artists were in the mix and also making hits some of which inspired the hits Prince Buster made. Derrick Morgan who had left Buster's studio back in 1959 to join Leslie Kong's was churning out hits himself creating competition between both artistes as well as good business for the industry, sounds familiar? 

1964 Prince Buster met world champion boxer Mohammed Ali and subsequently joined the Nation of Islam. By 1965 he appeared in the short film, Millie in Jamaica, a story about Millie Smalls return to the island after her world-wide success of single "My Boy Lollipop." His three year old "Alcapone" single had hit the UK Top 20 and subsequently lead to a UK tour in 1967 and a US tour later to promote his RCA Victor LP release, The Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments single of the same album name peaked at #81 on US Billboard Hot 100 chart and became Buster's only hit single in the United States.

1966 when ska started to subside giving way to rocksteady Prince Buster's hit making ability trended on, "Hard Man Fi Dead, Rude Bwoy Rudie and Shanty-Town blazed the Jamaican airwaves. By 1967, tracks like "Shaking Up Orange Street" were arranged with the slower, more soulful rocksteady template. Thereafter came the albums, "Judge Dread Rock Steady" released in 1976 with hit single of the same name and "Fabulous" a compilation album in 1978.  Prince Buster's career subsided by choice in the 1970s as the predominant style from ska to rocksteady transformed into reggae. As a muslim, the Jamaican music pioneer found it difficult to tailor his style towards a Rastafari audience.
May 1938 - September 2016

September 8, 2016, 78 year old Prince Buster is gone but memories of him in his 'hay-days' lives in my heart where some of my happiest memories of Dad remains. As I listened some of his most popular tracks, the one that stuck with me most goes something like, "enjoy yourself have lots of fun while still in the pink because the years go by as quickly as you wink..." Walk good Prince Buster R.I.P. 

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R.I.P. Joseph Hill and Jamari Reid