Why Burning Spear’s ‘Marcus Garvey’ Is a Classic That Can Never be Forgotten
For those unfamiliar with reggae music, there’s more to this wide-ranging genre than Bob Marley, who became iconic because of the unconventional blend of his compositions. One of the protégé of the Jamaica’s cultural beacon is Winston Rodney, or popularly known as Burning Spear.
Burning Spear Stage Name
Burning Spear, who hailed from Saint Ann, Jamaica, was catapulted to stardom in the late 1960s after the release of his single “Door Peep”. He was discovered by Marley while working for the reggae legend’s farm, hauling supplies, where they had the chance to talk about music. This meeting became a massive stepping stone in Rodney’s career and led to the all-important contract with the popular Studio One records, directed by none other than the reggae king himself.
As for Rodney’s stage name, it was inspired by a military award named in honor of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first indigenous president. It is worth noting, however, that the moniker at times pertained to the trio that was composed by him: Delroy Hines, and Rupert Wellington, and sometimes just himself alone.
Obviously, Burning Spear is a man who takes inspiration from people who had impacted him and his beliefs one way or another, including Marley and Jamaican political icon Marcus Garvey. The latter resonated with him so much that Burning Spear made named his third album after him.
Who Is Marcus Garvey?
Who is this political hero that Rodney looks up to? Marcus Garvey was a prominent Jamaican personality best known for advocating black and African rights and was a multi-hyphenate leader who had effectively inspired fellowmen through his ideals. Coincidentally, the famed man was from the same town where Marley and Rodney were born and raised.
That said, it is safe to say that Burning Spear sits among other reggae artists who put his Rastafarian beliefs in spotlight via their music. Released on Dec. 12, 1975, “Marcus Garvey” became the avenue with which Rodney’s name started making a noise outside his country. His die-hard fans would know that his previous works were spectacular as well, but his third album saw a different, more energetic, and more passionate singer.
“Marcus Garvey,” which was a deep and profound project between Rodney, Wellington, and Hines, was touted as one of the best reggae albums to be released. This was where Burning Spear highlighted the vast influence the political icon had on him as observed from the tracks, with more than one song getting the name as the title – one thing’s for sure, Rodney made sure to send the crucial message across through music.
A series of tracks from the album would prove how Burning Spear was dedicated to giving relevance to Garvey’s ideals and philosophies. It was obvious that his intent was to champion the influence he’d gotten from the icon. Perhaps one of the most meaningful of the songs was “Slavery Days,” which allows listeners to get a picture of the poverty in Jamaica.
It was one of the most hard-hitting songs of the album, add to that, Burning Spear’s singing from the heart, a combination that really stuck out to the audience. “Invasion,” meanwhile, deals with the diaspora among the black people in Jamaica.
As for the success of “Marcus Garvey” it can be linked with the brilliance of the individual songs as well as the trio that collaborated. Evidence of this are the numerous reggae artists that made covers of the album’s tracks that instantly became hits and the fact that it was one of the main reasons local soundman Jack Ruby became a constant in the reggae industry despite lacking experience in producing.
Moreover, “Marcus Garvey” made Burning Spear turn heads with his deep ideas that penetrate slowly into each listener’s thought. Perhaps, more importantly, is the legacy it left on the culture, which saw the rise of the political leader’s ideals again even after his death.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing, though, for Burning Spear’s career. Rodney separated from the trio by the late 1970s, the time his music became famous in the United Kingdom. However, he had problems with people managing him and with record executives, a few of the reasons he launched his eponymous label in the ‘80s. He had won two Grammy Awards – one in 2000 for “Calling Rastafari” and another in 2009 for “Jah Is Real.”
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