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Artist Profile
Count Ossie
Mar, 1926 ~ Oct 18, 1976
Count Ossie was the foremost exponent of Rasta drumming; his bass drum adorned with Psalm 133 ‘Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity’. His presence continues to be felt as an intuitive act of faith demonstrating an unbroken link with Jamaican music’s shared ancestral and cultural heritage.
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Real name:
Oswald Williams
Place of birth:
Jamaica
St. Thomas
Born Oswald Williams in March 1926 in the parish of St. Thomas he first became involved in the Rastafarian faith as a young man and was taught hand drumming and vocal chanting techniques in the Afro-Jamaican kumina and buru traditions by a master buru drummer known simply as Brother Job. Ossie originally learnt to play the funde and then graduated to the repeater on which he soon became a virtuoso. The close relationship between Brother Job and Count Ossie led to the creation of what is now understood as Rasta drumming and as an explicit expression of the African heritage of Jamaica.

"Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is near."

Haile Selassie (The Power Of The Trinity), whose dynasty could be traced back to King Solomon, was crowned Emperor Of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa as Ras Tafari, King Of Kings, Lord Of Lords, Conquering Lion Of The Tribe Of Judah in 1930 and prophecy was seen to be fulfilled. The disciples of the Jamaican cult of Rastafari regard Haile Selassie as the living incarnation of God on earth and the religion, which first flourished in the ghettos of Kingston during the thirties, became a harbinger for both black awareness and self-determination; concepts that would begin to become a living reality as the century progressed.

The European cultural bias of the established Christian churches in Jamaica had led to dissatisfaction and disillusionment amongst Afro-Jamaicans and the followers of Ras Tafari identified themselves as the lost tribes of Israel wandering in the wilderness awaiting a return to their spiritual homeland of Africa. The most obvious outward signs of the sect's creed were the wearing of the hair in long 'dreadlocks' and the use of marijuana as a sacrament but it was necessary to hold only two beliefs: that Ras Tafari was the living God and that salvation can come only through repatriation to Africa. Shunned and scorned by the Jamaican authorities and society the brethren first established their own communities, such as Leonard P. Howell's stronghold in Pinnacle, but, after repeated police raids, the faithful moved to the ghetto districts of Kingston where the word continued to be assimilated and spread.

In the absence of a formal hierarchical church with structured services they would meet at grounations where marijuana would be imbibed from the chalice. As the sect grew the drums, based around an older Jamaican musical form known as burra or buru, would sound as chants, songs and adapted hymns were offered up in praise of the Almighty. In Kingston the buru drums had previously been used for secular dances on holidays but they also performed a more specialised function and a custom was established where they played at dances held to welcome the return of discharged prisoners back into the community.

"Only those who knew the purpose of such a dance would normally join in. Throughout this period no drums were used at Ras Tafari meetings, although Ras Tafari members would often attend these burra dances... The old burra dance by which discharged prisoners were reintegrated with their slum communities was taken over into the Ras Tafari movement by Locksmen. The burra drums became known as akete drums and the old burra dance was replaced by the Nyahbinghi dance... As more people, including old Revival Shepherds, left pocomania for Rastafari emphasis on drumming increased."
Report On The Rastafari Movement In Kingston Jamaica

Three different types of drums, known collectively as kette (or akete or ikete) drums, were used in buru music. The large bass drum, with its deep resounding beat, the funde for syncopation and the smaller repeater which was used to lay the rhythm with the repeater drum improvising over the top. These three main drums would be augmented by a selection of different percussion instruments and home made instruments such as bottle horns or saxophones would also be incorporated. Many of Jamaica's greatest musicians could be found praising God and developing their musical skills at these gatherings but, unusually in the history of Jamaican music, no amplification was used. At this time Nyahbinghi music, in its purest form, would only ever be performed and heard at grounations in Rastafarian camps such as the Dungle and Wareika Hill and it relentless drumbeat and constant chanting became inseparably linked with serious devotees of the Rastafarian faith.

In the early fifties Count Ossie had set up his own camp in the Rennock Lodge Community in East Kingston which soon became a base for many of Jamaica's finest jazz and ska musicians and Roland Alphonso, Don Drummond, 'Big Bra' Gaynair, Tommy McCook, Johhny 'Dizzy' Moore, Ernest Ranglin and Rico Rodriguez all played with Count Ossie's Band. The band began to preach the gospel of Rasta through the power of their music at dance sessions throughout Jamaica, including sessions at Coney Island Amusement Park, which brought their message to the attention of a wider public. Count Ossie and his band would usually turn up late in the proceedings, take the stage, and slowly transform what had been a secular dance into a grounation which would often last until dawn. The dance patrons did not necessarily share their Rasta vision but the dispossessed could easily identify with "beating down Babylon" and Jamaican music began to become inextricably linked with the fight against all forms of oppression.

Unlike the established sounds Prince Buster was unable to afford to travel to America to purchase exclusive rhythm & blues records and instead searched for a new and totally unique sound to incorporate into his own recordings for his Voice Of The People sound system and record label. Buster was interested in incorporating Count Ossie's drums but had been assured that Count Ossie would never perform on a commercial record.

"Count, I want you to record just the way you and the group play all the while..."Prince Buster

Buster was not a man to take no for an answer and he finally managed to persuade Count Ossie to enter the JBC recording studio in 1961 where, with the 'Count Ossie Afro-Combo', he provided backing for the Folks Brothers. The resulting record, 'Oh Carolina', not only proved to be a major hit but was also a massively influential outing.

"The result was arguably the single most important record in Jamaican musical history."
Kevin O'Brien Chang & Wayne Chen

A number of records driven by Count Ossie's distinctive drums rapidly followed including 'Chubby' (also known as 'Cassavubu') again for Prince Buster, 'Another Moses' and 'Rock A Man's Soul' with The Mellow Cats and 'Lumumbo' with Bunny and Skitter for Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd(CS Dodd) and 'Babylon Gone' by Winston & Roy with 'Count Ossie on the African Drums' for Spanish Town producer Harry A. Mudie's Moodisc label. Throughout the sixties and seventies countless record producers would also call upon the talents of Count Ossie's drums and other exponents of the Nyahbinghi school, including Bongo Herman and Eric 'Bingy Bunny' Lamont, to add a more authentic flavour to their recordings.

The state visit of Haile Selassie to Jamaica in 1966 proved to be a major turning point for Rastafarianism and, as the sixties progressed, the cult began to move outside of rural Jamaica and the Kingston slums and an acceptance and understanding of the Rastafarian religion, its philosophy and its music steadily grew. This greater tolerance allowed Count Ossie and The Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari the freedom to develop outside of the three minute restrictions of a seven inch single and they recorded the classic albums 'Grounation' in 1973 and 'Tales From Mozambique' in 1975. Both long players were pervaded with the fervour and devotion associated with grounations and established Rasta reggae as a serious artistic and spiritual force moving the music and ideology previously associated with Rasta meetings closer to the reggae mainstream.

Count Ossie died tragically on 18th October 1976 at the National Stadium in Kingston in a freak accident when a storm caused the crowd to panic during a cricket match. He was instrumental in the development of reggae and Count Ossie's music and the message of Rastafari, of universal peace and love, will live forever.


Sources:
Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton: Reggae The Rough Guide – Rough Guides 1997
Verena Beckford: Reggae, Rastafarianism and Cultural Identity Jamaica Journal 1982
Reprinted in Chris Potash: Reggae, Rasta, Revolution Books With Attitude 1997
Kevin O'Brien Chang & Wayne Chen: Reggae Routes Ian Randle Publishers 1998
MG Smith, Roy Augier & Rex Nettleford: Report On The Rastafari Movement In Kingston Jamaica
University College Of The West Indies Institute Of Social And Economic Research Kingston 1960

Count Ossie: Remembering Count Ossie A Rasta 'Reggae' Legend Moodisc (USA) LP 1996
Harry Hawke: Liner notes Nyahbinghi Box Set Trojan TJETD094 (UK) 2003
 
Related artist(s):
Roland Alphonso
Don Drummond
Tommy McCook
Johnny Moore
Rico Rodriguez
Ernest Ranglin
Prince Buster
Lee Perry
Mar 28, 1936 ~
Currently, rightly, seen as a key figure in the development of the form & structure of music, yet alone reggae. In a glorious decade from 1969 to 1979 he produced hundred’s of singles, ten’s of albums and was right there at the genesis of Dub, Sampling and Remixing. He stands with a alongside the likes of Phil Spector or Atlantic & Stax.
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Real name:
Rainford Hugh Perry
Place of birth:
Jamaica
Kendal
Like Bob Marley, Perry was born in the rural majority of Jamaica and moved to Kingston to create a career for himself. He started in the music business with Coxsone Dodd(CS Dodd)'s Studio One set up, for whom he cut over thirty sides in the mid 1960's of Ska and cuts of US R'n'B. He collected his first nick name – 'Scratch' – at Studio One after he had a dub plate hit with 'Chicken Scratch' (a dance record).

Leaving Dodd saw Perry launch the first of many musical missiles – this one to Dodd himself proclaimed 'I Am The Upsetter': Perry had a hit and acquired a lasting epithet. This marked the beginning of a career in which he created many news sounds and styles for reggae as he recorded many artists and then honed his creative process by building his own studio and employing new developments in technology in the recording process.

In his golden decade, from 1969 to 1978, Perry released almost 400 singles, in Jamaica, plus some 50 albums in the UK & JA, whilst over 200 further singles were recorded, at least in part, at his Black Ark studio.

What set Perry apart many Reggae producers was that from the mid 1960's he was an experimenter: he issued his first remixed single in 1968, used sampled sounds in U Roy's first recording 'OK Corral'(from a similar time), used samples of his own recordings to build new tracks and used skat and other noises made by the mouth as an instrument. He was always looking at technology and pushing boundaries could develop his music.

Initially his organ driven instrumentals sold to London's Skinheads but he actually achieved a UK Top 5 with 'Return of Django' in 1969; a tune which reflected his passion for Spaghetti Westerns. UK based Trojan records had given Perry his own 'Upsetters' imprint which saw some one hundred releases over a four year period.

By the early 1970's Perry was an upcoming 'rebel' producer who embraced the growing Rastafarian cult and produced Bob Marley, Wailers, with great JA success as well as artist like Dave Barker & Junior Byles. By late 1973 Perry had built his own 'Black Ark' studio in the garden of his Washington Gardens home, that he shared with Trenchtown born Pauline Morrisson and their family. It was, as he said, 'somewhere the sufferer's' could make their music. It would become the birth place of myth & fable as Perry worked ceaselessly over the next five years. The Black Ark was to become the centre of Rasta musical culture in Kingston with the flow of ghetto artists recording at the Ark – either financed by Perry or paying to use the Studio themselves, usually with Perry as engineer.

It was his early partnership with a Sound System operator and erstwhile mixing Studio owner, Osbourne Rudduck aka King Tubby, that would again find Perry pushing back musical barriers. His '14 Upsetters 14 Dub Black Board Jungle' was one of the first ever 'dub' albums. For the rest of the decade he pushed back the barriers of Dub music.

Perry was also working with such producers as Yabby You, Augustus Pablo, Phil Pratt, Clive Hunt and the Tafari set up –as well as a host of lesser known producers. By 1975 Perry stood squarely at the heart of the Kingston reggae music scene that embraced Rebel ideologies, The Rastafarian faith, Black Power and fashion. His music was a hit on the Sound System scene and he was once again attracting interest from abroad and indeed had a UK chart hit with Susan Cadogan's 'Hurt So Good'

1976 saw the start of a deal with Island in the UK that enabled his music to be fully marketed to students and Punks in London that were sensing change in the direction that music would take. His 'Super Ape' album filled the hash filled rooms to students to the world of swirling dub and his ethereal soundscapes, whilst on the Streets of London Junior Murvin's 'Police & Thieves' became the sound track to the Riot hit Notting Hill Carnival. Likewise Perry's production of Max Romeo's 'War in a Babylon' picked up on the major fault lines developing across London's immigrant communities. Once again Perry found himself at the centre of powerful social forces. Perry had developed a highly recognizable sound with a bouncing Bass, lots of reverb and often quite sharp mixing. Like Phil Spector he was creating a trademark sound on which he could place many different artists.

The agreement with Island faltered after George Faith's album failed to sell and also as the quality and content of Perry's new work was variable or going off in its own direction. After albums from The Congos, Candy McKenzie and Perry's blend of African & Reggae music were all rejected, Perry was once again an independent.

Truth was Perry's music was developing in a very particular direction and that was away from what many understood by Reggae. His 'Return of the Super Ape' album largely baffled people, with its Jazz references.
In truth the pressure of endless sessions driven by Rum & Weed, coupled with dealing with the huge numbers of hangers on at his Studio was driving Perry to a place where he found that if he acted mad or strange he could drive people away. He drove Pauline away and then all of the musicians and then continued to act bizarrely: eventually the Black Ark studio was burned out. Later Perry spoke of the power of Fire to cleanse.

Since the demise of the Black Ark Lee Perry has found a new musical vibe through his work with UK producers Adrian Sherwood and The Mad Professor, after a spell of dealing with his personal demons.
In the over 30 years since the demise of the Black Ark the complete story of his music has been slowly revealed through countless compilations. He has inspired the Bessie Boys, been sampled by The Prodigy and has rightly become part of Rocks, not just Reggaes, history.
 
Related artist(s):
King Tubby
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Description of item
[All Items] → [7"] → [Roots Reggae] → [Nyahbingi Drumming] → [Count Ossie, Mellow Cats]
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vinyl 7" 7"
Count Ossie, Mellow Cats / Lee Perry
Rock A Man Soul / Pronce Is In The Back
Studio One/Collectors Series
¥850 (US$7.81)
Rating: 12345
Genre: Roots Reggae
Sub Genre: Nyahbingi Drumming
Produced by: CS Dodd
Approx. year: 1961
Date added: Dec 22, 2001
Date re-stocked: Feb 14, 2012
Country: Jamaica
Music type: Nyahbinghi B: Ska
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