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Artist Hall of Fame

Ras MichaelText by Harry Hawks

The devotional Rastafarian hymns of praise of Ras Michael & The Sons Of Negus came to prominence in the mid-seventies although their Nyahbinghi based drumming and chanting had exerted a powerful influence on Jamaican music during the previous decade...
Date Added: May 2, 2016 Copyright (C) 2019 Dub Store Sound Inc.
Real Name: Michael George Henry
1943 -
Place of Birth: St. Mary
Jamaica
Related Artist(s):
Sons Of Nigus
Count Ossie
Reggae music has a long standing and well deserved reputation for making manifest an unbroken link with its ancestral and cultural heritage. The influence of Africa was made apparent as early as 1961 when Count Ossie's Afro Combo, his bass drum adorned with Psalm 133 "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity" propelled 'Oh Carolina' by The Folks Brothers to international recognition. The teachings of Marcus Garvey and the influence of the Rastafarian faith have permeated the music since its inception and an eventual return forward (not back) to Africa, "the land of our forefathers", was an aspiration that kept dreams of true freedom alive in rural Jamaica and Kingston's ghettos.

"There is no doubt that Rastafarianism has played a major role in defining Jamaica's idea of itself. "
Kevin O'Brien Chang & Wayne Chen

Born 1943 Michael George Henry, also known as Ras Michael, grew up in a Rastafarian community in the parish of St. Mary and learned to play the repeater drum as a young man before eventually graduating as a master drummer. In the early sixties he left the countryside for Kingston where he settled with a Rastafarian community in the infamous Waterhouse ghetto. The brethren would gather in the yard of a carpenter named Solomon Wolfe, who was also an elder drummer, and play with other elder drummers including Solomon's son Sidney Wolfe, Brother Jack and Brother Martin. Lloyd Brevett, bass player with The Skatalites, and saxophonist Tommy McCook, who was also playing with The Skatalites at this time, would sometimes join in these sessions and give musical tuition. In 1967 Ras Michael began to play occasional recording sessions for Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd(CS Dodd) with Jackie Mittoo and the Soul Vendors at Studio One. His recordings at Brentford Road included the contemplative 'Drum Song' and an adaptation of The Beatles' 'Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)' which, as 'Darker Shade Of Black', would become a reggae standard. Instead of payment for his work Ras Michael requested studio time for recordings for his own Zion Disc productions as the Sons of Negus Churchical Host. Seven inch releases on his Zion Disc in 1967 and 1968, included 'A Psalm Of Praises To The Most High', 'Come Down', 'King's Highway', 'Lion Of Judah', 'There Is A Green Hill Far Away', 'Rejoice', 'Time Is Drawing Nigh' and 'Zion We Want To Go', and all were unequivocal in form and content. The records did not trouble the charts and none were released outside of Kingston where Ras Michael also sponsored two radio programmes, 'Sons Of Negus Churchical Programme' on RJR, which was on air early on Sunday mornings, and 'The Lion of Judah Time' on JBC, to further propagate the message of Rastafari.

"Like reggae is a vision. Reggae is the word that hits at the heartstrings the mind can't control. I and I get the message of Rastafari out through reggae. It is the black music line of message to the world. It is the black Rastaman line of message to the world. It is the metaphorical Black Star Line..."Ras Michael
On 21st April 1966 thousands of Rastafarians had gathered at Kingston's Palisadoes Airport to greet the arrival of Haile Selassie in Jamaica. The Emperor had never rebuked the brethren for their belief in his divinity and his visit proved to be a highly significant step forward for the religion and, after being previously regarded as outcasts, the locksmen were now granted a measure of respectability. As the sixties progressed the sect's influence began to make itself felt outside of rural Jamaica and the Kingston slums and recognition and the acceptance of its philosophy steadily increased. The seventies overground explosion of roots based music allowed Nyahbinghi ensembles to release albums of their music which provided the freedom for them to develop outside the three minute restrictions of a seven inch single.

In 1974 the Sons Of Negus Churchical Host reformed and started to incorporate amplified electric instruments in their line up "laying on electric instruments and modern reggae sensibility, building a hybrid of old and new" and that year they recorded two full length albums. 'Peace & Love' was credited to Dadawah and produced by the multi-talented Lloyd 'Charmers' Tyrell(Lloyd Charmers) for Federal Records' XYZ production set up. It was released on their Wild Flower subsidiary in Kingston in 1974 then through Trojan Records in London the following year. Lloyd was present at the birth of the Jamaican recording industry in the early sixties as a vocalist in The Charmers and was an important and influential figure in each succeeding era of the music as he helped to shape its future with his singing, playing, arranging and production skills. His accumulated musical knowledge was integral to the overall success of this project and subtly shifted the music and ideology previously associated with Rasta meetings closer to the reggae mainstream.

Ras Michael's music incorporated innumerable influences including Gospel spirituals, African chants, Jamaican folk sayings and Biblical references all combined into a totally original, compelling unified Jamaican whole. Another Jamaican musical veteran, Tommy Cowan former lead singer with The Jamaicans who had won the 1967 Festival Song Competition with 'Baba Boom' for Duke Reid's Treasure Isle label, produced the 'Nyahbinghi' album for his Talent Corporation organisation. Arranged by Ras Michael and Tommy Cowan the album was the first to be credited to Ras Michael & The Sons Of Negus and was released on Starapple in Kingston and Trojan in London. These albums proved pivotal in establishing Rastafarian reggae as a formidable artistic and spiritual force and "truly established Ras Michael & The Sons Of Negus as major recording artistes". In 1975 they rode high in the Jamaican hit parade with their mesmerising Starapple seven inch release, 'None A Jah Jah Children No Cry', and the record was also a very big seller in the UK where it was released, appropriately enough, on the Grounation label.

Although a number jumped on board the Rasta bandwagon at this time Sons Of Neguse Sons Of Negus could never be accused of following fashion and their popularity continued from strength to strength throughout the seventies. Their appearance at Kingston's One Love Peace Concert in 1978, albums including 'Freedom Sounds', 'Tribute To The Emperor', 'Movements', 'Kibir Am Lak (Glory To God)' and the acclaimed 'Love Thy Neighbour' imbued with the signature sound of Lee 'Scratch' Perry(Lee Perry)'s Black Ark studio, were affirmations of faith and invitations to the uninitiated. Ras Michael never ceased to make music and record and has now released over twenty albums to date. Currently based in California he also acts as an ambassador and diplomat for the Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahido Church and is one of the founders, and president, of the Rastafarian International/Marcus Garvey Culture Center in Los Angeles and the Fly Away Culture Centre in Kingston. In 2015 the Jamaican government announced that he was to be awarded the Order of Distinction in recognition of Ras Michael's contribution to the development of the country's music.

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
Stephen Davis & Peter Simon: Reggae Bloodlines – Anchor Books 1977
Amy Jacques Garvey: The Philosophy & Opinions Of Marcus Garvey or Africa For The Africans
The Majority Press 1986 (first published in 1923 & 1925)
David Katz: People Funny Boy The Genius Of Lee 'Scratch' Perry Payback Press 2000
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

Laurence Cane-Honeysett: Liner Notes
Ras Michael & The Sons Of Negus Dadawah – Peace & Love/Nyahbinghi Trojan CD TRL 400 1998

※日本語訳掲載なし
May 2, 2016 Text by Harry Hawks
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