Burning desire 

Reggae legend shows no sign of cooling down


Who: Burning Spear with Bedouin Soundclash

Where: Buffalo Bill’s

When: Tuesday, Sept. 7

Tickets: $45

The word "legend" gets tossed around lightly these days. My Australian colleague, for example, declares me a legend if I lend him a pen.

Outside Aussie slang the term carries a bit more weight.

In the world of reggae music, it’s the ultimate honour. It implies a peer-ship with the man whose dredlocked image has adorned a billion dorm rooms. Bob Marley – Legend – the title of a celebrated greatest hits album, and a tribute befitting a man whose music and ideas continue to transcend his untimely death at the age of 36.

Call a reggae musician a legend and it is no small thing.

The L-word often shows up in regards to Marley contemporary and fellow reggae pioneer Burning Spear.

The artist accepts good-naturedly.

"I am comfortable with all the good names," Spear remarks. "As long as it’s good. As long as it’s clean and not dirty, I am comfortable with it."

He’s a true contemporary. Born one month after Marley in 1945 in the same Parish of St. Ann’s in Jamaica, he claims it was Marley who advised the pre-stage named Winston Rodney on how to start recording.

So goes the story as previously recalled by Spear: "I found myself moving along up in the hills of St. Ann’s and I ran into Bob at the same time and Bob was going to his farm. The man was moving with a donkey and some buckets and a fork and cutlass and plants. We just reason man-to-man and I-man say wherein I would like to get involved in the music business. And Bob say, ‘all right, just check Studio One.’"

The casual encounter with "Bob" was the start of a 35-year recording career. Shortly before the release of his 1969 Studio One debut Door Peep Rodney found his artistic nom de guerre – Burning Spear – a reference to political activist Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of the republic of Kenya.

Fire and passion continued to characterize the artist’s work after he left Studio One to record with Island Records in the 1970s, his early works championing the cause of self-determination and self-reliance for oppressed African descendants through infectious reggae rhythms.

Spear continued to record throughout the next decades, receiving a Grammy award for 1999’s Calling Rastafari .

In 2002 at the age of 57 Burning Spear was burning stronger than ever. He turned his focus to the business side of his music and decided to practice his ideals of self-determination on his career. Together with his wife and partner Sonia Rodney he launched Burning Spear Records and under the new independent label, went on to release the 2003 album Free Man .

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