'Our Music': New Reggae from Burning Spear If Bob Marley is the "king of reggae," then next in that royal lineage is Winston Rodney — known internationally as Burning Spear. His new CD, Our Music, features the same bright, organic sound that's earned him fans for 35 years.

'Our Music': New Reggae from Burning Spear

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Mr. WINSTON RODNEY: I and I, the son of the most high, Jah Rastafari. Our hearts shall correspond and beat in one harmony. Sounds from the Burning Spear.

ED GORDON, host:

If Bob Marley is the king of reggae, then next in that royal lineage is Winston Rodney, known internationally as Burning Spear. The two met as young musicians in the late 1960s, passing each other in a field in Jamaica. Marley encouraged Rodney to head to a studio and tape some songs. For Rodney and the rest of reggae, it was good advice.

(Soundbite of music)

BURNING SPEAR: (Singing) Door peep shall not enter? This is a holy land. Where wise and a true man stand sipping from the cup of peace.

GORDON: Walter Rodney named his band and eventually himself Burning Spear. And after 35 years of Grammy Award-winning reggae, Rodney's fire isn't going out anytime soon. NPR's Christopher Johnson has this profile.


Winston Rodney's career began like so many other Jamaican artists in the 1960s, with American music.

Mr. RODNEY: I usually listen to various kind of singers. Curtis Mayfield was my favorite. James Brown, Tina Turner, queen of soul, I started to get that musical essence from that time before I even do my first song.

JOHNSON: But Rodney and his Jamaican peers were creating something fresh and distinctly island. The polyrhythms crept with a slow, smokey crunch, the percussion pounded right in the chest like the human heartbeat, they said. And it was alive just like that, this new sound they called reggae.

Mr. RODNEY: You know, we could feel each other, that care for each other was there. It's not like we were thinking that I'm the man and you is not the man. All of us was the man, you know. All of us was working together, all of us was enjoying each other music, each other lyrics. It was a real strong, clean family.

JOHNSON: Rodney formed his own musical family with singing partners Rupert Willington and Delroy Hines. They called their group Burning Spear. The name was a tribute to Jomo Kenyatta, the Kenyan freedom fighter and former president who used the same moniker. It was the perfect title for a band whose 1972 debut album, called "Studio One Presents Burning Spear," was fit with themes of resistance, liberation and Afrocentricity.

(Soundbite of music)

BURNING SPEAR: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible).

JOHNSON: Burning Spear's music was also spiritual. Rodney drew lots of his ideas from a popular religious movement called Rastafari. The Rastafarians revered Ethiopia's former emperor Haile Selassie as god incarnate. Many Rastas, including Rodney, also held to the writings of Marcus Garvey. The itinerant Jamaican activist stressed global black solidarity and racial pride.

Mr. RODNEY: You rise up from nowhere and show the world that black people can be treated as black people, as a nation, always hear a bell ringing, you know, like Marcus Garvey bell keep ringing in my head. So each time I'm going to the studio, something about Marcus keep coming out.

(Soundbite of instrumental music)

JOHNSON: One of Burning Spear's first major hits was a song simply named "Marcus Garvey."

(Soundbite of "Marcus Garvey")

BURNING SPEAR: (Singing) Marcus Garvey has come to town. Marcus Garvey has come to town. Can't get no food to eat, can't get no money to spend. Whoa, can't get no food to eat...

JOHNSON: The trio split in the mid-'70s but Rodney kept the name Burning Spear. In 1977, Rodney played his first of many shows in London, backed by the British band Aswad. But Rodney just as strong without a band. His performance in the Jamaican film "Rockers" showcased Rodney's acappella talent.

(Soundbite from "Rockers")

Mr. RODNEY: The lion, the lion decrowned their king. The lion, the lion decrowned their king. ...(Unintelligible) Africa.

JOHNSON: Over the next decade, Rodney frequently changed his band members and his record label, but he was always on tour. The 1988 album "Live In Paris," captures Rodney giving the kind of hypnotic live performance he's famous for, even today.

(Soundbite from "Live in Paris")

Mr. RODNEY: Are you ready, Paris, for the Burning Spear? Burning Spear, go.

(Soundbite of instrumental music)

Mr. RODNEY: When I'm on stage, I might say, `Don't know who am I.' Many times the music take me places, take me into a depth I could feel a sensation and the gravity and the inspiration of the people just beginning. It's a connection.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RODNEY: (Singing) So, behold, a spear burning over yonder. So, behold, a spear burning over yonder.

JOHNSON: The "Live in Paris" album earned Rodney a Grammy nomination, but it wasn't until 1999 that Burning Spear won the trophy for "Calling Rastafari." It's one of nearly 30 albums Rodney has put out since he and Bob Marley crossed paths in St. Ann's Parish in the late '60s. The title track of Spear's newest disk is a nod to the original community of reggae artists, including Marley, that shaped what is now a global sound. It's called "Our Music."

Mr. RODNEY: Our music. We already create that music. Now when you depending on record company, they put you in a spot where you always going to be dependant on them to do a lot of things for you. I'm not going to give it up to them. No way, we're going to lose this music.

(Soundbite of "Our Music")

BURNING SPEAR: (Singing) Our music, can't think that we're losing. Our music ...(unintelligible) that we're losing.

JOHNSON: This is Rodney's second album out on Burning Music, the record label he runs together with his wife of 24 years. He hopes to one day to pass the business on to some of his several children and grandchildren. But the 57-year-old Rodney, with his head full of long, graying dreadlocks, probably won't slow down even after retirement. He works out every day, lifting weights, playing soccer and running for miles at a time. For his fitness, his family and especially for his art, Rodney thanks the god he calls Jah.

Mr. RODNEY: This is what Jah want I to be. It's Jah wish. Possibly if I was thinking to be something else, it would not work. You know, I didn't say I wanted to do music. I didn't tell no one that I wanted to be a musician.

(Soundbite of music)

BURNING SPEAR: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) almost every day.

JOHNSON: Christopher Johnson, NPR News, Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music)

BURNING SPEAR: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) never. ...(Unintelligible) disturbance...

GORDON: You can learn more about Burning Spear and listen to cuts from his latest album on our Web site at npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

BURNING SPEAR: (Singing) Never. No, you should never, you should never, you should never, never, never, never, never...

GORDON: Thanks for joining us. That's our program today. To listen to this show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of music)

BURNING SPEAR: (Singing) Never. Never you point with your finger, never, never you, never you, never you. No, you should never, never, never, never, never, never, never. No you should never, you should never. You should never, never, never...

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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