Jamaican Music icons and Reggae pioneers singer/songwriter Ernie Smith and DJ/songwriter Big Youth were both awarded Congressional Citations from the United States Congress and Certificates of Recognition from David Patterson, Governor of the state of New York for their contributions to the development of Reggae. Ernie Smith also received the Pinnacle Award for Excellence in recognition of more than 40 years of outstanding work, from The Coalition to Preserve Reggae Music(CPR) at the Salute to the Foundation, the sixth annual Reggae Culture Salute at Nazareth Hall in Brooklyn on Saturday October 25th, 2010. Reggae Culture Salute was held also in recognition of the 80th year of the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.
The Congressional Citations were presented to both by the congresswoman from Brooklyn’s 11th congressional district United States representative Yvette Clarke. Clarke, the daughter of former New York state assembly woman and democrat Una Clarke, was responsible for securing the Citations from the US House of Representatives. Yvette Clarke both read the proclamations and made the presentation to both Smith and Youth. Clarke acknowledged the two artists for their “pioneering work” in developing and spreading the music beyond the shores of Jamaica” and how their work has galvanized reggae lovers across the world. A humble but not chastened Big Youth noted “It is my honor to be honored,” … “but what I really want is a reward. Most people call you to work but don’t want to pay you, so God Bless the Coalition.”
Radio broadcaster Sharon Gordon from CPR presented the certificates of recognition from New York’s Governor, David Patterson. She also presented the highest award offered by CPR, the Pinacle Award (named after Jamaica’s first Rastafarian settlement, in St Catherine, Jamaica which the authorities destroyed in the mid 1950s) Ernie Smith. Smith, who was visibly moved to tears, said “I didn’t have to struggle in Rastafari … “so this is for the brethren who survived the persecution and made Rastafari what it is today, a religion to be respected in any man’s language.”
The Evening’s event also paid tribute, in the form of video presentations to two recently departed reggae icons–Dance Hall Godfather Sugar Minott, who died this past July and the Cool Ruler of Lover’s Rock Gregory Isaacs who died on October 25th, 2010–and live performances in song from Minott protégé Japanese DJ Nahki, Brooklyn DJ Mikey ‘Mack Daddy’ Jarret.
Rastafarian drumming corp. Ancient Vibrations, featuring master drummer Junior Wedderburn, who took time off from the Broadway production of the Lion King, kicked of the evening proceedings with nyiabinghi drumming and chanting. Wedderburn emphasized the importance of retaining this rich culture and passing it on to the next generation. While the Anthem band along with veteran Saxman Douglas Guthrie performed and played for Mystic Bowie, then singer Tony Tuff, who made short work with his choppy short set. He roused the crowd with his 80’s hit “Mash We Come Fi Mash.’
Ernie Smith, who won the Grand Prix International Award for Best Song at Japan’s Yamaha Music Festival in 1972, demonstrated why he is one of the most durable and proficient singer/songwriters in music. With a baritone as deep, heavy and mellifluous as it was 40 years ago, he sauntered through hits like Bend Down, I Can’t Take It, One Dream, Sunday Morning, Life is Just for Living, Duppy or Gun Man, and Ride on Sammy. He closed with songs from his new album, Country Mile.
Big Youth, aka ‘Reggae Phenomenon’ who is respected and revered is described by the Encyclopedia of Popular Music as ‘reggae cognoscenti.’ He was the first Rasta DJ to bring, via his lyrical references to Rastafari way of life and the flashing of his dreadlocks onstage to popular music in Jamaica. These played a significant part in presenting the Rastafarian faith within mainstream Jamaica.
With songs like ‘Natty Cultural Dread’, Isaiah First Prophet of Old’, ‘Manifestation’, and ‘I Pray Thee.’ Big Youth according to the Encyclopedia of Rock “Represents(ed) the authentic sound of the ghetto … set new standards for DJs to say something constructive on record.” He led the emerging uprising Rasta consciousness in the early 1970’s that was capturing the imagination of the youth, or as he told me in an interview “when Bob Marley was leading a Soul Revolution I was leading the Jahwawa rock movement.” Dubbed “The Human Gleaner,” by the Encyclopedia of Rock, a reference to The Jamaica Gleaner one of Jamaica’s leading newspapers, because “it was from his records that many young Jamaicans learnt what was going on in society around them” and at one point he had five of the top-ten Jamaican singles.
He was the first Rasta artist to perform at a reggae concert at Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum in 1974 along with the Scorch dance Group. The Encyclopedia of Rock, described him as a “stylistic and artistic innovator of the highest order” and an “important pioneer” – this by the Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Big Youth’s style made him one the most popular artiste in Jamaica, where his fame and record sales rivaled his contemporary Bob Marley.
In late 1970’s Big Youth in his song Green Bay Killing was the first artiste to utterly condemn one of the most regrettable political massacres in Jamaica’s history, the Green Bay killing. Unarmed ghetto youths set up by the authorities and indiscriminately slaughtered by the security forces, including Big Youth’s brethren and national soccer player Norman ‘Gutto’ Thompson. Bob Marley would later address the Green Bay killing in his seminal song ‘Time Will Tell.’ In an interview with Phillip Smart and I on WNYU 89.1FM Big Youth told us of having his life threatened by agents of the state due to his outspokenness and having to step back in order to come forward later. He emerged even more determined and defiant in the 1980’s with his album ‘A Luta Continua’ (The Struggle Continues) in support of the Southern Africa struggle.
On stage Big Youth’s energy belied his 60 years; save the white mane beard and silver-grey-hair he showed very little signs of aging. And his unorthodox dance style was vintage Jah Youth. At times seemingly not sure what to do with himself his performance at RCS took this writer ‘back to my youth days in Jamaica at Gaynstead High School when his sound system referred to as ‘his mightiness Emperor Lord’ Tippa Tone Hi-Fi reigned.
Drawing on Rasta iconography his catalogue of roots and cultural, religious and black conscious hits from the early 1970’s he cajoled and mesmerized his audience. He preached ‘I Pray Thee’ on the Sattamassagana Rthymn. Jah Youth crooned on his movie soundtrack “Every Nigger is a Star’, wailed on ‘Ten against One’ and ‘Screaming Target.’ He chilled out on ‘Cool Breeze’ (Stop that Train Rthymn) track, was fierce on ‘Dreader than Dread’ and he forewarned of the effects of remote control on our lives (in the 70’s before remote control existed) on ‘Jim Screechy’ (the Stalag Rthymn). As Big Youth belted out ‘so don’t you ride like lightening…cause man if you ride like lightening you will crash like thunder ‘on S-90 Skank on his first hit a female a volunteer came on stage and simulated the S-90 skank dance that elicited roars of approval from the large and appreciative crowd. When he drew for his 1976 hit, Ray Charles’ ‘Hit the Road Jack’, the audience erupted. His son Tafari then joined him on stage for two songs, Jah Youth took time out to pay tribute to his friend and early mentor Gregory ‘Tooth’ Isaacs. He referred to Gregory as a kind soul who was always willing to help those in need and thanked him for being one of the first to offer him the opportunity to be on record. Youth also lamented the tragedy of Isaacs’s drug addiction and how it hurt his career and image as a Rasta man.
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Read Stan E Smith Entertainment News Weekly Column:
Online: Westindiantimes.net Music Writer (Virginia Beach VA)
Jamaicans.com. Senior Music Writer, (Fl.)
Everybodys Magazine Contributing Editor, (NYC)
Jahworks.org Music Writer, (Oakland CA)