News, reviews and commentary on afrobeat and related music from Africa, The Caribbean and The Americas

Friday, May 26, 2006

Reggae Innovator Desmond Dekker Dies at 64

By Robert Fox

Reggae and ska pioneer Desmond Dekker of Jamaica died of a heart attack yesterday at his home in England. He was 64. One of the inventors of reggae, he is best known for the smash hits “The Israelites” and “007 (Shanty Town)” but he released a string of winning singles and albums over an influential career that extended for more than 40 years.

Dekker originally worked as a welder alongside Bob Marley in the early 1960s, and he was enormously popular in Jamaica and Britain before achieving global fame with the release of the film “The Harder They Come” in 1972.

All Music Guide summarizes the impact of Desmond Dekker:
Probably no other Jamaican artist has brought more international acclaim to his island home than Desmond Dekker, barring, of course, Bob Marley, but Dekker came first. Most people's introduction to the island's unique musical sound came via the singer's many hits, most notably "The Israelites" and "007 (Shanty Town)." Needless to say, he was even more influential in his homeland.
Tributes to Dekker are appearing worldwide, for example this excerpt from a Reuters obituary:
In 1969, he enjoyed his biggest success with the propulsive reggae classic "Israelites," four years before Marley truly brought reggae into the mainstream. The song's hard-luck lyrics -- "Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir" -- delivered in Dekker's mellifluous voice, resonated around the world. It topped the charts in the U.K. and many other countries, and reached the top 10 in the United States.

"It's about how hard things were for a lot of people in Jamaica -- downtrodden, like the Israelites that led Moses to the Promised Land," Dekker said in the liner notes for the 2005 career retrospective "You Can Get It If You Really Want."

"I was really saying, don't give up, things will get better if you just hold out long enough."
The BBC has a nice tribute to Desmond Dekker (“he introduced ska to the world”), as well as a retrospective by reggae DJ Mark Lamar (“Dekker was always magnificent”). The BBC is also featuring a personal memoir by reggae DJ Brinsely Ford, former frontman for the reggae group Aswad, which includes the following:
The last time I saw him perform live would have been a few years ago, and he was absolutely incredible. He was up and down the stage like nobody's business - I was actually quite shocked at his energy. He was still commanding the audience - half of them probably weren't born when those songs were popular, and they were totally into him.
People I have spoken to since his death, you mention Desmond Dekker and they say, 'Who?' Then you start singing the songs and they go, 'Yes, I know that song'. The work that he has left will live on for years and years. There is great wealth of musicians and artists that we listen to now but don't recognise that they listened to Desmond Dekker's music and were influenced by it.
It may never fully be recognised and appreciated, but I am sure he has done a great service for music.
You can check out Desmond Dekker’s official website here.

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