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

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dubwise: U-Roy The Originator

By Robert Fox

U-Roy has been a major presence in my sonic landscape over the last few months. The godfather of toasting and hip-hop pioneer, he created some of the most memorable tracks in the history of reggae. Collaborating with an incredible list of musicians over the years, U-Roy virtually invented a whole new genre of music. It's still as fresh today as ever. Once these songs get into your head, they never come out. 

Background from All Music Guide:
"Known as the Originator, U-Roy wasn't the first DJ, nor even the first to cut a record, but he was the first to shake the nation and he originated a style so distinctly unique that he single-handedly changed his homeland's music scene forever...His toasts were utterly relaxed and conversational, yet always in perfect synchronicity with the rhythms."
And from Trouser Press:
"Just as dub reggae anticipated funk and rock remixes, toasters — chanting reggae DJs — prefigured rap. U-Roy (Ewart Beckford) was one of Jamaica's first DJs to graduate from sound systems to chart success in the late '60s. (Indeed, for several weeks early in 1970, he had three records — "Wear You to the Ball," "Wake the Town" and "Rule the Nation" — atop the charts on Jamaica's two radio stations.) His signature style is plain and direct: he shrieks and chants over the instrumental tracks of other hits, interrupting and talking back to the vocals. When he first appeared, such musical antics were unprecedented on record, and he became an immediate sensation. While it can't be said that U-Roy invented toasting, he's considered the style's godfather, and an inarguable reggae pioneer."
Behold this priceless footage of U-Roy toasting "Versions Galore," which was originally recorded for the 1973 Trojan release of the same name, produced by Duke Reid ("Versions galore, you can hear them by the score, I could give you some more for sure..."). Amazing--this is what the invention of rap looks like!:

And how about this gem from the Heartland Reggae documentary--U-Roy at the peak of his powers (and dig the threads!):

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