Few original artists from the golden era of reggae are still around, let alone performing – which makes the two appearances next week in Israel of Burning Spear all the more special.
The 78-year-old Spear, or Winston Rodney, has been a mainstay of pure-roots reggae for nearly four decades, and more than 25 albums, basing his songs on the gospel of Jamaican political activist Marcus Garvey.
A contemporary of reggae’s golden star Bob Marley, Spear made his first foray into music thanks to advice given to him by Marley.
Entering the reggae golden era
Both were living in the St. Ann’s parish of Jamaica in the mid-1960s, and as Spear recounted on his official website in his native dialect, “The way the whole thing came about is that 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.’”
He was referring to Kingston’s iconic recording studio, Studio One. Spear recorded there for the next decade, including his first two albums Burning Spear and Rocking Time.
Meanwhile, Marley and his colleagues in The Wailers (Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston) released two albums (Catch A Fire and Burning) on Island Records in 1973, which introduced reggae to the world. By 1975, the world was also ready for Spear, who achieved breakthrough success with his classic album, Marcus Garvey, which was also released by Island Records.
More albums followed, including 1977’s Dry and Heavy and 1978’s Social Living. His 1985 album, Resistance, was nominated for a Grammy. He took two Grammys home, in 1999 for Calling Rastafari and in 2000 for Jah is Real. In addition, there have been numerous live albums, owing to Spear’s extensive touring over the decades.
Although the music of his eight-piece Burning Band is still firmly rooted in reggae, they’ve expanded the sound to encompass jazz, funk, and even psychedelia.
A review in the Financial Times of Spear’s show last year in London described a “majestic performance” in which the singer was “fluctuating between wailing laments and righteous sermons that admonished in an avuncular tone to live a righteous life. Sometimes, after standing motionless like Mount Rushmore, he would call out: ‘Talk to me people,’ and the place would erupt.”
The years have slowed Spear down, and in 2016 he announced his retirement, but has emerged several times since then for short tours or one-off performances.
His shows next week in Israel – the first time he’s performing in Israel in 30 years – will take place on August 14 at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv and the following night at the Isaac Ochberg Park in Megiddo, with special guest Ehud Banai.
Tickets are available at www.eventim.co.il/en/event/burning-spear and www.barby.co.il/hazmen_cards.aspx?id=4535&fr=1.