State Bridge catches a fire
For a man who’s spent 35 years singing the praises of Jah and the freedom of Jamaica’s Rastafari faith, musician Burning Spear has spent much of that time in unhappy bondage.Like many artists, Spear’s dealings with the music industry have been a largely unpleasant affair, ranging from bad record deals to managers and contracts that ended up costing the performer despite hundreds of shows a year and healthy record sales for four decades.Spear (born Winston Rodney) says all of that has changed as he’s finally become an independent musician. And his new CD, “Freeman,” amply sums up the joy he’s felt finally getting away from the business end of the music business.”I feel much stronger now … my head is much clearer,” Spear said. “I’d been through a lot of ups and downs with record companies and now I just simply feel free. We put out the CD ourselves and we have distribution in the United States and in Europe and that makes life easy for us. Things have been going very well.”
Spear, who earned a Grammy award for 2001’s “Calling Rastafari,” took a considerably different path en route to releasing the new CD. Spear and band recorded the CD in the legendary Harry J’s Studios in Jamaica, the same place where Spear did many of his original recordings in the early 1970s. For the project – which was actually recorded before the release of “Calling Rastafari” – Spear also enlisted some of his musical mates from the old days and beyond, including “Horsemouth” Wallace, percussionists Sticky and Skyjuice and bassist Chris Meredith. All are given plenty of mileage on “Freeman’s” track “Old School,” which gloriously talks about the early years of Spear’s career.”We really did go back to the old school, spending time at the old studio and using some old musicians who first played with Burning Spear,” he says. “It was very exciting … and it kind of felt like a mingling of old and new.”Spear has been known as one of the reggae world’s most influential figures for years, with a hypnotic stage presence, positive lyrics and a driving, powerful sound that’s made him friends across the world. Growing up in the parish of St. Ann’s, the same area of Jamaica that spawned reggae godhead Bob Marley, Spear recorded his first single, 1969’s “Door Peep,” for the famed Studio One label. Legend has it that Spear crossed paths with Marley himself on the way to record his first single and got directions and a bit of encouragement from the emerging reggae star.With the albums “Burning Spear” and “Rocking Time” under his belt, Spear began to work for Island Records in the 1970s, releasing favorites such as “Marcus Garvey,” “Man in the Hills” and “Garvey’s Ghost” – and making his devotion for Jamaican-born black rights fighter Garvey well known.Over the years, Spear’s also managed to attract a diverse following, something he reflects in his new song “Rock and Roll.”
“I appreciate all the musicians who can take a turn with music but still maintain the roots of the music. I like rock ‘n’ roll and I know that a lot of rock ‘n’ roll fans and musicians are into Spear, so to me, putting a little rock ‘n’ roll in the music is like a spice I put in my pot.”And while Spear continues his righteous path, performing hundreds of shows a year across the globe, he says he’s a little concerned with the state of the music he loves – and its future.”Reggae is changing and becoming a different kind of music, and while changes have always been a part of reggae, I think we need more singers who focus on the real way reggae started – telling stories about people’s struggle for freedom. Today’s music doesn’t speak about these things. Hopefully we’ll see someone come along to help maintain the international reputation of reggae, but truthfully I don’t see many young people out there who are trying.”Burning Spear brings his musical experience to State Bridge tonight at 7:30. Tickets and information are available at http://www.statebridge.com.
Calling RastafariWhat: Burning SpearWhen: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.Where: State Bridge, BondTickets: $20; visit http://www.statebridge.com