Photo courtesy of VP Records
Reggae is music and much more. It's a rhythm set to a poor mans cry, a
pledge from singer to struggler that better must come. No other reggae singer
today delivers that promise with as much grace, power, and heart as Jamaican baritone
Luciano. Serve Jah, his latest set, offers 16 tracks of buoyant inspiration that builds on
his previous best-selling CDs 95's Life, 97's The Messenjah, and 99's Sweep Over My Soul.
Both this new album and Luciano's career story testify to the depth and constancy of the
singer-songwriters human commitment.
Ever since Bob Marley left this plane in 1981, at age 35, reggae had been
searching for another prophet. That position comes at a heavy price. Marley himself
survived a gunshot wound; his children still receive death threats. The late Dennis Brown
reigned as Reggae Prince for a while, until industry abuses and a tenacious drug habit
wore away at his talent. The thrilling voice of Garnet Silk was silenced when he died in a
suspicious fire in late 1994. Into the void created by those loses - and too many others -
came 95s prayerful hit, Its Me Again Jah, a stunning
expression of pain and piety that seemed to have been ripped from its writer-singer's
soul. With that single song, a 30 year-old upholsterer from Manchester parish became
reggae's Annointed One. Born as Jephter McClymount and renamed Luciano for his luxuriant,
near operatic vocal gifts, Luciano's several previous albums for producers Castor Brown
and Freddie McGregor (also a legendary singer) had stirred scarcely a ripple. They were
recorded during this self-styled "struggler's" second stint in Jamaica's music
capital, Kingston. After his first but unsuccessful stay in the city, Luciano had returned
to Manchester to sell food in the market place. The second time he tried to make it in
music, "I came with more seriousness," he says. "I started doing
upholstery, then went to the studios for work."
It's Me Again reflected its maker's struggles and newfound depth,
and it struck a chord deep in the reggae consciousness. More uniquely radiant songs
followed in quick succession, among them "Lord Give Me Strength," "Your
World and Mine," and "Heaven Help Us All." It was soon clear that reggae's
new hero was drawing from a bottomless well, and millions of international reggae fans
happily succumbed to Luciano rapture. The U.K. branch of Island Records, the label that
introduced Marley to the world, hastily signed Luciano through his home Xterminator label.
Where There Is Life, released in '95, corralled Luciano's hit single, plus equally
luminous new tracks, for one of the greatest reggae albums ever. The skys the
limit for Luciano, you could take him anywhere, said legendary drummer/producer Sly
Dunbar, who arranged and played on the album.
But Luciano remained earthbound, that is, another reggae secret. He toured in
the U.S. and the U.K. in support of Life, but Xterminator, who also managed, produced, and
booked him and served as surrogate family - stuck to areas heavily populated with
Jamaicans. In97, Island, together with VP Records and Xterminator, released
Lucianos sophomore Messenjah set. With tracks like "Never Give Up My Pride,
"How Can You," and "Carry Jah Load," the album was a worthy follow-up
to Life. Again, the album tour stuck to the usual reggae circuit.
|Once you've seen Luciano live in performance, you've
witnessed reggae church at its most exhilarating, but without playing to alt rock and pop
audiences, Luciano remained a secret to all but millions of reggae's already-convinced.
A man can have an impact from his little corner, this humble man once has
That was a few years ago, and time has wrought changes. "My
life has been likes a storm," Luciano succinctly observes. Today, the sun shines, and
Luciano's direction is forward
in every direction. He's left Xterminator
taking the fabled Firehouse band with him. Back in 97, as Luciano fever was settling
into a chronic condition, the youngest Xterminator member, a firebrand named Sizzla, lit
his own worldwide bonfire with lucid songwriting delivered in a mesmerizing, poetic
chanting style. But when Sizzla's live, between-song diatribes began creating rifes within
the Rastafarian community, Xterminators family ties unraveled.
"One pen cyann [cant] hold two bull [cq]," Luciano succinctly
explained. "I'll tell you the honest truth as a philosphical, Christian-like
messenger on earth, I will not be hypocritical about certain things. After a while, me get
[cq] to realize that the philosophy of Sizzla was changing toward another dimension. What
I stood for all this time as a righteous singer and a spiritual man in Creation was being
threatened by the overall aura of my brother. We all falter sometimes and transgress from
the way of life and change side [cq]. But who don't [cq] know God's love have [cq] to take
time out and search deep. It's not just about becoming involved in the music fraternity,
'cause at the end of the day, many people sing this and that and one got burnt, one got
shot, one got poisoned. If we don't learn from all these things, something would be
lacking in I and I [cq] own heart and mind. And once you say something must be done, you
must do it."
Luciano has no regrets and acknowledges the benefits of his Xterminator period.
"I have to say foundation is foundation and you cannot remove that," he says.
"I have to give thanks for the work that Philip Burrell [Xterminator's head] did and
all my Xterminator compareros. But we're like a tree and some grew new branches. I'm
sending out my own roots at this time as a young vibrant tree. The work is the same; you
just move from one place to another. I have to spearhead many things and make sure the
work is lined up with my own philosophy."
So, while some roots reggae artists continue to shrink reggae's once-generous
vision, Luciano is intensifying his humanitarian commitment. Sweep Over My Soul yielded a
hit in its title track and "Ulterior Motive," a tune in which Luciano shared a
hard lesson about reggae stardom. At the same time, Luciano was looking beyond the
Jamaican music industry. Unlike many who only write about Motherland roots, Luciano
actually collaborated with Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal and his Dande Lenol band on
"Africans Unite," for Maal's '98 Nomad Soul album. Luciano then visited Maal in
Dakar, and appeared onstage with the singer and his Dande Lenol band during at the '99 Air
Jamaica Jazz & Blues festival, essaying challenging Sengalese "Sabar" dance
moves and lending background harmonies.
Biography courtesy of VP
The Music of