Piece: Postcards From Jamaica #3 – Tribute to Count Ossie

April 11, 2010

Andy’s back with more reportage on life in Jamaica, this time with a report on what looks (and sounds) a perfect night out…

Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari: there are not many better names for groups. I found some footage on You Tube this week of an amazing Tribute to Count Ossie night that I went to towards the end of last year. It was put on by Nambo Robinson, one of the unsung heroes of Jamaican music. If you pick up any reggae album with a horn section on it there’s a good chance Nambo and his long-term partner, saxophonist Dean Fraser, are on there. Their horns have featured on countless classic albums by the likes of Dennis Brown, Burning Spear, Bob Marley, I Roy, The Light of Saba and Sly and Robbie.

The session was held in the breathtaking setting of the terrace of the old plantation house on Templehall Estate, north of Kingston. Walking across the fields in the dark to get to the house reminded me of the thrill of approaching an outdoor party but with the nyabinghi drums calling you in rather than the throb of bass.

It was a moving and celebratory night of Count Ossie’s music and the incredible influence it had on the development of ska and reggae. Nambo recalled how, “As a youth at about age five or seven, I had just moved to Glasspole Avenue at the foot of Wareika Hills, Rockfort. It was one night during the Christmas holidays I heard the drums of Rastafari for the first time in my life and I could not sleep. I kept wondering who were those people playing. When I asked my Mama ‘a who dem people a mek dem soun’ deh?’ and said I wanted to go see them, she said, ‘no yu cyaan go up deh. Dem a smoke weed an a celebrate fi de New Year.’” He did get to go and listen to Count Ossie and the drummers and horn players, eventually becoming one himself. “I soon found that every emotion I felt could be expressed through the music of Rastafari.”

The evening was in three parts. The first featured the surviving members of the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, including Count Ossie’s son, and focused on the bare essence of their sound – drumming and chanting.

The middle section brought together Nambo’s band for a blazing selection of Studio One classics including ‘Armageddon Time’, ‘Skylarking’ and many others. Check this version of ‘Rockfort Rock’ with Dean Fraser on baritone sax.

The nyabinghi, horn and rhythm sections combined in the final section showcasing the jazz-influenced side of Count Ossie’s work. I couldn’t find any video of this part, but I did find this beautiful clip from 1974 showing Count Ossie’s group at the height of their powers with Cedric Im Brooks on soprano sax. Almost Balearic…

All in all, one of the most memorable concerts I’ve ever been to. Shame it was only witnessed by 100 lucky heads. The flame is still alive, but it’s flickering…

[Andy M]

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