In commemoration of Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence from Britain, the Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment section recognises 50 persons who made significant, yet unheralded, contributions to the country’s culture. This week we feature singer Rico Rodriquez.
‘HORNSMEN ’ dominated the early years of Jamaican music. Don Drummond, Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, Headley Bennett and Bobby Ellis arranged or played on numerous ska or rocksteady hits.
While not as prolific as a hitmaker, trombonist Rico Rodriquez is certainly among the most influential musicians Jamaica has produced. His 1977 jazz/reggae album, Man From Wareika, is a masterpiece.
Rodriquez was born in Cuba, but came to Jamaica as a boy. Like Drummond, McCook, Bennett and Ellis, he attended the Alpha Boys’ School where he developed his skill as a musician.
Jamming with Rastafari drummer Count Ossie in the Wareika Hills above Rockfort in east Kingston, was another similarity Rodriquez shared with Drummond and McCook. Those impromptu sessions broadened his social awareness and influenced the music he would create in the 1970s.
Rodriquez moved to England in the early 1960s, but before leaving Jamaica, played on hit songs by harmony group the Jiving Juniors (Over The River) and rising singer/producer Prince Buster. He remained busy in the 1970s, working with acts like Burning Spear.
His biggest statement, however, is Man From Wareika, inspired by his time with Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari. Recorded in Kingston and London, it spawned powerful songs like Africa and Lumumba, a moving tribute to Patrice Lumumba, slain president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“I would say that was the first album I was able to perform to the best of my ability,” Rodriquez told American writer David Katz. “The first things that came to me were the things that I family used to play in Wareika Hills with Count Ossie and Don Drummond.”
Man From Wareika was eventually picked up for distribution by the legendary American jazz label, Blue Note.
Now 77, Rodriquez still lives in England where he performs and records sporadically.