Chaka Demus and Pliers — murder they wrote

By Howard Campbell Observer senior writer

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

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In August, it will be 50 years since Jamaica gained Independence from Britain. Today, the Jamaica Observer's Entertainment section reflects on the influence Jamaican pop culture has had on that country in REGGAE BRITANNIA, a weekly feature leading up to the Golden Jubilee.

AT the dawn of 1992, deejay Chaka Demus and singer Pliers were considered dancehall has-beens. Within one year, the duo made music history and became the toast of England.

Chaka Demus and Pliers took Britain by storm 20 years ago with the big-selling, Sly and Robbie-produced Tease Me album (released as All She Wrote in the United States). It spawned six songs that made the British national chart, a first-time accomplishment that has never been surpassed.

Twist and Shout (a cover of the Isley Brothers hit), Tease Me, She Don't Let Nobody, Murder She Wrote, I Wanna Be Your Man and Gal Wine were the songs that made the British pop chart.

The third release, Twist and Shout, was the first song by a Jamaican act to top the British charts since Boris Gardiner's I Want to Wake up With You in 1986. Distributed by Island Records through its subsidiary Mango, Tease Me was eventually certified gold for sales of over 500,000 units.

In a 2003 interview with the Jamaica Observer, Chaka Demus (John Taylor) spoke about the impact of Tease Me in England.

"Wi go Englan' so much time is like wi did live dey," he said. "Wi start do some likkle club date then some bigger place...Everything sold out."

At the time, rap music was rapidly taking over America and gradually took root in urban Britain, but there was still a following for Jamaican sounds. Chaka Demus and Pliers had featured prominently in the dancehall movement of the early and mid-1980s but their careers had stalled by late decade.

Initially, they did impromptu performances together but in 1991 after a show in Miami decided to formalise their partnership. That year, they cut Gal Wine for producer Ossie Hibbert, and two years later linked with the legendary drum and bass team of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare.

Dunbar commented on working with Chaka Demus and Pliers in a 2003 interview with the Observer.

"I always feel Chaka Demus was one of the best deejay an' Pliers had a smooth sound. Wi wanted to do something different wid dem when wi start work," he explained.

Their first sessions yielded the songs Murder She Wrote and Bam Bam which impressed Island enough to sign Chaka Demus and Pliers for a full album. It was a profitable move for all parties.

Tease Me, a ska number and the funky She Don't Let Nobody entered the British Top five in late 1993. In early 1994, Twist and Shout, a mix of ska and soul, went to number one.

The deejay-singer team's remarkable run was completed by Murder She Wrote, I Wanna Be Your Man and a new version of Gal Wine making the Top 30. While Shabba Ranks, Cobra and Super Cat were making inroads on American pop charts, Chaka Demus and Pliers called the shots in Britain where their triumphs earned them a slot as opening act for UB40.

The success of Tease Me influenced Island Records founder Chris Blackwell to revive his musical ties with Jamaican music. In 1995, he launched the Island Jamaica label which released albums by Luciano, Beenie Man and Pliers' brother, Spanner Banner.

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