Spear gets Grammy calling

Howard Campbell

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

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The Grammy Awards are scheduled for January 26 at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. Five nominees (Beres Hammond, Ziggy Marley, Sizzla, Snoop Lion and Sly and Robbie) are up for Best Reggae Album. Leading up to the big event, the Jamaica Observer presents a daily reflection on the reggae category. Today, we highlight Calling Rastafari by Burning Spear.

TO celebrate his 30th year in the music business, Winston 'Burning Spear' Rodney went all out to make his 27th album special. Released in 1999, Calling Rastafari was not vintage Spear but it won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 2000.

Distributed by American independent company Heartbeat Records, the set's Grammy success was just reward for the hardest working man in reggae. At the time of its release, Spear was still the music's best touring act, logging thousands of miles annually in Europe and North America.

The self-produced Calling Rastafari went up against Aswad's Roots Revival, Generation Coming by Third World, Steel Pulse's Living Legacy and The Doctor by Beenie Man for Best Reggae Album. It was the first Grammy Award for the veteran artiste who had previously been nominated seven times.

Spear had tirelessly worked the circuit since the mid-1970s when he recorded the classic Marcus Garvey and Man In The Hills albums for producer Lawrence 'Jack Ruby' Lindo and Island Records.

The fan base he built 25 years earlier grew substantially over the years. It included hardcore roots-reggae fans in Europe and on the United States west coast to college students, mostly in the US.

Calling Rastafari was an ode to Spear's early years in the business. On the lead track, As It Is, he recalled his time at Studio One, where he recorded inspirational sides such as Rocking Time, Foggy Road, Door Peep and Ethiopians Live It Out.

Compared to his early work, Calling Rastafari was tame. According to one critic, "All it took to finally grab a Grammy was to soft-pedal the social commentary."

Several top musicians played on the album, including keyboardist Stephen Stewart, guitarists Wayne Armond and Ian 'Beezy' Coleman, bassist Christopher Meredith and percussionist Uziah 'Sticky' Thompson.

Though it lacked the fire of his Island albums, Calling Rastafari was hailed by music writers as Spear's best work in years. Typical of the man, he promoted it through relentless touring.

Burning Spear has cut his legendary touring schedule considerably since 2004. In 2009, he won a second Best Reggae Album Grammy for Jah Is Real.

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