Spreading the message in Canada

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

Saturday, January 31, 2015

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WILLI Williams had never been outside of Jamaica until 1974 when wanderlust drew him to Toronto, Canada. The singer, best known for the 1977 hit song Armagideon Time, liked it so much he stayed.

Though it has been 40 years since his first time there, Williams vividly recalls his initial impression of Canada.

"Obviously, it was different from Jamaica in many ways: a sleepy country, had a small Jamaican community," he said. "Back then, when yuh si a Jamaican yuh glad 'cause there was a lotta discrimination."

The St Ann-born Williams had been recording since 1968, cutting his first song at Studio One. He also did a number of self-produced songs at Randy's, Harry J and Dynamic Sounds.

In mid-1970s Canada, he found a growing reggae colony headed by trumpeter Jo Jo Bennett, Studio One stalwarts Jackie Mittoo and Leroy Sibbles, singer Leroy Brown and Trinidadian guitarist Lynn Taitt, the most prolific musician in the rocksteady era.

"Wi played mainly in clubs, small night clubs in Toronto. But if yuh had links like a good agent yuh would get shows in Winnipeg and Vancouver," said Williams.

While he recorded what some consider some of his best work in Canada (including the 1980 album, Messenger Man), Williams travelled regularly to Jamaica for sessions at Studio One and with visionary producer Yabby You.

One of those Studio One sessions resulted in Armagideon Time, his signature song. Arranged by Mittoo, the song was an instant hit and has been sampled by big-name acts such as The Clash, The Fugees and Sublime.

Williams still splits his time between Kingston and Toronto, where his family lives. He believes the appreciation reggae enjoys in Canada today is credit to trailblazers like Bennett and Brown.

"If we didn't put in the work back then to launch the thing, I don't think the people would be that exposed as now. It's not overwhelming but the music is well-supported."

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