Still a Reggae Messenjah

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

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THE Juno Awards, Canada's version of the Grammys, takes place Saturday at the Brandt Centre in Saskatchewan. Five artistes are up for the Reggae Recording of the Year. Today, we kick off a series on the Canadian reggae scene.

HAVING lived in Canada for 36 years, Errol Blackwood knows the ins-and-outs of the reggae business in that country. For many who follow the music there, he is best known as founding member of roots band Messenjah.

Now in his mid-50s, Blackwood told the Jamaica Observer recently that the Canadian reggae scene looked set for take-off when he moved to Toronto in 1977. At the time, stalwart Jamaican musicians like keyboardist Jackie Mittoo and bassist/singer Leroy Sibbles lived and recorded in that city.

"When Jackie and Leroy were around, major labels were signing people," said Blackwood. "The music was more national, now the focus is on hip-hop."

The St Elizabeth-born Blackwood was bassist/singer with Messenjah, a six-piece unit which formed in Toronto in 1980 and recorded a handful of strong albums. They even had a popular single, Jam Session in Jamaica and played Reggae Sunsplash in 1985 at Jarrett Park. He says Messenjah's appeal in Canada was due to
constant touring.

"We weren't just a Toronto band. Messenjah played the college campuses and clubs across the country and a lot of people saw us," he said.

Blackwood left Messenjah in 1986 for a solo career. He has since recorded several albums, his previous being Rastaman Say.

According to Blackwood, reggae is presently at a standstill in Canada with not a lot of play on mainstream radio. He believes the annual Juno Awards does little for the music's profile.

"When the Canadian Reggae Music Awards was around, the artistes were known and you felt more at home," he said. "The first time I went to the Juno there were like only two black people. I remember telling a friend in New York about the Juno and he never heard about it.

Blackwood, who is working on a new album, performs mainly in Toronto and Montreal.

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