The Melchizedek way

Overdue honour for guitarist Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith

BY RICHARD JOHNSON Senior Observer reporter

Sunday, October 06, 2013

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FOR those in the music industry, Earl 'Chinna' Smith represents the authentic reggae sound.

The renowned guitarist — also known as Melchizedek the High Priest — is to receive the Silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica on October 16 for his contribution to Jamaican music.

A total of eight medals will be presented to the 2013 recipients for their achievements in the literary, scientific, and artistic fields. The awards comprise two gold, four silver and two bronze.

Smith deems the recognition an honour.

"It's really good vibes... I really appreciate it and honour the fact that the effort has been made to pay attention to the music and identify my work at a time when our work is often overlooked," he tells the Sunday Observer.

Smith recalls being introduced to the guitar as a child in the late 1950s when a family friend visited his home with the instrument. This chance meeting would mark the start of what has been an impressive career which began in the 1960s.

Along this path, Smith, 58, has encountered myriad of artistes. He has played for reggae's who's who as well as an impressive list of international talent including Lauryn Hill on her Grammy-winning album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and Amy Winehouse.

Of all the artistes he has worked with, reggae king Bob Marley stands out for Smith.

"Bob is my favourite artiste... just the approach to his work made me realise the power of the word. He was a real shepherd for reggae music and I have never met anyone with that level of conviction and love," says Smith, who first recorded with Marley on his 1976 album, Rastaman Vibration.

British songstress Amy Winehouse also left a favourable impression on Smith when they met to work on tracks for her debut album Frank.

"Very creative, she plays a nice guitar and a real standout talent... a real singer. She was such an old soul and really nice person that I could not believe all the stuff happened to her prior to her passing. But I give thanks for the moment," he says.

Having been at the forefront of the music for nearly a half-a-century, Smith has had a great vantage point witnessing the growth and development of reggae. And although he is pleased with the way the music has developed globally, other areas still leave much to be desired.

"We have already created the pyramid... there is no need to re-invent, but we need to preserve what we already have."

He points to the way artistes are treated and lack of representation in the music business as another bone of contention.

For him there is no security — no one to call on in time of difficulty. That, he says, is a major weakness.

"I was having some issues with some European companies and there was no one I could call on here in Jamaica. Everyone is just working for themselves, no unity," he stresses.

For Smith his tenure in music has been due to creativity. As he puts it: "The music tour out, whore out, and bore out," therefore always having a new angle is critical. It is this drive to be creative that has given rise to his latest project — Nyabinghi-stra.

"When you listen to radio, everything is the same... nobody setting trends anymore. So I came up with Nyabinghi-stra, which combines the drums and spirituality of Nyabinghi with the instruments and sound of an orchestra."

Smith is still seeking funding for this project and hopes the right record company will "feel it" but says he is pressing along, until that arrives.

At the Musgrave Awards, the gold medal will be presented to producer Rainford Lee 'Scratch' Perry, whose pioneering studio work and distinctive sound led to the creation of dub.

Smith had nothing but compliments for the veteran producer with whom he has worked on numerous occasions.

"Scratch is a scientist, a really creative producer and not everyone understands how to work with him as his techniques not normal, but the result is great recordings," he notes.

Other recipients are social historian professor Franklin Knight (gold); author Marlon James, author/painter Franklin Bernal, and climate change expert professor Michael Taylor (silver); poet/writer Dr Pamela Mordecai and natural products researcher Dr Trevor Yee will be presented with bronze Musgrave Medals.


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