Trailblazing Ras Daniel Heartman


Howard Campbell

Friday, August 31, 2012

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In commemoration of Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of Independence from Britain, the Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment section recognises 50 persons who made significant, yet unheralded, contributions to the country’s culture. This week we feature Ras Daniel Heartman.

RASTA was still a bad word to many Jamaicans in 1972 when The Harder They Come was released. Until that time, a Rastafarian in a movie was inconceivable.

Ras Daniel Heartman, who played Ivan's (Jimmy Cliff) sidekick Pedro in Perry Henzell's cult classic, was a trailblazer. His role was not a major one but The Harder They Come showed that the Rastaman had come a long way since Jamaica gained independence 10 years earlier.

The Whitfield Town-born Heartman (given name Lloyd George Roberts) was a devout follower of the faith. His respected work as an intuitive artist was sometimes overshadowed by his part in The Harder They Come, but he had a strong bearing on those close to him in the 1970s.

Maxine Stowe, who would become a leading music industry figure, was one of Heartman's associates.

"He was a very intense artiste, very much a loner. It was all about his drawings, going out and selling his prints," Stowe recalled.

Heartman had no film experience when he was cast as Pedro, but his appearance in The Harder They Come transcended acting. Nine years earlier, eight persons (three Rastafarians, three civilians and two policemen) were killed in a bloody standoff in Coral Gardens, St James.

The incident reflected the hostility toward Rastafarians in Jamaica at the time.

Pedro's passive nature contrasted with the public image of the Rastaman as an angry 'blackheart man'. Significantly, The Harder They Come was released at a time when reggae and its Rasta message were taking off internationally and helped put the country's culture on the map.

Heartman died in Tanzania in 1990 at age 47, two years after he migrated to the east African country. Recently, his son Ato announced he would re-introduce his father's art for licensing as well as produce a documentary on his life.

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