Fire still burns in Spear
Burning Spear

FOR many years, Burning Spear held the unofficial title of 'Best Touring Reggae Artiste'. Almost 20 years ago, he retired from the road and not much has been heard from him.

Two weeks ago, it was announced that the legendary singer/songwriter will make a comeback at Rototom Sunsplash in Spain in August. He is also booked for the Welcome to Jamrock cruise in December.

Burning Spear, 77, spoke to the Jamaica Observer from his home in New York. He said one thing lured him out of retirement.

“It's been a long time since I've done any shows but it's not like I'm bored or anything like dat. It's the call of di people, they haven't seen Spear in a long time,” he said.

He hinted that there will likely be additional dates in 2022 but those locations depend on demand.

“It's all about di people who want to see Spear,” he said.

The music industry has transformed significantly since Burning Spear stepped away from touring. Back then, the compact disc was vogue and promoters in Europe and the United States were willing to book reggae acts with their bands.

Streaming platforms such as Spotify and SoundCloud are now the source of music for generation Y. Reggae tours, even before COVID-19, had scaled down considerably due to rising production costs.

With a catalogue laden with classic songs like Swell Headed, Marcus Garvey and Tradition, Burning Spear is not concerned about his music reaching new fans.

“A new generation of fans will always know my music, jus' like Bob Marley music. It's for different generations...that's the way our music is,” he stated.

His last studio album, Jah is Real, was released in 2008. It gave him his second Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album.

Since the mid-1970s when he broke through with the powerful Marcus Garvey album, Burning Spear established himself as a formidable touring act. His legendary treks sometimes lasted six months.

Europe was his happy hunting ground. He also has a considerable following in the United States and Japan.

Spear has performed intermittently in Jamaica, but says he has not been home in five years. He maintains ties to the country through his charity which donates money and assorted items to an infirmary and infant school in his native St Ann's Bay, as well as places of need in St Mary.

Although his recording career started in the late 1960s at Studio One, Burning Spear is synonymous with the seminal Marcus Garvey album, produced by Lawrence “Jack Ruby” Lindo.

His conviction to the pan-African icon and Jamaica's first national hero is unyielding. Recently, the Jamaican government announced plans to lobby the administration of US President Joe Biden to exonerate Garvey of mail fraud which resulted in a two-year Federal prison sentence during the 1920s.

As Jamaica celebrates its 60th anniversary of Independence, Burning Spear insists the Government needs to do more to educate the country's youth about Garvey, who was also a St Ann native.

“There needs to be a subject on Garvey from basic school up. Dem still talking 'bout (Christopher) Columbus...it's time for Jamaican people to speak on these things,” he said.

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

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