Yellowman broke the colour barrier

The Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment Desk continues with the 53rd of its biweekly feature looking at seminal moments that have helped shape Jamaica over the past 60 years.

In the 1970s, many Jamaicans embraced black consciousness and were not afraid to express their militancy. But even as they fought the remnants of British colonialism, there was widespread prejudice in Jamaica against the albino. It took a 'boasy' toaster named Yellowman to change those attitudes.

Arguably dancehall music's greatest deejay, Yellowman is a Jamaican success story. He was raised in two children's homes before making his name at the 1979 Tastee Talent Contest where he finished second to Nadine Sutherland.

He has toured the world countless times, been nominated for a Grammy Award and conferred with the Order of Distinction (Officer Class), Jamaica's sixth-highest honour. Those are remarkable achievements, considering Yellowman was abandoned by his parents because of his albinism.

Raised at the Maxfield Children's Home and Alpha Boys' School in Kingston, he made a name on sound systems like Aces International before entering the Tastee Talent Contest. After his impressive showing, Yellowman established himself as a dancehall force with emerging music producer Henry "Junjo" Lawes' Volcano label.

In the 1980s, the albino was still treated as outcasts in Jamaica. They were shunned on buses and from public spaces.

Undaunted, Yellowman flaunted his pale pigmentation by wearing yellow suits and boasted about women having his yellow babies in songs like I'm Getting Married and Mad Over Me.

As his popularity soared, he signed with Columbia Records where his labelmates included Carlos Santana, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Chicago.

Yellowman has been linked to the 'slackness' which dominated dancehall/reggae during the 1980s. He has defended himself, consistently saying he was only having fun.

Diagnosed with cancer in 1982, he underwent major surgery four years later to remove a malignant tumour which caused the left side of his face to be disfigured.

Now 66, Yellowman remains one of the top touring acts out of Jamaica.

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

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