Burning Spear is more than a man and more than a band--Burning Spear is an institution. Born Winston Rodney in Jamaica in 1948, he's helped propel roots reggae into the worldwide mainstream consciousness for 30 years running. Equal parts singer, preacher, and historian, his mission to spread the message of Rastafarianism has taken him across the globe. His deep spirituality permeates the righteous anger and heavy emotions imbedded in his lyrics, bringing a contagious soulful energy to his incendiary live performances.

As a young man, a fellow musician named Bob Marley recommended he check out the Studio One label in Kingston, which promptly began releasing his records to immediate acclaim. His first album appeared in 1973, and within two years he was signed to Island Records next to Marley himself. Many jamfans received their first exposure to Burning Spear with his intense cover of "Estimated Prophet" on 1991's Deadicated: A Tribute to the Grateful Dead.

As the years go by, Burning Spear's legend only grows stronger. He was finally honored with a Grammy for Best Reggae Album for 1999's Calling Rastafari, an album which mixes his message of political resistance with religious devotion and smoldering reggae beats. On this night, his Burning Band was lighting up Carrboro's Cat's Cradle with their singular sensual groove.

Crucial Fiya opened up the show, bringing their jubilant upbeat reggae thrust to thirsty North Carolina eardrums. Percussionist Ned Percival kept the set laid back yet bouncing with his tasteful rhythmic additives and unrelenting vibrations. Then it was time for the main act to appear. Burning Spear hit the stage with a vengeance and unleashed a two-hour set of reggae classics and Rastafarian renaissance. Burning Spear himself not only sings, but also bangs away on congas, wood blocks, cowbell, chimes, and more, bringing his own broiling buoyancy to the Burning Band's bacchanalia.

The current band is made up of some familiar faces and some new additions. Cecil Ordonez tackles the lead guitar parts while Galbert Spence holds down the rhythm. The horn section includes Clyde Cummings on tenor sax, Glen Williams on trumpet, and Micah Robinson on trombone. Dave Richards returns with his melodic bass explosions, holding down the roots while trading licks throughout the show. Keyboardist Noel Aiken and drummer Howard Smith are the two newest members of the band, both coming from the 506 Crew, which was the Bob Marley Museum's house band in Orlando.

The reggae shows in this area are community celebrations, drawing out local vendors and artisans who offer their wares in expanded vending areas of the clubs. Places like the Cat's Cradle, which normally offer only basic CD and T-shirt sales, open up their space for freshly cooked authentic Jamaican cuisine and large tables filled with videos, CDs, and more. Large tapestries of Bob Marley and the sweet smell of incense help transform an ordinary nightclub into a traveling cultural display, completely encasing the listener in the sights, smells, and sounds of Jamaica.

Burning Spear's setlist included classics both old and new, featuring "Old Marcus Garvey," "Slavery Days," and "Black Disciples." His message of love spread through the audience, bringing smiles to the faces and shuffles to the feet. Currently wrapping up a four-month tour in support of his new album Free Man, Burning Spear continues to delight and instruct a new generation of fans. Treat yourself soon to a live offering of these enlightened reggae romantics. Burning Spear will light up your soul.

Words by: Paul Kerr
Images by: Todd E. Gaul
JamBase | North Carolina
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[Published on: 10/23/03]

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