By Chris Pacifico
Burning Spear (a.k.a. Winston Rodney) is without question one of the most important reggae musicians of all time. His name ranks up there with Marley and Scratch Perry. With more than 35 years of making reggae music Burning Spear proves he is still as viable as ever with the release of his brand new album, Our Music. The Spear still tours regularly and has demonstrated that he can put on live shows that are chock full of good vibes and enchanting rhythms.
Burning Spear by V. Dayan
After playing a stellar show at The Trocadero in Philadelphia, Burning Spear was kind enough to check in with JamBase to talk about his love of reggae, his devotion to music, and his roots in Jamaica, all while exhibiting a graceful attitude, showing that he is indeed a man of the people.
JamBase: Let's talk about your new album for a second. What is it called and when does it come out?
Burning Spear: It's called Our Music, and it comes out on the 20th of September.
JamBase: Is it to be released on your own label?
Burning Spear: Yes, it's on Burning Music.
JamBase: Your name Burning Spear comes from the African freedom fighter Jomo Kenyatta of the Mau Mau's, right?
Burning Spear: Yeah.
Was that also the name of you and Delroy Hinds and Rupert Willington back when you guys were a trio in the seventies?
No, Burning Spear is really Winston Rodney.
Do you still talk to them anymore?
To be honest, I live in New York so I don't see them much.
Burning Spear in Jamaica 2002 by Asher
Obviously you've worked with a wide range of legendary musicians and producers such as Coxsone Dodd, who was the head of Studio One. How did you meet him, and what was it like working with him?
Well I had been told about him through Bob.
Okay, I see - because you are both from the same town of Saint Ann's, Jamaica.
Yeah, but Bob was from the countryside, and I just happened to bump into him.
What year was that?
Burning Spear in Jamaica 2002 by Asher
Now the Wailers were with Studio One at that time weren't they?
At that time, yes. So I bumped into him, and we were talking about the roots, the culture. He was the one who told me about Studio One, and since that time, the Spear has been Burning.
Was that the first time you met Bob?
That was the first time I met him physically.
Your 1975 album Marcus Garvey is one of the most essential albums in all of reggae as well as one of the most important records released in the last 30 years. But I've heard that some disputes arose because Island Records had remixed it to make it more commercially viable. Is that what made you start your own label?
No, even before that I was thinking about doing my own thing, but the time wasn't right to do it. So I was working with various people at various labels like Island, Slash, EMI, and Heartbeat, and I was still working on my thing until the time was right for me. Then I started to do my thing.
Burning Spear by Asher
Throughout your career you have preached the message of Marcus Garvey, which is a message of self-reliance and self-determination. Do you feel that you put that ethic into the way you run your label?
It has a lot to do with it. It's like a guideline for me.
Who were some of the influences that gave you the aspiration to become a musician, because I've noticed that a lot of record labels are putting out a lot of reissues and compilations of the genres that helped spawn reggae, genres such as mento, rocksteady, calypso, etc. Were any of those genres part of your influences, and who were some of the musicians that you admired?
What really happened to me is that I was a guy that listened to everyone.
American and world music as well?
It's a mixture. For me, Curtis Mayfield was one of my main favorites.
Burning Spear by John Carrico
Superfly is one of my all-time favorite albums.
You know what I'm saying (laughs)?! I was into stuff like James Brown, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, you name it!
So the music of America as well as the rest of the world is kind of fused into your sound?
Of course, and even back in Jamaica at that time there was The Wailers, Bob Marley, Justin Hinds and the Dominoes, and Toots and the Maytals. It was a wide mixture, and I was listening to it all.
Did the government in Jamaica pose any barriers to your artistic freedom? Did you have to endure any forms of censorship or any similar tactics?
I was a pretty loose and free guy doing what I was doing. I was sticking my nose in my own direction.
In your hometown of Saint Ann's, is it any different now than it was while you were growing up there?
It's a lot more developed, more commercialized, and there are a lot of tourists.
Do you listen to Fela Kuti at all?
We toured together.
Really?! I have always felt that Fela was a figure in music who is on the same level as you and Bob, but I always felt that Fela has been overlooked in the Western world.
Of course, because all of us are important in our own way. All of us do our portion of the work. It's not like one man is doing all of the work. I toured with Fela and King Sunny Ade, and it was very exciting. It was good.
Did you work with Lee "Scratch" Perry at all?
No, I didn't work with Lee Perry. I worked with him on stage. We shared the stage together.
Burning Spear by Robb Cohen
A lot of people who've worked with him have claimed that he can be quite unstable.
He's one of the originals - part of the foundation of reggae music.
Along with King Tubby and Augustus Pablo.
Yeeaaahh! All of those earlier guys are part of the foundation. They created the foundation before I even got started.
A lot of people tend to take just about every form of music there is and label it as a certain genre. Over the years people have labeled your sound as either dub or roots reggae and so forth, but how do you as an artist view your music?
I see my music as world music - the music of the world speaking to the world about everything that is good. Everyday life, living, you name it. I speak about unity amongst people, love amongst people. I speak about everything. It's a world speak - a world tongue.
I've noticed that throughout your career, a lot of your songs are very socially and politically conscious. Do you feel that you have more to express these days, especially in an age when we have to deal with things like terrorism and unjustifiable wars?
I'm expressing all important things and good things where it can be of help to people.
In 1991, you did a version of the song "Estimated Prophet" for the Grateful Dead tribute album entitled Deadicated. So I take it that you are a fan of the Dead?
I was listening to the Grateful Dead long before I did that song. What I really saw in them was their lyrics were very close to mine. It's like the same thing but in a different way.
In 1979, you had a part in the classic film Rockers, and also that year you performed at the inaugural Reggae Sunsplash Festival. More recently, you have played at the Montreux Jazz Festival and Bonnaroo. Do you feel blessed that your music has crossed through generations of fans?
Of course, because this music is for the people. It's for all the people. When I go on the stage or when I go in the studio, it's not about some people; it's about all people, as well as the people who have been supporting what I've been doing. So I'm the people's person.
What do you see for the future of reggae music?
I see that in the future, this music will continue to play and play and play and go places where it has never gone before.
Thank you for coming to Philadelphia and thank you for your time.
Burning Spear's Remaining Tour Dates
09.28 | House of Blues | San Diego, CA
09.30 | The State Theatre | Falls Church, VA
10.01 | Suede Lounge and Nightclub | Park City, UT
10.09 | Toad's Place | New Haven, CT
10.11 | Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel | Providence, RI
10.12 | The Roxy | Boston, MA
You can buy Burning Spear's Our Music here.
JamBase | Philadelphia
Go See Live Music!