Reggae needs more gritty singers

A few weeks ago I wrote a review of Absolutely Rock Steady by The Uniques, a group lead by silky falsetto Keith “Slim” Smith. He’s one of Jamaica’s many beloved voices. And some of the most acclaimed reggae singers are in the smoother style, for example Horace Andy, Alton Ellis and Delroy Wilson.

There are of course other popular singers not quite as smooth, and in another vein, sometimes referred to as the “country school”. Pupils were stars such as Winston “Pipe” Matthews of The Wailing Souls, Albert Griffiths of The Gladiators, Justin Hinds and Bob Marley.

However, two of my favorite singers had a different education. Their vocals are raw, unpolished and loud. Simply brilliant.

I’m talking about Ken Boothe and Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, front man of The Maytals back in the 60’s and 70’s. Their voices are expressive and distinct, borrowing heavily from American southern soul, but without losing their own style. They’re not mere imitators. Far from it.

Instead of being influenced by Curtis Mayfield and Al Green, Ken Boothe and Toots Hibbert turned their ears towards record label Stax and Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Rufus Thomas.

Both Ken Boothe and Toots Hibbert have a nice gospel tinged vocals. They’re shouting like Little Richard, but it’s not all about the growling. It’s the sublime blend of gritty vocals and a deep soulful style.

Few – if any – contemporary Jamaican singers have followed in their footsteps. The silky smooth style reigns in Jamaica and have inspired singers like Jah Cure, Romain Virgo and Sanchez. I believe a singer like Tarrus Riley has it in him; he just has to let it out.

Both Ken Boothe and Toots Hibbert are in their sixties and someone needs to step in and take their place. Their legacy will forever live on, but I’d be nice if some singers continued in their vein.

I want more coarse and rough singers. Not another crooner. Please.

To prove my point I’ve compiled a very simple, yet effective, eight minute mix of Ken Boothe’s and Toots Hibbert’s most gritty vocals. Listen in the player below.

Top five Ken Boothe gritty vocals:
The One I Love
Can’t See You
Is It Because I’m Black?

Top five Toots & The Maytals gritty vocals:
54-46 Was My Number (reggae version)
Johnny Coolman
Louie Louie
Sit Right Down
Funky Kingston


Filed under Columns

2 responses to “Reggae needs more gritty singers

  1. Pingback: Preparing for Uppsala Reggae Festival | Reggaemani

  2. Pingback: Ken Boothe is on a journey | Reggaemani

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