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10 Things You Did Not Know About Black Uhuru

Here are 10 things you did not know about Black Uhuru, one of reggae’s most influential and enduring musical acts.

1.  Black Uhuru’s landmark album Red was originally titled Carbine. Island Records, afraid that the title promoted a violent theme, suggested the title be changed to Red. [Melody Maker, 6 June 1981, p. 11]


2.  Before joining Black Uhuru in 1976, Michael Rose toured the North Coast scene with a band called Happiness Unlimited singing calypso. [400 Years, #105]  His friend Dennis Brown introduced Michael to producer Winston “Niney” Holness, who cut the very first version of a tune called “Dreadlocks Coming For Dinner.” [New Musical Express, 4 October 1980, pp. 17-18]


3.  After hooking up with Sly Dunbar, the group, which now included Rose, Simpson, and Puma Jones, began rehearsing cover songs like Marley’s “Exodus” and “Sun is Shining,” and the “Age of Aquarius.” It was Sly’s idea for the band to cut cover tunes as he wasn’t confident in their ability to craft original songs. [New Musical Express, 12 April 1980, p. 8]


4.  The tune “Rent Man” is inspired by an encounter between Michael, Duckie Simpson and police armed with cutlasses who arrived at chez Uhuru early one Sunday morning, prompted by their landlord, who was prompted by the fact that Michael and Duckie had lived there for a year and only paid for six months. [New Musical Express, 4 October 1980, pp. 17-18]


5.  Black Uhuru were unique for many reasons, however, what truly set them apart from other reggae acts from a business perspective is the fact that they sold more records in the US than in Europe. No other reggae act had ever sold more records in the States than in Europe. [Melody Maker, 6 June 1981, p. 11]

6.  Black Uhuru’s very first stage show was at Jamaica’s Civic Centre in 1978 with the Seventh Extension Band.  Their first US performance was at a concert sponsored by NYC radio station WLIB at Hunter College in NYC in 1979. The concert was a disaster. Puma Jones was late to the gig, taking the stage halfway through the set. As the crowd left the auditorium after the show a gunfight broke out and four people were shot. [New Musical Express, 12 April 1980, p. 8]  The group had a very successful tour in 1982 opening for The Police throughout the US and Europe.

1982 — Sting and Michael Rose. — Image by © Lynn Goldsmith

7.  When asked in an April 1980 interview about the meaning behind the tune “Shine Eye Girl” Michael Rose explained: “It is about a girl who won’t do her household chores. It’s like a girl in a the ghetto, she just get up every day, gone a street with her friends, just a chatty chatty girl. She pay for wash, dirt it tough, everything rough. Me can’t help she. So I say she is a trouble to everyone. It everyday life a yard…Jah seh the women must respect man. Without the man in the house there is no home. But ya see me no want for the people to see that. Cause them say me no like women, seen, them get it wrong.” [New Musical Express, 12 April 1980, p. 8]


8.  The group drew significant criticism for their song “Abortion.” The music press saw it as an affront to the personal and political right of women to make their own decision regarding the issue. Rose disagreed, stating in the same April 1980 interview, “It’s a moral for the youths so they should have caution instead of take abortion…You know, ‘With thrills and pills and a whole lot of sodomy, showing to themselves no sympathy’. It’s first degree murder to I and I when you kill a baby in the womb, seen? It’s not really Rasta, it’s in general, I and I no see it right. Because it’s really taking; it’s not adding…Because them check it more economical, but to Jah it wrongful.” [New Musical Express, 12 April 1980, p. 8]


9.  The song “Solidarity,” from the Grammy Award-winning album Anthem was not written by Simpson or Rose. The song was written by Steven van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, a Miami, FL-born reggae fan. Van Zandt would later become famous for playing mobster Silvio Dante, a role for which he won an Emmy.

Steven Van Zandt

10.  Many of the songs that appear on Black Uhuru’s first two albums, while credited to Duckie Simpson and Michael Rose, were actually written by an elder man from the Waterhouse ghetto.  As Garth Dennis revealed in his 2012 interview with Midnight Raver:

“Most of them songs on that album come from the writings of that Elder man in Waterhouse. There was a man who live in Waterhouse, a neighborhood elder, his last name is Johnson, him write ‘Shine Eye Gal’, ‘Abortion,’ ‘Penitentiary,’ dem song that come from the Black Uhuru that became established. Those set of songs were given to us in a book by the elder. We add certain tings to it but neither Duckie, nor Michael Rose, nor myself write those songs. He used to work for the government in Jamaica and ting. I used to read the songs from this hardcover exercise book. Duckie was close to the family and when dis man die, somehow dem gave Duckie that book. So here comes Duckie with this book of songs. Michael didn’t really have any songs at de time, so Michael start deliver those songs. Duckie gets all the credit for those songs, but those songs were written by elders.”

Rudolph “Garth” Dennis

Here is a very rare feature/interview with Black Uhuru titled Black Uhuru:  So Red Dem Dread by Basil Wilson, which was published in Jamaica’s Roots Magazine in 1981.

 

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Comments

  1. LOVE Black Uhuru! Did not know that factoid about “Solidarity.”

    1. midnightraverblog says:

      Thanks for checking in. Great and unique site you have…Mike

      1. Thanks! Are you going to the Steel Pulse show? Couldn’t get a reply back from their Press/Management people 🙁

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