A tall, imposing figure, Everton Blender wears his dreadlocks pulled back. The reggae singer is dressed in a beige linen shirt and matching slacks, and his neutrally toned clothing is contrasted by his bold jewelry: a thick, linked gold bracelet, a large gold pendant and chunky gold rings adorning each finger. One ring is embossed with a Star of David, another a lion’s head and another a portrait of the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I, each symbolic of the Rastafarian way of life Blender embraced more than 10 years ago.
The tenets of Rastafari, which include extolling the divinity of Selassie, giving praises to Jah (God) and imparting uplifting messages, have been at the core of Blender’s music since his auspicious 1994 debut album Lift Up Your Head. Contrary to current reggae’s negative lyrical direction, Blender adheres to making music with a social consciousness but also records the occasional love song (such as the title cut of his recently released Heartbeat/Blen Dem album King Man). Blender’s rich vocal resonance is reminiscent of legendary American soul crooners Brook Benton, Nat “King” Cole and Curtis Mayfield, with clear influences by reggae luminaries Dennis Brown, John Holt and Ken Boothe. Blender’s voice is most remarkable for the way he holds on to a note longer than expected or twists and turns a syllable into a uniquely signature sound.
Born Everton Williams some 40 years ago in the central Jamaican parish of Clarendon, the birthplace of many renowned Jamaican singers including Toots Hibbert, Cocoa Tea, Freddie McGregor and Millie Small (whose “My Boy Lollipop” was the first Jamaican record to top the British pop charts), Blender began singing at age six while attending school. He moved to Kingston and made his earliest recordings around 1980, but frustrated by the lack of success, he returned to Clarendon, supporting himself with a series of odd jobs ranging from construction work to crafting objects out of straw.
His acceptance of the Rastafarian way of life in the early ’90s motivated Blender to return to Kingston for another attempt at a musical career; the chiding he received from his Rasta brethren for working a day job guaranteed he would try his hardest this time to succeed. “I link up with [the late] Garnet Silk and Tony Rebel and they used to laugh after me, say, ‘Boy, if I could sing like you I wouldn’t work for nobody, Rasta!’” Blender recalls. “Garnet Silk say, ‘Me look up to you as a singer and yuh talk about yuh go work fe somebody? Yuh mad?’ So they used to gwaan with dem tings and sometimes me used to feel ashamed so me just make up me mind and give me self about six months to bus’ [get a break in the music business]. Me tell me self I go buy one bag of corn meal so I have something at the yard to eat: turn corn meal, corn meal porridge, bake corn meal pudding. But Jah was so great, I make it in three months!”