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World Music Features

Online Exclusive: Burning Spear

By Douglas Heselgrave
Published September 30, 2008

Burning Spear moves from creation rebel to internet entrepreneur.
Photo Credit: Alexei Afonin

Winston Rodney hasn’t moved a muscle in over an hour. Seated with his eyes closed, facial muscles knit into an expression of intense concentration, the man whom the world has known for the last 39 years as Burning Spear is oblivious to the buzz of activity around him.  On the last day of a recording odyssey that began in October 2007, Rodney and Chris Daley, a veteran engineer flown in from Kingston, are hunkered down in New York’s Magic Shop studio locking in the final mix for Burning Spear’s 22nd studio album, Jah Is Real.

 

As the title song plays for what must be the 20th time, Spear opens his eyes and locks his gaze on Daley.  A knob is twirled, and Rodney nods as a guitar is shifted in the mix.  Spear stands up and leans on the console.  In what is clearly a moment of triumph, the track starts again as the drums kick into step with the bass and a scattering of horns dance like a veldt on fire. For the next five minutes, not a word is spoken as the song fills the studio and transports listeners.

 

As the complex rhythms and counter melodies that have defined the Burning Spear sound for almost 40 years fade and the song ends, Rodney visibly relaxes. A broad smile eclipses his face, indicating that after a year of concerted effort and almost ceaseless toil, another album has been completed to his satisfaction. But, to call Jah Is Real simply another album would be a mistake – even for an artist who has maintained a dizzying pace of releasing records and relentlessly touring behind them for decades now like Burning Spear has – there is nothing routine about this release.