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World Music Legends

Burning Spear

By Tom Pryor
Published October 9, 2005


For a small patch of a small island, Jamaica’s rural St. Ann’s parish has produced some awfully influential people. First came Marcus Garvey, who made the whole world sit up and take notice of his message of African unity and economic empowerment in the 1920s. Then came the great Bob Marley, who set that same message to music and became reggae’s international ambassador in the 1970s. And not far behind him came Winston Rodney, a.k.a. Burning Spear, a reggae icon in his own right who has done more than anyone to keep both authentic roots reggae and Garvey’s teachings alive in the 21st century.

              Interestingly, it was an encounter with Marley himself that propelled the young Winston Rodney into the music business. According to Rodney, “I found myself moving along up in the hills of St. Ann’s and I ran into Bob at the same time. And Bob was going to his farm. The man was moving with a donkey and some buckets and a fork, and cutlass and plants. We just reason man-to-man and I-man say wherein I would like to get involved in the music business. And Bob say, ‘All right, just check Studio One.’”

            Which is exactly what Rodney did, arriving at the legendary Kingston studio in 1969 just in time for the reggae explosion that was sweeping the island. There Rodney took the name Burning Spear, a homage to Kenyan freedom fighter Jomo Kenyatta, and began turning his Garveyite and Rastafarian beliefs into reggae hymns.

            Rodney recorded a series of sides and two full albums for Studio One, but it wasn’t until 1975, when Spear began working with producer Lawrence Lindo, a.k.a. Jack Ruby, that he really hit his stride. By then Spear had formed a vocal trio with singers Rupert Wellington and Delroy Hines, who added depth and volume to Rodney’s unique, declamatory style. Together the three would record “Slavery Days” and “Marcus Garvey,” two epochal singles that helped define roots reggae. Soon after, the trio released a full-length LP, also called Marcus Garvey, which remains one of the few album-length masterpieces of the roots era. This was followed by Man In The Hills and Garvey’s Ghost, a dub version of Marcus Garvey.

            Taken together, these albums are a holy trinity of Rasta and roots reggae, with a unique sound that practically defines “dread”: Deep, brooding basslines thunder ominously while trumpets call out li

Recommended Recordings


Creation Rebel: Original Studio Records From Studio One (Heartbeat)

Marcus Garvey Remastered (Palm Pictures)

Rasta Business (Burning Music)