ALPHA ROLL CALL: 5 BANDS AND THEIR INFLUENCE ON JAMAICAN MUSIC
The majority of live entertainment in Jamaican popular music is provided by bands made up of a rhythm section (bass guitar, percussion, keys, rhythm guitar) and a horn section (trumpet, trombone and saxophone). From hotel bands to stage show bands to studio bands, live music performance is experienced through the sounds and vibrations of bands. From its inception in 1892, the Alpha Boys School music department has been based around ensemble performance, and after leaving Alpha, many music graduates made a career of playing in some of the most iconic bands out of Jamaica. Here are five classic Jamaican bands that feature Alpha alumni.
Zap Pow, formed in 1969 by singer/bassist Michael Williams aka Mikey Zappow and guitarist Dwight Pickney, included past Alpha Boys School students, saxophonist Glen DaCosta and trumpeter David Madden. Along with trombonist Joe McCormac, drummer Max Edwards and legendary vocalist Beres Hammond, the group delivered some unforgettable cuts like "Mystic Mood", "This Is Reggae Music" and "Last War". Despite being armed with Beres Hammond’s vocal powers, Zap Pow was very comfortable focusing on instrument-driven releases. Several of Zap Pow’s recordings have been sampled and remixed by producers in recent years. Their 1970 song "This is Reggae Music," has undergone heavy sampling by producers, and “Last War” (1973) served as the basis for Collie Buddz 2007 hit “Come Around.”
The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari
The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, said to be the ultimate expression of roots music and rastafarian ideology in Reggae music, was formed in the early 1970s when master Nyabinghi drummer Count Ossie and his African Drums ensemble merged with The Mystics, a horns driven soul reggae outfit led by saxophonist Cedric "Im" Brooks (an Alpha alumnus). Cedric had recently returned from a stint at music school in Philadelphia, where he met Sonny Rollins and Sun Ra’s Arkestra, two performers which had a significant influence on his musical direction. Although known for its percussion section and connections to Jamaican culture, The Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari was part of Brooks’ career-long effort to develop a broader Afrocentric sound. On the New Dimension imprint in 1973 (and then on the Ashanti & Vulcan labels in the UK), the group released the groundbreaking album Grounation, a one-of-a-kind first-ever reggae triple vinyl LP set.
Light of Saba
The Light of Saba, originally known as The Divine Light, was founded by Cedric “Im" Brooks after he left the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari in 1974. Inspired by the afrofuturist Philadelphia-based Sun Ra Arkestra as well as jazz pioneer trumpeter Hugh Masekela from South Africa and multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti from Nigeria, Cedric Brooks sought to create his own version of afrofuturism with the Light of Saba through a fusion of Jamaican riddims, jazz, salsa, soul, and African musical traditions. Their albums, The Magical Light of Saba, From Mento to Reggae to Third World Music and The Light of Saba In Reggae are rooted in Jamaica, with classic horn riffs typical of Jamaican recordings at the time, but look outward, connecting with the Afrocentric sounds that were bubbling around the world.
Bob Marley was determined to record and perform music with a full band, beginning with some of his earliest recordings with the Skatalites rhythm section as a member of The Wailers with Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston. As a solo artist, Marley recorded and toured with an all-Alpha horn section consisting of Vin Gordon on trombone, Glen DaCosta on saxophone, and David Madden on trumpet. Marley reportedly loved horns and knew Alpha was the place for the best hornsmen. While not official members of the Wailers band, Madden, Dacosta and Gordon are all over the albums Exodus (1977) and Kaya (1978).
It is impossible to talk about Jamaican bands without mentioning The Skatalites. The Skatalites, known for pioneering Jamaican ska music, were formed in 1964 by a group of jazz musicians that comprised Alpharians Tommy McCook, Lester Sterling, Don Drummond, and Johnny Moore, along with Doreen Shaffer, Rolando Alphanso, Lloyd Brevett, Lloyd Knibb, Jah Jerry Haynes, Jackie Opel, and Jackie Mittoo. The group backed groups like The Wailers, Toots and The Maytals, Ken Boothe and Alton Ellis. In 1964, they released their first album Ska Authentic. The music had a contagious quality and was distinctive. Almost overnight the Skatalites became a sensation and forever will be known as Jamaica’s first supergroup. Decades later, the Skatalites’ brand of off-beat, brassy style ska played by a full band is still considered the gold standard of the genre.