Prince Buster - I Feel the Spirit
Sep 12, 2020
The History of the Albums – n° 221 [I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Toots Hibbert of The Maytals, who has just left us today.... R.I.P]

Today we are going to take our zeppellin for a trip to Jamaica, a small country in the Caribbean known mainly for scuba diving, athletes or reggea, however in reality we still retain its stupid but funny stereotypes, that is to say Bob Marley and the flavored smoke. Of course, in reality it's not only that. Being a very important land of music, it's just interesting when you analyze the course of history, to understand the cultural impact Jamaica may have had. If we go back to the late 70's, in England, punk was dominant but the country is shaken by the considerable influence of reggea, so much so that punk bands such as the Clashs or Police have incorporated sounds/structures in their music. This is mainly explained by Jamaican immigration and social movements at that time in England. It was so popular that English artists/groups that had no connection to Jamaica, such as Madness and The Specials, launched a wave that is called 2 Tone and/or Ska, simply illustrating the second wave of Ska.

Who says second, says that there was logically a very first wave [yes I guessed that by myself]. To understand it, we have to go back a bit further, to the very end of the 50s. Like all Caribbean countries, Jamaica is affected by the Calypso current as well as the Mento. Traditional music styles drawn from African roots and culture. However, after the second world war, Jamaicans had the opportunity to listen to the radio (including American stations) and thanks to the development of sound systems, we discovered Rhythms and Blues (especially Jump Blues) and Jazz. It is the birth of a love story, when artists merged the traditional currents with their American infleunces that I just mentioned to create Ska (first wave known as Jamaican Ska). Among the precursors of this new movement are Laurel Aitken, Clement Coxsone Dodd, Byron Lee, Derrick & Patsy, Stranger Cole and of course the most important Prince Buster. Quoting and analyzing Prince Buster, the most talented Ska singer-songwriter of the sixties, is absolutely logical, because he is the most creative and innovative of the current, to the point of democratizing it internationally (as in England precisely at the very beginning of the sixties). Note that Ska is the ancestor of reggea, Dance-Hall and Rocksteady. To sum up we owe a lot to Prince Buster.

Born in 1938 in Kingston, the Jamaican capital, Prince Buster grew up in a religious environment, which led him to become interested and sing gospel [a very usual factor for the time, those who regularly follow the episodes of this series have noticed it, it's crazy, but it's a reality]. Since he was always attracted to music, he performed in local bands and discovered rhythms and blues, more specifically Fat Domino's, which would remain his main influence. Fat Domino is often cited as an important influence in the creation of ska, notably with his single Be My Guest released in 1959, known for its off-beat rhythms, one of the ingredients of Ska. He started his career working for Coxsone, as a production and event assistant in the Sound System world. Again, this is a phenomenon that comes from Jamaica. To make a small parenthesis on this fantastic story, the sound system was born after the second war at the end of the 40's and had its real emergence in the 50's with Coxsone and Duke Reid. It is the beginning of the DJ (disk jockey) and of independent installations anywhere, based on electric generators and all the musical artistry of a DJ. Of course, he started the sound system found its way onto the streets of Kingston as a hobby, but it quickly became a business and an important tradition.

Running a sound system was a real organization, you had to be talented, promote and choose the right set to entertain people, while managing a logistical aspect. The sound system actually marks the first appearance of DJs, the first clandestine live shows with thousands of people and also the first MC's, as Coxsone and Duke Reid had fun rapping during their performances.
The story goes that Coxsone and Duke Reid were always looking for ways to compete with American radio stations, so much so that they favored the emergence of local artists to create their own novelties and their own music. That's how Ska was born and it worked very well. So if I go back to Prince Buster, who had become one of Coxsone's most reliable employees, he ended up acquiring enough money and experience to go independent in the sound system.

One day when he was deprived of musical content for whatever reason, he decided to make his own songs. He founds with partners and musicians his own label Buster Wild Bells in 1960 and starts to perform, along with other artists such as The Folks Brothers or Derrick Morgan. Prince Buster launched his first single in 1961 and began to gain notoriety. He will release several singles, including several versions under different labels including Blue Beat distributed in the UK which allows him to broaden his audience. The first real pioneer references of Ska on physical support are his singles They Got To Come (1962) and Madness (1963).
As he starts to become a local star in his country and starts to become one of the major actors of the Ska trend in the UK, the English label Blue Beat and Prince Buster decide to work on a first album which, unless I'm mistaken, will only be officially distributed in the UK. I Feel The Spirit is initially composed of 12 tracks recorded from 1962 to 1963, accompanied by groups of musicians Drumbago All Stars or The Dawson Blues Units. To sum up this album, I will say that it is a pleasant record, featuring a new movement that begins to find its true form, but which in return has a good number of irregularities and flaws. Certainly nothing serious, but that's what prevents I Feel The Spirit from being cited as an indispensable album. To explain everything, I will take 3 songs from this album as an example. The first one, Madness, is clearly the reference that leads the dance. Quite simply because it is a true Ska song, which has become cult and will leave a lot of traces. It's not surprising that the English band of the 70/80's is also called that. If you take Soul of Africa, it's a more traditional song, highlighting the cultural and traditional influences of Mento and Calypso. And finally if you listen to Don't Make Me Cry, it's a copy of the R&B and Blues of the americans. To be understandable, I Feel The Spirit still makes history, becoming the first Jamaican album to be exported outside of the country and especially in front of the pioneering reference of Ska on the international scene. On its pleasant side, this album offers a vast palate, which despite the forgettable songs remain a beautiful appercu of Prince Buster's talent and a beautiful tribute to the Jamaican culture. However and you will have understood it, on I Feel The Spirit, Buster has not yet found his final formula and is successful, although his work and his local production is impressive for the time.
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