I was out walking one morning and heard this song as a car cruised by. Right away, it took me back to a time of simplicity and innocence. It was planted in my head and I hummed it all day.
I wasn’t old enough to dance to it but I’m sure the adults around me did. The song is a Prince Buster number called Wash, Wash. I’m including two versions: the live one, which looks to be from a night club performance and it shows how Jamaicans were dancing at the time. On the recorded version, you hear the pops and hisses in the music, something I miss when I play CDs.
Anyway, a little about Wash, Wash. Although we had radio in Jamaica from the 1930s, it was controlled by foreign interests and much of the music we heard came from overseas. Music of the 50s and 60s, still relied heavily on R&B and other music coming from the US and musicians covered and borrowed freely from what they heard. Wash, Wash was one such song. Written by Beasley Smith, it was covered by Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles and several others, including today’s featured performer, Prince Buster.
Prince Buster was born Cecil Bustamante Campbell in Jamaica in May, 1938. He took the name he was called as an amateur boxer, “The Prince” and combined it with his nickname, Buster (from Bustamante) for his stage name. Prince Buster began singing in night clubs around Kingston in 1956 and was hired eventually by well known Jamaican record producer, Clement “Coxsone” Dodd as security for his sound system. Prince Buster, the amateur boxer, was the perfect person Dodd needed for crowd control at his sound system parties, which sometimes got a little rowdy.
What’s a sound system, you ask? Well, it’s truck that would carry giant speakers and a turntable and stop in a particular community and play music. The music drew people who came out and danced in the streets but sound system owners knew they had to keep them entertained so they hired “toasters,” usually men who could “toast” or rev up the crowd by reinterpreting the lyrics of a song to fit a situation he’d toast about, calling out to dancers, etc. The more skillful the toaster, the bigger the crowd, the bigger the party, the bigger the following the sound system would eventually develop. Different sound systems had their own “sound” and following. Think of it as today’s social media – MySpace for offline contact. Every so often, I still see giant speakers piled one atop the other in communities across Jamaica.
Prince Buster produced Oh Carolina by The Folkes Brothers in 1960 which featured Rasta drummer, Count Ossie. It was a landmark in Jamaican music history as it was the first time anyone had included African elements in the music. Oh Carolina was a hit in Jamaica and the UK and put Prince Buster on the musical map. Throughout the 1960s he wrote and produced hundreds of songs for the UK label, Blue Beat, that produced Jamaican rhythm and blues and ska.
Prince Buster recorded more than 20 albums and was awarded an Order of Distinction for his contribution to music. He now makes his home in Florida.