I’ve been a fan of Burning Spear (the Spear) since high school. It was the height of the Black Power Movement in the U.S., a movement that had spread to the Caribbean and expressed itself in a growing consciousness and pride in our Africanness. The Spear’s third album, Marcus Garvey, became an anthem, an indictment of the times. Marcus Garvey words come to pass, Burning Spear sang and we cheered.
It was one of the first albums I bought; it almost never left my room or my sight. I played it every chance I got. There were many favorites.
Burning Spear, who took the name of the former president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, was born Winston Rodney in 1945 in the parish of St. Ann. Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley have been credited as his major influences. The Spear has been connected with several legendary Jamaican producers and studios of the 1960s and 70s. He was with Island Records until 1980 when he formed his own label. Burning Spear Music Production company and Burning Spear Records handle his bookings and music.
Now living in New York, the Spear tours extensively. Nominated 12 times, he won Grammy Awards for Best Reggae Album for Calling Rastafari (2000) and Jah is Real (2009). In 2007, he was honored by the Government of Jamaica with an Order of Distinction (OD).
I saw Burning Spear in concert in New York a few years ago. The show was memorable for several reasons. First, it was the Spear. Second, it was the only time I remember going to a show on a Sunday night, getting home after 3 a.m., and going to work the next morning. (It was after this show, I think, that I discovered Red Bull.)
When we arrived, there were only a few people in the audience. However, by the time the opening acts had warmed us up sufficiently and the Spear took the stage, the crowd had swelled considerably. There was no place to stand in this standing room only show. I could hardly see him — and my friends and I had been standing only a few yards from the stage.