Last updated by at .

Soulful Sundays: Prince Buster

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.

Prince Buster, image from the Internet
Prince Buster, image from the Internet

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.

Soulful Sundays: The Folkes Brothers

For a long time, I had no idea who The Folkes Brothers were but I knew every beat, every drum lick of their 1960s hit song, Oh Carolina. It was the song that once you heard it at a party, you knew two things: it was late (or early morning, depending on your point of view), and it was time to go home. I’m really not sure how it got that designation.

Oh Carolina, The Folkes Brothers
Oh Carolina, The Folkes Brothers

The Folkes Brothers, John, Mico and Junior, were a group that played mento – Jamaican folk music. Oh Carolina was written by John Folkes and produced by Prince Buster, the first hit record for him. Oh Carolina is regarded as pivotal in the development of ska, rocksteady and reggae music. Prior to the release of the song, Jamaican musicians copied Rhythm & Blues music from the U.S. Oh Carolina was the first to depart from what was the norm. By incorporating African drumming and chanting, done superbly by Count Ossie, a legendary Rastafari drummer, it  created a new Jamaican sound.

In 1993, Oh Carolina was re-released by reggae singer, Shaggy. It goes without saying that I prefer the original version. After Shaggy’s version became an international hit, Folkes and Prince Buster went to court over its authorship – Folkes prevailed.

Take a listen to Oh Carolina.

Oh Carolina,

Oh Carolina honey darling,
Oh, honey, don’t you cry.  

Oh I’m so lonely

Yes, I’m so lonely
Oh, I’m so lonely, Carolina.  

Carolina, my darling,

Oh I wanna talk to you
Oh Carolina, my honey
You know I love only you.

Oh Carolina,

Tan bonita (so beautiful),
Come back and make things right. 

Carolina, my darling,
Oh how I love you
Carolina, my honey,
You know I love only you