Soulful Sundays: Carla Bruni-Sarkozy

Without a doubt, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy’s current role as the first lady of France has dwarfed her singing career. Until she married and her name became known internationally, few of us knew anything about her.

I confess, I didn’t put much stock in her singing ability. But a few weeks ago, I watched a documentary on Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy (Somebody Told Me About…Carla Bruni) and was forced to change my tune. I was taken by her voice, and impressed by the lyrics she’s written for herself and others.

Born Carla Gilberta Bruni Tedeschi on December 23, 1967 in Turin, Italy, Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy is an heiress to the fortune created by the CEAT tires company. According to Wikipedia, the family moved to France in the 1970s when Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy was 7 to escape the threat of kidnapping by terrorist groups who targeted the wealthy.

Following a successful career in modeling, Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy quit in 1997 to devote herself to her music. She has recorded three albums, Quelqu’un m’a dit (2003), No Promises (2007) which comprises poems by Yeats, Dickinson, Auden, Dorothy Parker, de la Mare, and Christina Rossetti set to music, and Comme si de rien n’était (2008). She’s recorded with Harry Connick, Jr., and in 2009 sang for Nelson Mandela’s birthday party at Radio City Music Hall.

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, image from the Internet
Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, image from the Internet

Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy’s been married to Nicholas Sarkozy since 2008. Last October, she gave birth to her second child, Giulia, in Paris.

In addition to her musical career, Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy’s also been involved in the movies — she played the museum guide in Woodie Allen’s film, Midnight in Paris – and humanitarian efforts. Her foundation, launched in 2009, promotes access to culture and knowledge for everyone.

Take a listen to Deranger les pierres.

Soulful Sundays: Don Drummond

Ska trombonist and composer, Don Drummond, was one of the original members of the Jamaican Ska band, The Skatalites. He was educated at Alpha Boys School where he also taught. Drummond began his musical career with the Eric Dean’s All-Stars.

A household name in Jamaica in the 60s, pianist George Shearing rated him one of the world’s top five

Don Drummond, image from Wikipedia
Don Drummond, image from Wikipedia

trombone players. By 1965, Drummond had over 200 songs to his credit.

He suffered mental problems and in 1965, was convicted of killing Marguerita Mahfood, his longtime girlfriend, and confined to Kingston’s Bellevue Hospital, a mental institution.

In 1967, his adaptation of The Guns of Navarone hit the UK Top 10.

Drummond died in May, 1969, four years after being sent to Bellevue. He was just 37 years old.

Here are Man in the Street, which reached the Top 10 in the UK in 1965, and Jungle Reggae.

Soulful Sundays: Cesaria Evora – RIP

Cape Verdian singer, Cesária Évora, died on Saturday, December 17th in Baptista de Sousa Hospital in Mindelo, on her native island of Sao Vicente. She was 70 years old.

Cesaria Evora, photo from the Internet
Cesaria Evora, photo from the Internet

Évora was featured on Soulful Sundays in April. Take a listen to Petit Pays.

Soulful Sundays: Jackie Mittoo

Jackie Mittoo was born Donat Roy Mittoo on March 3, 1948 in St. Ann. The songwriter, keyboardist and musical director was a founding member of ska band, The Skatalites. He died in December, 1990 at age 42.

Soulful Sundays: Jackie Mittoo
Soulful Sundays: Jackie Mittoo

Please take a listen to Oboe and Ghetto Organ.


Soulful Sundays: Count Ossie & The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari

Legendary master drummer Count Ossie is credited with infusing African drumming and chanting in

Count Ossie
Count Ossie

reggae music. In the early 1960s, he backed The Folkes Brothers on their ground breaking hit, Oh Carolina.

Born Oswald Williams in 1926 in St. Thomas, Count Ossie grew up in a Rasta community where he learned hand drumming and vocal chanting. In the 1950s, he formed the Count Ossie Group, which later developed into the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari (MRR) and included horn player, Cedric Brooks. Count Ossie led regular jam sessions in Kingston were musicians such as Tommy McCook, Lennie Hibbert, Larry McDonald, Rico Rodriguez, Nambo Robinson and Don Drummond played.

Count Ossie & the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari were a major influence in reggae music, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. They recorded two albums Grounation (1973), considered a masterpiece, and Tales of Mozambique (1975).

Count Ossie died on October 18, 1976. In 1983, the MRR released and Man from Higher Heights.

While the MRR tours extensively in Europe, their first performance in the U.S. was in July, 2000, at the Lincoln Center’s Caribbean Roots, Caribbean Routes program, where I was fortunate to see them. Here’s a review by the New York Times of their performance.

Also, listen here to two of Count Ossie & MRR’s So Long and Sam’s Intro.



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



Soulful Sundays: Millie Small

Before Millie Small was catapulted to fame in 1964 with the hit song, My Boy Lollipop, she had been part of a duo in Jamaica that had some minor success.

Millie Small
Millie Small

She went to London in 1963 to record My Boy Lollipop, the song that put both her and Island Record on the map internationally. My Boy Lollipop reached number on the UK and US charts and was the first hit song for the Chris Blackwell’s fledgling label. It was only recently in an interview with Blackwell at the New York Public Library, that I learned that the song had been released originally in the US by Barbie Gaye.

Small’s hit was recorded in the bluebeat style, the genre of Jamaican music that predates ska and reggae.

Although she continued to tour into the 1970s, Small never had another hit on the order of My Boy Lollipop.

In August this year, the Governor-General conferred on her the Order of Distinction for her contribution to Jamaican music.

Millie Small or Little Millie Small as she was called back then, was born Millicent Dolly May Small on October 6, 1946 in Clarendon, Jamaica. She resides in the U.K.

Please take a listen to My Boy Lollipop.

Soulful Sundays: Desmond Dekker

As I write about Desmond Dekker, a Gregory Isaacs song (Love is Overdue) is coming to me from across the way. I’m thrilled to see that the music popularized by artists such as Dekker, Isaacs, Marley, Dennis Brown, etc., is holding its own against dancehall.

Desmond Dekker
Desmond Dekker, photo from the Internet

Desmond Dekker and his backup band, the Aces, won the Jamaica Festival Song Competition in 1968 with Music Like Dirt and had a string of hits that year, including A It Mek and Poor Mi Israelite. Israelite topped the charts in the UK and made Dekker the first Jamaican artist to have a UK hit. The success of Israelite paved the way for other Jamaican artists who made up the ska/reggae “invasion” of the UK that went on to influence punk music there.

Dekker was born Desmond Dacres in St. Andrew on July 16, 1945. He died in the UK on May 25, 2006. Please listen to Poor Mi Israelite and another hit, 007 Shanty Town.

Soulful Sundays: The Maytals

Listening to certain bands and singers take me back in time. Toots & the Maytals, or The Maytals, is one such band.

I remember one garden party that my church had, where we had a maypole – it was after Toots Hibbert, their frontman, who had been in jail – was released and his song, 54-46, That’s My Number, supposedly his prison identification number was played so often, it could have been the anthem of the party. I was quite young at the time but I do remember feeling disappointed, let down, when I heard he’d been arrested. It was as if it had happened to a close friend or family member.

The Maytals, Trojan Records photo
The Maytals, Trojan Records photo

Now this band, this local boy have, through music, transformed themselves into a highly regarded international ska and reggae act, touring Europe, Australia, Japan, the US and now rarely play in Jamaica. It is precisely because of bands like The Maytals that reggae continues to enjoy such popularity abroad (Hibbert is credited for creating the word reggae); at home, the music continues to evolve and a new generation of performers takes their place.

As a reggae purists, I’m surprised that I have never seen The Maytals in concert. I realized that when I saw a clip of an interview Toots gave for the documentary, Made in Jamaica. I was shocked how youthful he still looked, how strong his voice still was. I searched right away for performance dates but they had already performed wrapped up their US tour.

Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, who was born in Clarendon, Jamaica in 1945 started out singing in church. He met Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Matthias in 1961 when he moved to Kingston and they formed The Maytals.

Toots Hibbert
Toots Hibbert

They won the first Independence Festival Song Competition in 1966 with Bam Bam and again in 1969 with Sweet and Dandy and recorded hit after hit in the 60s and 70s. They were also featured in the soundtrack to the movie, The Harder They Come, which was named as one of Vanity Fair’s Top Ten soundtracks of all time.

The Maytals have recorded more than 40 albums and their music have been covered by performers such as Amy Winehouse (Monkey Man), and Robert Palmer, The Clash (Pressure Drop).

Give a listen to Pressure Drop and 54-46, That\’s My Number.

Soulful Sundays: Gregory Isaacs

Another of the musicians I grew up listening to is singer/songwriter, Gregory Isaacs, also called the “Cool Ruler” for his soulful, heartfelt music. Isaacs’ hit single, My Only Lover, is credited as being the first song recorded in the lovers rock sub-genre of reggae.

He recorded with many of the top Jamaican producers of the 1970s including King Tubby, Freddy McGregor, and Lee “Scratch” Perry who also produced Bob Marley & the Wailers, and was one of the biggest reggae performers in the world, touring the UK and US.

Gregory Isaacs
Gregory Isaacs, photo from the Internet

Also in the 1970s, Isaacs signed first with Virgin Records then with Island Records and recorded Night Nurse, the album and single that saw him break through to a larger audience. In a prolific career, spanning 40 years, Isaacs released an estimated 500 albums and was nominated for four Grammy Awards, including for Brand New Me in 2010. In 2011, his album Isaacs Meets Isaac, which he recorded with Zimbabwean reggae singer, King Isaac, was nominated for a Grammy for Best Reggae Album.

Isaacs, who was born in Kingston, died a year ago on October 25th at his home in London after losing his battle with lung cancer. He was 59 years old.

Give a listen to Night Nurse and Hard Drugs.