Sunday, 3 February 2019

Black Uhuru

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Black Uhuru

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Black Uhuru
Black Uhuru featuring Michael Rose, 2007
Background information
Also known as
  • Uhuru
  • Black Sounds Uhuru
OriginKingston, Jamaica
Years active1972–present
Associated actsSly and Robbie
MembersDerrick "Duckie" Simpson
Andrew Bees[1]
Past membersDon Carlos
Garth Dennis
Puma Jones
Errol "Tarzan" Nelson
Jenifah Nyah
Junior Reid
Michael Rose
Frank Stepanek
Sly Dunbar
Robbie Shakespeare
Vince Black
Black Uhuru is a Jamaican reggae group formed in 1972, initially as Uhuru (Swahili for 'freedom'). The group has undergone several line-up changes over the years, with Derrick "Duckie" Simpson as the mainstay. They had their most successful period in the 1980s, with their album Anthem winning the first ever Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 1985.



The group formed in the Waterhouse district of Kingston in 1972, initially called Black Sounds Uhuru" (the Swahili word for freedom), with a line-up of Garth DennisDon Carlos, and Derrick "Duckie" Simpson.[2] Their first release was a cover version of Curtis Mayfield's "Romancing to the Folk Song", which was followed by "Time is on Our Side"; Neither song was a success and they split up, with Carlos pursuing a solo career, as did Dennis, before joining The Wailing Souls.[2] Simpson also briefly worked with the Wailing Souls, before forming a new version of Uhuru with Errol Nelson (of The Jayes) and Michael Rose, the group now taking the name Black Sounds Uhuru.[3] Their Prince Jammy-produced debut album, Love Crisis, was released in 1977.
Nelson returned to The Jayes in late 1977, and was replaced the following year by Sandra "Puma" Jones, a social workerfrom South Carolina, US, who had previously worked as a dancer for Ras Michael & the Sons of Negus, and as a member of the group Mama Africa.[3][4] The band now took on their most familiar name, Black Uhuru.[3] The group began working extensively with Sly and Robbie, and recorded a string of successful singles, including "General Penitentiary" a re-recording of Rose's solo hit "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", and "Shine Eye Gal", which featured guest guitarist Keith Richards.[5] The group's second album Showcase drew on these singles, and the band cemented their status with a performance at the 1980 Reggae Sunsplash festival.[5] They planned to record an album with Dennis Brown producing, but this didn't materialise, although two singles, "Wood for My Fire" and "Rent Man", were released.[5] They were signed by Island Records in 1980,[6] who issued the Sinsemilla album to an international audience in 1981. The follow-up, Redreached number 28 in the UK Albums Chart in 1981, Chill Out reached number 38 a year later, and they toured with The Rolling Stones.[5][7] In 1989, their album Red was ranked No. 23 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "100 greatest albums of the 1980s."[8] Their next studio album, Anthem, appeared in 1984, and won the first ever Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album the following year.[5][9]
Despite this success, Rose left the group in 1984 to resume his solo career after falling out with Simpson,[10] and was replaced by Junior Reid.[6] They signed to RAS Records and moved in a different direction with the album Brutal and the single "The Great Train Robbery", the latter recorded with New York dance producer Arthur Baker.[5] Although these alienated much of their roots reggae following, Brutal was nominated for a Grammy and "The Great Train Robbery" gave them their second UK hit single, reaching number 62.[7] The band began to disintegrate; their next album with Jammy was started but never completed, they stopped working with Sly and Robbie, and Jones left the band due to ill health (she died in 1990 from cancer).[5] Her replacement was Janet "Olafunke" Reid, and the group returned in 1988 with the Positive album.[5] Reid was unable to obtain a US visa, and unable to tour, left the band, followed shortly by Olafunke.[5]
Black Uhuru, now reduced to Simpson alone, had been booked to play at an awards ceremony in California, which coincidentally had original Uhuru members Don Carlos and Garth Dennis on the bill, and they took the opportunity to reunite the original line-up for a performance at the event, and decided to continue afterwards.[5] The Now album followed in 1991, and was also nominated for a Grammy. In 1996 the group fragmented again, with Simpson leaving to tour Europe with dub poet Yasus Afari, under the name Black Uhuru, while Carlos and Dennis also toured the US under the same name.[11] A legal battle over the name followed, won by Simpson in 1997. Carlos resumed his solo career, while Simpson formed a new line-up of Black Uhuru with Andrew Bees and Jennifer Connally.[11] Only two albums, Unification and Dynasty, were released before Bees went back to pursue his solo career in 2003.
In February 2004, it was announced in the Jamaican press that Simpson and Michael Rose had reunited under the name "Black Uhuru feat. Michael Rose".[10] Together with a female backing singer named Kay Starr, they released a single, "Dollars", and performed at several concerts including "Western Consciousness 2004" on 28 April in Jamaica, of which a live video was released shortly thereafter. A new album was reported to be in progress, although it was never released. The group toured throughout Europe in 2006.
In 2008, Simpson took on lead vocal duties, and in 2012 the group recorded a new album, As the World Turns, with guest appearances from Aterciopelados and Jarabe De Palo, although this was still unreleased a year later due to the master files getting corrupted.[12] A 25th Anniversary Edition DVD of their Live in London concert was released in June 2008. In 2011, the group now featuring Derrick "Duckie" Simpson, Andrew Bees, and Kaye Starr, toured the US for the first time since 2002. In 2014 Jojo Mac joined the group, and left in 2016 to continue her solo career. The band re-rerecorded all but one track of As the World Turns, which was eventually released in September 2018.[13]
Black Uhuru undertook a US tour in 2016 with Andrew Bees on lead vocals and Elsa Green on backing vocals. Singer Onesty opened for the band.[14]

Appearances in other media[edit]

Black Uhuru's song "Great Train Robbery" from the album Brutal appears in the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas video game soundtrack, on the fictitious radio station K-Jah West, another song, "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" appears in the Scarface video game soundtrack and in the movie The Mighty Quinn.[15] The song "Sponji Reggae" was featured briefly on season two of The Cosby Show, when Denise Huxtable and her boyfriend were watching the music video on TV. The song "What Is Life" was featured briefly on season four of Miami Vice. Additionally, "Party Next Door" was featured in the 1980s movie North Shore. "What Is Life" was also featured in Season 1, Episode 4 of the American television show Wiseguy, in the episode "The Loose Cannon" (when the series went to video, that song was removed and replaced with stock music).


Group: Derrick "Duckie" Simpson, Michael Rose, Errol "Tarzan" Nelson
  • 1977 – Love Crisis
  • 1981 – Black Sounds of Freedom (Love Crisis re-edition)
Group: Derek "Duckie" Simpson, Michael Rose, Sandra "Puma" Jones, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare
Group: Derrick "Duckie" Simpson, Delroy "Junior" Reid, Sandra "Puma" Jones, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare
Group: Derrick "Duckie" Simpson, Delroy "Junior" Reid, Olafunke
  • 1987 – Positive
Group: Derrick "Duckie" Simpson, Garth Dennis, Don Carlos
Group: Derrick "Duckie" Simpson, Jenifah Nyah, Andrew Bees
  • 1998 – Unification
  • 2001 – Dynasty
  • 2018 – As the World Turns
Live / Dub albums:
  • 1982 – Uhuru in Dub
  • 1982 – Tear It Up – Live (album and video)
  • 1983 – The Dub Factor
  • 1984 – Live
  • 1986 – Brutal Dub
  • 1987 – The Positive Dub
  • 1988 – Live In New York City
  • 1990 – Now Dub
  • 1990 – Love Dub (Uhuru In Dub re-edition)
  • 1992 – Iron Storm Dub
  • 1993 – Mystical Truth Dub
  • 1994 – Strongg Dubb
  • 2000 – Live 1984
  • 2001 – In Dub
  • 2001 – Dubbin' It Live (summer 2001, at PalĂ©o Festival)
  • 2013 - Live In Germany 1981 (Rockpalast on CD and DVD)

Awards and nominations[edit]

Black Uhuru has won one Grammy Awards and were nominated eight times.[16]
1982Reggae Sunsplash '81, A Tribute To Bob MarleyBest Ethnic or Traditional Folk RecordingNominated
1984AnthemBest Reggae RecordingWon
1991Iron StormBest Reggae AlbumNominated
1993Mystical TruthNominated
2018As the World TurnsNominated

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