This article was originally published in a short-lived reggae magazine
called Roots & Culture. In retrospect, it was full of inaccuracies and
misleading propaganda. Duckie Simpson split with Garth Dennis and Don Carlos
within a year of publication, thus making the article seem naive. I have
corrected some of the biographical mistakes and post it here for the sake
In the twenty-four years of its existence, Black Uhuru has been known by
as many different sounds as faces and has endured more times of change than
almost any group. From early fundamentalist roots of the 1970s to the ultra-progressive
sounds of the 1990s Black Uhuru has known all sides of Reggae music.
Anchored solidly by the unchanging presence of Duckie Simpson and an unchanging
message of Black freedom, Black Uhuru has proven time and again that it
certainly deserves its already solid place in Reggae history.
The genesis of this legendary trio can be traced to the Waterhouse district
of Kingston, Jamaica where it was all started by Garth Dennis in 1970. Dennis
hooked up with his schoolmate Duckie Simpson and friend Don Carlos and after
some early jams, the group was set in motion.
The band struggled in the competitive Jamaican record market of the early
and mid-seventies, releasing three singles, "Time Is On Our Side,"
"Folk Song," and "Slow Coach." During this time, Garth
Dennis had also been working with the Wailing Souls and by 1977, he opted
to become a permanent member of that group.
In the same year, Don Carlos left to make his way as a solo artist and
went on to record the following albums: Day to Day Living, Prophesy,
Laser Beam, Deeply Concerned, Just A Passing Glance,
andTime Is The Master. He also released Ease Up, Raving
Tonight, Them Never Know Natty Dread Have Him Credential, Plantation,
andGhetto Living with his longtime partner Gold. Duckie Simpson
found replacements for Dennis and Carlos in singer/keyboardist Errol Nelson
and the man who would front the group to international success, Michael
Rose (Mykal Roze). This trio was recorded and produced by Prince Jammy in
1977. The debut work was entitled Love Crisis (currently available
as Black Sounds Of Freedom).
With the addition of Puma Jones on vocals in place of Nelson after Love
Crisis, the stage was set for Black Uhuru's international conquests.
The band's first major success outside the Caribbean came with Guess
Who's Coming To Dinner (originally titled Showcase). With the drum and
bass engine of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare,
the album blew the roof off of traditional roots reggae with critical 'cutting-edge'
tracks, "Shine Eye Gal," "General Penitentiary," and
the breakthrough hit "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner." The album
signaled a new direction, not only for Black Uhuru, but for Reggae in the
The evolution of the vintage "mid-period" of Black Uhuru can
be traced through recordings Red, Sensimilla, Anthem,
The Dub Factor, Chill Out, Tear It Up and Liberation:
The Island Anthology. After this landfull of successes, including the
first ever Reggae Grammy, awarded for Anthem, major changes again
awaited the band. In 1985, Michael Rose left for a solo career and was replaced
in the lead role by Junior Reid. After one album, Brutal, Puma Jones
fell ill to cancer. She struggled with the disease before finally passing
away in January of 1990. The band once again adapted with Janet Reid taking
the backing spot on thePositive album.
In 1987, a jam at the Reggae Times Awards sparked the reunion of original
members Dennis, Simpson, and Carlos that was fully realized and solidified
in 1990 with the Mesa records release, Now. Since 1990, Black Uhuru
has released Iron Storm, Mystical Truth and most recently,
Duckie Simpson, Garth Dennis, and Don Carlos are a formidable threesome
in person, continually scrutinizing, always analyzing. When answering questions,
sentences frequently flow from one man's mouth to another without interruption
or discontinuity. They truly converse with the same level of harmony heard
in their vocals, leaving no doubt as to their personal closeness.
The following are excerpts from an interview on the 1994 Strongg Tour.
You've got Strongg coming out in a couple of weeks. Tell me about the
album..What kind of sound are you trying to put out?
GD: What kind of sound?
Yea, your label says, Mesa says, it's a return to a more roots sound,
whereas on Mystical Truth you did some cross sounds.
GD: Oh, yea, yea, yea, more hardcore this time. More hardcore this time.
Why are you going back to that sound?
GD: It's natural...
DS: It's an original sound, ya know. It's not really...
GD: ...going back, ya know wha I mean?
DS: It's original sound. It's not a sound but only thing. Music is an article
thing. From your first style enuff fe play music. You create, you know,
you play any kind of music, you know..Say I&I really...
GD: Flexible everytime
DS: ... Flexible and always reachin out to the people everytime.
GD: And so run as we can music, move it you know, but the message remain...
DS: ...the same, yea.
GD: One and the same, everytime. We're from the groove and the sound and
the music. If you listen to the contents of the lyrics, you realize that
Black Uhuru is the same everytime.
DS: Message same.
What band did you use on the new album?
DS: Well, we have different different musicians. We use our band while we
use different band, different people from other band.
DS: We use, Derrick (Barnett) from Sagitarius and the drummer (Jermaine
Ford). On one of the tracks we even have Sly (Dunbar), seen we? But it all
base round with our musicians, but we invite other musicians.
GD: There's Dean Fraser also.
DS: Yea, Dean play horns, too, ya know?
GD: Christopher Meredith
DS: Ya mon. Is a one still. We no deal with no partiality when come fe music.
GD: We incorporate musicians as well as our own band.
As well as your touring band...
Are you going to do a dub version?
GD: We think so.
DS: Yea, they always do that.
Yea, last three times. That's a lot of work in four years. This is four
albums in four years..
DS: Yea, well, that fe show how much we workin and how serious it is to
us, the music, ya know? And how developed we are becah plenty a man couldn't
write so much song in so much time.
DC: And the wordsound remain the same.
DS: Strong, seen we?
You've done "Army Band" and "Willow Tree" that you've
re-recorded. Are you going to do more of those originals?
GD: No, this is fresh.
GD: No cover, all fresh.
Speaking of covers, you've covered War, you've covered Peter Gabriel,
and also Jimi Hendrix, How do you decide who you want to pay tribute to?
DS: Is not a thing that we decide, ya know. As I say, music is pure, so
pure that when it hits you you feel no pain and the reaction just feel happy,
seen? So that was it we heard...
DC: Jimi hendrix
DS: ...Jimi Hendrix and like it and we heard...
DS: ...Peter Gabriel and it reach us, seen we? So you know, we just continue
it cah music a continuation still, seen?
GD: The song War, though, was introduced by management.
DS: Which when we hear it still we decide that its a good song still.
GD: I mean "Slippin Into Darkness" by War.
DS: Which was a song that we know from a street seen we? We used to sing
it as a youth.
GD: So when them mention it to us it was no problem.
DS: Cah it was a song that we already know
DC: ...and love
DS: ...and love
What do you listen to now?
GD: VarIety mon. VarIety. That's what he saying saying about Peter Gabriel
and War. We have a kind with... we just straight up. We don't partial. Understand
we. But Reggae as you know is our number one roots.
One more question about Strongg, you spell it with two g's...What's
GD: Extra strong, not just strong, extra strong
DS: The vibrate. It strong something vibrate
In the sound and the message...
DC: Ras Tafari
GD: No matter what the change is, I&I strong
When you tour now, in the last four years since you've been back together,
do people accept the new, the latest music, or do they want to hear "Guess
Who's Coming To Dinner?"
GD: The four quick album answer that question. The three quick album in
succession answer that question... Ya understand what I'm trying to say?
The first one if it wasn't accepted...
If it wasn't accepted, you wouldn't have done any more...
GD: So the music speak for itself.
But you still perform some songs that Michael Rose did with the band?
GD: Most naturally.
DS: Most like we do it in a medley.
How much of the live set is from the latest album. How do you mix your
DS: We have a sneak preview from the upcoming albums. We do songs from the
other albums, from the other three albums.
Where do you find you're strongest audiences in the world when you tour?
GD: Strong in terms of what? More crowd or concious people...
More crowd or enthusiasm, people who know, I mean you see people sing
DS: To me a Africa, ya know?
Yea, how much do you tour over in Africa?
GD: Well, the group as such have never been there..
Oh you haven't been there, but the albums are always there?
DS: Yea, I know that if the group,... but it's gotta be a seen thing.
Back to your music. Why do you think the harmony trio worked for so
long in Jamaica, whearas in the United States, the trio hasn't been as popular
since the sixties
DS: You see, Jah do everything still, you know. We don't even know. It just
Jah. Cah Jah keep it together
And the people keep loving it...
GD: All praises due to the Most High. Cah when a mon stop doin' that, that's
when the trouble start.
DS: When man start take credit for Jah work...
GD: ...that's when the trouble start.
DS: I&I know ya haffa give Jah credit, cah if I&I no give Jah him
GD: Whether it trio or four-o or five-o, ya understand me?
DC: Without Jah, the sound cannot be made.
DS: Without Jah, there is nothing.
Roots music took a second place to the dancehall sound in the 80s, but
it seems now that there's a return.. Did you see that return always coming?
DS: It's always there, it's always there, seen Garthie?
GD: It never went nowhere
I know it never went nowhere, but when I say that you know what I mean?
GD: To answer you really, what we really try an say, I try to be diplomatic
as possible, ya understand me? It's the system. It's the same people who
want to lead the People astray and just deal with dollars and cents just
do that. Ya understand me. And if it's not real, its not gonna last. That
how it happen, ya understand me.
DC: Material money.
It's just the industry...
GD: and the politics within it. So if you won talk politics, ya understand
DS: ...they too deep into that still, becah the people spose to see that
too. Cah if we see it, them suppose to be able to see it.
DC: Who have eyes to see, let them see, who have ears to hear, let them
DS: True, we just sing anything whah we gotta deal with now in music, so
all the people...haffa just listen to the music.
GD: Wordsound is power.
What have been the best times of twenty-four years of Black Uhuru?
GD: The sky is the limit and the best is yet to come everytime. Jah
is the ultimate, everytime...
DS: Only the best is good enough for we and we no settle for less than the
So it's the best everytime...
DS: Yea mon. Right now our aim is fe get people together, the world together,
GD: One love and harmony.
DS: You can guess or imagine from that
GD: Dem kinda people worry about material things.. we no won that happen...
Me see the grabbin and bad mindin and the setup and there would be no need
for that becah everymon have...Within him mind have the most I-self.
That's why we educate the people, so them can have control of them mind,
seen? Becah once him know (him)self and know Jah then no haffa worry about
Is there anything else you want to tell the people who read Roots and
DC: Just come out and come support the roots and culture, seen we?
DS: Yea mon, everytime.
GD: And give Jah the praises.
DS: Yea, we just won the people to know we love them still. Wait patiently
fe the change, fe them make the change fe the better...
GD: We don't want to be singin them songs all the time..sorrows is not that
thing alone we sing bout.
DS: What we need people to start realizin self and start livin upful, cah
thats the only thing can change thing and make everyone happy...cah everyone
can be happy. The earth is big enough for everyone to live happily...
Sounds like this group is forever?
DS: I tell you, it's Jah ya know, it's Jah do everything. I nah go predict
nothing, cah I no really check I-self as a prophet, prophesI nothin or predict
nothing, but I there when Jah call on I&I. Once the people need the
sound then Jah will give I&I the authority to deal with it.
For real, I'm glad you spent the time with me
GD: Pleasure mon.
GD: And write the truth everytime and nothing but the truth.
Everytime. Forward everytime.
Copyright 1994 Carter Van Pelt