Michael Rose - Reggae In Bloom
Master of riddims Michael Rose is thrilled with reggae’s resurgence, but not surprised; certainly the sometime frontman of Black Uhuru is making his music sound more vital than ever. He spoke to 3D’s Cyclone ahead of his only Sydney performance.
Today reggae, once regrettably considered a seasonal gimmick, is mainstream in Australia. Witness this summer's Raggamuffin festival with Ziggy Marley. Now Jamaican legend Michael Rose is returning to perform “sound system style,” as opposed to gigging with a band. “It's just a different way to get the music,” he says, fighting jetlag in New Zealand.
The sound system has hallowed status in dance music because of acts like Massive Attack, but Rose will take things back to the formative days of Jamaican music culture.
A chilled Rose claims to not be surprised that reggae's popularity is surging in countries with small Caribbean communities such as Australia. “No, I'm not surprised, because I know that Australians have loved reggae for a long time now. This is maybe my second time around in Australia - or the third time, I think.”
Rose's passport tells its own story. The singer can't imagine anywhere he'd still like to tour. “To tell you the truth, I've been almost everywhere, because early last year I went to Kenya, which was my first time in Africa. We'd played everywhere except Africa.” Indeed, it's strange that Rose hadn't previously visited the symbolic continent. “They say nothing happens before the time, so we just had to give it time,” he says. “It happened.”
The voice of the Kingston ghetto, Rose is best known as the sometime frontman of Black Uhuru. He joined the group in the late ‘70s, replacing Don Carlos. Rose elevated Black Uhuru's influential Love Crisis (re-issued years later as Black Sounds Of Freedom). He'd also help them break into the pop market the following decade, the band, now on Island, bolstered by Sly & Robbie. Black Uhuru scooped a Grammy in 1985 for Anthem, becoming the first act to win the new reggae category.
Along the way, Black Uhuru opened for all manner of bands, from The Rolling Stones (with the J Geils Band!) to The Clash to The Police. “We had some good days, yeah,” Rose says, unfazed. He can't recall any impromptu jams, backstage or otherwise. “No, it never goes like that. Most of the time when we're on the road we just do our thing and move [on]. When we were touring in those days, the schedule was so tight that you only say 'hi' to musicians backstage and that's it - nothing like jamming and all that thing, ‘cause as soon as you're through with the concert, you either have to drive or move [on] to another show. It's like that.”
Out of the blue, Rose quit Black Uhuru to concentrate on a coffee plantation, with Junior Reid stepping in, albeit temporarily. “At the time the group weren't pulling together,” he relates. “We didn't have anything verbal, but I decided to cool out, and they decided to continue - which they did with Junior Reid.”
Rose soon re-launched his solo career internationally with the crossover Proud. In 2004 he reconnected with Black Uhuru, the group circulating the single Dollars. In fact, Rose performed with them at 2008's 25th anniversary concert in London. What prompted his reuniting- “There is someone calling me one day and [he] said that [Black Uhuru founder Derrick] Duckie [Simpson] wants to speak to me. I went quiet on the phone. He says, ‘It's OK, talk to him, he wants to talk.’ So I said, ‘Well, it's OK.’ I spoke with him and he wants me to sing with the group again. Then we had a couple of meetings and so on and we did some work together.”
Nevertheless, Rose won't jack in his solo endeavours. He enjoyed a monster hit two years ago with Shoot Out, produced by King Jammy's son, John John. (Jammy helmed Love Crisis). Damian Marley jumped on a remix.
Rose, who last yielded Great Expectations, has another LP on the horizon. He's re-teamed with John John. He's even cut a Barack Obama tribute, This Is History. “This is a really put-together album. It's taken a long time for this album to be released, but it's the sound of 'now'.” And, wait, there's more. "There's also a book that's gonna be released on my life and everything," he divulges.
The prolific Rose is excited about music in 2009. He's learnt the importance of being in sync with the zeitgeist. “As an artist, you have to be on top of things to make sure that the music is in the foreground at all times because, if you drop off form, then your music will only be heard in certain parts. That may be Jamaica, or maybe not even Jamaica, it may be just in foreign countries, certain parts - you know, [the music will] get limited. You have to focus on what is happening every day with the music so you can keep current.”
Rose pays heed to the 'urban' dancehall. “I'm a person, I'm open - I listen to everything. It's just that I don't get involved in the controversy that happens in the music, if there's a fight in the music. But I listen to everything.” Wise.
Still, Rose reckons that reggae's younger listeners should familiarise themselves with the music's history. Few of the kids who got down to Shoot Out realise he's a veteran. “It's very important for each and every one to know their history and their roots.”
Rose promises to deliver more than just riddims to punters of every age in Oz. “I've been around in the industry for a long time, and today I'm current again,” he concludes. “I think it's good music for them to absorb. It's not only music that doesn't have any meaning - actually, they should listen. They should listen to music that adds great value to their future.”
WHO: Michael Rose
WHAT: Plays The Factory Theatre
WHEN: Saturday 7 March