Our top 10 Burning Spear songs look into the best releases from the career of a Rastafarian Jamaican roots-reggae musician. Born in 1945, Burning Spear is famed for his influence in the roots reggae music scene, thanks to his mind-blowing songwriting skills. The iconic roots-reggae artist used to listen to jazz, soul, and R&B music from spill waves of US radio stations that reached his home at Saint Ann, Jamaica. Burning Spear would be inspired by the soul musician, Curtis Mayfield who released politically conscious music along with James Brown, one of the first ten inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As a young man, Burning Spear would be influenced by the views of Marcus Garvey, a legendary political activist, and cheerleader of Pan-Africanism.
Bob Marley, one of the reggae pioneers from his hometown Saint Ann advised Burning Spear to approach Studio One Records after an off-the-cuff tête-à-tête. Originally, Burning Spear was a group whose moniker was inspired by a military award given by Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya. The group included Winston Rodney, now Burning Spear, bassist Rupert Willington, and tenor Delroy Hinds. However, after the group’s third album, Hinds and Willington would leave the band in 1976, having Rodney now take up the name Burning Spear for himself. Their departure resulted from Island Records’ move to remix some of the group’s songs, which upset the group and its fans.
Four years later, Burning Spear left Island Records releasing music under EMI and later signing a deal with Heartbeat Records, with whom he recorded several well-received albums. One of the notable albums is Resistance, which gave Burning Spear his first Grammy Award nomination. Burning Spear spent decades touring the world where he performed with other artists such as Joseph Hill of Culture. The studio seems to have been home for Burning Spear having him boast of twenty-eight studio albums, six live albums, and twenty-three compilation albums. Out of the twenty-eight studio albums, Burning Spear was nominated for twelve Grammy Awards for the Best Reggae Album, having won two awards for Calling Rastafari and Jah Is Real. Here are the top 10 Burning Spear songs from the iconic roots reggae singer-songwriter.
#10 – African Teacher
Opening our top 10 Burning Spear songs is the magnificent hit “African Teacher” from Burning Spear’s album Hail H.I.M. (1980). Listening to the song, you can tell that Burning Spear’s talent is top-notch, thanks to his melodic vocals. The song is delivered in a catchy tune that will find you shaking your head to the song’s beats. Credit to the percussions in the song that helps deliver a rip-roaring instrumental. The song’s lyrics allude to desire, unwavering dedication, and commitment to learning the roots and culture of the Rastafarian and African teachings.
#9 – Tradition
“Tradition” towers over most songs in the album Marcus Garvey (1975) to become one of the best Burning Spear songs of all time. The song features a stepping militancy as Burning Spear sings of a culture that traces back centuries. Its reggae militancy is presented in an absolutely accessible manner with a sense that it has its place in the rural places in Jamaica that reflect where Burning Spear was born and raised. The song renders a boundless joy in its minimal lyrics while conveying its mood through its musical backdrop.
#8 – Hail H.I.M.
Let’s now move to Burning Spear’s seven studio album and have a look at the album titled song “Hail H.I.M.” Burning Spear delivers the song in haunting high spirited vocals. As if his vocals were not enough, Burning Spear establishes himself as a master of the percussion and congas, offering the song amazing rhythms. Aston Barrett lays down some nice, funky, dub-like, and grooving bassline, which adds to the song’s glamour. This laid-back and thick groove as the lead single to the seventh album helped pave the way for the even heavier yet grooving ballads that feel almost palpable.
#7 – Slavery Days
“Slavery Days” is the second song on Burning Spear’s album Marcus Garvey (1975). The song reminds us why Jamaica’s less fortunate people, as well as Africans, are in their current situation. Notably, the song strikes a sharp chord in its description of how the less privileged and African were forced into bondage to work in the sugar plantations as slaves in the mid-1800s. Burning Spear illustrates visualizations of the enslaved pulling people pulling boats with shackles around their necks. The Africans/poor Jamaicans keep lamenting that their masters used them only to have them neglected later.
#6 – Walk
Number six on our top 10 Burning Spear songs is the hit “Walk,” featured on his album Our Music (2005). Did Burning Spear just walk the whole of Jamaica literally in the song’s video (pun intended)? One takeaway from the song is the lyric “Just keep on moving.” After the amazing walk through the streets of the Jamaican city, Burning Spear returns to the bus he alighted at the start of the song video. Its fantastic and chilled tune helps deliver the message of finding comfort in whichever culture you find sensuality and comfort in.
#5 – Cry Blood Africa
Anthemic is the single word that can be used to describe this roots-reggae ballad from Burning Spear’s album Hail H.I.M. The song is more than just music having it point towards the pure foundation of the roots-reggae music reggae. Burning Spear’s sadness in this song is evident thanks to his vocals, chunky bass, and moody horns, which help cement the song’s theme.
#4- Make We Dweet
Impeccably recorded “Make We Dweet” has established itself as a true gem among Burning Spear’s classic works in the roots-reggae scene. The song finds Burning Spear delivering a message that preaches respect while raising awareness for origins and heritage. The song’s awe-inspiring tune and melody make it an iconic roots-reggae ballad worth mentioning in the top 10 Burning Spear songs.
When you hear Burning Spear ask who will stand up for the people in the song “Identity,” you might feel like answering him that he has done it alongside other roots-reggae artists. The song identity is one of the best Burning Spear songs from the album, The World Should Know. “Identity” is delivered in a melodic instrumental thanks to the big array of musical instruments tagged in the song’s recording. The song is so great that you might find yourself toe-tapping in its beat.
Christopher Columbus was one of the greatest adventurists having him tour many places some of his peers had never seen or even heard. However, whoever said that Columbus discovered some of these places is quite a ridiculous soul, if not a racist. Did he or she mean that the few black men that lived in those regions were not people? Burning Spear is trying to blast Christopher Columbus for the same in his song entitled “Columbus.” In the song, Burning Spear blasts him as a liar since before he passed by all these places, he is tagged to have discovered there were people who lived there and knew the place even better than he did. The song’s chugging guitar and heavy bass lines help Burning Spear delivers his thought-provoking lyrics on how Columbus was a liar and America was discovered by the Arawak Indians.
#1 – Marcus Garvey
Number one on our top 10 Burning Spear songs is the exhilarating hit “Marcus Garvey.” The song serves as a salute to the avid Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey, who Burning Spear cites as an influence on his career. “Marcus Garvey” became a popular song in and outside Jamaica thanks to Marcus Garvey’s influence on the singer’s belief system. The song’s immediate impact in the roots-reggae music scene had Burning Spear regarded as one of the notable pioneers of this music genre.
Feature Photo: Sonia Rodney, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons