Reggae history and British pioneers Black Slate

After last week’s live performance at Hootananny and as Black History Month gets under way, Anthony Brightly, co-founder and keyboardist of British reggae pioneers Black Slate, talked to Anetha Sivananthan about reggae today and tips for aspiring talent

Black Slate
Black Slate

Reggae originates from the Jamaican phrase “rege-rege” meaning ragged clothing and came to refer to a style of music that evolved from Jamaican genres ska and rocksteady; however, it was not until the Rastafarian movement rose to prominence in the 1970s that reggae gained global recognition.

Political unrest and unemployment afflicted Jamaican society in the 1970s and, charged by this, reggae became the way to discuss the social and political issues at the heart of post-independence Jamaica.

But it did cam from a long tradition. Among the precursors of Rastafari was Marcus Garvey. Born in Jamaica on 17 August 1887, he promoted Black self-empowerment and Black pride, as well as the belief that all Black people should return to their homeland of Africa. In 1914 he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) to promote this.

The UNIA’s core values were racial pride, economic growth and the creation of an independent Black nation in Africa. While founded in Jamaica, its crucial influence was in the United States’ urban Black neighbourhoods, where both the UNIA and Garvey became symbols of Black nationalism.

Despite this, Rastafari, the next great movement to spring from the African diaspora was, again, born in Jamaica.

Leonard Barrett, author of The Rastafarians, describes reggae as “not only an artistic creation in the Jamaican society, but an expression of deep-seated social rage.”

Robert Nesta – Bob – Marley and the Wailers took the movement worldwide and, to this day, their music is heard on every continent.

Black Slate, formed in 1974, were instrumental in introducing reggae to the British musical landscape and, years on, the band is still working to keep the genre as inclusive as possible.

Founding members are Anthony “Pure Silk” Brightly on keyboards, Chris “Music House” Hanson on guitar and Desmond “Drummy” Mahoney on drums, congo and percussion. The band’s newer recruits include Colin “Steam Fish” McNiesh (Bass) and Jessie “Energy” Brade and Gaven “Magic Voice” Creary on vocals.

Anthony Brightly highlights the influence of artists such as Jamaican singer Jamar McNaughton, better known as Chronixx, in cultivating youth interest in reggae today.

Anthony Brightly.
Anthony Brightly.

The original style of reggae fused with the voices of young people creates a distinct and unique sound and the band’s most recent album, Peaceful Demonstration epitomises this.

Daylight, the album’s lead single features vocalist and Brightly’s son, Gaven Creary, set against a backdrop of ethereal Caribbean daylight – the soothing melody and magical vocals whisk the listener away from the rush, chaos and frantic movement of modern life and transports them into the calm of the Caribbean daylight, Creary basks in.

“When you break down the words of Daylight, you can relate to it … it’s real, you can listen to it,” says Anthony Brightly.

In 1976, Sticks Man from the album Amigo, released during a time of racial tension and frequent clashes between the police and the Black community, called on communities to lead by example. It was recognised as an anthem by marginalised white and Black communities and established itself as a hit in the UK singles chart.

After the success of chart-topping singles and sell-out performances, Anthony Brightly’s words of wisdom for aspiring artists are: “What glitters is not always gold”. Although something may appear glamorous, that may not always be the case – so it’s important to invest in something you love doing to enable you to stay and enjoy it.

“Learn your craft and be responsible, because when you become a popular person, whether it’s a child or an adult, they will watch you, follow you and believe everything you say,” he says.

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