Can Conquer 1976-1979 - Prince Alla
I Don't Want To Be Late
Only Love Can Conquer
Sun Is Shining
They Never Love (Disco Style)
Mama No fight
City Without Pity
Youthman In The Ghetto (Disco Style)
Dread Locks Nazarine
|Prince Alla is one the true heroes of
Jamaican roots music; born Keith Blake in Kingston on May 10th 1950,
Alla recalls first being introduced to music by his mother:
I did really love music from a lickle boy stage, ca' my mother use to carry me to her church. We use to sing 'Our Father' in the church, an' dem ting deh, yunno.
After attending Denham Town Primary, Alla went on to Buxton High School on Victoria Avenue. It was here that he came into contact with the Jamaican music business for the first time:
When I reach to Buxton High School, we use to 'ave some youths there who was recordin' artists. I use to love hear dem sing, an' go in a back bench an' sit down beside dem, an' lissen... sometimes get all in trouble. One of those guys name was Donald, an' one name Kenneth - I don't remember the group name that they had. They use too record dem times deh, at Randy's, an' that get me drivin' into the music vibes a way, (so) that I say I would like to do music too.
Soon after Alla joined his first vocal group:
The firs' time that we came to mek aa record now, we had a lickle group by the name of Leaders, down in the bottom of Greenwich Town deh, 4th Street. A friend of mine did 'ave a sister, an Joe Gibbs, the bredda name Joe Gibbs was that girl's boyfriend. Dem time deh he never use to deal with music, he was a technician. He went to Guantanamo Bay on some technician work an' dem ting deh. So we used to sing on the corner. He came one evenin' an' heard us, an' stop an' lissen to us an' say, boy, 'im love it, an' all dem ting deh. Through 'im 'ave a lickle money. we say mek we go in a studio now man, an' 'im sqy alright. We go on an' we did two tune for 'im - 'Sit Down And I Cry' and 'Hope Someday' ...at that time the group was a youth from down a the bottom name Rebels, an' a nex' youth name Magic, an' Milton Henry... that was the firs' recordin' that I did.
Discographies show that the Leaders made at least three sides for Joe Gibbs, all issued on the Amalgamated label in the UK during 1968; in addition to the two songs mentioned above, the group also cut 'Tit For Tat'' As a solo vocalist, and using his birth name of Keith Blake, Alla also cut 'Woo Oh Oh', 'Musically' and 'I Am Moving On' for the same producer. These recordings were all in the then current Rock Steady style, and utilised a band led by guitarist Lyn Taitt which also include Gladstone Anderson on piano and drummer Hugh Malcolm. As Milton Henry recalled in late 1984:
I was 16, when I did my first recording, and that was with Joe Gibbs. That session was the Errol Dunkley and Roy Shirley session that came up with Roy Shirley's 'Hold Them' and Errol Dunkley's first hit. During that time I was with the Leaders - Keith Blake - yeah you know him as Ras Alla. The Leaders during those times, they made a lot of pre-releases, blank labels, but the only one that came out was (on) the B-side of 'Just Like A River' by Stranger & Gladdy.
Following their sojourn with Gibbs, Alla and henry soon formed a new group; Alla continues:
Well after that now I came up, an' I meet Soft as a lickle youth, an' we start go round Central Road (Greenwich Town). Me an' Milton Henry say we gonna make Soft come into our group, an' we jus' bring Soft into our group, an' we call weself the Nazarine. We start singin' for the Chinaman, Tramp...Winston Lowe (Then based at 74 East Avenue in Greenwich Town). That time Lloydie Charmers use to 'andle 'im business for 'im, an' Melodians use to sing for 'im too. We went down to Duke Reid studio an' sing a tune for 'im, 'Little Blue Bird On The Window', an' 'Dedicate My Song To You'. Uniques sing some songs for 'im too. After, he never bother with the recordin' ting again, yunno, an' he start to run a bettin' shop. So it's like seh 'im kinda cut off the record ting, so that's comin' in like the end of that still.
In common with many other ghetto youths, Allah was beginning to develop a deep and abiding interest in Rasta. Greenwich Town was home to a community of Rasta brethren called Edwardites, followers of the Rasta elder Prince Emmanuel Edwards:
After I did those tunes for Joe Gibbs an' those people now, I went to the Bobo camp, Prince Emmanuel camp that was in Bull Bay - firs' at Spanish Town Road, then they move go a Trenchtown, then to Bull Bay. I was out there for about six or seven years. When I came back now, it's beca' I did know Bertram Brown from a lickle youth. The whol' a we grow in Greenwich Town. He use to say to me: wha'ppen Alla man, start sing again! Me use to say, boy, a Rasta business, me cyaan dem singin-singin' now, 'til 'im down 'pon me, an' me say: alright. The truth of it is, when I use to go to the Rasta camp, the music that they play there, it was a drum sound. Dem say when you come to do other music, it is worldly an' ting, like a Christian ting. You would a sing all some lickle tings weh the Rasta man, in 'im righteousness no like, so 'im jus' label it an' say well, a Babylon ting dat, yunno. But to me ina myself, I see music an' sound as righteousness, beca' music an' sound is the key to life. no music is dirty, to the things that it might say or do. But music is righteousness, beca' it's sound, word sound power.
By the mid-seventies, Alla was ready to venture again into the music business; he recorded 'Born A Fighter' for a guy named Teddy Powell from Maxfield Avenue, and another 45 called 'Red Hot' with Roy 'Soft' Palmer under the group name Vandells, released on the Warrior label in 1975:
I did that tune for a youth name Glen (Lee). He came to me with a riddim... (it was) 'Cupid Draw Back Your Bow', riddim. He said sing a song now, an' we did that for 'im at Channel One.
Bertram Brown started the Freedom Sounds label in late 1975; he had also owned a label called Libra. He gathered round him some of the most talented singers and players in his home neighbourhood of Greenwich Town, including such as Philip Fraser, Earl Zero aka Earl Jones, Rising Son aka Lloyd Johnson, Brent Dowe, and Milton Henry. the Soul Syndicate played the rhythms. Alla continues:
So me start work with Bertram Brown now - I think I did a tune called 'Thank You My Lord'. Then we start do some other tune like 'Judgement Time', 'Sun Is Shining'. Those are the firs' set a tune we did for Freedom Sounds.
Roy 'Soft' Palmer takes up the story:
One day I was at home. I see prince Alla come to me an' say we gwan do some song fi Bertram Brown. 'Im say we gwan do it as a group, as the Nazarine. We get some riddim - I sing lead on one, Prince Alla lead sing on some others, an' Frankie Jones. That was in 1975. I use to sing harmony for Prince all along. Most of his song dem, I sing background melody, me an' Frankie Jones.
Roy Palmer is one of three singing brothers - the other two are Frankie Jones, composer of the classic 'Ballistic Affair' for leroy Smart, and Junior Ross. Junior Ross recorded for producers Tappa Zukie and Ossie Hibbert, using the name Junior Ross and the Spears, alongside his brother Roy and fellow Greenwich Farm resident Linford Nugent, Roy, Frankie and Junior also recorded as the Palmer Brothers for Brent Dowe of the Melodians. Roy Palmer also made titles under his own name for Freedom Sounds including 'Head Corner Stone' and 'Busy Street'. These and many other Freedom Sounds recordings will be featured on a forthcoming Blood and Fire release in during 1997.
In 1976, both Alla and Roy made songs for Tappa Zukie, who recorded them at Lee Perry's Black Ark studio in Cardiff Crescent in Washington Gardens. The resultant track, '(Man From) Bosrah' was initially released on Vivian 'Yabby U' Jackson's Prophets imprint. When Alla and Roy got their first royalty amounting to $300 each, they promptly gave the money to Tappa to help him reach the UK. Tappa released the title on the K&B label in England, as well as titles by Junior Ross and the Spears and Linford Nugent. they were popular favourites on the UK sound system scene during the summer and autumn of 1976. Tappa also produced a superb album on Alla called 'Heaven Is My Roof', containing such classic material as the aforementioned 'Bosrah', 'Daniel', 'Funeral' and the title track. A dub version of 'Bosrah' can be found on BAFCD/LP 008, 'Tappa Zukie In Dub'.
Meantime Alla continued recording for Freedom Sounds, cutting the epochal 'Stone' in mid-1976; the Bible readings from Prince Emmanuel's camp continuing to inform and inspire his expression:
That vibes came from in the Bobo foundation, ca' as Rasta wi' the turban on mi head, we used to read the Bible often, every day read the Bible, an' we did sing. I really see it - Daniel saw the stone comin' to mash down Rome. When I come out, I say I really gon' spread the message, yunno. Dem times deh, certain tings did a gwan, certain lickle violence. So it come out of dem tings wha' did really a gwan, ca' 'nuff lickle violence use to gwan down the Farm, some gunshots politics business. me really did 'ave in my mind a stone to mash down that system deh. Me look 'pon that as a Rome system, an oppression system still. Although me did read in a the Bible (that) Daniel see the stone to mash down Rome, like a prophesy ting, a long time ting, but me did bring it in a ting wha' me see 'appen NOW, dem times deh. So me see a stone come mash down Rome, but mus' call the system Rome same way.
The rhythm for this and other Freedom Sounds songs was laid at Channel One; songs were then voiced and mixed at the studio of dubmaster King Tubby, located in the rough ghetto Waterhouse:
We lay riddim at Channel One, but we voice dem at Tubby's. At Channel One you always 'ave 'nuff youth out deh - 'nuff youth always want to come in too. Freedom sounds - anytime we go a Tubby's, same ting too. All some youth round the place when we come dung, (they) would a come when we gon' spend all night deh. Youth come an' say: wha'ppen man, dem boil all mint tea an' bring come gi' we, me an' all bad boy who fire gun an' dem ting deh, yunno. But beca' we a jus' music, dem jus, love we. Freedom Sounds was a label weh people love.
Even so, security was tight at Tubby's:
Sometimes when you go in, place a fi lock up. Tubbs 'ave a camera weh 'im look fi see who out a the gate, fi know seh if that man can come in or not. Sometimes a man all out a the gate an' a call an' you stay inside an' you hear 'im. More time Tubby's a fi quarrel an' say: stop unnu noise nuh man! You acn jus' stan' up outside an' hear a man a voice, an' everyting weh 'im a say.
In the heart of the ghetto, King Tubby's was a beacon of creativity; Alla recollects his painstaking approach:
But one ting with Tubby's now, when you voice an' go in deh an' lissen back...cho man, is a MELODY man. 'Im studio jus' lickle, but through 'im is a great technician, 'im set up 'im place that mos' studio don' 'ave dem kinda sound deh. All dem reverb, like 'im mek up dem reverb deh yunno. All dem sound. Tubby's bring it up. 'Im lickle studio did nice, an' 'im was nice bredrin. 'Im is a man weh if you voice a tune, 'im will come fi hours amn, an' tell you say, don't do that, an' do that. an' that. 'Im irie man, 'im leave 'im work an' come talk to you. 'Im tell you: try that lickle ting up deh now, an' when you try it, you say: yes Tubbs, a it dat. 'Im say: how you mean, gwan in a it now! Most a the Freedom Sounds stuff is Tubby's, yunno. Sometimes you a voice, an' 'im jus' come an' tek the board an' say mek me do thid man. Ca' the tune 'Stone' yunno. I tink it was Scientist takin' that tune, an' Tubby round in 'im place deh, a work 'pon amps. 'Im hear the tune, an' lif' up an' come round an' say: get up man, mek me do this.
Tubby went to fetch a tape containing various sound effects:
When Tubby's tek the voice an' mix it man, me a tell you man, the man go fi a ting over 'im place deh, a tape with some sounds, all kind a sound. 'Im come round an' touch it, an' say, this is the right sound - come now, an' 'im start the riddim. People say: yes Tubbs! So from that, anytime we come now, Tubbys always want to mix our tune, ca' 'im did like we, an' we did like 'im too, ca' 'im NICE, yunno?
Alla also retains fond memories of the excellent Soul Syndicate band, previously renowned for their work on Dennis Brown tunes produced by Niney the Observer. Alla remembers their co-operative attitude:
Me is not really a big guitarist player, but I can know me lickle chord dem weh I sing on - I really can play dem, me C. G, E minor, dem lickle ting. Anytime me mek a tune, me always try say the bass(line) too - I couldn't play it on the guitar, but I use to do it with my mouth, an' the horns, the organ, everyting. So I could mention it to Chinna, or one of the other man dem. Same time dem always aks me weh me 'ave to say (about the arrangement). So me really mek up the tune dem, yunno. Dem time deh, Syndicate now, plenty of people never use to use that band deh. Dem mos'ly use to go fi all some bigger man, Like Robbie (Shakespeare) or some other big band. But we now, through we grow up with dem youth deh, we decide seh dem we a go deal with. Dem time dem youth did hungry an' wan' come to the top. Anyting you tell dem, a man nah say: cho...! If you say someting, a man would jus' say: say it, an' 'im lissen, an' would play, an' go for it. As 'im go for it, 'im touch all a nicer lickle someting on it too, play it, but touch someting 'pon it too, (so) that you say: yes, yes! Everybody a jump an' say yes! Anyting you tell dem, dem try it, an' if it right, it gon' clear... if it wrong, a man say: alright, an' a laugh, an say, no, that cyaan work, do someting else. We jus. come like brother an' sister. We love the music; me love the singin'. As a man say: studio, me gone. Dem youth deh, as you tell dem studio, so dem ready, an' leave all dem tea, an' dinner! Syndicate man - anytime, anywhere we go man, you always feel happy. Dem was some good youth... all Santa, when 'im tek 'im foot drum, an' mek fi 'im one drop, the place shake!
During the eighties, Prince Alla would record infrequently; he made a showcase album for Carlton Jackson's Ital International label in 1982, and a 12" single called 'Rastafari' around the same time. He also made music for Earl Smith's High Times label, and for Greenwich Farm producers like Anthony McClaren aka Tony Mack, and Mikey Pep's Cornerstone label. In 1991 a single called 'Cry Freedom' appeared on A. Henclewood's Green Farm label. In early 1996 Alla cut an album for the UK-based sound system operator Jah Shaka, marketed by Greensleeves Records under the title 'Jah Children Gather Round'. Bertram Brown has sporadically repressed certain Alla tunes on the High Times label. Alla has been recording recently with Bertram - a single in combination with the promising Greenwich Farm deejay Mister X appeared in early 1996. he is currently recording an album with Junior Dodd, son of Clement Dodd, whose release is eagerly anticipated. He also hopes to tour in the near future. The music that Prince Alla made in the latter half of the seventies for Freedom Sounds, and for Tappa Zukie, has easily stood the test of time. It is beautiful and profound roots music made with a passion and commitment that has only been equalled by the very best artists. Blood and Fire are indeed honoured to present the majority of Alla's Freedom sounds output on CD for the first time, and remastered for the most part from the producer's original tapes.
Steve Barrow - August 1996
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