Trojan
 

Given how many of Jamaica's notable singers and musicians have now been recognised by the Jamaican honours system, it's incredible that the man who first took reggae to #1 all over the world and turned it into an internationally acceptable music, still has no posthumously awarded letters after his name. Desmond Dekker should be among the most decorated Jamaicans of all, yet his enormous contributions to the evolution of reggae remain virtually unheralded in his homeland. At the very least, there should be a statue of him on the corner of Orange Street, and there are a few who deserve the honour of 'Order Of National Hero' more than he. Not to belittle the achievement of those who have followed in his wake, but Desmond will always be The Man Who Came First and it's nothing short of a crime that his heroic efforts to make reggae a global phenomenon have been so rudely ignored by his fellow Jamaicans.

Not only did Desmond break reggae internationally, he did it - more than once - with records that were made for the indigenous Jamaican market, and that offered little to no concessions to commercial trends. Here in the UK in 1967, at the height of the 'Summer Of Love' and all thing psychedelic, '007' brought raw undiluted rock steady into many lives that had previously been untouched by any form of Jamaican music with a song about the local rude boy phenomenon (if that's the right word). We didn't know about rudies in the UK - most of us who bought the 45 just liked the sound and the singer's quirky, different vocal delivery.

It took Desmond nearly two years to place another record on our Top 40. When he did it, it was with a song that described the terrible hardships of life in Jamaica for the underclasses, with graphic lyrics that were not easily understood by anyone without a working understanding of Jamaican patois and phrasing. Again, people didn't need to know about the message behind 'Poor Me Israelites' - or simply 'Israelites' as it has become globally known - to know that they liked what they heard. When it reached #1 here in the UK in March 1969, it opened a door for a number of artists whose world featured frequently on the charts in the years BM (that's Before Marley, of course). It also topped charts around the globe and should have been enough to turn Desmond into a worldwide superstar, with an unbroken string of chart successes to carry him forward into the 1970s and beyond. Of course, there WERE more hits, some big and some not so big. But after scoring a #2 in 1970 with his fellow countryman Jimmy Cliff's song 'You Can Get It If You Really Want' those hits just stopped coming, as Desmond was pushed further and further towards commerciality and other who were perceived as more 'authentic' positioned themselves to challenge his position. Because he didn't sing about Haile Selassie or wear his hair in dreadlocks, Desmond slowly got pushed out of the big reggae picture - although hitting the UK Top 50 seven times in an eight-year period (including six Top 20 hits, one of which was a reissue of 'Israelites' that reached the Top Ten less than five years after it had topped our charts) is still an achievement that virtually no other reggae artist (with the exception of You-Know-Who) has been able to emulate.

Why did Desmond fade from favour at a time when reggae was becoming increasingly popular? Was it because he, along with several others, moved from Jamaica to the UK as soon as the hits arrived, and thus eroded his fan base among those who automatically think that having a pop hit - or in Desmond's case, several pop hits - rendered him irrelevant, and tainted his career in some way? Was it because he was pushed towards the poppier end of reggae's spectrum, despite still coming up with quality songs and memorable melodies? Was it because the premature death of his mentor and long-time record producer Leslie Kong left him perplexed as to the direction his career should henceforth follow? Sadly, neither Kong nor Desmond is around to be asked these questions in the 21st century. We can only posit our own theories as to why this wonderful artist still does not receive the acknowledgement of his pioneering work that his catalogue of recordings for Kong's Beverley's label demands.

Apart from a handful of recordings produced in the UK in 1968 and '69 by another supremely important figure in the Jamaican music business, Australian Graeme Goodhall, Desmond was a leading light in Kong's stable of artists from the day he auditioned for the Chinese-Jamaican producer in 1961 till Kong's untimely death from a fatal heart attack in August 1971. 20-year-old Kingston native Desmond Dacres decided that a career as a singer was infinitely preferable to his job as a welder, and made the rounds of the island's leading producers of the day with little to no interest from most of them. Kong's Beverley's label was still a fairly new concern in 1961, but his ears told him that Desmond was one for the future and he agreed to sign him and work with him until he was ready to release a 45. The time finally arrived in 1963 when Kong issued Desmond's self-composed 'Honour Your Mother And Father', the first of many local hits the Dekker-Kong partnership from the ska era that were also frequently issued in the UK. A year or so into this run of hits Desmond teamed up with the singing Howard brothers, who took the name firstly of the Four Aces and then just the Aces to avoid confusion with a well-established US singing group of the same name. The Howards played a significant role in just about every record Desmond made until he and they relocated to the UK in the wake of the success of 'Israelites', and Desmond slowly began to be eased into a solo career.

The hits carried on through the rock steady era with classics like 'Sabotage', 'Mother Young Girl', 'It Pays', 'Pretty Africa' and their wonderful 1968 Jamaican song festival winner 'Intensified '68' - some of the best records to be cut in Kingston studios during that most beloved period. Almost all of them were issued here in the UK and almost all of them sold nearly as well as they did back home.

Kong issued a few albums

IT MEIK
LOOK WHAT THEY’RE DOING TO ME
PLEASE DON’T BEND
MY REWARD
LITTLE DARLING
LIFE OF OPPORTUNITY
WHEN I’M COLD
ARCHIE WAH WAH
HIPPOPOTAMUS
WARLOCK
LICKING STICK
WHAT WILL YOU GAIN
TRAMPLE
THE MORE YOU LIVE (AKA LIVE AND LEARN)
GO AND TELL MY PEOPLE
REGGAE RECIPE
YAKETY YAK
THE SONG WE USED TO SING (AKA WHERE DID IT GO)
THE FIRST TIME FOR A LONG TIME
STOP THE WEDDING
MOTHER NATURE
LIFE HOPE AND FAITH

GENEROSITY
PICKNEY GAL (ALT VERSION)
HIPPOPOTOMUS (ALT VERSION)
LICKING STICK (ALT VERSION)
REGGAE RECIPE (ALT VERSION)
FATHER NOAH

Trojan
© Doctor Bird Records