April 15, 2005

MACUILXOCHITL: “Five Flower,” the Aztec god of music and dance

Ska Legend to Appear at Del Mar this weekend

Ska pioneer and legend, Desmond Dekker, has recently released a wonderful 2 CD retrospective of his career, You Can Get It If you Really Want (Trojan). With a total of fifty one songs ranging from his first release, the 1963 single, “Honour”, all the way through to his recordings with fellow ska mates the Specials and his last solo records in 1993.

It’s an amazing collection of this true icon’s catchy singing style and songs that were sometimes light hearted as on another of his earliest singles, “Parents”, and at other times dark and full of political tension, as on the classic 1966 James Bond-inspired “007”.

While most consider reggae as the original with its melodious bass lines and percussive guitar accentuating the upbeat, the former is actually a descendent of the more upbeat yet strikingly similar ska, but one of the more intriguing aspects of this set of songs is the heavy rock and roll influence heard on some of the songs that were recorded during that genres blossoming years.

“I used to listen to rock Bill Haley little Richard all of the rock and roll singers. I loved music from when I was knee high when I heard a song I liked I always liked to sing it by myself.”

Encouraged by his friends, the shy teenage Dekker eventually made his way to a tryout for the island’s biggest record producer who ultimately signed him to a deal in 1993. By 1996, he experienced his largest success with the single “Israelites”. It was also at this time that the highly successful Dekker relocated to Kingston after having spent most of his orphaned childhood in St. Thomas. To this day he and Bob Marley, a childhood friend of his, are the two most noteworthy artists to have ever come out of Jamaica.

The second and third waves of ska that hit music fans in the eighties and nineties mostly via England and the U.S., respectively, and had tendencies more along the lines of seventies and eighties punk oozing non-conformity and waving a anti-establishment banner, Desmond Dekker has continually written fairly straightforward songs about life lessons. From the direction of “Honour” to the pleading in “Parents”, Dekker sounds more like a wise and deeply caring friend than some volatile lose gun protestor.

He possessed and to this day still does emanate a subtle feeling of warmth and compassion and tends to share solid and relationships with those near to him. He credits his former boss, when he worked as a welder, who had heard of Desmond’s aspirations as a singer, called him into his office and assured him of his welding position should his musical endeavors not prove fruitful.

Dekker sees this as the key factor to his decision to give his all in pursuing his musical aspirations. “That’s really what made it happen for me. I said to myself I’m going to give it a try if t doesn’t go through then I can go back. I thought to myself I had nothing to lose.”

Amazingly enough, there still that same optimism for his music and his message, “I wirte my songs about everyday life. I realize what’s happening to me, around me, and how I feel about situations and people and put it all in music. If there is one song that reaches one person; one out of a hundred and they learn something form it, then it’s all been worth it.

Desmond Dekker will play this Sunday night at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

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