Prince Buster... Afterbeat and Aftereffects...

Prince Buster: True ska is music with a soulIn 1962, a time when much of Jamaica was still copying the musical style of America, Cecil Bustamente Campbell, later known as Prince Buster, felt that something new was needed.

"True ska is music with a soul."

This is how Buster described his own music. His opinion was that, "Too many imitators were following up with a phony ska style which sounded more like the old-time twist than the real thing." In fact, this new musical form, inherited from American R&B, took on a different color according to the producer. It was easy to pick out the different sounds of Coxsone, Duke Reid, King Edwards, Leslie Kong and Byron Lee - legends in the fierce competition of the ska era. Despite this fact, Buster's music was so inspired, soulful and authentic more than any other, it's difficult to deny his definition.

Prince Buster is an archetype in the realm of ska music. Since its beginning he is remembered as something of a hero, mysterious and legendary to mythic proportions. Buster spent the better half of a decade assisting Sir Coxsone Dodd with his soundsystem in the mid-1950's, then started his own soundsystem and record labels.

Buster was one of the first sound-system men to go into the recording studio himself. While the older DJ's like Duke Reid still valued imported R&B singles from America, Buster and the new generation of music producers began creating their own records, gently altering the rhythmic emphasis, and intermixing the Rastafarian drummers' 'burru' rhythms, like those of Count Ossie.

At the time, the earliest records produced in Jamaica were called 'specials,' which were dics pressed in small numbers, to be used exclusively by the sound-system men who had supplied the money for the recordings. Not until later did these records become commercially distributed and widely available, most often through licensing agreements that put money into the pockets of the producers, but not necessarily the performers.

Simply mentioning the labels and soundsystems he created and developed in the early 1960's, among them "Wildbells", "Islam", "Soulville Center" and "Voice of the People", it is easy to see his preoccupations and the direction they took. His music and style reflected Christian fervor intermixed with Afro-centrism that was itself influenced by the Black Muslim Movement, Baptism, a dedication to all Afro-American music and a moral commitment to his native Jamaican people. He proclaimed himself their representative, defender and charismatic guide.

His own soundsystem, dubbed "Voice of the People", brought him the recognition that later saw his name penned in the history books of ska music. He began to produce his own records for his various labels, to launch the soundsystem. Overnight he became the King of Sound in Jamaica. As a producer, composer and singer, as well as polemicist, spokesman and visionary, Buster is definitely one of the most committed personalities in the history of Jamaican music.

Buster later opened his own record store on the corner of Charles Street and Luke Lane in Kingston, Jamaica, called Buster's Record Shack. He later moved to Orange Street in the mid-1960's, where, as far as I know, he still owns his record shop today.

Buster had his guitarist Jah Jerry emphasize the afterbeat instead of the downbeat. To the present day, the afterbeat is essencial to Jamaican musical syncopation. The final ingredient had been added and mixed. Ska was born.

'Musically, ska is a fusion of Jamaican mento rhythm with r & b, with the drum coming in on the 2nd and 4th beats, and the guitar emphasizing the up of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th beats. The drum is therefore carrying the blues and swing beats of the American music, and the guitar is expressing the mento sound."
(Julian Jingles)

Buster was singer, songwriter, and record producer. Recording with Buster's Allstars he released hit after hit throughout the 1960's, becoming Jamaica's first international superstar, producing several top hits outside of Jamaica.

In 1961 he signed an exclusive licensing deal with Bluebeat, which owned Melodisc Music, the first label in England to deal entirely and only with Jamaican ska. The Blue beat label became popular and influential to the point that, throughout Europe, Bluebeat became synonymous with Ska.

Buster's early recordings were, both musically and psychologically, underscored by a current of rebel attitude tinged with religious feeling, as well as an inextricable combination of pagan cultures inherited from the African slaves and Biblic fundamentalism.

He was as anxious to have his own voice heard as to pay his dues, as can be seen in the tribute he payed to the greats who came before him. Not in the least taking away from his performances, the Prince's beliefs transcended the music. "The Prophet", the standard of the soul singer Chuck Jackson, may very well have been written specifically for him, as the lyrics in his brilliant interpretation sound like a manifesto.

Another such manifesto was "The Ten Commandments", clearly defining his notion of the relation between the sexes. Almost immediately it generated a storm of angry responses from female singers like Helen Flemming, Norma (along with Laurel Aitken), and Princess, (oddly enough, produced by Buster himself).

Buster was fascinated by the moral and religious stands taken by his Afro-American brothers and famous personalities, the most notable at the time being Cassius Clay (Muhammed Ali), that he increasingly referred, in his music, to Islam as well as to Christianity. Although Buster was a believer, he was most of all a believer in himself.

"You sing what you feel. Slick it up and you take that soul away..."

His name and music were always remembered as being on the forefront of creativity in ska music, so much so that many second-wave and current bands derived much of their inspiration and style from the Prince. Some even named their bands after his most famous song titles.

Despite the primitive state of mono recording facilities in use at the time, it was the determination of Ska enthusiasts which enabled ska music to become the first truly commercial Jamaican Music. In fact, the Ska was later named the national dance and official music of Jamaica.

Ska music was already destined to become the first popular music to come from Jamaican recording studios. Such a large number of people accepted, listened to, and enjoyed ska music, that an entirely new dance was created, which came from the Jamaican middle class.

Ska soon became the first form developed in Jamaica with the potential to become popular not only in its native land but abroad as well, helped in no small part by Prince Buster. Likewise, it was during these early years that many of the musicians who are still remembered as the 'greats' of Ska first earned their reputations.