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Roots with Quality - Niney and Michael Rose at Rototom 2012

Roots with Quality - Niney and Michael Rose at Rototom 2012

Roots with Quality - Niney and Michael Rose at Rototom 2012

By on - Photos by Chloé Charbonnier - Comment

Niney The Observer and Michael Rose's talk at the Rototom Sunsplash Reggae University

Day three of the University sessions celebrated giants of Jamaican music both absent and present. There in spirit was Jimmy Cliff - as University chair and author David Katz read from his latest book 'Jimmy Cliff: an unauthorized biography'. The extract he shared centred on the young Jimmy's first forays into music just before Jamaican Independence. His fortuitous meetings with the Chinese Jamaican producer Leslie Kong and the star of Day One's session Derrick Morgan, were the catalysts in making his first number one hit.

The inevitable floor question, posed by selector Gabi Robbins, was whether Jimmy was unhappy at being written about without permission. David's reply was that this was a short easy to read book containing no "kiss and tell" - just Jimmy's music and activism.

Niney and Michael Rose - Rototom 2012

Part two of the session was advertised as centring around one of roots reggae's greatest producers: Winston "Niney The Observer" Holness, alongside two singers who he helped to stardom – Michael Rose and Freddie McGregor. Niney and Michael (who appeared impromptu together on stage the night before for Niney's pioneering roots reggae hit Blood and Fire) arrived at 6pm sharp. Sadly, McGregor, who released his debut album with Niney, had to cancel his appearance at short notice.

A prickly character, who is not fond of interviews, Niney has generally been content to let his catalogue as artist and producer – including some of the greatest Dennis Brown recordings - do the talking. So it was a rare treat to hear that, like Jimmy, he was encouraged into the business by Derrick Morgan. "We used to move as friends" said Niney, "I did some songs with Coxsone then did some with Derrick. Derrick was married to Bunny Lee sister so I linked with Bunny Lee."

Niney worked both in front and behind the scenes. "I was all round like a cricketer – I'd bowl, bat and field." However, "Singing was never a creative activity. I liked to create riddim."

After going halves on the Destroyer label with Coxsone (Michael Rose interjected that Destroyer was a Jamaican brand of insect spray!) Niney decided to strike out alone with his Observer label. He had his first hit with Blood and Fire – despite it being banned by retailers and radio – a response to taunts from associate-turned-rival Lee Scratch Perry. He explained that he had a physical fight with Scratch's protégé Bob Marley, over the similarity – not with Duppy Conqueror as reported – but with the Wailers' Love Light.

Michael Rose - Rototom 2012Michael Rose, like Niney wearing shades, then explained how Niney discovered him at a 1972 talent show at the legendary Bohemia Club in Halfway Tree. Michael didn't win (due to "politics" said Niney) but the producer liked his voice and added him to his stable which included Dennis Brown – as potential rivals to Scratch and the Wailers. "Niney is different about producing" said Rose explaining that initially The Observer warned him about sounding too close to Dennis.

"I believe in originality. Dennis became so big that I had to change my style" – giving a quick blast of his original singjay intonation.

Niney praised Michael's vocals saying "No one can imitate Michael. Junior Reid copied his style. Yami Bolo. Snow from Canada – all Michael ideas."

"A blue print is a blue print and copies are carbon" said Rose. "I idolised Dennis but there comes a time when you have to change your style and be original but a lot of people don't do this."

Katz raised the important question of how key Niney's band of choice Earl Chinna Smith and Soul Syndicate were to Niney's sound. "They were a joy to work with. We could come up with anything" Niney recalled, explaining that as a producer he had to sing and even dance to give musicians an idea of what was in his mind. "Those guys would play the way I walked. The beat was dangerous, new, creative". He even hinted that he and Michael could reunite with Chinna and co "It would be judgment on stage!"

Michael sounded more succinct talking about his time with Sly and Robbie in Black Uhuru. He was quick to credit Niney for the group's winning of the first reggae Grammy. "From the hands of the observer because he call me out early."

Taking a question from the floor about the duo, who had performed the night before him, he said "I am not working with Sly and Robbie now. They are working with millions of people. You just have to move on. Black Uhuru mash up. You can't cry over spilled milk. But If I see them next week and they say 'Let's work' we work same way."

Niney and Michael Rose - Rototom 2012

Michael, like Marcia Griffiths, has remained relatively current with dancehall tunes like Shoot Out (produced by the son of the producer King Jammys who helmed Black Uhuru's first album Love Crisis). Asked about music today he explained "The music changes every 25 years. Dancehall is nothing new." However he felt new artists like Popcaan "talk about crazy thing" and the music is "like a spoiled egg".

Taking questions from the floor, Niney shared memories of working with both King Tubby (who he helped enter the business) and Lee Perry – describing both as "geniuses".

He announced "Me and Michael start work next year and fire out the place" to huge applause.

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