KINGSTON, Jamaica – Having learned the tenets of Rastafari at the feet of giants like Mortimo Planno, master Jamaican drummer Ras Michael realized from early the importance of roots music and its spiritual message.
Fifty years after forming Ras Michael and The Sons of Negus, he is still chanting Rasta.
“From Back O Wall (a former expansive slum in West Kingston) to now, we deal with a certain standard as a Rastaman and churchman. It’s just a continuation of the works,” he said recently.
In July, those works were recognized at a concert in Los Angeles where the singer/musician has lived for over 30 years. Ras Michael was honored with citations from the California House of Representatives and Senate before his show at Levitt Pavilion.
“It shows that people accept the music and what I stand for, which is unity of people and oneness,” he said.
Ras Michael, 76, is one of roots-reggae’s strongest pillars. Originally from rural St. Mary in eastern Jamaica, he moved to Kingston, the country’s capital, during the late 1950s and settled in West Kingston and nearby Trench Town.
In the 1960s, he discovered the message of Rastafari while living in Trench Town where his colleagues included Joe Higgs, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston (later Wailer) of The Wailers and Planno, an inspirational figure in the Rasta movement’s early years.
In 1969, Ras Michael formed the Sons of Negus, a group of Rasta drummers whose spiritual songs paid homage to Africa, black consciousness and their faith. They recorded a number of well-received albums throughout the 1970s, including Nyahbinghi, Rastafari and Kibir Am Lak.
The group also recorded outstanding songs like New Name and None A Jah Jah Children which showcased the traditional drumming and spiritual chants that remains their signature.
In July, Ras Michael was a special guest of Ziggy Marley at the Del Mar racetrack in California.