The news about a reunited Black Uhuru reached most of us with surprise a few years ago; the former antagonists Duckie Simpson and lead singer Michael Rose had settled their differences now once and for all and started work on new material for the first time in twenty-some years. Good news for some of us, while others couldn't care less. What became of Uhuru during the early eighties was a mixed bag of production values and some still feel that the songs suffered badly because of this. Black Uhuru started out as one of the more interesting vocal groups in the late seventies, particularly due to Michael Rose's fresh and energetic style, the now typical so-called 'Waterhouse wailing', a type of slur or slang which many Jamaican singers have picked up since. They cut a great album for the Prince Jammy camp, then the Island Records machinery took over, and the former spark of the group drowned in a lot of major company crap. For me, Michael Rose blossomed when he went back to where he started, from the mid eighties onward, as a solo singer; and he's done pretty well as that. Rose showed some substance in a dancehall era which could leave a lot to be desired nowadays. It was to change within a couple of years after he had begun cutting singles for Sly & Robbie's Taxi label, with people like the late Garnet Silk joining Rose by popularizing the cultural aspect of the music once more. My thanks to Michael and family, Ryan 'Reggaesoul' Bailey, Carlton Hines, Ryan Moore, David Corio, Laurent Pfeiffer and Donovan Phillips.

Q: You were born in the heart of the ghetto, the Waterhouse area, right?

A: Yeah.

Q: Where in Waterhouse to be more precise?

A: Um, I don't know if you know Waterhouse very good, but it's a place called - the road is called Montserrat Road, and that is off Denham Road, I don't know if you know it that well (quite right I don't)? Yeah, it's between Bayfarm Road, Denham Road, yeah? That kind of a area.

Q: And that's an area where you had people like Sly (Dunbar) as neighbour?

A: Yes, Sly! Yes, Sly was there.

Q: He lived in that area.

A: Yeah, it's close by, like walking distance, y'know.

Q: He was also a Waterhouse resident at the time. And you became friends from early on?

A: Who, Sly? Yeah, yeah. It's like one big neighbourhood.

Q: What you mostly read about when it comes to the Waterhouse area, it's mainly a dangerous part of Kingston, one of the most violent. But when you grew up, I assume it was pretty different from what it became from the late seventies and onwards?

A: Well, in those days it was not so bad, wasn't so bad. But as time goes on and I and I move on, you have new generations who come around who actually don't decide to cope with life, the slow lifestyle, everybody want to get rich quick, y'know, the fast living. So you have more crime and everything.

Q: Is it pretty much the same nowadays, or Waterhouse hasn't changed much for the better?

A: Well, I wouldn't say it changed, yunno, I wouldn't say it changed. But it is like it's hard, it is hard.

Q: The opportunities for youths in that area, or most areas, I suppose it's still 'limited' to say the least?

A: Well, the opportunity... I've seen more, if more developers could come by to develop in certain areas with them youth deh, so that them can achieve, but not by stealin' or... From they sit down every day, some a them left high school them na have nutten fe do and, y'know, some turn to the gun, some just - they die in the street like that, some end up a prison. Whatever can be altered to help all these youths, y'know.

Q: What is needed there the most right now, apart from the obvious answer, we both know what, I mean that doesn't necessarily take them off the streets at night, right?

A: Right. Well, I feel more employment for them, for the youth them. Too much unemployment.

Q: Your brothers had some sort of influence on you, musically, when you grew up, didn't they?

A: Yea, because actually when I was growing up as a young person coming up, my brothers, they actually used to sing... my brother used to sing 'Jailhouse Rock', and when Christmas time come, they would sing Christmas carols and t'ing like those. But they used to record for this guy called Newton Simmons, he had the recording studio called SRS Studio.

Q: Where?

A: In Waterhouse. Yeah.

Q: What sort of studio was that, just a little two-track?

A: Yeah, it was just a lickle two-track (chuckles). Sly them usually go by 'cause, like, everybody who knew music always know Sly 'cause it's just one lickle circuit, y'know. You understan'. So whatever Sly could've done we could've done it, 'cause we both knew each other.

Q: I wouldn't say I've heard about that studio before, it was basically a demo studio or rehearsal space?

A: No, no. This guy, he used to work at the airport, Norman Manley Airport in Kingston there, and he had a studio at home. So when he's not working, sometimes he'd be there recording in the evening. You'd have like Snacky and quite a few of them from university who don't be violent, some people would sing, y'know, Sly would come and play drum. Newton, the guy who owns this studio, he would play a lickle guitar, and so on, and they would let Ansel Collins come and do some overdub on keyboard. And they had a song out of this studio called 'Woman A Ginal Fe True', I don't know if you even remember that song (sings the chorus): 'Woman a ginal fe true, they take away your money and your love, then they leave you for another man...'?

Q: No.

A: Actually that song was recorded by this singer, was Andel Fordie. He actually work for a newspaper, a magazine out of New York right now. Yeah.

Q: So you sang like harmony on that song?

A: No, actually y'know I was on the flipside of the record, and them time deh I was a deejay!

Michael Rose

Q: (Chuckles)

A: (Laughs) It sound strange, but like inna the early days we used to, like, play jus' one lickle sound system them inna the ghetto, and you used to have a lickle man named Mr Sampson who used to live next door to me who used to have a lickle sound, and we used to play the sound and fool around the mic, y'know.

Q: What was the name of the sound?

A: Sammy Hi-Fi.

Q: OK, Sammy Hi-Fi, just a small small local sound?

A: Yeah, he used to just... a man who used to love records, play music on weekends, from Friday evening he would play, sometimes on Wednesday. But them time deh, you know how it go, all your parents is tellin' you seh,' bwoy, do you homework, stay in, don't go out', so...

Q: (Chuckles)

A: You know? So, inna them days deh, that's the only way to get a chance fe deal with music, y'know. There was another lickle sound named Danny Little Disco, yeah, he was at the end of Montserrat Road or Barbados Road. Yeah, he was a good influence with music too, ca' them man deh used to play record all the time, every day coming from work he used to play, ca' he used to love music. I used to go by them place listening, y'know. Yeah man.

Q: 'Danny Little Disco'?

A: Yeah, Danny's Lickle Disco. And sometime on weekends now they used to play out, people used to engage them, y'know, like people keeping parties, they used to hire out the sound an' t'ings like that. They used to play like Duhaney Park, that's where Junior Delgado is from, and they used to play Pembroke Hall where Tony Rebel is now. Yeah, them days deh used to be nice, beca' them time deh me young an' them time deh a pure soul people, afro an' bellfoot pants an' it jus' a different... you know?

Q: Other vibes, different era.

A: Yeah, you know wha' me a talk 'bout, ca' inna them days deh, if you know wha' appen before inna the seventies...

Q: Soul music carried the swing, like you said, the 'fro, high heeled boots and all this.

A: Yeah, yeah, and more party, like, people go to a party an' them enjoy themselves, y'know. Yeah man, I used to wear bellfoot pants them time deh we have, you know the big foot pants them? Yeah, and the high heel boot an' all them t'ing deh. Mmm.

Q: So your start was more in the deejay field.

A: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Actually when my brother died now, that time we start penetrate the singin'.

Q: What happened to him?

A: He had an accident an' die.

Q: Car accident?

A: Yeah.

Q: Then what happened next? I think I heard something about you being a part of either the Falcons or a group called Happiness Unlimited?

A: Happiness Unlimited. The t'ing was there now, after I used to record like... not really recording as such, but like talent shows usually. They used to have this place named Bohemia, a man named Sir Hilton by Half Way Tree there, I used to go to that club. You have Jackie Brown, you had Keith Poppins, and quite a lot of big artists, y'know, inna them time deh. You used to have this brethren whe sing 'Miss Wire Waist', them man deh a the bigger man too (singin' the chorus), you remember those songs?

Q: Right, Carl Malcolm.

A: Yeah. And couple time is like I used to go to some audition, and one a the time I won a talent show and that's how Niney did discover me, and that's how we started the first recording, yeah?

Q: Which one was that, was it 'Dinner' or any of the other tracks you cut for Niney at the time?

A: 'Guess Who's Coming For Dinner'.

Michael Rose (photo: Dennis Morris '76)

Q: OK, that's the first.

A: 'Freedom', 'Some Love Between Us', and 'Clap the Barber', we record them songs, yunno.

Q: What about Happiness Unlimited, did they...

A: Hol' on now, then after that now we did do... Happiness Unlimited I think it drop in jus' before the recordings. Yeah. Happiness Unlimited, we know a brethren Tokey Taylor then, and them did invite me to come do a audition with the band. Them time deh the band used to rehearse at the Hummingbird Restaurant at Half Way Tree Road, yeah? And started to do some, like, performances an' t'ing, like dinner music and so on, that stuff. They had Sharon, Sharon she used to be singer, like the lead singer for the band them time.

Q: Who, Sharon Forrester?

A: No, not Sharon Forrester. But I haven't seen that girl in a long time, must be thirty odd years. I used to sing harmony.

Q: Who else played in that band?

A: Ahhh...

Q: Who was bandleader?

A: The bandleader was Garth Bright. You used to have a youth name Fish, can't remember his right name but Fish used to play keyboard, Garth Bright used to play the bass, then you used to have... it was a couple a them guys, drums and guitar.

Q: I think I've seen somewhere that Third World's drummer, Willie (Stewart), he used to play in that band.

A: Yeah, Willie! Willie used to play drums inna the band, yeah? And, me nuh know, but for some reason we get the contrac'. We play the North Coast and then, like, I did a year an' six months down there, and then a man smoke weed an' then the man want me to talk who the man was, I didn't talk, an' then I was fired from the band. Anyhow, me never take it as bad, I come forward, go check Sly and see wha' gwaan an' Sly seh, "Write some tune an' get some tune together". By this time now, Sly did get busy with Peter Tosh (or 'Touch') and they went on tour, then after I came up an' link up with Duckie (Simpson) them from, yeah, when I left the country, link up with Duckie an' so on, and so on, and record the 'Love Crisis' album for Prince Jammy, y'know. Then Sly them come back from the tour and we record the 'Showcase' album. Between that we did record two songs, couple songs for Dennis Brown, the 'Rent Man', 'Wood For My Fire', and so on.

Q: OK. Listen to this track (playing 'Clap the Barber' off the Heartbeat Niney-anthology 'Truths & Rights - Observer Style', issued circa 1992).

A: Mmm.

Q: Been some time you last heard that one, eh? Which one was it?

A: Yeah man, that's 'Clap the Barber'!

Q: (Chuckles)

A: (Laughs) Yeah.

Q: How come you wrote that tune? Was it a suggestion from Niney, like, to become a response to David Jahson's 'Natty Chase The Barber' at the time (a big hit in '76)?

A: Yeah, yeah. Well, inna them time deh there was a lot of fight, you know inna them time deh you jus' start Rass an' your parents would handle it seh, bwoy, y'know 'You better comb that hair or we gonna take you to the barber shop' (chuckles), an' all these t'ings. So there was a whole heap a fight when you start see Rastafari an' take onto this way of life, wherein you start praise Jah. You have different heavens, y'know, and start stick to certain kinda living. And because of our parents now who actually didn't brought up that way, so them never have that understandin', so it hard for them fe really accep' it.

Q: They were devout Christians I suppose?

A: No, them wasn't Christian... yeah, them waan you more go to church an' (chuckles) them t'ing deh an'... you know? So it's like when we start seh 'Rasta' now an' seh 'Africa' an' them t'ing deh, them couldn't see through that. So there was a big fight and when you're coming up as all a Rasta youth inna them time deh, but it's like at the same time we never used to dis we parents still, we used to jus', whatever, hide from them or... you know? (Chuckles) Run away from home an'... you understan'?

Q: OK, so you were like a renegade kid there for some time?

A: Yeah, them kinda vibes deh. Yeah man, for real, y'know.

Q: But you 'solved' that conflict with your folks later on, your parents accepted this after a while?

A: Yeah, them accept it now because they saw actually that the life we would a deal with, we never there try fe come rob people or try to steal anyt'ing from anybody, y'know, an' them kinda t'ing deh. The way our life how we would a deal with, we never a deal with no life whe it's like, bwoy, to let them down, you understan'. Ca' when a man go to prison you would've let dung your family, ca' them no like that.

Q: Of course.

A: You know.

Michael Rose

Q: What inspired that song, 'Guess Who's Coming To Dinner', what's the background to this classic again?

A: Is the same Sidney Poitier t'ing, yunno. Yeah?

Q: Ah, the movie, right.

A: Yeah, the movie with Sidney Poitier inspired it. And inna them times deh, the fight from the parents them, ca' a Rastaman would hold a queen, hold a nice girl an' go to Excelsior (High School) an' them t'ing deh, the mother them an' the father them would a seh, bwoy, y'know, them no waan no Rasta inna them family an' rae, rae, rae. You know, it would be a big task, and then girlfriend would answer seh, bwoy, she have a mind of her own an' nobody can tell her who to meet, you understan'. And true, like, the Rastaman would answer, bwoy, him na eat no pork an' them t'ing deh, a different whole t'ing. So, most of the young daughter them whe a come up an' did love we in them time deh, y'know, everyone a them want fe deal with a Ras, you see, ca' them usually like the way how I stay. It na hurt no one, ca' the Rastaman is a peaceful man, yunno.

Q: The records you cut for Niney, did he go behind them at all, really pushed for it, apart from 'Dinner' which became pretty well-received in England I think.

A: Who, Niney?

Q: Yes, I remember now that I spotted an ad for it in a UK publication, I think it was Black Music, on the Oval Records imprint, so he did try. But they did not do much for you in Jamaica?

A: No, them tune deh never really take off a Jamaica, them did more play an' buss a Englan'.

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