You could easily get stuck in reasoning how astonishing the fact is that so many great talents has emerged out of this tiny little island in the Caribbean called Jamaica. With this in mind it shouldn't be surprising even to newcomers to reggae music that no matter how talented some of the artists may be, that in itself was never a guarantee to stay on top and in musical shape too for that matter, even though this goes for most of popular music - whatever the genre might be. Naturally, some of them become pretty obscure over time. Collectors and cultists has kept many of them close to heart for a number of years and for some of these obscure names a following has been established that in most instances the artist himself is totally unaware of, having withdrawn from the scene years back. And believe me, the examples of this kind are many. One such exquisitly obscure artist - in terms of greater talent, and so on - from the golden years of the early to mid 1970's that I wanted to find out more about, and told in his own words of course, was the man called Keith Morgan, better known under his alias Sang Hugh. This man arose to prominence in 1972 through the efforts of producers Hugh Madden, Niney The Observer and Lloyd F. Campbell, having cut his debut disc for the former and getting his breakthrough with the latter two. This hit song was titled 'Rasta No Born Yah' and is a prime example of what the music would sound like in Jamaica over the remaining decade; a cry of the 'sufferah', the so called 'roots music'; music strongly identified in Rastafarian philosophy and experience. I linked up with Keith from his Negril base in March, '04 to get a pretty rare discussion going of his 'lost' career, something I truly hope will be revived in a serious way sooner rather than later. My thanks to the man himself, Sis Irie especially (without whose assistance this probably wouldn't have happened, so I-ternal thanks), Bob Schoenfeld, Donovan Phillips, Tim P, Steve Barrow and Michael de Koningh.

Q: You were born in the Westmoreland parish of Jamaica, right?

A: Yes, I was born in Waterworks, Westmoreland.

Q: And I suppose that's just a tiny village.

A: Yes, it's just five miles from the capital of the parish, called Sav La Mar.

Q: How big was the family?

A: Um, like three people. My father was a fisherman - he's a fisherman still, and my mother she was a housekeeper until she died.

Q: How long did you stay there in Waterworks?

A: When I leave I leave to Montego Bay.

Q: When was this?

A: When I was seven.

Q: The church was pretty central for you at this time, just like for so many others on the island. You went to church a lot?

A: Yeah. You did have a church near by my home, and then I do like most of the singin', y'know what I mean? And then I clinge to mostly church that time when I was small, I remember that.

Q: I detect a strong gospel influence in your voice, am I wrong?

A: You... yeah, that's right.

Q: So gospel meant a lot to shape the way you sing. Or would you say the influence is from somewhere else? That's what I hear anyway.

A: Yeah, true. And I like to sing about reality, yunno, the things that I see around. And maybe some people don't see what I see but there's a vision that I could see different from most of the people I move with, y'know what I mean.

Sang Hugh (Photo: Sis Irie)

Q: Where was the start of writing your own music, give me the early stage of that.

A: OK. I leave Montego Bay when I was twelve and go to Clarendon, and then I became a fisherman meanwhile I was going to school. And we had a lot of guys who used to sing like Maxie Romeo, the Clarendonians and so forth, in Clarendon. And then, I used to sing. I can write songs from when I was early, I can understand how to write songs. So you have a lot of guys who come around an' say that I must sing for them most of the time. So I used to take the sardine pan and make like a guitar, but I couldn't play guitar at that time, neither now. But I just love to back up something, y'know, to sing something. Because I know I have a good voice within myself and then I get to learn how to write a song, so I keep on making songs.

Q: Was it someone during that time that you hung out with, like in MoBay, that became a recording artist later on?

A: There was a guy who move around, but I never get to move with him that close. In Montego Bay? No, I never get to be with someone who move up to sing. But I always like music, I always liked songs. Then I know most of the songs, y'know, I just catch on to them quickly. Like Sam Cooke songs, and so forth, I used to like most of those songs. And the songs of his, I still like this song 'If You Ever Change Your Mind' from Sam Cooke, yunno. That's the song I like, in all my lifetime. Still my favourite.

Q: What else apart from Sam Cooke did you listen to growing up?

A: OK, in Montego Bay I really used to like this group called the Impressions, and you did have this group called... I don't remember - the Blues Busters. Yeah. They're from Montego Bay, and I used to admire those guys. I never get to move with them though, but I always admired their songs.

Q: Right. Would you give me the story of how you got that name - 'Sang Hugh'?

A: Yeah, I was going to school in Clarendon and I like sports in school, and then we used to play cricket half-pitch. So, I'm not a good bat-man, y'know what I mean? But all the while I tried to umpire the game, yunno, so every time they thought to call me 'Umpire Sang Hugh'. You know of that guy?

Q: Not really, cricket is beyond me.

A: In cricket, yeah. That's how I get the name, like how I liked to umpire the game - even a small little game, yunno. Yeah, that's how it come.

Q: Do you still play cricket to this day (chuckles)?

Sang Hugh (Photo: Sis Irie)

A younger Sang Hugh

A: No, I don't have the opportunity to play, but if I get a chance I would. But in the area where I am, like, I am in Negril, so I don't get those type of facilities to play a game, yunno. More like tourist spot, drinkin' an'... yunno? Yeh.

Q: How did you sight Rastafari? Your grandparents were Rasta, if I'm not too mistaken?

A: Yeah, I grow up and find my grandfather was Rasta but he never a locksman, yunno. They used to have the philosophy, like praising Selassie, y'know. And then my father take it up just the same, and then I take it up. It's like three generations.

Q: Any special circumstances how you picked it up?

A: Yeah, I have a vision about Rasta. Rasta seemed like people who was really positive, clean-minded, and trying to do the right, y'know, that's how I look at it. Not like false-grouping Catholisism, or Christianity, y'know what I mean. My grandparents were Garvey-ites too, yeah.

Q: Apart from fishing, what about your experience as tailor?

A: Tailors? Well, we used to move with a sounding system that I used to sing on, before I start to record, and most of those guys were tailor. And we used to stay at a tailor-shop when I was at Rocky Point. So I get to learn a lot about tailors. Yeah, 'cause sometimes I would have to help them with something while I'm there, y'know. That's where I hang out.

Q: Where's Rocky Point located again?

A: Yeah, Rocky Point is Portland parish, Montego Bay is St James, capital of St James. And then Clarendon is whe Rocky Point, we are on seacoast, but on the way to Clarendon.

Q: Tell me how that opportunity came about to record your debut 45 for Hugh Madden, he had the Electro imprint at the time.

A: There was a guy who I know who used to sell gas for the fisherman, and we used to be friends. We moved just the same, at the tailor shop I just tell you about. But he had bigger contact with people around more, and then he get to contact Hugh Madden. Hugh Madden used to run a label for a little while, and then he say he's gonna take me to Hugh Madden. And then I went there, no understand riddim or nutten, y'know what I mean? I was just movin' around. But it's a perfect way of knowing riddims I never know, so I was movin' beside the Cables, and then I record that song called 'I Need Love'.

Q: That was a cover song?

A: Yeah. I sing that song, and then it happened something in many of the parishes but it never get no push to move around, 'cause every morning I wake up I heard that song, y'know what I mean. Several people singin' it. And you had some little changer, and every home would like to have a changer, and they keep playing it all the time. And that's my first song.

Q: So it never sell too much?

A: No, it never get the promotion. It never get the promotion like I think it should.

Q: 'I Need Love', was that a Sam Cooke cover?

A: Sam Cooke? No, but I was singin' it almost like... I tell you the way: I understand the way like how Sam Cooke sing 'If You Ever Change Your Mind', I sing my song like a love song mostly in those years, y'know.

Q: So what was your next move when the Hugh Madden thing never worked out properly? This was when you met up with Niney?

A: OK. They did have a talent show on the island with most of the top artists, like the main fifteen top artists, and they reach Clarendon like in a place called Lionel Town, I went there. There was a few who carried me on a bike to go there that night, 'cause they knew I had many songs that could make a hit, y'know what I mean. They said, "Sangy, you can go tonight at that talent show, yunno". And he take me there, and I rehearse the song with him a couple of times. And there was a next friend that move amongst us, we go to school, like play cricket together, but we don't go to same school. So he jump in and start to harmonise the song, and then we get the chance to... I go and talk to one of the guys. They was a few, I don't know if it was Niney or - there was a few promoters in those areas. And then they give me the go, y'know, to sing the song. And from they give me the go I keep going practicin' those guys until our time come up, yunno. And then I sing the song on stage maybe fifteen times that night, man!

Q: Fifteen times (chuckles)?!

A: Yeah. I steal the show from all those big guys like Slim Smith and Gregory Isaacs, Delroy Wilson, Dennis Brown, Hortense Ellis, and all those people, y'know. I steal the show that night. So he give me a paper that I must come to Dynamic on a Saturday night, and then he give me a note that I must come to Dynamic nine o'clock the next Sunday, that I'm gonna get a week from him before I go. And then that's when I record the song 'Rasta No Born Yah', and in a week it come on the road.

Q: Who played on that song for you?

A: Yeah, Soul Syndicate.

Q: So it took off in a way you couldn't possibly dream of.

A: OK, in a week then it hit the charts. You know, that's the time 'Silver Words' was on our label, between The Thing and Observer (Lloyd F. Campbell and Niney's labels respectively). So we have two hit song on the label, like 'Silver Words' from Ken Boothe. So it's two songs that take off but I was the leading seller in those times. So in a week I jump at 28 on the charts, and the next week I jump fourteen. And on the Wednesday we get it as number one, and 'Silver Words' were number three and the song by Jermaine Jackson were number two. But on the Friday night they played - they turned it around, they play Jermaine Jackson the number one, 'Silver Words' number two, and we number three. So I make three drops to the number one spot. They used to have a little book that they show you the song that's gonna reach number one on Friday. So I was the number one song and they steal it and it cause a big eruption at the stations too, y'know.

Sang Hugh (Photo: Sis Irie)

Q: Early days for these type of songs too. I mean, 'Silver Words' was perhaps the typical love song, and you had the Rasta projection to go on the radio, which wasn't in favour at the stations in those days, that's how it was?

A: They played 'Rasta No Born Yah' in that time. In the seventies, we would break away - from '71 to '72 to '73, we was the more popular artist in those times. So they had to play our song, but they sabotage us mostly.

Q: Did you get any fight from the establishment for the lyrics?

A: It's just a song that come to be a happening song in the country for the Christmas season, the holiday season. And then we find out it get to second now people start to say it's politics time and so forth, yeah? But it give them a happy time. It's a song they always have to remember in Jamaica, man, the people who know it, yunno.

Q: What was the compensation for it? You didn't get a lot of money?

A: No, no. It's a song that make a lot of money in England, in America, and I never get no money from that. I only get some money from the Jamaican sales.

Q: Would you tell me the inspiration for that tune.

A: It's like from the slavery, I think about it all the time. The slavery system, who I am here, why I'm here, and the society, you could see the difference with people, y'know. And then I was poor authentities (?), you know what I mean. So I get to understand most what's going on, so it's like a rebellious song. And it's like a sad song.

Q: But you were a group entity on that recording, with someone called 'Presser' and George, what became of them? They had a name too, which escapes me for the moment...

A: We were 'Sang Hugh & The Lionaries'. Yeah.

Q: So what happened to those guys?

A: OK, one of them became a soldier. But before, what's up now: I used to go to Kingston more often than them, and then they think I have money, get money from the system, beca' the song was playing very often on the radio, like four times, five times, y'know what I mean. So they think I get money and don't give them none, so it's like they try to get money stuff from me most of the time. So that keep me away from them, yunno. And then I go back and record a song called 'No Portion A Gal', and it make a hit again.

Q: Was there a longer time-gap between those recordings, or they were pretty close to each other?

A: OK, 'Rasta No Born Yah' did coming off the charts when I record 'No Portion A Gal', but I leave to Canada, on a quickie, y'know what I mean. When I reach there now the song pick about maybe three months after. Was three months after.

Q: What does 'Rasta No Born Yah' mean to you today, more than thirty years after it hit big and made your name?

A: Yeah, when I was much younger I think 'bout back to Africa, like Rastafari, y'know what I mean. But now I think I have to pay for myself to reach there, I would like to know there, beca' that's where, like, our spring is from, y'know what I mean. So I think about Africa all the time, as the motherland for us, for the black people.

Q: Niney produced those songs for you, but they were released on Lloyd F. Campbell's label, The Thing, at the time. What's the connection between Lloyd and Niney, Lloyd had mainly a printery shop on Orange Street, I believe.

A: Yeah, it's the same time when I go on the talent show, they would work together, him and Niney work together. Lloyd print different labels for Niney, Dennis Brown used to sing for Niney in those days, and Ken Boothe and Delroy Wilson, and some other guys. So they became friends and they like run the label together, y'know. Like Niney would go to studio, and he would manage the money area. That's how they come to be good friends. So Niney now put me on his label, on Niney's label. 'Cause this guy used to sing for that guy too, like Junior Byles, and all these guys. And he would take a song for most of the artists too, yunno. And after that I sing 'Last Call Fe Blackman' - you know that song?

Q: Oh yes, classic.

A: Yeah.

Q: Lloydie, or 'Jah Printer', died a few years after that, right? Tell me more of what you can reminisce about him.

A: He's a nice guy. He tried to make a decent thing, that's how I observe about. He's one who know that people are no fool, yunno. And that's one of the main thing I liked with him, y'know. He teach you what you don't know, he teach you more than what you know. After he died, then I leave the music business, like in the country, y'know, and start to plant herbs.

Q: What did Lloyd die from?

A: They say it's poison, he get poisoned. But he live after that, and it give him a hiccup all the time. He always have a hiccups, so he die from that. So I don't know much more about it.

Q: When did he pass away, the seventies?

A: Yeah, in the seventies, late seventies.

Q: He had a brother who was involved in the business too, I think.

A: Yeah.

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