Following in the wake of Steel Pulse, UB40, Pato Banton and other Birmingham artists, the Millennium heralds the arrival of another new reggae sensation - Skibu. Real name Gladston Foster, he was born into a large family in Handsworth, Birmingham in 1964, his parents having moved there from Jamaica.

Supremely gifted, the purity of his vocal performances and quality of his songs have held reggae audiences spellbound. Following in the footsteps of reggae legends such as Bob Marley, Garnett Silk, Dennis Brown and Luciano (The Messenger), Skibu also holds a deeply held conviction that music should serve a spiritual purpose, and is determined that his work should uplift, educate, and hopefully contribute towards making the world a better place. His music always holds a message, but there's plenty of scope for romance within his songs too, as hits such as Your Smile, Call On Me, It's Not Enough, and My Mind demonstrate only too well

He recorded his debut single The One I Adore as part of Birmingham's Silicon Squad in the late 80's, and shortly after joined the Kokuma Theatre Company who he stayed with for nine years, performing and teaching as a dancer and musician, and helping out with choreography from time to time. Skibu visited Zimbabwe and toured Europe with Kokuma, notching up many forms of musical and stage experience. On leaving Kokuma in 1996, he spent two months with Badejo Arts in London and on his return to Birmingham, he and four colleagues formed the African Cultural Exchange.

Skibu joined Humal Records (an independent label based in Birmingham, UK), in summer 1998. His first tune with Humal was Your Smile, a tribute to his late Mother who used to tell him "Don't give up, keep on trying." He heeded her advice to the letter and you can hear the echoes of this message in Your Smile. Both Your Smile and God Almighty were released on single by the end of the year, with copies being pressed at Tuff Gong in Jamaica after assistance was enlisted from Jam Style's Homer Harris, the man who discovered Luciano and Sizzla. By July 1999, Skibu's 15-track debut album Surround Me With Love was ready for final mixing, and his latest singles It's Not Enough and Call On Me were receiving rave reviews. On it's release on the Humal label in November 1999, *Surround Me With Love was hailed as the year's most refreshing debut album, and was widely praised for its many outstanding qualities.

Any of the tracks from his album would make successful singles (four already have). DJ's and radio presenters have been spoilt for choice when picking out highlights. Brian Allen wrote Fire and plays guitar on the spine-tingling title track Surround Me With Love, which Skibu first performed at his mother's funeral. A ballad in its original form, it is another deeply personal song, although the lyrics are adapted. Apart from Fire, the only other cover version on the album is Burning Spear's Christopher Columbus, which he describes as "a wake-up call," and chose on account of its strong message.

Since the album, Skibu has released three further singles on the Humal label: My Mind, a cover written by the late Hugh Mundell, and Show Love on the widely acclaimed "Suffering" rhythm, which also featured cuts by Junior Kelly, Admiral Tibbet, Frankie Paul, and Fkire Selassie. Skibu moved on from Humal in June 2001. In September 2001, Humal released a remix of Be Ready on the "Smiling Face" Rhythm with cuts also by Admiral Tibbet, Macka B, Nereous Joseph and Prince Malachi - they are already receiving acclaim and wide airplay

Skibu practices what he preaches, and this is only too evident in his songs. Ultimately, his music goes beyond lover's rock, roots, or any other category you can think of. It crosses all boundaries and barriers, as music connoisseurs of all tastes give him an equally rapturous reception. "I just know that to be successful you have to work from your heart," he says modestly, "If I can tap into anything that can wake up other people, then I'm happy. It's the heart of man I'm trying to reach, and whilst people will always be looking and saying, "How can we be bettering this place?" they'll be looking outside for the answers. It's hard for people to observe themselves and then try to correct themselves, but that's the only way it's going to happen. People have to begin with themselves. That's where it starts."

Skibu promises even greater endeavours in the future. Now there's something to look forward to!

Photo : Humal Records. Text provided courtesy of Skibu.

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