Blacker Dread Music

Born in September 1958, Blacker Dread was raised in the area known as White Horses, in the parish of St. Thomas, Jamaica.  At the age of nine, he made the long journey to England to join his parents who had emigrated in 1960, and settled in Brixton, South London.  Having left both home and school prematurely, Blacker endured a period of hardship, occasionally living rough, and learnt how to survive life [University of ghetto-ology] on the city’s streets.  As a release from the difficulties of this existence he became involved in a local youth sound system from Brixton known as “Ital King”.  However, Ital King did not last long and when the sound split, he elected in 1976 to join Sir Coxsone Sound System England’s most legendary and pre-eminent sound of all time.  It was in this demanding school that Blacker was to learn and hone the skills that benefitted many of the leading exponents of Jamaican record production.

History shows that reggae music is a genre fundamentally designed for the dancehall from the legendary pioneers of reggae production such as Sir Coxsone Downbeat, Duke Reid, King Edwards and Prince Buster through to the likes of King Tubby, Upsetters, King Jammy and Bobby Digital, the sound system connection has provided their foundation and inspiration.  Blacker Dread follows this proud tradition albeit from a UK perspective.

Having served an apprenticeship that consisted of being a box-boy, a dancer and a deejay, he graduated to the role of selector/operator learning from the acclaimed legendary Coxsone selector “Festus”.  It was during this time, in 1981/82, that blacker met up with the then film student Molly Dineen making the now famous sound business documentary [look out for a longer and clearer version coming soon].

The closest Blacker had come to a recording studio was at the dub-cutting Studio.  So, when Lincoln “Sugar” Minott (the archetypal reggae singer whom Blacker cites as his mentor) enquired what the young Dread wanted to do when he “stopped playing sound” and maybe he should consider a career in production, this seemed a logical pursuit. Excited by what Sugar had said of course blacker wanted to explore this possibility.

Armed with two eight track tapes from the engineer Peter Chemist (another key figure in this story), Blacker began voicing the Channel-One laid Sly & Robbie rhythms with Willie Williams, Mikey General and his Coxsone bredrin Levi Roots and General Dan.  From these sessions at the Black Star Studio in Tottenham, emerged Mikey General’s debut recording “Hustling”.  Having enjoyed the experience of the studio environment, Blacker’s next bout of recording was to happen almost by accident.

In celebration of the Rastafarian Christmas of January 7, 1984, a live dancehall recording was planned at People’s Club, Paddington, London with Sir Coxsone Outernational featuring Sugar Minott, Don Carlos and Gold, Mikey Dread and Junior Reid as guest artists.

However, when Sugar suggested that any release would encounter publishing problems about ownership of rhythms it was decided that a fresh set of rhythms should be custom built for the dance.  In the space of two and a half days at Easy Street Studio, twenty-four rhythms were laid by Professor Larry (Bass), Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace from Rockers (Drums), Carlton “UK Bubbler” Ogilvie (Keyboards) and Barbara Nap (Guitar) with Jackie Mitto making a guest appearance.  Ironically, the last track of the session “Answer” was only recorded due to Sugar Minott suggesting that the group owed Blacker at least one free track for all the work he had instigated – the rest is history.

The enduring strength of this cut is that it became the definitive version of the rhythm in the Jamaican dancehall scene with artiste like Super Cat [Vineyard Party], Pinchers [Lift It Up Again], and Major Mackerel [Dutty Bungle] all posting massive hit songs on the rhythm.   

Sugar Minott was so impressed with the resultant tracks that he immediately voiced “Now That I Found You” a cover of Alexander Henry’s “Please Be True” for Blacker and utilised seven of the rhythms for his own “Herbsman Hustling” LP.  Junior Reid cut three tunes, “Getting From Bad To Worse”, “Dreadfull Day” and “Dreadlocks Girl, while Don Carlos contributed “Strictly Culture” and a re-make of a never released Upsetter dub plate known as “From Creation”. 

Encouraged by the success of this venture, Blacker took the tapes to the famous Channel One Studio in Kingston, Jamaica and proceeded to record Michael Palmer, Earl 16 and The Royals.  Importantly, it was also the beginning of an unending association with Frankie Paul who cut the outstanding “Fire Deh Ah Muss Muss Tail”.  Musical overdubs were provided by Scully (Percussion), Earl “Chinna” Smith (who played his guitar for free) and Jackie Mittoo, who strangely enough had never yet played at Channel One.

By 1985, Frankie Paul’s classic “Ripe Mango” set had been released.  Jack Radics had made his debut recordings and a connection had been established for Blacker to release George Phang’s hot Powerhouse Productions in the UK.   In 1988 he re-entered the music field releasing Frankie’s “Only You” and two hit tunes from Phillip “Fattis” Burrell (Xterminator Label) another long-time associate.

By now reggae was well into its digital phase and Blacker sought the up-to-date lick with Preacher and Clevie laying rhythms at the then unfashionable Progressive Sounds Studio in Battersea South West London.  Frankie Paul re-appeared again unleashing the massive hit “89 Lick/Acid” [all instruments played by FP] with accompaniment from a raging Daddy Freddy. 

This led to the one of most prolific periods of Blacker’s career so far.  Marathon sessions at Progressive (with Tony “Asher” Brisset and Chris Meredith laying rhythms and Mafia, Fluxy, Matic 16 and Barbara Nap doing overdubs) resulted in albums from Nitty Gritty – “Jah In The Family”, Top Cat “Sensimillia Man” and a slew of singles.  Three one rhythm version excursion albums, “Roughneck Fashion”, “Nuclear War” and “Commanding Wife” were also released featuring a mix of UK and Jamaican artists alongside more products from Phang and Fattis.  He also supervised the UK release of Junior Reid’s mighty “One Blood” LP.

Sadly, the momentum that year could not be sustained as Blacker concentrated his attention on restoring Sir Coxsone Outernational to its former heights.  In 1989 he renewed his links with Fattis by releasing albums from Frankie Paul and Foxy Brown on the newly formed Black Extra label.  Mafia and Fluxy were taken to Easy Street and a fresh set of killer rhythms were laid.  These sessions provided the basis for hits from Maxine Harvey (Give Me A Little Sign), Luciano, the sublime, “Time Is The Master”, Alton Ellis (Too Late To Turn Back Now) and Jack Radics (Chant Down Babylon).

Then in 1993, the aforementioned “Answer” rhythm became famous when it was heavily sampled in the British National Chart hit “On A Ragga Tip” by S.L.2. 

By the year end, Blacker had successfully started his own record shop (Blacker Dread Music Store) on Coldharbour Lane, in the middle of Brixton, and set up his label and distribution in Jamaica with business partner Tyrone Hinds, continuing his music productions in the UK and Jamaica, and recording rhythms with the likes of Mafia & Fluxy, Dean Fraser and Firehouse Crew at Easy Street and Tuff Gong, also voicing and mixing at the Mixing Lab, Bobby Digital, Music Works, One Blood, Harmony House and Cell Block Studios in Jamaica. 

After watching and being involved in the Brixton uprising of the 80s, Blacker felt that he and his community were always being dealt a rough and raw deal, thus getting involved in issues dealing with the “suss law” stop and search, crime, racism, and a host of other important things to do with the Black community in Brixton. Because of his popularity as a businessperson, being well known within the Sound System and music fraternity along with the respect of his community, he was automatically propelled as a voice of the community to talk about pending issues as watching from a distance was no longer an option. The shop had become an important focal part of the fabric of Brixton , a community hub where people from all corners of the globe would come and visit, persons such as, Cricketers Sir Vivian Richards and Courtney Walsh, The then Prime Minister of Jamaica, Mr  Bruce Golding, Jamaican Minister Babsy Grange, model  Naomi Campbell, boxing legends Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno, footballers Andy Cole,  Kanu and Floren Maluda, former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, musical artistes like Sugar Minott, Dennis Brown, Lee “Scratch” Perry, The Mighty Diamonds, Junior “One Blood” Reid, Fred Locks, Beres Hammond, Dean Fraser, Beenie Man, Sizzla, Capelton, Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, Anthony B and so many more that are too much to mention, in fact Blacker Dread Music Store was the go-to place in terms of publicity for any Artiste that was performing in London.

On 31st December 2004 Blacker was devastated by the killing of his son Solomon Shiloh Martin, (this he described as “one of the most devastating times of his life”). He had lost the will and energy to keep his business going, and decided to close the shop in December 2005, but due to the unprecedented warmth and love shown to him by his “community” he decided to reopen in 2006. Through grieving over his son, this made him more determined to try to help stop some of the senseless killings which had taken a turn for the worst in London and UK wide, therefore he made it a point of duty to give as much support as he could to the cause.

In 2006, as a tribute to Solomon, Blacker was involved in the setting up of Brixton Splash, a Brixton community event which went on to be one of the biggest one-day street events in London, pulling in [at its peak] over twenty thousand of the most diverse audience. It was run by a team from the local community with the aid of First Direct Bank, Western Union, Jamaica National Building Society (now JN Bank), Terry Eagle from McDonalds Brixton Road, Brixton police [by consent of the people], Lambeth Council and other stake holders within the community. Unfortunately, after 10 years Brixton Splash became a victim of its own success.  Blacker also helped to set up Brixton Base another community-based initiative.

It was in the summer of 2012 that Molly Dineen (Blacker’s long-standing friend and BAFTA award winning film maker) visited the Shop during the legendary 100m final with the great Usain Bolt (during this time Blacker Dread was on Jamaica’s local TV channel, Television Jamaica (TVJ), which premiered their Land of Legends features that showcased talented Jamaicans living across the globe) and it was then that they discussed the possibility of a follow-up to the Sound System documentary.  Unfortunately, in December 2013 Blacker’s life was thrown into turmoil once again when he suddenly lost his beloved mother.  This was one of the lowest points in his life [“she was my world”] Blacker painfully cried.   During this time Blacker had asked Molly if she could film the funeral of his dearest mother Pauline, Celestine Martin.   After laying his mother to rest, Molly continued to film his family both in England and Jamaica as she stated, “I found his family and friends and all he had done, far more than met the naked eye”.  This resulted in the release of a feature documentary called “Being Blacker” an intimate, 90-minute portrait of Backer Dread.  Made with intimacy and warmth, the film takes us deep into Blacker’s world and, through his eyes, offers a rarely heard perspective on the life in Britain today.

At present, Blacker continues to work on his many music production projects which consists of albums with Buju Banton, Jack Radics, Fred Locks, Anthony B, Josey Wales and  Leroy Gibbon, singles with Beres Hammond, Freddy McGregor, Gappy Ranx, Bushman, Christopher Ellis and Bucky Joe, U Roy,  Tipper Irie, Sylvia Tella, Vivian Jones, Winston McAnuff, Pappa Mitchigan, Lukie D, Lone Ranger and Big Youth. He is also currently working with new and upcoming artistes in Jamaica like Earth Warrior, Quality, Izezz-I, Substanz, Javair, Craig Edeast, Skii D Limit and Shanty B and continues to work with such legends as Sly and Robbie, Dean Fraser, Firehouse Crew, Mafia and Fluxy and many more singers and players of instruments.

Blacker’s current projects for 2021 include a brand new riddim album entitled “Black-Fro” which is a reggae dancehall and afro beat with Bounty Killer, Anthony Redrose, Busy Signal, Tonto Metro & Devonte, Spliffy, UK artistes Mr. G-Spot, Wayne (Marshane) Marshall, UK Lover’s Rock Queen Carroll Thompson, Sese Foster, Artistes from Trinidad (Reggae Powerhouse Band), Antigua, South Africa, Guinea, and the USA.  The Strictly Culture Roots Riddim, with Bushman, Don Carlos, Anthony B, Fred Locks, Earth Warrior, Vivian Jones, Izezz-I, and a new Fred Locks album “Jah Mercies In My House” – the Journey continues.