Winston 'Burning Spear' Rodney

Burning Spear, was born Winston Rodney on 1 March 1945 in Saint Ann's Bay, Saint Ann, Jamaica. As a young man he listened to the R&B, soul and jazz music transmitted by the US radio stations whose broadcasts reached Jamaica. 

Rodney was deeply influenced as a young man by the views of the political activist Marcus Garvey, especially with regard to the exploration of the themes of Pan-Africanism and self-determination. In 1969, Bob Marley, who was also from Saint Ann, advised Rodney to approach Coxsone Dodd's Studio One label after Rodney sought his advice during a casual conversation. Rodney recalls the conversation, "Bob was walking with a donkey and some buckets full of plants, just heading back to his farm, and I told him I was interested in getting involved in the music business," Rodney recalled. "He could tell I was serious, so he says to me, 'OK, just drop by Studio One' [Marley's recording studio]."

Burning Spear was originally Rodney's group, named after a military award given by Jomo Kenyatta, the first President of an independent Kenya. Rodney and bass singer Rupert Willington auditioned for Dodd in 1969 which led to the release of their debut single ‘Door Peep’. They were then joined by tenor Delroy Hinds. The trio recorded several more singles, and two albums, before they moved on to work with Jack Ruby in 1975. Their first recording with Ruby, "Marcus Garvey" an immediate hit, and was followed by ‘Slavery Days’.

The song, ‘Slavery Days’, which is included in their 1975 album, Marcus Garvey (1975), is a prime example of how in reggae music, race and common suffering is the rallying focus of a pan-African anti-colonial agitation. ‘Slavery Days’ is grounded in historical memories of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonial exploitation of Africa.

After the release of Marcus Garvey with Island Records, Rodney to set up his own Burning Music label for future releases where he would have full control, although further releases followed on Island including Garvey's Ghost. 

In late 1976, Rodney split from both Ruby and group members Willington and Hinds, and from that point on used the name Burning Spear as a solo artist. Dry and Heavy followed in 1977, self-produced but still on Island. He performed with the British reggae group Aswad, who also were his backing band on his studio album, Social Living released in 1978.

In 1980, Rodney left Island Records and set up the Burning Music Production Company which he signed to EMI debuting on the label with the album Hail H.I.M. In 1982, Rodney signed with Heartbeat Records with a series of well-received albums following, including the 1985 Grammy-nominated Resistance. From the title of the album it is clear that even in the 80s, Rodney still had a message to Black people around the world: that is to resist.

He returned to Island in the early 1990s, releasing two albums before rejoining Heartbeat. When Heartbeat ceased releasing new material after some years, Burning Music took matters into their own hands and began to release music solely through their own imprint. Albums released by Heartbeat through an agreement with Burning Music include: The World Should Know (1993), Rasta Business (1995), Appointment with His Majesty (1997) and Calling Rastafari (1999) which was the last completed album to be solely pressed by an outside label.

Calling Rastafari brought his first Grammy Award in 2000, a feat which he repeated with Jah Is Real in 2009. 

In 2002, he and his wife, Sonia Rodney who has produced a number of his albums, restarted Burning Music Records, giving him a greater degree of artistic control. Since the mid-1990s, he has been based in Queens, New York. 

Burning Spear was awarded the Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer on 15 October 2007.

For nearly four decades and more than 25 albums, Rodney has carried the torch of the gospel of political activist Marcus Garvey, promoting self-determination and self-reliance for African descendants through lyrics and rhythms that truly deliver the messages of peace and love to all.


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