Reggae Superstar Gregory Isaacs’s Contribution To His Native Jamaica Buried With Him?

By-Paulet Biedermann

Kingston, Jamaica- It has been two years since reggae superstar the late Gregory Isaacs left us. Undoubtedly his departure symbolizes a turning point in reggae’s history. Isaacs has dominated the reggae industry for over forty years.

An industry veteran, he has written, produced and performed some of reggae’s biggest and most popular hits in the genre’s fifty years. Unbeknown to a lot of people, Isaacs has put Jamaica on more maps than all reggae artistes combined in his short lifetime.

He travelled from continent to continent swooning everyone with his velvety voice and string of mega hits: Tune in, Top Ten, Slave Master, Soon Forward, Slave Market, Love is overdue and the biggest seller of all, Night Nurse…. The love is overdue singer has worn many titles, Cool Ruler, Sadam, Lonely Lover, Sergeant……but most befitting is king of lover’s rock. To be referred to as the king in your genre of music, is the highest honor of excellence in the music industry.

Isaacs had a short, rich, rewarding and troubled life, leaving this earth prematurely at the tender age of 59… During his reign, he recorded over five hundred albums making him the most accomplished reggae artist all time. His career spanned over four decades. Isaacs was loved and highly revered globally. His millions of fans can be found all over the world and from all walks of life. Despite his chronic substance abuse issues, he continued to attract interest in his music, his personal life…women, running with the law and his addiction. Over time, his reputation was badly tarnished by his drug addiction and frequent arrest… As with most people who abuse substance, he became unreliable. His personality, work ethic and physical appearance changed as well.

Notwithstanding his struggles, he continued to make awesome music with the usual theme of oppression, loneliness, social justice and love. Looking at Isaacs ’s last performance in the UK August 2010, it was heart-rending. He appeared to have aged way beyond his 59 years on this planet.

He looked haggard, careworn, scraggy, broken, dispirited and weary. Undeterred by his emotional despondency and physical deterioration, he gave one of the best performances ever! His beautiful melodic voice was crisp, vibrant and soothing as always. He gave a masterful performance and his fans showed their appreciation with loud cheer and applaud.

Those fans were fortunate to share those last precious moments with him. It was only after his passing just over a month later, that folks realized that that was indeed the final curtain for this Jamaican genius. His final album, “Isaacs meets Isaacs,” is a collaborative effort with King Isaacs, a Zimbabwean singer and longtime acquaintance of the Cool Ruler. The album wound up becoming a best seller and a chart topper. It also earned him his fifth Grammy nomination.

Over the years, Isaacs had quite a few arrests and they were highly publicized. Interestingly, it was usually for possession of unlicensed firearm as opposed to issues stemming from his substance abuse… A complex man, Isaacs played by no one’s rules except his own. The flipside of the temper tantrums and the violent mood swings related to his addiction, was one of the kindness and generosity. I have had the distinct privilege of attending his funeral and was amazed at the various stories told by those who know him well.

Most of the stories I heard during rehearsal for his tribute. He was loved by Jamaicans from all walks of life: from the politician to the doctor to the single mothers to the ghetto youths and comfort ladies. That said, the one thing is for sure, this is a great human being and one who transcends class, race and status.

There were times when hungry mothers and shoeless children would line up at African Museum to get money for their rent, school books, food and clothes. He was a mentor, a confidant and big brother to a lot of young artistes. During his funeral celebration, Reggae star Shaggy performed one of Gregory’s classic, Front Door. While on stage, this is what he said about the cool ruler. “If it was not for the cool ruler, I would not be standing up here today. He took me under his wings and guided me” He further said that he was not the only artistes that Isaacs helped in some way or another. It is also said that he was a great anti-violence against women advocate. Its worth noting that he would not advocate in the usual way, but to give the abuser a physical nudge………it was guaranteed that any woman beater who crossed path with Isaacs would cease to abuse women once and for all.

Isaacs was a sensitive human being who cared a lot about humanity. The irony is that he is perceived as a ‘rude boy and gun man’ who had several encounters with the law and had spent time in jail for possession of illegal weapon. It’s hard for anyone to figure out the extreme and contradicting characteristics of this complex man.

The closest we may ever get to figuring out who Isaacs was, is by his good deeds and his music. During his funeral celebrations his long time friend and producer Castro Brown admonished the Jamaican people and especially the Jamaican Government for the lack of national recognition and respect shown to this great man who did so much for his country and his people. He analogized Isaacs to the Beatles and Sir Elton John. They were knighted by the monarchy for their musical contribution to their country. He emphasized that Isaacs not only put Jamaica on hundreds of maps globally, but attracted tourist to Jamaica which in turn contributed to the economy. Isaacs’ contribution to his country, his culture and the internationalization of reggae music seemed to have gone un-noticed as this genius has not been recognized formally by his country.

One patron who attended the viewing of Isaacs’ body at the national Sports Centre, Nov. 19, 2010 summed it up this way: “Bouy, dem treat the man bad eh? Even criminals de get plenty big up and recognition and some even get tip off say police a look fe dem; but dem treat Sarge like him a no notin. Its very sad”{It appears as if criminals in Jamaica are treated more respectfully than someone like Mr. Isaacs who has contributed so much to Jamaica. He was not recognized for his vast contribution to his country}.

It is true that Isaacs did not receive the national recognition he deserved; but in fairness to then Minister of Youth Sports and Entertainment the Hon. Olivia Grange, she chaired the planning committee for Isaacs’s funeral arrangements and this I believe to be a good gesture on the part of the government. But that is about it! Two years since his passing and one does not even hear breeze blow much about this genius of a man let alone national recognition by his country.

Looking at Isaacs in terms of the man, the legend, his talent, longevity, number of and quality of songs/albums he recorded; one has to agree that Isaacs is top notch all the way. His love and passion for reggae music is ever present in his work.

Notwithstanding the lack of recognition for his extensive catalog of lover’s rock and social justice oriented themes, he has left a hell of a legacy and shoes that are so big that one would have to have giant feet to be able to fit into those. That said, SHAME on the Jamaican government for ignoring this musical genius and one that has given so much to Jamaica!

I wonder if grand mama Africa would consider adopting him posthumously. After all, he has been neglected and abandoned by his country of origin in the black sheep style.

Undoubtedly, any country would love to adopt an orphaned musical genius, even if it’s posthumous.

Related Articles

Back to top button