From Our Brother
Reggae Downunder (excerpt)
Three Reggae Stalwarts
Many first generation acts disappeared without leaving recordings, struggling to ply their trade in the face of disappearing venues and ever shifting audiences. However, certain key individuals have persisted with reggae and have continued to inspire and collaborate with younger musicians and fans.
Three such stalwarts are Barbados-born singer, Ron ‘Ras Roni’ Jemmott who lives in Sydney, Larry Maluma, originally from Zambia, now based in Melbourne and Nicky Bomba born in Malta by a long-time resident of Melbourne.
Ron Jemmott migrated to London at the age of 14 in 1964 and spent several years during the 1970s performing with UK-based Jamaican-born luminaries like Jimmy James and Rico Rodrigues. He arrived in Australia in 1979 and soon after helped create Un Tabu, a band with members from Fiji, the Caribbean (including Trinidad and Tobago-born pan player and singer, Errol Renaud), Latin America and Australia. Their 12-inch single, ‘Open Your Eyes/Dem Coming Down’ (1982) released on the Folkways label was the first reggae release in this format and arguably the most fully realised reggae recording made in Australia up to that point. Un Tabu did not go on to produce further records and Ras Roni has recorded only sporadically, but his work with the Sydney bands, Resurrectors and more recently The Strides showcase his songwriting and vocal abilities, factors which remain somewhat elusive for many Australian reggae acts.
After arriving in Australia in 1985, Zambian multi-instrumentalist Larry Maluma developed a career as a composer, prolific recording artist and video maker. He has created a distinctive signature music blending roots reggae, funk and Zambian styles, sings in English and several Zambian languages and returns frequently to his homeland where he has become a much loved expatriate success story. One of the genuine pioneers of the multi-cultural contemporary music scene that come to define Melbourne, Maluma shows no let up in creativity and his most recent album, Tusekelele (Let’s Celebrate) (2009) has received positive local reviews and considerable enthusiasm in his Zambian homeland.
The drummer and vocalist, Nicholas Caruana aka Nicky Bomba was born in Malta in 1963 and arrived with his parents in Melbourne as a one-year-old. He is best known as a collaborator with other artists such as John Butler, Joe Camilleri, George Burrawanga, Israeli producer/musician Laroz Haim, Ethiopian-Australian Dereb Desalegn, and the 30-piece Melbourne Ska Orchestra, which he conducts. Starting as a funk musician, he has included various Jamaican styles in his repertoire reggae, rocksteady, ska and perhaps uniquely in Australia – mento, the pre-ska Jamaican equivalent of calypso. Planet Juice, Bomba’s debut solo album (only released in 2009) highlights the eclectic exuberance he has shown throughout his career. Like Larry Maluma, Nicky Bomba has shown an individualistic approach to reggae and he has honed his ability to interpolate Jamaican musical forms into a variety of settings.
by Brent Clough
published in World Music: Global sounds in Australia
edited by Seth Jordan