KINGSTON – Drums and other historical artefacts used in the birth of Jamaica’s popular music were destroyed in a fire at Rockfort in East Kingston a week ago.
The drums and other percussion instruments belonged to the Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari, the group of drummers founded by Count Ossie, which played on the internationally renowned hit Oh Carolina, the infectious ska number recorded by the Folkes Brothers in 1958.
Ska was the forerunner to the rock steady, reggae, rockers and dancehall genres and was the first to bring the unique sound of Jamaica’s popular culture to the world stage.
When the Jamaica Observer visited the two-room dwelling where the instruments were stored, Count Ossie’s son, Samuel Williams, also called ‘Time’, was a picture of despondence.
“These drums are older than me, and I am 56. I have been playing drums since I was eight and I have no other trade. All I do is play drums,” he said as he shook his head slowly.
Williams said the drums were the original ones used by his father in the pioneering days and their destruction by fire had dealt a serious blow to the preservation of that aspect of Jamaica’s culture, which continues to make a huge impact worldwide.
Only a bass drum with partially burnt-out skin and two of the many kettle drums were saved.
All the funde drums were destroyed, leaving only their iron frames.
“Right now, we are about the restoration of the mangled irons of the drums in the long term. The immediate thing is purchasing some drums to continue playing. However, the iconic memoirs must be preserved while we continue to recognise the importance of history of the Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari,” Williams said.
The destruction of the drums was a cruel twist of fate as, according to Williams, the group had gone to a nine night wake to play drums in honour of a member of the group who had died.
After the wake, they left the drums at Rockfort because it was late at night.
The drums were left at a house occupied by group member Delroy Williams, also called ‘Puttus’.
According to Puttus, the fire was started by a man of unsound mind who usually slept at the back of his house despite being chased away numerous times.
“I tired to run him away. Him always come back. That night him come late and light fire around there. I was sleeping and hear a woman bawl out fire, but I never see no fire, so I go back to lie down, but the lady bawl out fire again and by time me look [the house] a burn down,” ‘Puttus’ said.
The charred rubble contained old vinyl LPs, compact discs, pictures, amplifiers and, most sadly, the drums that were used to craft the beginning of Jamaica’s popular culture.
“When my father was playing these drums there was no Bob Marley. He was one of the major forces in the cultural revolution. Our history has been burned to ashes,” he said.
Count Ossie was born Oswald Williams in St Thomas in 1926. As a child he grew up in a Rastafarian commune in Rockfort where he learnt to chant and play the drums at an early age.
In the 1950s when Rastafarians were fringe elements he formed the Count Ossie group along with other percussionists.
Count Ossie died in 1976 in a car accident.
His son, however, was adamant that even though his earnings will be dealt a serious
blow as the group will not be able to embark on their usual summer sojourns in Europe, the United States and other markets, he is seeking no handouts.
“The Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari are not beggars. We are trying to organise some fund-raisers to see if we can replace the instruments, using some of the same irons that were not destroyed in the fire,” he said proudly.