Reggae is music and much more. It's a rhythm set to a poor man’s cry, a
pledge from singer to struggler that “better must come.” No other reggae
singer today delivers that promise with as much grace, power, and heart as
Jamaican baritone Luciano. His career story is a testament to the depth and
constancy of the singer-songwriter’s human commitment.
Ever since Bob Marley left this plane in 1981, at age 35, reggae had been
searching for another prophet. That position comes at a heavy price. Marley
himself survived a gunshot wound; his children still receive death threats.
The late Dennis Brown reigned as Reggae Prince for a while, until industry
abuses and a tenacious drug habit wore away at his talent. The thrilling
voice of Garnet Silk was silenced when he died in a suspicious fire in late
1994. Into the void created by those loses - and too many others - came
‘95’s prayerful hit, “It’s Me Again Jah,” a stunning expression of pain and
piety that seemed to have been ripped from its writer-singer's soul. With
that single song, a 30 year-old upholsterer from Manchester parish became
reggae's Annointed One. Born as Jephter McClymount and renamed Luciano for
his luxuriant, near operatic vocal gifts, Luciano's several previous albums
for producers Castor Brown and Freddie McGregor (also a legendary singer)
had stirred scarcely a ripple. They were recorded during this self-styled
"struggler's" second stint in Jamaica's music capital, Kingston. After his
first but unsuccessful stay in the city, Luciano had returned to Manchester
to sell food in the market place. The second time he tried to make it in
music, "I came with more seriousness," he says. "I started doing upholstery,
then went to the studios for work."
“It's Me Again” reflected its maker's struggles and newfound depth, and it
struck a chord deep in the reggae consciousness. More uniquely radiant songs
followed in quick succession, among them "Lord Give Me Strength," "Your
World and Mine," and "Heaven Help Us All." It was soon clear that reggae's
new hero was drawing from a bottomless well, and millions of international
reggae fans happily succumbed to Luciano rapture. The U.K. branch of Island
Records, the label that introduced Marley to the world, hastily signed
Luciano through his home Xterminator label. Where There Is Life, released in
'95, corralled Luciano's hit single, plus equally luminous new tracks, for
one of the greatest reggae albums ever. “The sky’s the limit for Luciano,
you could take him anywhere,” said legendary drummer/producer Sly Dunbar,
who arranged and played on the album.
But Luciano remained earthbound, that is, another reggae secret. He toured
in the U.S. and the U.K. in support of Life, but Xterminator, who also
managed, produced, and booked him – and served as surrogate family - stuck
to areas heavily populated with Jamaicans. In‘97, Island, together with VP
Records and Xterminator, released Luciano’s sophomore Messenjah set. With
tracks like "Never Give Up My Pride, "How Can You," and "Carry Jah Load,"
the album was a worthy follow-up to Life. Again, the album tour stuck to the
usual reggae circuit.
Once you've seen Luciano live in performance, you've witnessed reggae church
at its most exhilarating, but without playing to alt rock and pop audiences,
Luciano remained a secret to all but millions of reggae's already-convinced.
“A man can have an impact from his little corner,” this humble man once has
That was a few years ago, and time has wrought changes. "My life has been
likes a storm," Luciano succinctly observes. Today, the sun shines, and
Luciano's direction is forward…in every direction. He's left Xterminator –
taking the fabled Firehouse band with him. Back in ’97, as Luciano fever was
settling into a chronic condition, the youngest Xterminator member, a
firebrand named Sizzla, lit his own worldwide bonfire with lucid songwriting
delivered in a mesmerizing, poetic chanting style. But when Sizzla's live,
between-song diatribes began creating rifes within the Rastafarian
community, Xterminator’s “family” ties unraveled.
"One pen cyann [can’t] hold two bull," Luciano succinctly explained. "I'll
tell you the honest truth as a philosophical Christian-like messenger on
earth, I will not be hypocritical about certain things. After a while, me
get to realize that the philosophy of Sizzla was changing toward another
dimension. What I stood for all this time as a righteous singer and a
spiritual man in Creation was being threatened by the overall aura of my
brother. We all falter sometimes and transgress from the way of life and
change side. But who don't know God's love have to take time out and search
deep. It's not just about becoming involved in the music fraternity, 'cause
at the end of the day, many people sing this and that and one got burnt, one
got shot, one got poisoned. If we don't learn from all these things,
something would be lacking in I and I own heart and mind. And once you say
something must be done, you must do it."
Luciano has no regrets and acknowledges the benefits of his Xterminator
period. "I have to say foundation is foundation and you cannot remove that,"
he says. "I have to give thanks for the work that Philip Burrell [Xterminator's
head] did and all my Xterminator compareros. But we're like a tree and some
grew new branches. I'm sending out my own roots at this time as a young
vibrant tree. The work is the same; you just move from one place to another.
I have to spearhead many things and make sure the work is lined up with my
So, while some roots reggae artists continue to shrink reggae's
once-generous vision, Luciano is intensifying his humanitarian commitment.
Sweep Over My Soul yielded a hit in its title track and "Ulterior Motive," a
tune in which Luciano shared a hard lesson about reggae stardom. At the same
time, Luciano was looking beyond the Jamaican music industry. Unlike many
who only write about Motherland roots, Luciano actually collaborated with
Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal and his Dande Lenol band on "Africans
Unite," for Maal's '98 Nomad Soul album. Luciano then visited Maal in Dakar,
and appeared onstage with the singer and his Dande Lenol band during at the
'99 Air Jamaica Jazz & Blues festival, essaying challenging Sengalese "Sabar"
dance moves and lending background harmonies.
Luciano Web Site