Some have called him the “Godfather of Dancehall”. Others have called him “a sound system instigator”. One thing that is clear is that the career of Sugar Minott cannot be summarized in just a handful of singles. Here is one of the greats of Jamaican roots music, reconsidered. The German label Moll-Selekta has added a prominent piece of the puzzle with its 14th release, The Roots Lover 1978-1983, which collects many unreleased or otherwise hard-to-find tracks from the man’s golden age.
Lincoln Barrington “Sugar” Minott was born in Kingston, in May 1956. It was a heady, tumultuous time in the history of music, a time of dramatic phase-shifts in all forms of Western music, including what would later be filed in the chain stores as “reggae”. Like raga in the east, which was infused with new relevance through interaction with European concepts, reggae in the west was beginning to internalize aspects of American music—not much, just bits and pieces. By the time Minott made his arrival on the music scene in, Jamaica’s output was attracting international attention. The ensuing 35 years would see Minott assume iconic status among two generations. After debuting as one-third of the African Brothers in 1969, Minott went solo when the group broke up in 1974. Once his career took off in 1980, he never looked back.
As befitting an artist of his stature, The Roots Lover is a meaty compilation, with 17 tracks averaging over six minutes in length The full-color gatefold packaging includes shots of Kingston with the old labels repped in front of Minott’s own Youth Promotion Music Centre, founded 1978,. The imagery speaks to a sense of the African diaspora experience, an experience chronicled in great detail, including on this album.
Disc one captures the more romantic, contemplative side of Minott. Disc two features his more aggressive, political work. The difference between the two is dramatic enough that they could almost be by two different artists. The song titles are evocative of the mood to an extent that is exceptional even by the standards of a Lee Perry or Cole Porter. It all begins with “Leggo the Dread”, which itself begins with a robust toast to generations to come: “You always worry yourself about clash, where clash come from… don’t take it for a simple arithmetic!” Perhaps the best track from disc one is “A Slice of the Cake”, a brooding, meditative seduction over minimalistic drums and melodica. But songs like “Dance Hall Style”, “African Girl”, “Waiting for Your Love”, “In a Dis Yah Time” and the classic “No Vacancy” show off his production gifts—the album’s like a clinic on reggae sound effects!
Most of these songs were recorded at Channel One Studios, Kingston, with the Roots Radics Band and Black Roots Players. The album features guest appearances by Yabby You, Ranking Dread and Sister Ester. The sidemen on these tracks constitute a murderer’s row of musical genius: Gladstone Anderson, Michael Ashley, Noel Bailey, Bingy Bunny, Deadly Headley, Junior Dan, Sly and Robbie, Albert Mallawi, and Jackie Mittoo.
All in all, this is a very satisfying album. It’s a subjective choice, but the author of this review prefers disc two. Again, the song titles are like guide-posts to Rastafari thought: “Africa”, “Careless Ethiopians”, “Thirty Pieces of Silver”, “Three Wise Men”, “Rome, Rome” and “Dub on the Pressure”. It’s all good. If you mark out for Minott, you will enjoy this clean, tight repackaging of music that was previously impossible to find. If you’ve never heard of Sugar Minott before, the overall effect may be even better. The only problem with these CDs is that there’s nothing to complain about.