Yellowman ‘Young, gifted and yellow. Reggae anthology’ 2CD + DVD (VP) 4/5

It is difficult now to fully appreciate the impact that Yellowman truly made on the Jamaican music scene back in the early 1980s when roots music was in decline, Bob Marley had passed, and a new emerging style of dancehall was in the ascendancy. However, it is nonetheless true to say that Yellowman rapidly became the biggest selling DJ on the island, and arguably for a brief period of time in the mid-1980s the most influential artist in reggae, and certainly his influence on a younger generation of musicians was significant. He was innovative in several respects, not least the subject matter, which touched on hitherto taboo subjects and also in that, alongside Fathead, he recorded the first ever live dancehall album ‘Live at Aces’ which spawned numerous subsequent copyists. Yellowman was important equally in that he had to combat serious prejudice against his own person since he was born an albino in a society that traditionally looked down upon such individuals and consequently marginalised them. Yellowman’s very public presence and pronouncements via his music challenged those perceptions. Finally, Yellowman was the first Jamaican musician to be signed up on a major American label (with Columbia) and this set an important precendent for what would folllow during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s when Jamaican artists became far more popular and mainstream in the American music industry. The lyrics are invariably witty, humourous and above all else original. A fine example is ‘Mad over me’ which opens side 1 of the two CD set, but it could equally apply to ‘Yellowman getting married’. Some of his most enduring lyrics featured the production talents of Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes who collaborated on a good deal of the early work here and ‘Mr Chin’ is a fine example of the pair in full flow. No less than nine collaborations feature Yellowman and Fathead in tandem and the politically revealing lyrics of ‘Operation eradication’ leaves no doubts as to the seriousness of the general political and social context which Jamaica found itself in at the time with a polarisation of political parties and an increasingly lawless society where the division between the haves and have nots simply grew to unprecedented proportions. A twenty-five minute accompanying DVD gives just some hint of what Yellowman was capable of in a live context and this is taken from the annual Sunsplash reggae festival in Kingston, in this case during the mid-1980s with a different set of numbers from those on the CD set.

Tim Stenhouse