Ska Lessons

Lord Tanamo tops summit of legendary Jamaican performers By TIM PERLICH


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The LEGENDS OF SKA featuring Alton Ellis, Owen Gray, lord creator, Keith Lyn, Derrick Morgan and Winston Samuels (Friday) Lord Tanamo, Prince Buster, Justin Hinds, Derrick Harriott, Stranger Cole and Doreen Shaffer (Saturday), at the Palais Royale (1601 Lakeshore West), Friday and Saturday (July 12 and 13). $35 advance, $40 door each night. 416-870-8000. www.legendsofska.comthe leaders of the g8 countriesmay disagree, but this summer’s crucial summit is the Legends Of Ska festival at the Palais Royale this weekend (July 12 and 13). The two-night extravaganza is the most comprehensive gathering of the pioneering artists responsible for the development of ska, rocksteady and reggae ever assembled outside of Jamaica.

Just reuniting the Skattalites as the house band — with original members Lloyd Knibbs, Rico Rodriguez, Lloyd Brevitt, Lester Sterling, Johnny Moore and Lynn Taitt — is an achievement in itself, but the cast of 60s sensations Prince Buster, Alton Ellis, Owen Gray, Lord Creator, Justin Hinds, Derrick Harriott and others makes it truly an historic event.

While the significance of Lord Tanamo’s contribution may not be as clear as that of, say, Prince Buster, whom he inspired, the 73-year-old elder statesman of ska is nonetheless a pivotal figure.

The Kingston, Jamaica-born Joseph “Lord Tanamo” Gordon, who has made Toronto his home for over 35 years, helped create the sound we now know as ska by combining elements of calypso gleaned from Lord Kitchener with the lilting mento rhythms of his childhood.

“When I was about four years old,” recalls Tanamo from his home at Dufferin and Eglinton, “a fella, Cecil Lawes, came into my yard with a rumba box, which is similar to a marimba. I liked the sound from the first time I heard it. That’s where it all came from.

“Later, when I was a teenager, I began performing on the corner with Cecil and his rumba box. In the day I’d put on torn pants and a straw hat and sing calypso to hustle the tourists, and then at night I’d put on my suit and tie and sing ballads with a band. It was all just music to me.”

It was a few years later, in the spring of 64, that Tanamo would make his most notable mark in ska history, following a fateful recording session with some of Jamaica’s top young studio talent.

“When we did recordings, the musicians were usually paid individually, but for some reason on this date Mr. Khoury made out only one cheque payable to me. So I said, “Gentlemen, since we have this bulk payment, why don’t we form a band?’

“When they asked me what we should call it, I thought, well, we’re playing this way-out music and the Americans were sending satellites into space after the Russian Sputnik. So I said, “Let’s call it the Skatallites,’ because ska was the thing everyone was doing.”

Along with naming the Skatallites, Tanamo is also credited with being among the first of many popular Jamaican artists to take up residence in Toronto, where he opened the Record Nook, the city’s first record shop selling the exciting new music coming out of the Caribbean.

“I think it was in 64 that the Eaton’s company sent for me, through the Jamaican Tourism Board, to come to play some shows in Canada with the rumba box. When I arrived in Toronto, I liked the multicultural atmosphere and I guess I fell in love.

“It happened at a show,” he remembers wistfully. “I saw a young girl crying at the front and I asked if my music was making her sad. She told me that it was actually making her happy. For some reaosn, I married her, and I’ve been trapped here ever since.” timp@nowtoronto.com

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