Artistes pay tribute to ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’
In 1979, Jamaican reggae group Black Uhuru released a song titled after the famous 1967 movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. It was reintroduced last year by Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare and Dean Fraser, who produced a version that allowed Tarrus Riley to add a modern dancehall twist to the classic roots-reggae song, even while he appeared alongside Black Uhuru’s frontman Mykal Rose in the cool visuals.
Call it the season of revival for this oldie but goodie. Like the original song, the actual rhythm has also been given a fresh face through Suga Roy and The Fireball Crew’s live recording for their single Granny Backyard. The phenomenon isn’t new. There are many old hits and popular rhythms which have been recreated and reimagined generation after generation, some by the original artistes, others by artistes offering tribute to the voices that pioneered the way for them. As Fireball Records’ label owner and producer Suga Roy explained to The Gleaner, it is a way to keep the music going and growing.
“The foundation artistes have been able to carry roots-reggae music far, and since then it cannot be stopped; no matter how much pressure it gets, people want to hear it, whether the original style or with a different pattern,” Suga Roy said.
Suga Roy, whose given name is Leroy Moore, is originally part of the double act with Conrad Crystal, the reggae singer known for the 1980s track True Love Never Dies. They rose to fame in 2004 with their combination style of Conrad Crystal as the singer and Suga Roy as the deejay. Fast-forward 15 years later and the musical chemistry between the two remains effortless.
Today, with the complement of a full-fledged band, called the Fireball Crew, and the vocally powerful performer Ranford ‘Zareb’ McCurdy, they have shaped a new image, sound and music that still holds true to their original style. As a group, they have produced a large catalogue of covers and even released an album in 2016, paying homage to reggae veterans. The 19-track Honouring The Kings of Reggae album pays tribute to 19 artistes, including Bob Marley, Desmond Dekker, John Holt and The Abyssinians, with songs such as So Much Trouble In The World and 007 Shanty Town.
How does the Granny Backyard single fit into the story of creating tributes?
He answers, “The album is one of my greatest loves because it’s a compilation showing respect to more than one of the foundation artistes. In the past, our tribute albums mostly focused on one artiste, but now we’re moving into the direction of working on singles like Granny Backyard on the ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’ rhythm that doesn’t necessarily have the same story but a similar feel to it,” he said. “We look up to people like Mykal Rose, the way him sound on that tempo; and having shared the stages with him overseas, I find that people love the type of tune him sing, the rhythm him sing on, so this is sort of a tribute to him to give encouragement to the people to go back into this artiste’s catalogue.”
“The remarkable feature of Granny Backyard is the way it fits into the playlist with new wave reggae artistes,” says Conrad Crystal, jumping in for a moment, although soft-spoken for most of the interview. He says that he told Suga Roy to write the lyrics based on present-day experiences – the issues of crime in the ghetto – happening right in the middle of an elder’s backyard.
The entertainers’ goal is to shine a light in the direction of not only on the oldies, but in a way that spreads new, yet fundamental messages that will spark social commentary as it did in the past.
“It is not about creating hits alone, and it doesn’t make sense to sing for you and the girl, meaning, the lyrics artistes must sing is for the world. It cannot be about ghetto, gun and fighting a warfare, but create music that fights for a solution and can reach a higher level to get more people listening,” Conrad Crystal said.
The next rhythm remake, titled ‘Mesh Mareena’ that Suga Roy and the Fireball Crew plan to release, is inspired by Barrington Levy’s Don’t Fuss Nor Fight, also released four decades ago.