AS tributes continue to pour in to celebrate the life and legacy of Ska king Prince Buster, world-renowned publications Rolling Stones, New York Times and The Economist have also weighed in on his contribution.

Prince Buster (given name Cecil Bustamante Campbell) died on Thursday, September 7, in Florida. He was 78.

The Economist’s headline read ‘Prince Buster: A Hard Man Fe Dead’.

“His life is a chronicle of the tropical tempest that is modern Jamaica. As a performing artist, sound system operator and producer, Prince Buster played a pivotal role in bringing the upbeat pulse of Jamaican music to the ears of the world. They called him the Prince, but when it came to the island’s explosive ska culture, he was king,” was how the British periodical described him.


He is recognised in the article for turning American popular music “upside down by emphasising the offbeat”, thus giving birth to then a new genre, ska. It was this genius, the magazine writes, that afforded Prince Buster the opportunity to present Jamaica’s new music to the world, alongside Jimmy Cliff and Millie Small, at the 1964 World Fair.

The New York Times eulogised Prince Buster for his musical dexterity, as the “trailblazer of the ska beat”. His arrangement of music at the time was an intentional assertion of his Jamaican identity.

“Prince Buster’s productions were more deliberately Jamaican. His production of the Folkes Brothers’ Oh Carolina, recorded in 1959, meshed the traditional Nyabinghi drumming of a Rastafarian musician, Count Ossie, with what would come to be known as a ska beat,” said the New York Times.

“That beat, in songs like Eric Morris’s Humpty Dumpty, made for huge hits in Jamaica and also had an impact in 1960s Britain. Prince Buster’s instrumental Al Capone was a Top 20 hit there in 1965.”

It was ska’s emphasis on the backbeat, underlined on guitar and saxophone, that fostered the evolution of Jamaican popular music with the emergence reggae, the article also states. But first, ska would give rise to the rocksteady genre by the late 1960s.

By the late 1970s Prince Buster’s influence extended to the punk rock genre in Britain.

“Punk-era rock fans were introduced to Prince Buster through One Step Beyond, the title track of the 1979 debut album by the English ska-revival band Madness, which was a sped-up remake of an instrumental Prince Buster released in 1964. The group had taken its name from Prince Buster’s song Madness Is Gladness, and its first single was The Prince, a tribute to him. Other ska-revival groups like the Specials and the English Beat also recorded Prince Buster’s songs,” penned the New York Times.

This segue from ska to rocksteady to reggae, Rolling Stone magazine declares, made Prince Buster the forerunner to the messiah of reggae music, Bob Marley.

Prince Buster’s funeral will be held at the Islamic Council of Jamaica, 24 Camp Road, Kingston, today, at 2:00 pm. Interment follows in the May Pen Cemetery.

— Josimar Scott

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