Karl Allison went to investigate reggae gospel pioneers Ben Okafor, Rupie Edwards, Ann Swinton, Liquid Light, David Smith, The Channels and Dave Armstrong.
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Rupie also established a regular band of respected musicians who would come into the studio at his beck and call. He called them Rupie Edwards' All Stars and they went on to accompany Jimmy Cliff and played on Paul Simon's 'Mother And Child Reunion'. Back in 1974, Rupie told Black Music magazine, "Any artist in Jamaica that I want to record, they'll record for me. It is my job to build an artist. I get a kick sitting down and watching an artist at the top, knowing that I put him there."
But it was in 1974 that the producer suddenly became singer and found himself with an international chart success. He told me, "'Ire Feeling' was a creation, an inspiration. I was in the studio waiting for another artist to turn up. I used the time up in the studio and just created the track from nothing." It hit the charts in the middle of the disco era and even helped to introduce clubbers to dancing skanga-style. The week that "Ire Feeling" made the Top 10, Rupie Edwards performed it on Top Of The Pops.
After settling in England in 1977, Rupie continued to work as a producer and, through the 80s, established RE Music in North London. But it wasn't until 1991 that his life took the biggest turn of all.
"I was going through an emotional trauma. My girlfriend and I had separated, there were business pressures and I was drinking more than I usually did. One day I was in my shop playing my music when two young ladies walked in wanting to buy a record for their mother. I said to one of the girls, 'Will you marry me?' (jesting, naturally) and she said, 'Well, you'll have to come to church with me before you marry me.' So I said I would and she told me where and when. As I walked in they were singing, 'I need thee, Oh I need thee, every hour I need thee,' and I felt like they were singing it just for me. It was a very small assembly but a very blessed assembly. You could feel the Spirit of God in there.
"Soon afterwards, there was a night when, in my sleep, I heard a song playing with a reggae background. The song said, 'Give your heart to Jesus', and it had one of the sweetest brass backgrounds I ever heard. The sound was so clear that I got up to turn the radio off and realised it wasn't on! Then I knew that it was the Lord who'd been speaking to me. I got baptised a few months later."
And now the man who dreamt gospel reggae sells it and sings it. He's recorded four albums of 'Sweet Gospel' and plans to record more. "I go in for the reverence type of gospel. Whatever beat you put it in, it's all about when your voice or instrument starts to prophecy. I don't want any depressing music, I want it to sound good! I want to rejoice! I want to do some David-dance and feel happy."
So if you're ever near Dalston Lane market, go along, meet Rupie and join in.
Ann Swinton used to be known as Rankin' Ann. "When I came into the church, I wouldn't use the name Rankin' Ann because it didn't feel appropriate, even though what I'm doing in style is very similar. I just feel so very different from the person I used to be. That's how it is when God comes into your life."
As Rankin Ann she worked and toured extensively with the Ariwa label performing what used to be known as 'toasting' or 'MCing'. It is most easily described as talking over reggae and ska rhythms and can be seen as the genuine forerunner to rap. "We're talking about the late 70s. I can put hand on heart and say I was the first woman toaster, even though I've heard other women make the same claim."
Now, post conversion, only the state of her soul and the content of her lyrics has changed. The music has remained much the same, just updated somewhat into more of a rap style.
Ann was brought up in a strict church going family, but stopped attending church as soon as she could. By her teenage years, Ann had got the toasting bug. "Rather than play the vocal side of records, I'd play the dub side. I was a quiet teenager, but I found that if I was angry or feeling down, I could chat on top of these dub rhythms and express feelings that I wouldn't normally talk about. So it started off in my front room and it didn't become a public thing until my brother asked me to chat live over his sound system. It just came to me naturally."
Ann became a Christian at an Elim conference week in Bognor. As she went forward for counselling, she spoke about her fear of having to give up her music. Praise God for a wise counsellor who told her that she should carry on 'just like Cliff Richard!' She took the advice but soon realised that her future did not lay in the Ariwa tours of Europe she'd been performing on. From that time on, she's performed gospel in her own unique way.
"I came from the era of 'pure' reggae - it was either authentic reggae or it was something else. Reggae now is so diverse that what people are calling reggae I would describe as a fusion of reggae and other types of music. I think it's also lost its roots and its ability to communicate really important things.
When it first came out it was telling you about what was happening to black people. Nowadays, all you hear is the way a particular man sees women, which is often just as a sexual object. And even the women who are in reggae now don't do themselves justice - they're putting themselves in that category as well."