Reggae star Burning Spear’s accomplishments are astounding: 30 years in the business, 34 albums, a Grammy Award, many world tours and a fan base that stretches around the globe. In addition to his musical success, Burning Spear is regarded as a standard-bearer for the Rastafarian religion and a sage, by many, because of his positive message and uncompromising belief in unity and love.
But in the midst of all this critical acclaim, Burning Spear – born Winston Rodney – is a humble, personable man who speaks with a gentle, contagious Jamaican accent.
In the midst of his four-month 30 Year Anniversary Tour, Burning Spear holds a reputation for being a master showman – an artist who can make his music come alive on stage.
Reggae is the universal music, Burning Spear said. It’s a music speak about universal things and universal happenings. It’s a music speak about all the people.
Gravity is a word often associated with Spear’s music.
Gravity is the whole inspiration from within I, you know? Burning Spear said. Gravity is like a magnet, you know, jus’ stick unto you and stay with you or you stick with it.
The idea that Burning Spear’s music holds some mystical element is certainly not lost on his listeners. Many refer to his music, especially his dub tracks, as trance-inducing. Burning Spear has been known to get so wrapped up in his music that he seems to enter a higher level of consciousness.
When asked if he could define this trance-like state, Spear laughed and said, Some things you can’t explain. It just happen and there’s no explanation to when it going to happen. You know, it jus’ happen.
Burning Spear said the secret to reaching the higher level of listening his fans describe is to let the music take control and flow. Just open yourself and allow the music to come within.
Bob Marley laid the foundation of Rastafarianism, and Burning Spear continues the tradition by espousing its tenets of peace and empowerment. His newest album, Calling Rastafari, incorporates Rastafarian beliefs, the ideas of Marcus Garvey and his own exuberance into the classic, roots reggae style that Burning Spear has followed for years.
Burning Spear said Rastafarianism is a universal religion.
I man born as a Rasta, ya know, he said. Every black man, woman and child is a Rasta regardless of if they become part of that religion.
Burning Spear recounted when his religious conversion in his twenties.
The whole understanding and know-how rub off on you, he said. It start to feed you even before you start to identify that it’s in you.
Another important facet of his music is the social and political message that preaches universal respect and human dignity. Burning Spear said his music continues to focus on the issues that were important to him when he began his career on the streets of St. Ann, Jamaica.
Now I still maintain the same course, but matter of fact I get more capabilities now, he said. You know, I more full a experience now, doin’ what I’m doin’. No changes – keepin’ the same course, layin’ down the roots and culture and the message . same way.
Although Burning Spear resides in Queens, New York, he said he returns four of five times a year to Jamaica. But the musician confides with a chuckle that when it comes to getting the lowdown about recent happenings, he doesn’t keep up with everything that goes on.
These days Burning Spear is a busy man. The 54-year-old keeps a dizzying tour schedule and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. His comments about his hectic tour schedule are indicative of his yin-and-yang mentality: Life on the road is good and it’s not so good . It’s rough and it’s not so rough. Its fun and it’s not too much of a fun.
Burning Spear said he works hard to keep calm during busy tour schedules.
I practice myself to maintain my self-balance and try to be calm and humble and a lot of respect, he said. You know, I just grow up that way, groom myself that way so regardless of pressure or whatsoever, it’s my duty to just keep it calm as possible.
On the heels of his 2000 Grammy win , Burning Spear will continue to spread his gospel. He said he is thinking about releasing a fifth dub collection album and might get more involved in the business side when – and if – he retires.
I’m thinking about that after my own retirement – to do my own distributing, he said. I need to be distributing, therefore I can get a proper account for my own stuff. Reggae artists don’t have enough control of their distribution. I think it’s very important for artists to be in control of that.
Burning Spear performs at the 9:30 Club Nov. 12. Call (202) 432-SEAT for tickets.